“Playing with Leonard you cannot help but explore the space between the notes. The Buddha of slow tempos.” John Miller Talks About Working With Leonard Cohen In The 1970s – Q&A + Photos

John Miller & Leonard Cohen

John Miller played bass on the 1974-1976 Cohen Tours and served as musical director on the 1976 Tour. Miller’s role in the Cohen tours is elaborated in Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, Harvey Kubernik:

Miller also became the unofficial photographer of the 1976 Tour when Leonard bought him a Nikon camera.1 The photos displayed in this post were taken by him.

John Miller Q&A

1. You’ve worked with a multitude of musicians. Was there anything unique about performing with Leonard Cohen?

Playing with Leonard you cannot help but explore the space between the notes. The Buddha of slow tempos.

2. How did you happen to end up in the band for the 1974-1976 Leonard Cohen tours?

John Lissauer had called me to play bass on “New Skin For The Old Ceremony.” Not long after that, John asked me to go on tour with Leonard.

3. How did Leonard manage rehearsals and performances (e.g., was he insistent, laissez-faire, demanding, democratic…)?

He had that wonderful balance of knowing what he wanted, trusting his music director and trusting his musicians.

4. It’s my impression that you enjoyed a close relationship with Leonard. What was it like hanging out with him between shows and soundchecks?

Late at night, after we got back to the hotel, Leonard would often call my room and suggest that we go out and explore the underbelly of whatever city we happened to be in. we’d usually wind up at a small restaurant and hang with the workers after closing hours.

Leonard Cohen and Laura Branigan


5. Cheryl Barnes, who was a backup singer with Laura Branigan in 1976, is not well known, at least as far as her work with Leonard goes. Any information you can provide about her from the tour would be helpful.

I auditioned background singers. I thought that Laura and Cheryl would would sound great together. They did. I find out years later that she had been in the movie of “Hair”.

6. I have a personal obsession with the song. Do I Have To Dance All Night. Since one of the two tours in which it appeared was 1976, I have to ask if you have any feelings or information about how the song was created or performed.

I remember arranging it for the tour – a little funkier than his other tunes, but Leonard seemed to love it and we played it every night. Leonard (or Marty) wanted to record it while we were on tour. i don’t remember where we did the tracks, but i do know that they had me fly to London to use 3 female studio singers there. Not quite sure why we didn’t have Laura and Cheryl sing the background parts when we did the tracks.

John Miller

John Miller’s multifaceted career is startlingly impressive:

For over 30 years, John Miller has been the musical coordinator on over 100 Broadway productions, from as far back as 1980’s Barnum to 2012’s Tony-winning revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. He also serves as a contractor for touring shows, movies and commercials and is an accomplished bass player who freelances for recordings and concerts, including The John Miller Quartet + 2 at 54 Below and The Cutting Room. He’s also a contractor for touring shows, movies and commercials. And yes, he freelances as a string bass player (though not in his musicals) for recordings and concerts, including at the nightclub 54 Below.2

In 2014, Miller made his acting debut as the drug-dealing tympanist Dee Dee in the Amazon Original comedy Mozart in the Jungle.3

As a bassist, Miller has worked with a dream list of artists including Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Ray Charles, Luther Vandross , Mose Allison, Larry Coryell, Tommy Flanagan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Madonna, P Diddy, Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Portishead, Tim Buckley, Gil Evans, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, John Pizzarelli, Pete Seeger, and the New York Philharmonic…4

Credit Due Department: All photos property of John Miller

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 Apr 3, 2018.

  1. Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life by Anthony Reynolds Omnibus Press: October 1, 2010 []
  2. Bassist & Broadway Music Contractor John Miller by Caryn Robbins (Broadway World: March 8, 2013) []
  3. Source: Revolvy []
  4. From Amateur to Pro: A Discussion with John Miller by John Kuhlman (Bass Musician: March 1, 2013) []

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