Happy Birthday Leonard Cohen: Covering The Legendary Songwriter

By Andy Kahn Sep 21, 2016 10:24 am PDT

Renowned singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen today celebrates his 82nd birthday. The legendary Canadian musician will issue his 14th studio album, You Want It Darker, on October 21, adding to his already storied legacy of memorable compositions. Produced by his son Adam Cohen, today the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee shared the record’s title track as its first single, streamable here:

The new set of songs joins an incredible collection of original compositions written by Cohen throughout his lengthy career. His perhaps best-known song “Hallelujah” has been performed by countless musicians around the world, with Jeff Buckley’s rendition becoming the hallmark of his short career. Many of the bands who make up the jam scene have covered Cohen over the years and for his 82nd birthday today, here’s a look back at a number of those performances.

Last year Georgia rockers Widespread Panic held a New Year’s Eve concert at the Fox Theater in Atlanta that included a pair of debut covers of Cohen originals. A seated John Bell led the band through “First We Take Manhattan” and “Hallelujah. “Watch video of “First We Take Manhattan” captured by MrTopdogger followed by official footage of “Hallelujah”:

Widespread Panic (See 309 videos)
Widespread Panic (See 441 videos)

With 10 years between them, Phish has performed two Leonard Cohen songs, each tune falling into the “one-timer” category. Col. Bruce Hampton helped out on April 23, 1994 on the band’s lone cover of “Who By Fire.” Phish also took on an original from the Cohen songbook to begin the encore of their Halloween concert in 2014, debuting “Is This What You Wanted?” which was captured by madpicken and can be viewed below:

Phish bassist Mike Gordon incorporated “Who By Fire” into his solo band shows beginning on September 9, 2009. That debut Mike Gordon Band performance of the song from Cohen’s 1974 LP New Skin for the Old Ceremony was captured by Rich, watch Cactus covering Cohen here:

A regular part of the Tedeschi Trucks Band repertoire is Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” from his 1969 record Songs From A Room. Susan Tedeschi sets down her guitar to handle lead vocals on the TTB’s bluesy arrangement of the song. Watch video from The Apollo Theater from January 26, 2016 captured by Sean Roche of Susan leading the ensemble here:

Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh hosted his annual Terrapin Nation Seder on April 26, 2016 in observance of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Lesh and a group made up of Ross James, Scott Guberman, Ezra Lipp and Grahame Lesh, were led by Jeannette Ferber on a rendition of “Hallelujah” that came out of a take on “The Wheel.” Ferber incorporated Hebrew while singing the verses to the Cohen standard. Both songs (“Hallelujah” starts at ~12:35) can be seen in the video shared by MarkoVision Films:

Deadheadland Films (See 95 videos)
The Wheel

Another rendition of “Hallelujah” can be seen in the video below from Gov’t Mule’s show on June 18, 2010. Guitarist Warren Haynes delivered the cover to start Mule’s encore at Reading 3 in Tel Aviv, Israel. The touching performance was captured by Kontarios, watch here:

You Want It Darker Tracklist

  1. You Want It Darker
  2. Treaty
  3. On the Level
  4. Leaving the Table
  5. If I Didn’t Have Your Love
  6. Traveling Light
  7. It Seemed the Better Way
  8. Steer Your Way
  9. String Reprise/ Treaty
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