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Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Gnostic Serenade was originally a beat poem / song written by the late William (Bill) Hawkins who was a highly respected poet and songwriter from Ottawa.

In my less than humble opinion the best recording of the tune was included in a wonderful collection of his material called Dancing Alone ... Songs Of William Hawkins in 2008, sung by Brent Titcomb in a haunting beat type style ...

Gnostic Serenade was also recorded by several other artists in a more folk rock song kind of style ... initially by a band from Ottawa called 3’s A Crowd in 1968 ...

Later and probably most successfully by American folkie Tom Rush in 1970 ...

And earlier by Brent Titcomb, a former member of 3’s A Crowd, in 1977 ...

There was some reminiscent chatter about the song in media a couple of years ago ... started me thinking about the tune again one day when I was messing about on my keyboard, so I began to figure out the chord changes and to experiment with it. In that process I started playing some of the changes with chords often used by jazz musicians ... ninths ... they worked really well and they seemed to reflect the vibe of Bill Hawkins himself as a human being ... with a beat feel and in that style. Led me to believe we could approach the song as a jazz tune and worked on that.

The first time I ever heard the song it was performed by Bruce Cockburn when he came to Toronto from Bytown (Ottawa) in the mid 1960’s and made off with half the band I was in at the time which I obviously wasn’t too happy about ... until I heard Bruce play, at which point I wanted to be in his band too ... and almost was. Bruce was and remains a remarkable musician songwriter ... one of Canada’s best. The band he put together was called Flying Circus ... included my ex band mates drummer Gord MacBain and keyboard player Marty Fisher ...

Sometime thereafter I drew Gord and Marty’s attention to the bass player I was playing with at the time ... Dennis Pendrith ... who was much better than the guy playing bass with Bruce then ... and Bruce hired Dennis to replace that guy. Ironically Dennis is the bassist in Burrows And Company today and has played bass on everything I have ever recorded with the exception of Walk On By 1965. As a result I became a friend of the band and hung out with them now and then. I was able to attend and take in a rehearsal or two and sometimes we would gather in Bruce’s basement and just listen to him playing tunes ... lovely memories. Bruce usually brought along a binder of his material, all written out in full music score, which was very unusual in the world of rock / folk music at the time! Having grown up in the nation’s capital he often played gigs in Quebec, so all of the lyrics for all his songs were written out in both English and French.

It doesn’t get more Canadian than that!

Not long after, for some reason or other Bruce decided that he needed a singer for his band and so they auditioned several vocalists for the gig ... including me. When the auditions concluded Marty and Gord came out to my place and told me that I had won the audition ... that if anyone was going to sing Bruce’s songs other than Bruce it would be me ... but unfortunately they also told me that the people around him had convinced Bruce that he should sing his own songs, a decision with which I reluctantly agreed fully ... but I had really wanted that gig! On the upside however I became a better friend of the band and hung out with them even more ... was eventually invited to go to New York City with them where Bruce and his band opened for American vibes jazz musician Gary Burton at Steve Paul’s “The Scene” for a week ... a magical and wonderful experience.

William Hawkins was a mentor of Bruce in some ways and had a profound impact on his development as a songwriter ... indeed one of Bruce’s first experiences writing songs was helping put some of Mr. Hawkins’ poetry to music for him after they met at Le Hibou Coffee House, where Bill and his wife then were managers. They were also band mates in a group called The Children and around that period of time Bruce lived with Bill Hawkins at his house in Ottawa for a while. For a deeper understanding of their connection and relationship please have a look at an article from Bruce’s web site and listen to the interview on CBC Radio there.

For more insight into the turbulent life of William Hawkins have a look at this article in The Walrus ... great read! ...

Our band, Burrows And Company gathered together for a recording session at Chalet Studio near Claremont ON on March 15, 2021 in the midst of the pandemic. We planned to record two songs that day ... Morning Hymn and Gnostic Serenade. I had encountered both of those songs in the same period of my life. While for some tunes the guys in the band have come in to record individually or a couple at a time ... like we did for Walkin’ The Dog ... on this occasion I felt it was very important to have everyone in the same room at the same time. We had never played either of these songs as a band so it seemed essential to explore how we would approach and play them together ... to share ideas, the feel. As in the basic notion of Gestalt ... the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Musicians bounce off each other when they play together as a band in ways they would not and cannot do when they are playing to and with a prerecorded track. In retrospect I am very glad that we chose to do that ... played an important role. And besides it was great to just see each other and play together again ... first time we had done that since our last live gig at Burdock in Toronto in October 2019.

We recorded Morning Hymn first ... the most magical experience I have ever had in a recording studio ... then we took a break and had some buttered scones and tea. We visited about all sorts of stuff together, caught up with each other personally. Then we went back into the studio to work on Gnostic Serenade and had a chat. The guys had all received a very rough demo of the song with the chord changes. We talked about the overall groove and feel we were after, how to start and end the tune, solos in the song, the extended improvised ending (outro) and stuff like that.

Then Al counted the song in and we took a run at it for the first time. When we were done there was absolute silence in the room ... no one said a word! We were all just sitting there looking at each other ... when Dennis finally said ... I feel a bit like a lounge lizard over here ... and we all had a good laugh about it. Some things had gone well, others had not, the overall groove didn’t feel “right”. After talking over a couple of things, Al counted it in again ... we recorded take 2. None of this is unusual in any way ... you seldom get what you want the first time. Then we decided to go to the Control Room and have a listen to what we had done. Thereafter we all agreed that, although there were some nice moments, on the whole the jazz groove wasn’t working as well as we had hoped it would. So Al ... who tends to lead the band musically much of the time ... came up with some suggestions as to how to approach the rhythm pattern in a different way. He was talking about something to do with bossa nova and samba and all that. All the guys seemed to understand where he was going with that ... I just sing! So everyone enthusiastically went back into the studio to give his ideas a try. It did seem to go better but it still didn’t feel quite right ... Al thought he knew why and suggested a couple of tweaks ... and then we took another run at it.

Once again we all felt we needed to go back to the Control Room and have a listen. It still wasn’t working the way we all believed it could and you could sense discouragement descending upon us ... indeed I was just about to say something like ... You can’t win them all, sometimes things don’t quite work out as planned. But just before those words came tumbling out of my mouth, Al said he had another idea that might do the trick if we just did this and that differently. To my amazement everyone seemed reinvigorated and we all headed back. However, the underlying understanding at this point was this was our last shot.

Al counted us in one more time ... and suddenly, voila ... there it was ... in spades! It was a wonderful feeling of triumph that filled the room at that juncture. We then joyfully headed off into the Control Room to have a listen to what we had. All of us felt very pleased at how the tune had come together ... joy reinforced. So we went back in and did the song one more time in the same groove so we had everything we might need to back us up moving forward through the process. If you find some minor issues or problems with a performance later it’s good to have another similar take you can go back to for bits / pieces you may need to edit. We were all very grateful for Al’s leadership in getting us to The Promised Land!

At the end of a session like this the recording engineer usually puts together a very quick rough mix of what you have recorded for listening purposes thereafter. By the time we are finally ready to release any song I will have listened to it a great many times ... dozens and dozens of times ... as we evaluate what we have and what needs to be done to carry the track forward before sending it to be mixed. After listening to that rough mix for a while with considerable pleasure and confidence that it had come together well, I still thought something was missing. That something turned out to be alto sax ... thought it would embellish the feel. Talked to a couple of horn players I admire and have played with previously about sitting in on this track but neither of them was available for one reason or another. Then I remembered a guy I have known of for a great many years ... since I was a kid ... but that I have never heard play or worked with ... Russell Strathdee. Russ is a bit of a legend in Toronto music in the sixties ... played with Dunc and Judy And The Regents, then The Silhouettes with Steve Kennedy and Diane Brooks and later with Shawne And Jay And The Majestics ... he has been around!

Although I had never met Russ before we have several mutual friends and he has commented online regarding some of the songs we have released previously.

Then I checked out his web site at ...

Decided to give him a call to see if he would like to sit in with us on this song. What a sweetheart! ... first he wanted to know if I had asked anyone else if they would come and play sax with us ... I replied that I had indeed spoken to a couple of other prominent local sax players ... every time I mentioned who that was he would say ... “Oh man, he’s at the top of his game, you should hire him” etc etc.

He finally told me he hadn’t played much during the pandemic ... however, it must be said, neither had anyone else! ... and he didn’t know if his chops were any good. Knowing that he was a very good saxophonist I told him that I thought his chops were probably just fine and made him a deal ... that if I didn’t like what he had done I wouldn’t use it but he would still get paid and that he wouldn’t be offended. He replied he thought that was a great deal and agreed to come and sit in with us. I sent him the rough mix for Gnostic Serenade from March 15 so he could prepare. I asked him to explore the tune but to not try to come up with a specific part as such ... but rather to just become familiar with it and then play in the moment.

On May 24, 2021 Russell came out to Chalet Studio with his alto sax to play. From the moment I heard that sax in the intro, a huge smile came over my face. Everything he did embellished the recording it seemed ... worked like a charm! When I later played the tune to my stepson, who had heard it previously, he responded that he couldn’t imagine the recording without the sax now ... me too! We are indeed very grateful to Russell for taking that leap of faith and sitting in. His chops were just fine ... it was a wonderful experience working with him.

So, on this recording Burrows And Company are ...

Drums ... Al Cross

Acoustic bass ... Dennis Pendrith

Keyboards ... David Chester

Guitar ... Graham Young

Alto sax ... Russell Strathdee

Vocals ... Bob Burrows

Recording Engineers ... Justin Meli, David Chester

Mixing Engineer ... Josh Bowman

Graphic Art ... Mike Raines

Recorded at Chalet Studio, Claremont ON ...

Produced by ... Bob Burrows

And finally ... to quote the opening lyric of the song ... here’s the tune ...

TITLE: Freedom From The NRA

DATE: February 2013

LOCATION: Wanted S & P Studio … Toronto


Percussion … Al Cross

Vocals … Bob Burrows



Recording Engineer: Scott Campbell

Mixing Engineer: Scott Campbell

Producer: Bob Burrows


I wrote this song in response to the response of the American Congress to Barrack Obama’s effort to create legislation to require background checks for prospective buyers at gun shows, that was supported by 85% of Americans yet was still defeated in the Senate because of lobbying by the NRA … after the massacre of twenty 5 and 6 year olds and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook P.S.

Unfortunately this horrendous event has been followed by a great many other similar massacres of all sorts of totally innocent human beings in the USA.

Because the song was written so long ago the lyric is somewhat dated at this time.

But the central theme of the song still has merit and validity in that the NRA still exercises enormous control over any debate or discussion of this topic in government because they fund campaigns for a great many politicians in that flawed country, who then vote as instructed on any efforts to improve the situation.

It seems to me that the only way to change this circumstance would be to circumvent the control that the NRA exercises over politicians they own by holding a national referendum to ask the American people directly what they want.

I believe that the results of such a plebiscite would be surprising and that the average American would support reasonable gun laws, but no one ever asks them.

Contrary to the myth many have of gun loving and gun toting Yankees, Americans likely want what we all want … safer streets for their kids and their families.

This recording was a duet between myself and our drummer Al Cross who did not play on a traditional drum kit but used found objects around the studio … like a cardboard box we discovered in the back … bass drum … and a toy tambourine!

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

We started recording this song as a whim in 2009.

Dennis and I had been working on another tune ... had some time left over at Sam Reid’s studio.

So I asked him if he would mind if we did something else before he had to leave.

He said sure ... what would you like to do ... I replied Walkin’ The Dog ... in what key, he asked.

I said A and counted it in ... in two three four ... and we recorded the song, vocals and bass only.

We left a space in the middle for a solo, I was thinking of making my debut on kazoo at the time.

And that is the only time in this whole adventure that any two of us were in the studio at the same time ... when Dennis and I recorded the tune together ... everybody else came one at a time.

So here it is ... the first step on our musical journey ...

Listened to our initial recording at home a few times ... really enjoyed it.

And found myself singing an under harmony part to my lead vocal as I listened.

Next time I was at Chalet Studio I asked David Chester if I could add the under harmony.

Sounds simple enough and it is ... David played back the original track while I sang my part with headphones on so you can hear the original recording and the new part you are singing too.

That happens all the time in a recording studio ... it’s called overdubbing.

To make it sound good you have to match the under harmony as closely as you can to the lead.

And that can be a bit tricky ... nailing the timing down for the new part exactly.

You are after all singing to yourself but it can still be a bit challenging getting it just right.

But it came together well ... and so now here is that next step in the process ...

I had been working on a project for a while called Duets And The Whole Nine Yards.

That would include a duet with each member of our band and then tunes by the whole band.

With regard to that concept, I had come to think that Walkin’ The Dog was my Dennis duet.

I was talking to Dennis on the phone a few months later ... catching up with him.

When he said to me that he had to keep practicing every day to keep his lip in shape.

Asked why a bass player would need to keep his lip in shape ... he replied that he played trumpet.

News to me! ... I have known Dennis since we played in a band together in the late sixties.

I told him I never knew he played the trumpet at all! ... and when did he start doing that?

He said that he just played trumpet as a hobby and had been doing that for many years.

His brother is a professional saxophone player apparently ... so he thought he would try trumpet.

When we hung up a notion occurred to me so I phoned him back and asked him if he would be willing to come out of the closet with his horn and play on a song ... he asked which one?

I replied Walkin’ The Dog ... he then inquired what key it was in again ... I told him A.

He said that puts me in the key of B which has sharps all over and is a difficult key for trumpet.

I don’t know why, but some instruments ... like sax and trumpet ... are not made in the same key as most instruments like pianos are ... the key of C ... so you have to transpose for them.

Dennis went on to say that he would love to sit in on trumpet but the key was too difficult.

When I got off the phone with him I had another thought so I called David Chester.

David is the keyboard player in our band and he owns the studio where we record most often.

I asked Dave if he could transpose our whole recording up a semitone without having it sound like The Chipmunks ... he replied that he knew it could be done but he had never done it before.

I then asked if he would like to give that a try and he said yes he would be willing to do that.

So one day soon thereafter I went over to the studio, Dave got out all his manuals, went to work.

And after an hour or two he had accomplished our task & had transposed the whole track to Bb.

So I called Dennis back and told him what we had done ... he said that was great and that he would play trumpet on the song now, because C was a much easier key for him to play in.

A little while later Dennis came to the studio with his horn and overdubbed two parts he created.

And in so doing he made his courageous public debut on trumpet ... and here it is ...

Recording in a studio is a very different experience than playing live ... not the same thing at all!

Many people think that you just walk into a studio, plug in your gear and ... in two three four ... You then just play the song the way you would at a live gig, pack up your gear and go home.

But that is not the case at all ... playing in the studio is indeed a very different kettle of fish.

And it requires a different set of skills and a very different mindset than live performance.

When you are playing live you feed off the audience and often it inspires you to play even better.

In the studio there is no audience, so it feels somewhat like you are playing in a vacuum of sorts.

Many musicians and singers experience something called red light fever ... a type of anxiety that sets in when you start to record and the red light goes on ... some folks freeze up.

When you play live and you make a mistake or go out of key for a moment or something like that, most people in the audience don’t even notice ... it’s the whole show they remember.

But when you record, down inside yourself you realize that listeners will be able to hear every single little thing you did and it weighs on some people in a way that live playing never does.

Of course the more you work in a studio the less such things are a problem for most folks.

And the evolution of digital recording has made a huge difference in that regard as well.

Back in the days of analog, we recorded onto tape ... the only way to edit anything was with a razor blade ... techs in studios actually did that and some of them learned to do it amazingly well.

However, with digital recording you can edit anything, like a surgeon in the operating room.

You can cut an “s” off the end of a word, cut and paste phrases with ease and even tune stuff.

So in that sense, modern technology has “taken the pressure off” when the red light goes on.

Because if you don’t get what you want you can just do it over again and paste it in place.

Once you understand and realize that, you can relax much more easily and perform better.

I am very proud to say that we do very little editing when our band is recording.

Often what you are hearing is sheer performance with no edits at all with these guys.

That was the case completely for the whole band with our recent recording of Morning Hymn.

What you hear on that recording is exactly what we played and I sang in one of the takes.

In this day and age of digital editing and the manipulation of what you are hearing, that is rare!

The next musician to play on Walkin’ The Dog was our drummer ... Al Cross.

To be honest it is ass backwards to bring the drummer in so late in the game.

The drummer of course sets the time which is critical but in this case we were fortunate.

Dennis Pendrith is a consummate professional bassist who must have a metronome implanted.

Because when we first recorded together his timing was spot on throughout the entire tune.

Less experienced players would likely have sped up or slowed down a little as the song went on.

But not Dennis ... critical ... because any variation in the time would be problematic for Al.

However in any endeavour Murphy’s Law seem to come into play at some point and it did here.

When you record a drummer there are over a dozen mics on the drum kit ... one for every single drum and cymbal he is playing ... there is often a mic inside the bass drum ... and room mics.

The recording engineer that day was new to the studio, installed the room mics upside down!

So when we were listening to the track later the drums did not sound right at all.

As a result we sent the drum track down to our mixing engineer Josh Bowman in Toronto.

The mixing engineer plays a critical role at the end of this process when he goes over and massages every single sound we recorded making sure it sounds as good as it possibly can.

He then balances all those sounds with each other to create the mix you finally get to hear.

On this occasion we asked Josh if he could “fix” the problem we were hearing and he did.

It’s still Al playing every whack on the drums etc but he was able to correct the sound problem.

Which was great because setting up to record the drums again is a costly proposition!

In the studio there is constantly a meter running ... time is money ... literally!

Al Cross is a world class master drummer ... he knows what to play and even more importantly what not to play to make a song work well ... and you can hear that in his performance here.

His playing on this track is very simple and straightforward ... as it needed to be for this tune.

You can listen to the master at work here ...

The last member of our band that came in to the studio to join our musical adventure was our guitarist, Graham Young, who was in a rather bad frame of mind on that particular day.

This was a young man who thought about and played guitar 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If he wasn’t playing guitar he was going to the music store to buy strings, or listening to records, or jamming with his friends, or going out to play gigs or going out to hear other people play gigs.

Guitar was the main focus of his life ... and then along came the pandemic and it was all gone!

We all identify ourselves to a great degree by what it is we do and suddenly the universe had pulled the rug out from under his feet ... as it had for all young musicians ... and that had hit hard.

To understand other aspects of our session that day some other background is required as well.

Graham and I have an understanding that he will play his Fender Telecaster in the studio.

Unless he approaches me with some rationale as to why he wishes to play a different guitar.

The reason for that understanding is that we have had circumstances in which he recorded some stuff with his Telecaster one day but when I later asked him to come back another day to do some overdubbing on that track he showed up with a different guitar ... which did not match up with his Tele at all ... so we had to throw everything he did on that session in the garbage.

In the studio, time is money and his return session on that occasion was a waste of both!

So, in order to keep things consistent, we have this understanding with which he fully agrees.

Aside from that I must admit I am a bit of a Telecaster junkie myself anyway ... it has been an iconic guitar in country, rock, blues and r’n b for a great many years, especially in Toronto.

It was the guitar played by a great many young guitarists from my era in the sixties because Robbie Robertson played a Telecaster with Levon And The Hawks back in the day, so all the young bucks in the city who idolized Robbie ... Domenic Troiano, Bobby Star etc ... all played a Tele.

Graham won The Sleepwalk Guitar Festival in Toronto when he was 15 years old ... he took the prize money from that award, went out bought himself a Telecaster and has picked it ever since.

While, like many other guitarists he loves to fool around with other guitars and explore them, that Telecaster is like part of his body ... he has a deep intuitive understanding of that guitar.

On this particular day however, Graham pulled out his homemade guitar and started playing it in our session instead, which I decided to just ignore and let him play whatever he wanted.

Frankly I was just very happy that he had come to the studio at all that day so I let that go.

He played several passes at the song ... we can and do tend to keep everything we record for later ... however as Graham was playing Dave and I kept looking at each other with some dismay.

We were not hearing anything in particular that we would want to keep or use on the recording.

After he had played 5 or 6 takes ... and we were getting nowhere ... I finally asked Graham if he would get his Telecaster and take a run at the song with that ... to which he objected at first.

He said that he hadn’t played that guitar in weeks ... but I asked him if he would do that as a personal favour to me, if for no other reason ... which he then reluctantly agreed to do.

He is a real sweetheart and a great guy to work with in music anywhere! ... studio or live.

So he went and got his Tele, tuned it up a little, plugged it into his amp, pulled out his slide and played exactly what you are going to hear in just a moment ... there is not one edit in it at all!

It was an amazing and stunning performance that immediately blew Dave and I away ... thrilling!

If you listen closely you will hear Graham’s mastery of something guitarists call intonation ... his ability to manipulate and alter the tone of his guitar while he is in the motion of playing it.

This aspect of his playing is particularly evident and apparent throughout his solo and is something that he constantly does on his Telecaster that is almost instinctive in nature.

There is something else that is truly wonderful that needs to be considered and understood here.

Not one note of what Graham is playing here is predetermined ... he makes it all up in real time.

If he were to have played the song again for us, it would have sounded entirely different.

If I were to ask him, what are you going to play this time he would laugh, tell me he had no idea.

Until he starts to play and then it just happens ... one of the great joys of making music with him!

Whereas, by comparison, Alex Lifeson from Rush knows every single note his is going to play at a gig when he gets up in the morning, including all his solos, not one note of that is improvised.

Which frankly flies in the face of what rock music and its forebears ... jazz, blues ... are all about.

Graham’s guitar performance is indeed the cherry on our musical sundae ... and here it is ...

The final act in this play is to send what we have done to our mixing engineer Josh Bowman.

Josh goes over the whole recording with a fine tooth comb massaging and making every single aspect of the soundscape we have sent him sound as good as it possibly can, balancing out all the instruments against each other, placing them to the left or to the right side of what you hear.

He is an absolute master of this part of the process and he does a wonderful job for us.

Josh is originally from B. C. and worked on the Bryan Adams Team of engineers out there.

So here is the end of the road in terms of this musical adventure ... the final mix by Josh.

If you compare it with the previous recording shared above you will notice the difference.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our musical adventure ... the tale behind this tune.

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