Back in 1991, Marc Cohn wrote a song that became a rock and roll anthem. “Walking in Memphis” is a classic that never gets old, a tune that brings together elements of gospel, blues and rock, not to mention a towering crescendo (“Ma’am I am tonight!”). Not exactly typical AM/FM radio fare that year, or any year for that matter.
That debut album led to several Grammy nominations including a win for “Best New Artist” in 1992. I spoke to Cohn last week as he was gearing up for his latest tour, one that includes a stop in at the Greenwich Odeum on Valentine’s Day Eve.
“I’m bringing a small band, a trio or quartet,” he explained. “I just had about six weeks off which is unusual for me. I usually don’t take that much time off from the road, so when it comes to a long span like that, I just have to get back to a piano somewhere and start playing and singing, cause its really not part of my daily life when I’m off the road.”
As any musician will tell you, songwriting isn’t an easy craft. I wondered how Cohn approached the often-daunting task of composing music.
“I’m not even sure I have an approach. I’m really learning more and more as I go along to try and just sit down whether inspiration is coming or not. For the most part, that’s how I’ve worked it, I’ve sort of waited for ideas to come. If they were strong enough, they would intervene in my daily life. I would just have to stop whatever I was doing because I thought the idea was worth putting everything aside for it.
Cohn continued, “As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve had four kids to raise, its been more and more difficult to put that time aside. That accounts for the fact that I haven’t been able to put out a lot of all original material in a very long time. I’m constantly thinking about what I’d like to write about and having little scraps of ideas.
Not that Cohn’s gone away or anything… in 2010, he put out a remarkable album of 70’s covers Listening Booth:1970 which features songs from artists like Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, and Yusef (Cat Stevens). He noted “in 2019, I released a new record that I did with the Blind Boys (of Alabama) but its only got two new songs on it.”
Cohn remarked, “It’s interesting, as you change, your need to write also changes. Music used to be an obsession, if I wasn’t listening to it, I was making it or I was thinking about it or dreaming about it. I’m 60 now, and it’s a different relationship that I have, not only with music in general, but with my own music. The major difference these days is that it isn’t the obsession it used to be, although its still a great love. Of course, I still play my music 120 nights a year.”
Cohn has seen his audience expand over the years. “I sign CDs after almost every show, so I get to meet a cross section of the audience. A lot of people coming to shows, people my age, are bringing their kids who are happy to say they’ve been raised on my music, which is wonderful,” he noted.
Cohn assured us that fans can expect to hear their favorites and more at the Odeum show. “I have a song called ‘True Companion,’ which a lot of people play at their weddings; if I don’t play that one, my agent gets balled out by my fans. There are certain songs that I have to play each night.”
He also shared that his daughter “a very talented filmmaker,” is releasing a video of “Work to Do,” the title song from his 2019 release with the Blind Boys of Alabama. He’s touring with the band again soon.
“We’re going to play a few gigs overseas this summer including a show at a festival where we’re opening for Van Morrison. I’m very excited about that – he’s one of my all time songwriting, singing heroes.”
Check him Marc Cohn February 13th at the Greenwich Odeum. Very few tickets remain. Click here for details.