marccohnCohn's ongoing musical endeavors are a testament to the healing, liberating powers of music, and they are a gift to  those that take the time to listen closely.

Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded a plane. Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues, in the middle of the pouring rain.

“Oh, I know that song,” you might say.

Which is good. You should know that song. “Walking In Memphis” was a huge hit, got tons of radio play, and it's the kind of song that gets hold of you, sweeps over you, and has you in its sway until the final note. It remains singer-songwriter Marc Cohn's most recognizable original composition to date. 

But if “Walking In Memphis” is all you know about Marc Cohn, you are missing out on a lot of great music, and a pretty compelling story. This story includes a Grammy Award, and a bullet to the head—two dramatic events that helped shape a man and his music.

As a preteen Cohn was fundamentally changed by the music of artists like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne.

That music, he said in a recent interview, “was really soulful and poetic. Some people call it 'confessional.' I related to that. There was something very real about that music … something explicitly beautiful about it and something very deep and dark. I was so moved by it, I willed myself to learn how to do it.”

In time, that will to learn paid off in a big way.

Cohn's 1991 self-titled debut album went platinum, had a serious hit on it (the aforementioned “Walking in Memphis,” which made it to #13 in the Billboard Hot 100) and earned him a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1992. “Silver Thunderbird” and “True Companion” (also from that album) made the top 100 as well. Such an outcome is beyond a dream-come-true for any artist's first solo recording.

Seven albums followed over the course of two decades. Career ups and downs were navigated, but  Cohn always came back to writing, recording, and performing.

One of the “ups” was having his song “One Safe Place” played on an episode of the popular TV show, House. Cohn has a talent for writing songs that are at once deep and emotional, lending them the sort of weight that effectively supplements dramatic moments.

One of the “downs” was getting shot in the head in an attempted carjacking in Denver in 2005. Cohn took a bullet to the temple but, amazingly, was not terribly seriously injured. The event, of course, was traumatizing. Almost a decade later, there are lingering effects that show up now and then but he says he has mostly been able to “leave it behind.”

“You don't want to carry around the unsafety that comes with something like that,” he said. “Part of the residue of that incident for me—I'm sometimes good at holding onto it and sometimes not—is just appreciating every moment.”

The event did get Cohn writing again after a prolonged dry period. He said moments of extreme trauma can make you “vulnerable and open,” which is a good place for a creative person to be. Shortly after the shooting, Hurricane Katrina hit. Watching the hurt and devastation of Katrina on TV brought even more to the surface for Cohn, he said, making it “impossible not to write.” The result was 2007's “Join the Parade,” his first album after several years of creative silence.

“That was the best result,” he said.

As one might expect “Join the Parade” touched on themes of mortality and seizing the day, as Cohn drew on his personal brush with death as well as his emotions and reflections regarding Hurricane Katrina.

With his 2010 release, “Listening Booth: 1970,” Cohn did more than simply revisit hit songs from that year, he truly re-imagined them. In some very satisfying and surprising ways.

On this collection of covers, Cohn teamed up with an impressive list of guests: Aimee Mann, Kristina Train, India.Arie, and others. With their talents added to his artistic skills and passion, Cohn reinterpreted Paul McCartney's “Maybe I'm Amazed,” Eric Clapton's “After Midnight” (listen for a piece of the “Layla” riff thrown in), Badfinger's “No Matter What,” and other iconic tunes from 1970.

With so much rich and diverse material to choose from, it wasn't always easy to decide which songs would make the final cut.

“It wasn't good enough just to love the song,” he said. The whole concept of the album “was guided by whether we could sufficiently change the song and bring something fresh to it.”

Toying with tempo, instrumentation, and feel, the compositions are given a second life in Cohn's treatments.

The Bread hit “Make it With You” is one of the songs on the album that Cohn felt particularly pleased with.

“I just love the transformation of that song from sort of a MOR (middle of the road) pop ballad to an almost Al Green style Memphis-soul-groove,” Cohn said. “I love the way that song was changed.”

As for new recordings, watch for an album to be released soon, a tribute to Jackson Browne, on which Cohn will be featured performing Browne's “Too Many Angels.” Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Lyle Lovett, and others will also appear on the album. Each artist will be singing a Browne tune of their choosing. Cohn said, “It's an incredible record and I'm honored to be on it.” He wasn't completely sure, but he thinks the title is going to be, “Sing My Songs to Me.”

Cohn's ongoing musical endeavors are a testament to the healing, liberating powers of music, and they are a gift to  those that take the time to listen closely.

For a taste of his Memphis-soul-groove, be sure to catch An Evening With Marc Cohn at Elgin Community College's Blizzard Theater on Saturday, March 15th, at 7 pm, in Elgin, Illinois.

For Marc's touring scheduling click on this link: