The Real Story Of Leonard Cohen Singing “Arms Of Regina” – Hints: It Involves Flatt & Scruggs And There Is No Song Called “Arms Of Regina”

Introduction: I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Feb 26, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.

What’s with that Regina song Leonard Cohen sings on the 1970 French TV video?

As far as I can determine, there are only two known recordings of Leonard Cohen singing the song fans most often   call “The Arms Of Regina.”

1. On August 28, 1970 (two days before the Isle Of Wight Festival), Leonard Cohen and his band played an unpaid gig at the Henderson, a therapeutic community in Sutton on the southern edge of London. Sylvie Simmons, who listened to an audience recording of the show, reports in “I’m Your Man, her biography of Cohen,

… the band did a quick sound check – “Arms Of Regina,” an unreleased song, sounding here like a midtempo country ballad with heart-tugging harmonies.”

2. On May 13, 1970, Leonard Cohen performed two songs on French TV’s Joe Dassin Show – “Arpèges sur Joe Dassin.” The first, with only Cohen on camera, was “The Partisan.” After completing “The Partisan,” Cohen assembled the band and backup singers on camera and led them in a rendition of “The Arms Of Regina.”

And, what else do we know about “The Arms Of Regina?”

At Diamonds in the Mine, we find the following:

13 May 1970 – Paris, French TV – Arpèges sur Joe Dassin – 8m
Cohen sang The Partisan and improvised on Regina with Joan Baez.

The video’s description at DailyMotion follows:

Rare performance by a rare bird, Leonard Cohen, anglophone chansonnier from Montreal, erroneously dubbed a folk singer, now allied with American Country music, Nashville style. Here he performs with a country band on TV in Paris, France. The show was called “Arpèges sur Joe Dassin” May 13, 1970.

A handful of sites featuring song lyrics offer “The Arms Of Regina,” attributing it to Leonard Cohen and, typically, issuing the caveat that the lyrics are unofficial “best guess” transcriptions from the performance. These efforts are more helpful as demonstrations of completist symptomatology than as guides to the actual words sung. The entry at Lyrics Archive is representative:

And the Holston river sparkles in the moonlight
And the Holston river [door slams] rushes to the sea.
Well the British (?) mountain towers o’r the valley
Still the arms of Regina reach for me.

Ten years ago i tried to save the president (?) [hummm humm…]
[ta da da da ta da da da da run (?????)]
[ah ?? ???? ??? ???? the arms of Regina]
And on her robe I could not tell a lie [?]

I’ve worked and slaved to be a rock mount [???][spanish ship?]
And the Brushy Mountain (p)imitates your eee[??]
Now I’m a going back to see Regina
and a [?????] (we need you)
[?????] …memory

Still the Holston valley sparkles in the moonlight (sunlight)
Still the Holston river rushes to the sea
Still the Planeish(?) mountain towers o’r the valley
Still the arms of Regina reach for me.
(let’s do that once again)

Still the Holston valley sparkles in the moon light
Still the Holston river rushes through the sea
Still the Plainish mountain towers o’r the valley
Still the arms of Regina reach for me

Still the arms of Regina reach for me…

(let’s get out of here…)

Let’s get out of this place (hum hum hum), What are we…

OK, everybody join in now …

Leonard Cohen – Arms Of Regina
May 13, 1970 – French TV, Paris

The preceding is an all-inclusive review of all the information about Leonard Cohen’s “The Arms Of Regina” available in print or on the internet as of the start of business, 26 February 2013.

Of course, things change with the posting of …

The Real Story Behind Leonard Cohen & The Army Singing “Regina”

I wondered about the identity of the “county band” in the description of the Regina performance as well as the claim that Joan Baez was involved. On reviewing the video, it became clear that it was indeed a “country band” backing Leonard Cohen – the same country band, aka The Army, that backed him throughout the 1970 Tour. But, unless Joan Baez was a perky brunette in pigtails that day, she wasn’t in evidence. Screenshots with identifications in the captions follow. Aileen Fowler, a backup singer for the 1970 Leonard Cohen tour, verified the identities of the band members, adding “Don’t know who pigtail girl is. Someone with one of the guys, I reckon.”

Elkin “Bubba” Fowler, Aileen Fowler (aka Susan Musmanno)
Ron Cornelius
Corlynn Hanney

 

Finally. we come to that long standing query from the opening paragraph of this post, “What’s with that Regina song Leonard Cohen sings on the 1970 French TV video?” Drawing on my 30+ years as a psychiatrist, my research expertise, my experience with detective work in Cohen World, and the lessons learned from viewing every episode of Law & Order, I cleverly, slyly asked Aileen & Bubba Fowler, “What’s with that Regina song Leonard Cohen sings on the 1970 French TV video?” (One sometimes has to resort to sneaky maneuvers in this business.)

Aileen’s response follows:

About dear old Regina — in the year prior to the Cohen tour (’69-’70), Columbia wanted to reunite Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs for one final album. As you may know, there had been an unpleasant split between the two. The deal was if they would return and do one final farewell album, Columbia promised each of them an album of their own immediately following the farewell album. They agreed. Bob Johnston was their producer, and Elkin and Charlie played on all three albums. The week after the farewell album was recorded, Lester recorded his solo album, and the week after that, Earl recorded his solo album. Regina is a song that was recorded by Lester on his album. Elkin and Charlie were playing with Earl on the Grand Ole Opry when the Cohen tour came together. When Flatt and Scruggs broke up, the band went with Lester and Earl needed pickers. Charlie could sing exactly like Lester, and we used to play and sing Regina when we were rehearsing in the studio for the Cohen tour. All our rehearsals, by the way, were at Columbia Studio A in Nashville. Leonard sang along and we all grew to love the song and harmonizing on it. It became our main warm-up song on tour. Never performed it onstage.

Regina was written by Harold Tipton and the title of the album is Flatt Out. Elkin and Charlie aren’t credited, but they were there.

 

Lester Flatt – Regina
From The Essential Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass

 

Having never seen the video of the French TV performance of Regina, Elkin & Aileen watched it, following which, I received this message from Aileen:

Just located the video. My God, Regina sounds horrible! I’m certain that Joan Baez wasn’t there. Maybe someone heard Corlynn in her upper register and thought Joanie was singing along. Don’t know. Sweet to see me and my honey in all our youthful splendor, embracing one another, in love and in Paris. Splendid. Thanks for leading us to it. You have once again made our day.

And so ends another case with a Leonard Cohen mystery solved and folks rejoicing about being in love (and in Paris). Just another day at the premier Leonard Cohen blog noir.

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