Donna Washburn 1972 Leonard Cohen Tour Backup Singer – 1970? Not So Much

Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen, Donna Washburn - Paris, April 18, 1972 (Photo by Claude Gassian from private collection of Dominique BOILE)

More Weirdness From The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour

The final piece of the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour Backup Singers puzzle is the role Donna Washburn played as backup singer that year.

It should surprise no one who has been following the Heck Of A Guy account of the to discover that, notwithstanding reports found on the official Leonard Cohen site, LeonardCohenFiles, LeonardCohenForum, and 1800+ other sites – including the usually astute Heck Of A Guy – declaring that she served as backup singer at the most famous of Leonard Cohen’s 1970 concerts, the number of times Donna Washburn sang backup to Leonard Cohen in 1970 was zero, zip, zilch, nada, …

She was, however, a backup singer during the Leonard Cohen 1972 tour although she is overshadowed by Jennifer Warnes, Cohen’s other female vocalist that year. And, Washburn had an interesting professional career prior to 1972. But, first, let’s clear up the mistaken notion that she sang backup for Cohen in 1970.

Click on images to enlarge

Another Cautionary Tale About Internet-abetted Press Releases

The problem arises from the official blurb for the 2009 release of the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight 1970 CD/DVD  put out by Columbia/Legacy:

CD-DVD Cover art - Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970

This excerpt is taken from the copy of the press release from LeonardCohen.com but is identical to that found on hundreds of other sites:

The CD (and double-LP) of ‘Live At The Isle of Wight 1970′ represent the 77-minute concert set as performed by Cohen and his backup band: Bob Johnston (Cohen’s Nashville-based Columbia A&R staff producer), and Nashville musicians Charlie Daniels (electric bass, fiddle), Ron Cornelius (lead guitar), and Elkin ‘Bubba’ Fowler (bass, banjo). They were joined by backup singers Corlynn Hanney, Susan Musmanno, and Donna Washburn. [emphasis mine]

As noted above, that same phrase,”backup singers Corlynn Hanney, Susan Musmanno, and Donna Washburn,” is found by Google at the official Leonard Cohen site, LeonardCohenFiles, LeonardCohenForum, and 1800+ other sites – including this one.

While my attempts to discover through official channels why Donna Washburn was credited as a backup singer on the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight 1970 CD/DVD were unrequited, Aileen Fowler aka Susan Musmanno (backup singer, along with Corlynn Hanney, on the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour) offers helpful information:1

… there’s a third girl onstage in the Isle of Wight video; that was the only time I ever saw her. She was a friend of Ron Cornelius’s. I don’t recall ever seeing Donna except at the Isle of Wight. I am assuming that she is the girl sitting behind Ron in the video. She doesn’t appear to be miked, and looks like she is just jamming along. We never rehearsed with her. I can’t think that she would have been paid. And that was the only time she showed up on my watch. Why she got a backup singer credit for that performance at IOW is a mystery to me.

Donna Washburn (2nd from left) at Leonard Cohen Isle Of Wight Concert. Contributed by Dominique BOILE.

The screenshot below from the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight 1970 DVD shows Donna Washburn (far left) behind Ron Cornelius (with guitar).

Donna Washburn (far left) behind Ron Cornelius (with guitar) at Leonard Cohen Isle Of Wight Concert 1970

The image below, also a screenshot from the same DVD, shows, from left to right, 1970 backup singers Corlynn Hanney and Susan Musmanno and 1972 backup singer to be, Donna Washburn.

Donna Washburn – The Real Story

According to Ira Nadel’s biography of Cohen, Various Positions (Random House of Canada, 1996), Donna Washburn and Jennifer Warnes auditioned for the 1972 Leonard Cohen tour in March 1972, two days before the band was to leave for Dublin. Cohen explained to both vocalists that

the reason I need girls to sing with me is that my voice depresses me. I need your voices to sweeten mine.

Tellingly, while Nadel goes on to discuss Warnes at some length in his book, the description of the audition is the only time Washburn is mentioned. She was credited as a vocalist on the 1973 album, Live Songs Leonard Cohen. But, Donna Washburn did exist – exuberantly at times – before she signed on with Leonard Cohen – or even visited his stage.

Donna Washburn - Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour (Photo: Linda Wolf )

Donna Washburn BC (Before Cohen)

Donna Washburn’s professional music career began when she joined Dillard & Clark (Gene Clark, formerly of the Byrds) in February 1969 on guitar, tambourine, and vocals.2

She is credited on their second album, Through The Morning, Through The Night.

The intriguing part of the story, however, is how she came to the group and the consequences, as explained in this excerpt (click on image to enlarge) from Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life And Legacy Of The Byrds’ Gene Clark by John Einarson (Backbeat Books. February 1, 2005):

 From Dillard & Clark to Mad Dogs & Englishmen

The Mad Dogs & Englishmen Troupe

In March 1970, she left Dillard & Clark to join the Joe Cocker-Leon Russell project, Mad Dogs & Englishmen as one of ten vocalists in the Space Choir, a group which also included Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear.

The final concert of that short-lived, high-energy tour was in San Bernardino, California on May 16, 1970.

Donna Washburn and Claudia Lennear (Photo: Linda Wolf )

Donna can be seen singing during this video of  Cry Me A River performed by Joe Cocker during the 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour.

As far as Internet sources are concerned, Donna Washburn seems to have disappeared since her 1972 stint with Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen with band and backup singers, Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn

Discography3

Albums As A Band Member

  • Through The Morning, Through The Night – Dillard & Clark (1969)
  • Mad Dogs And Englishmen – Joe Cocker (09/1970)
  • Live Songs – Leonard Cohen (1973)
  • Gene Clark And Doug Dillard – Dillard & Clark (1975)
  • The Last Of The British Blues – John Mayall (1978)

Compilations As A Band Member

  • Greatest Hits – Joe Cocker (1978)
  • The Anthology – Joe Cocker (08/1999)

Albums With Bandmates And Friends

  • Douglas Flint Dillard – Doug Dillard (1974)
  • Heaven – Doug Dillard (1979)    Brenda Patterson – Brenda Patterson (1973)

Sessions

  • Into The Purple Valley – Ry Cooder (1972)
  • Less Than A Song – Hoyt Axton (1973)
  • Brenda Patterson – Brenda Patterson (1973)
  • Road Songs – Hoyt Axton (1977)

Credit Due Department: Photo of The Mad Dogs & Englishmen Troupe credited to MGM; found at Harmonic Prospector. The photo of Leonard Cohen and his 1972 musicians near the end of the post was contributed by Dominique BOILE. Other photos credited as indicated in the text of the post.

  1. Aileen and her husband, Elkin Fowler, guitarist during the 1970 tour have been especially useful in filling in the blanks about the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour. See Susan Musmanno, Corlynn Hanney, & Aileen Fowler – Leonard Cohen’s 2 Great Backup Singers In 1970. []
  2. Well, that’s the earliest date I can confirm that she worked as a musical professional.  This excerpt (click on imae to enlarge) from Bobby Whitlock: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Autobiography by Bobby Whitlock, Marc Roberty, Eric (FRW) Clapton mentions a Donna Washburn who co-wrote a song with Leon Russell in or before 1967 [underlining mine]:

    Unfortunately, I cannot confirm or refute that this is the same Donna Washburn who later sang backup for Leonard Cohen and worked with Leon Russell. []

  3. Adapted from The Musicians’ Olympus []

One response to “Donna Washburn 1972 Leonard Cohen Tour Backup Singer – 1970? Not So Much

  1. I don’t want to be judgmental but after reading the entire entry, limelight fascination comes to mind.