A Matter Of Perspective – The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour Through The Eyes Of Aileen and Elkin Fowler
In the past months, Heck Of A Guy posts about the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour have described Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage at and the Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem of the Aix-en-Provence Festival, the legendary concert at the Isle of Wight Festival, the Forest Hills appearance characterized by one critic as “nervous, uncomfortable, oppressive, lifeless,” and Leonard Cohen In Hootenanny Mode at the UCLA concert and the University Of Wisconsin anti-war rally disguised as homecoming show.
While there will be further posts about the 1970 Tour, perhaps the most fitting perspective on that year’s concerts is through the eyes of Susan Musmanno, one of the backup singers for Leonard Cohen that year, and Elkin “Bubba” Fowler, guitarist in the Tour band.1
Note: The text printed in red below is taken directly from email correspondence with Susan aka Aileen Fowler and Elkin Fowler.
The Leonard Cohen Hayride
It turns out that the horseback ride to the Aix concert was not the only unconventional mode of transport utilized by by Leonard Cohen and his musicians in 1970.
Susan: So Hartford was my first Leonard Cohen concert. I don’t remember it as vividly as the next concert, which was in Austin. Since we didn’t have a road manager for the first couple of concerts, Bubba was asked by Bob to take on certain responsibilities, such as limos, transportation, etc. Bob, being a Texan, wanted to give Leonard a big, Texas-style welcome. So, through a friend at University of Texas in Austin, Bubba lined up a flatbed truck with hay, cornstalks, etc., and that’s how we all rode from the airport to the hotel, all of us sitting on bales of hay.
Leonard Cohen, Superstar
Susan: That night, I stood next to Leonard as he cast a spell, and eventually got used to watching him hypnotize and enthrall audience after audience. At the end of the evening in Austin, he invited the audience to join him ‘down at the river’ to continue the magic, and many did.
Those dates in Europe in May of 1970 were milestones. Leonard created a sensation everywhere we went. The response was overwhelming. I remember being whisked from the stage to waiting limousines after the shows. I had no idea when I signed on for the tour that I was accompanying a superstar to Europe, but he became one by the time we finished in London.
Those were turbulent times — the Kent State killings happened the first week in May, while we were in Germany. When we arrived in Munich, there were demonstrations all over the city. It became increasingly clear that Leonard was being recognized as a great poet, and his legend was beginning to grow. We went from triumph to triumph, and, when the tour culminated in Paris and London (both the Olympia and Albert Hall were sold out; they each requested that we add additional shows, but Leonard didn’t want to), the shows were sensational, memorable.
In hindsight, I think those dates in May accounted, at least in part, for the response at the Isle of Wight, the many people who made pilgrimages there to see and hear him. Young people everywhere were confused, and looking for a leader. I got the feeling Leonard could have had the job if he wanted it, but he didn’t.
Leonard had his own issues that he was working through. In Germany (I believe it was Hamburg), Leonard made his entrance, walked straight to the microphone, and raised his hand in the Nazi salute. There were hisses in the crowd. I don’t remember how it happened, but he began to talk and they were cheering before we knew it. It was an awkward and frightening moment, though.
The word must have spread that there was something controversial and potentially dangerous going on because when we got to our next stop, which was Frankfort, there were police with German police dogs everywhere. But, night after night, Leonard captivated and seduced the audience, and received encore after encore. The encores were often ‘Please Don’t Pass Me By’ and ‘Won’t You be Naked For Me?’
On Leonard Cohen
Susan: Words to describe Leonard — enigmatic, seductive, gentle. A mysterious and benign presence. Warm, yet distant. Inscrutable. Charming. There is something so deeply endearing about him. I loved him then, and always will.
I learned from him that one way to appear wise is to keep your mouth shut, but I am very bad at this. LOL
His beautiful songs were the soundtrack for Bubba’s and my love story, so our attachment to them and our response to them is indescribable. It was romantic, heady, exciting stuff.
Fear & Loathing At The Isle Of Wight
[The following is in response to my query: The stories about the Aix show make it sound somewhat threatening - and surreal. Is this an accurate assessment?]
I don’t remember being fearful at the concert in Aix. However, it was certainly dicey at the Isle of Wight.
The DVD that was released last year refreshed our memories about that. Neither Bubba nor I realized how big the event was at the time, nor how much the legend of our set that night had grown down through the years. We all hung out in Jimi Hendrix’s trailer before our set, while Hendrix was onstage. The promoters were beside themselves with frustration and anger, one of them even crying backstage. We helicoptered in and Hovercrafted out — pretty exciting.
What a joy it was to hear the songs again, and see all of us. The Cohen of recent years doesn’t really ‘sing.’ I miss his voice. And his guitar playing. Lovely to hear ‘our’ Leonard again.
Forest Hills Concert & Bob Dylan
Susan: I had also forgotten that the concert in Forest Hills was really one of a series. That was the only bad performance we ever gave, and I think part of the reason was that Dylan was in the house that night, and we were all nervous.
The Origins Of The Army
[The following is in response to my query: Were the backup singers and band musicians a tightly united group (well, you two obviously were but you know what I mean)? The "Army" nickname makes me think that might be so but I'd appreciate your perspectives.]
Susan: … Yes, the guys in the Army were a very tight little band of brothers.
Elkin (Bubba): Bob [Johnston] encouraged Leonard to move to Nashville. Only Bob would know exactly where the cabin was that Leonard stayed in, but it was 20 or 30 miles from Nashville, in the woods. I think it was near Franklin, Tennessee.
I remember going out there to pick him up on a couple of occasions and brought him to town. A few other times I went with Bob. Finally, Leonard bought a Toyota to have transportation, because he was out there forever without any wheels, so somebody always had to go and get him.
He lived very simply. The cabin was very small, with a table, a couple of chairs, a bed. What Leonard did out there was experiment with himself in seclusion. And write.
Bob and Charlie [Daniels] had known each other for years. Bob encouraged Charlie to move to Nashville. At the time, Charlie was playing at a local club in Nashville with a group.
I met Bob when he was head A&R at Columbia, Nashville.
My group, the Avant-Garde was signed to Columbia Records on the basis of a song I wrote called Yellow Beads. Bob was also producing a group that Ron [Cornelius] was in. I forget the name of that group,2 but they were all from northern California. We were all working together on many of Bob’s productions, among them Flatt and Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Marty Robbins, and others. Bob got Marty Robbins to record one of my songs, “Jolie Girl,’ which became a Top Ten song for him, and for which I still receive a modest royalty several times a year.
Somewhere along the way during that time, Bob resigned his position as head of A&R and became an independent producer. Perhaps it was Bob who suggested that Leonard tour. I don’t know, but the idea arose, and Leonard said basically that the only way he would tour would be if Bob put it together and also accompanied him on the tour.
So, Ron and Charlie and I were Bob’s core group of studio musicians, and we all were very close. Charlie and Ron were hired to join the tour. Charlie and Ron were both guitar players, so Bob asked me if I could play bass. I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to get left out of the European tour. So I said, “Sure,” and then quickly began learning all of Leonard’s songs from his first two recordings and, when we finally met in the spring to rehearse, I was probably the most prepared.
It was during that time that Charlie first started playing the fiddle, and it ended up that I brought my banjo along and played Tonight Will Be Fine and Charlie played the fiddle on that.
Ed Kollis3 was an engineer at Columbia, and also played a mean harmonica. He signed on as tour engineer and, eventually, we added a road manager named Billy Donovan. I think Billy was a friend of Ron’s.
For the European leg of the tour — Bob said that Leonard wasn’t interested in making a lot of money on the tour. He was mostly interested in going first-class, and making it a special experience for everyone. So we stayed at the finest hotels — the Prince de Galles in Paris and the Mayfair in London come to mind. We were paid very well, and all our expenses were taken care of, thanks to Leonard.
Susan: I don’t believe we were called the Army until sometime along the way in Europe. One time, Bubba and I were late getting to a show. I think it was in Halifax. We missed the plane. When we finally arrived, someone had gone out and bought an army shirt with a single stripe on the sleeve. They made Bubba put it on and then, with great ceremony, tore off the stripe and “busted” him.
The 1970 Highlight Concert – The Olympia In Paris
[The following is in response to my query: Which concert that year was the best performance and why?]
Susan: All of our performances were emotional and passionate, and no particular performance stands out as the ‘best.’ You take the excitement of a first-class European tour, in the large historic halls that we played, and then you couple that with Leonard and the music, and there was just a sustained high, one mountaintop after another, from triumph to triumph.
We were all just having a great time. We never had the idea of any competition, or any expectations that anything would come to us at all. It was all centered around Leonard and the excitement and passion for his music.. The fellowship and camaraderie and warmth in our little community, our Army, was extraordinary.
I do, however, remember the [May 12, 1970] Paris concert4 as the highlight.
The crowd at the Olympia that night was adoring and the celebration afterwards was singular.
We all, Leonard included, went out to a lovely restaurant afterwards for an exquisite dinner. I remember the beautiful hand-painted wineglasses. As a matter of fact, I ‘stole’ one and had it for many years until it got broken. We ended up in the wee small hours of the morning at a place called Au Pied de Cochon for the most fabulous onion soup ever.
Leonard Cohen – “A scruffy dude”
I never knew the dapper Leonard Cohen. That was a later incarnation.
In those days, Leonard was a pretty scruffy dude in his ubiquitous safari suit, sporting stubble (which wasn’t fashionable then as it is now.) He was rather seedy — in an elegant, soulful, and romantic way. I thought he was adorable.
The Army’s Dress Code
I would describe Corlynn’s and my attire as ‘hippie chic.’ Those were designer dresses, in most cases. The group that she and I were in in California — The Groop5 — was built to be a sort of upscale Mamas and Papas, and we dressed like stars did at that time.
The guys in the Army were never told how to dress, but on one occasion, because one of the guys happened to wear a very loud shirt, we remember Bob mentioning to the group that they should not wear anything that made them ‘stand out.’ I think Bob used the word ‘subdued.’ Interestingly, the very next night, the guilty party showed up in the loudest shirt ever, which made us wonder if he understood what the word ‘subdued’ meant. Clothing guidelines were never mentioned again.
Spotlighting Leonard Cohen
The band was a no-nonsense, very professional, seasoned group of musicians. Our arrangements were set in stone. No ad-libbing or horsing around by anyone but Leonard. We waited patiently while Leonard extemporized, or while he simply stood there, ruminating.
What he eventually said was always priceless, and worth the wait. He never did the same show twice. I haven’t seen him perform live since 1970, and I often wonder if he is still as inspired, and inspiring, as he was then. Remarkable.
Love Blooms In August 1970
I don’t suppose I can argue with the documentation you have found about the Aix festival. However, Elkin and I have always said, ‘We had a rock festival on the first day of August and one on the last day of August.’ Everyone in the Army went back to the States in between the two except us. We were in the throes of new love, and completely lost in each other. We rented the smallest car available — a little Simca — and took off from Aix and went through Nice, Cannes, to Genoa, Pisa, Florence, and Rome, and back across the Riviera to Barcelona, and then we put ourselves and the little Simca on a ferry and went to Mallorca and Ibiza. When we arrived in London for the Isle of Wight show, we knew we were irrevocably committed to one another, and nothing would ever be the same. That’s what I think about when I remember the ‘first of August and the 31st.’ But it sounds like we may have been wrong all these years about the ‘first.’ Or, who knows, maybe one of us cannot be wrong.
Other 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour Posts
- Love & The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour – Starring Susan & Bubba With Leonard “Cupid” Cohen
- 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival: 3 Days Of Love, Sun, & Sound In Canada – But No Leonard Cohen
- Donna Washburn 1972 Leonard Cohen Tour Backup Singer – 1970? Not So Much
- Michelle Phillips, Dennis Hopper, And The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour
- Susan Musmanno, Corlynn Hanney, & Aileen Fowler – Leonard Cohen’s 2 Great Backup Singers In 1970
- Corlynn Hanney Talks About Singing Backup On The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour
- Leonard Cohen At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival – Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem
- Leonard Cohen’s Opening At Aix-en-Provence 1970 – Festivals, Revolution, Profit, and Bird On A Wire
- Leonard Cohen At Another Other 1970 Festival – Aix-en-Provence (Part 1)
- Leonard Cohen Plays Notes On Guitar In 1970 – A Second View
- Leonard Cohen & The Horse He Rode In On-Stage At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival
- Leonard Cohen Plays Notes On Guitar – 1970
- Leonard Cohen, Forest Hills 1970 – “Nervous, Uncomfortable, Oppressive, Lifeless”
- Leonard Cohen Live At Leeds – Previously Unknown Recording Of 1970 Concert Surfaces
- Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970
- 1970 Leonard Cohen In Hootenanny Mode
Credit Due Department: The photo of Leonard Cohen at his Nashville farm was taken by Raeanne Rubenstein. (Source: Rolling Stone Images Of Rock & Roll. Ed: Fred Woodward. Little, Brown. 1995)
- The story of Susan and Elkin falling in love during the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour is found at Love & The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour – Starring Susan & Bubba With Leonard “Cupid” Cohen. Some segments of that post are also included in today’s entry for clarity and convenience. [↩]
- The group was called West: From CorneliusCompanies.com:
After years as a backing guitarist, Cornelius formed the group West, which would bring his first national recognition. West appeared in numerous national showcases across the country which resulted in bids from 8 major record labels. In 1967, they signed with Epic Records and appeared in Las Vegas at the CBS Convention. Two albums were cut in Nashville for the label. A single, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (a Bob Dylan composition), climbed to #17 on the national charts. The group went on to record a third and final LP for Paramount Records before dissolving. Altogether, Ron Cornelius has had 5 major record deals as an artist, others included A&M Records and Polydor Records.
In 1969, Ron found himself with Johnny Cash in San Quentin as part of the production team for Cash’s album “Live at San Quentin”. Soon after, Ron returned to backing other acts as a lead guitarist, but this time on a remarkable chain of hit albums with some of the biggest names in country and popular music, such as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Hoyt Axton, Loudon Wainwright III, and many others. Most notably, Cornelius supplied lead guitar work on seven multi-platinum albums for the legendary Bob Dylan. [↩]
- Ed Kollis can be heard on mouth harp at YouTube-Ed Dollis. [↩]
- Setlist: Leonard Cohen Concert – Paris, France (Olympia)
May 12, 1970
1. Bird On The Wire
2. So Long, Marianne
3. You Know Who I Am
4. Dead Song (poem)
5. Lady Midnight
6. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong
7. The Stranger Song – solo
8. Joan Of Arc
9. Tonight Will Be Fine
10. The Partisan
11. Sisters Of Mercy
12. Un As der Rebbe Singt (?)
13. Diamonds In The Mine
14. Story Of Isaac
15. Famous Blue Raincoat
16. Sing Another Song, Boys
17. Travel (poem)
18. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
20. So Long, Marianne [↩]
- See Susan Musmanno background at Footnote #1 of Love & The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour [↩]