“He said, ‘Let’s go back to the hotel, and maybe you’ll play me some songs.'” Leonard Cohen Describes How John Hammond Signed Him To Columbia Records – 1967

I was staying at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street [in New York City]. We met in the lobby and he [John Hammond] took me down to a restaurant that no longer exists, on 23rd Street, and he bought me a very nice lunch. We didn’t really talk about anything, in particular. He seemed to be putting me at my ease, which I appreciated very much at the moment. Then, he said, ‘Let’s go back to the hotel, and maybe you’ll play me some songs.’ So, we went up to my room in the Chelsea Hotel, and it’s hard to play for somebody, just cold like that; but, if you could do it for anybody, it would be John Hammond, because he made it easy. I believe I sang him the songs that were on my very first record. I believe I sang the ‘Master Song’ and the ‘Stranger Song,’ ‘Suzanne,’ and a song that I never recorded about rivers. I don’t remember… [suddenly recalling] ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,’ I sang for him.1



Leonard Cohen


DrHGuy Note: At the time, John Hammond was Columbia Records’ leading artist and repertory executive, having discovered and signed Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan. Hammond would later sign Bruce Springsteen to a recording contract. He also, of course, signed Leonard to Columbia Records, which would be his record label, except for Death Of A Ladies’ Man (Warner Brothers) and Various Positions (an album that included “Hallelujah” and “Dance Me to the End of Love”), which Walter Yetnikoff, President of Columbia, initially rejected, telling Leonard, “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.2 Various Positions was subsequently picked up by the independent label Passport Records (the album was finally included in the catalog in 1990 when Columbia released the Cohen discography on compact disc).

Photo Credit: York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, F0433, Photographer: John Sharp: ASC01709.

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 March 28, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.


  1. The John Hammond Years: Interview with John Hammond & Leonard Cohen broadcast on BBC, Sept 20, 1986. Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles. []
  2. Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994 []

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