Leonard Cohen worked with a lot of gifted collaborators during his five-decade career, but none shared a bond with the late artist that could match Sharon Robinson’s. She first toured with him as a backup singer in 1979 and soon became his songwriting partner of choice, sharing credit on classics like “Everybody Knows” and “Waiting for the Miracle” in addition to every single track on 2001’s Ten New Songs.
About 10 years ago, he turned to her when his dwindling finances forced him back onto the road at age 74 for a tour that ultimately stretched across five incredible years. It began in tiny Canadian theaters, but soon hit enormous arenas all over the world as the overwhelming buzz forced them to add leg after leg. We spoke to Robinson earlier this year when Rolling Stone named the tour one of the 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 years. Here is our complete conversation with her about the Grand Tour of 2008 to 2013.
Before Leonard reached out to you about the tour, were you under the impression that he’d never perform live again?
Yeah. I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t expecting to be touring again. But in 2007, we were working on some material that wound up on Old Ideas. He came over to me one day and said, “Sharon, I think I’m going to have to go on tour. My bank accounts are empty. I went to the ATM and I couldn’t get any money out.” That came as a real surprise, not something he was prepared for or expecting.
How did things go from there? It must have been a lot of work to get the ball rolling on that.
He started to work with his musical director Roscoe Beck and they began putting a band together. I wasn’t initially involved because Leonard hadn’t really decided what he wanted to do about singers. And then one day, he and Roscoe called me to come in and just sing with some other singers. They were trying to feel their way and figure out what they were doing. So, I came in a few times and worked with some other people and nothing was really gelling. I had worked with the Webb Sisters on some other stuff and I recommended them. That worked out really well.