When your musical career spans decades, keeping track of every performance and television appearance can get tricky. Sometimes answering questions requires detective work. Thanks to Allan (DrHGuy) at Cohencentric, we can now mark the Leonard Cohen Regina mystery solved.
Leonard Cohen’s 1970 European Tour
Ask any group of musicians who’ve been on the road touring and they’ll tell you there’s more than just showing up at concert halls involved. Rehearsal time, backstage warm up sessions, press interviews, and radio and television performances make for very busy, chaotic times.
Such was the case with Leonard Cohen and The Army’s 1970 European tour. From May 3- May 16, 1970, they played 9 concerts in 5 countries: Holland, Germany, Austria, England, and France. Often when people speak of that 1970 tour, they say it spanned from May 4-13. Those dates ignore the Amsterdam concert (May 3) and the group’s appearance at Leeds University (May 16). Even with the few extra days added on by the Leeds performance, 9 concerts in 13 days was an incredible feat.
But, of course, these concert dates did not include the on-air publicity performances that were a routine part of life on the road in those days.
It was from one of these on-air performances that the Leonard Cohen Regina Mystery was born.
Leonard Cohen Regina Mystery
The song Regina was easily recognized at the time. The famous bluegrass singer Lester Flatt had just included it on his debut solo album, Flatt Out.
So how did a song from Lester Flatt’s album end up on Cohen’s playlist during the 1970 tour?
The truth is, it didn’t. According to Aileen Fowler, also a member of The Army alongside Ron Cornelius, Elkin Fowler, Corlynn Hanney, and others,
“…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.”
Truly, Regina was their favorite warm up song, nothing they ever intended to play on stage. That is, until they found themselves on a French television show. Leonard opened their 2 song set with Partisan then, instead of proceeding with what he originally planned, he called The Army to gather around and led them in Regina.
Why did Leonard choose to call The Army forward? I’m afraid that is a mystery we may never solve. Leonard never spoke of his decision to anyone.
Years later, rumors began circulating about this performance but there was little proof to back them up. Then this old recording was uploaded to daily motion, granting all of us a chance to revisit the day a warm up song made it on stage.
Uncovering the mysteries of life on the road and sharing the stories he remembers most is something Ron Cornelius does well in his new book, The Guitar Behind Leonard and Cohen. Autographed copies are available exclusively on The Gateway Entertainment website.