Classical Guitarist Liona Boyd Talks Her New Children’s Book, ‘The Cat Who Played Guitar’

Liona Boyd

Liona Boyd in Palm Beach, April 2022. Boyd says many of the stories in her new children's book, 'The Cat Who Played Guitar,' were inspired by her real-life feline companion, Muffin. Photo: Dean Marrantz

Classical guitar great Liona Boyd is thrilled to finally hold the hard cover copy of her children’s book, The Cat Who Played Guitar, in her hands. 

Illustrated by Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson, some will find it amusing to learn that the story was inspired by her real cat Muffin, who she imagined taught himself to play a tiny guitar she bought while she was off touring around the world.  

“I’m very delighted to see how well it turned out,” she told Zoomer during a recent phone interview. “They (Fernandez and Jacobson) won awards all over the world for their illustrations. All those [illustrations] look exactly like Muffin.” 

The likeness of the cat in the book is based on real photos of Muffin found at the end of the book.

Boyd, long known as the First Lady of the Guitar, has been releasing albums since the early ’70s. She’s sold millions of copies globally, won five Juno Awards and been bestowed the Order of Canada. She has chronicled her extraordinary life in two autobiographies, 2017’s In My Own Key: My Life In Love and Music, and in the followup, No Remedy For Love.

At 72, single but still hoping for “one last big romance” — she dated Pierre Trudeau for eight years and was married to real estate developer John B. Simon from 1992 to 2004 — she is as creative as ever, releasing a new album this year, L.O.V.E. She filmed much of the footage for the music videos herself at her house in Palm Beach, and has an instrumental album due out in 2023. 

She has taken a break from live performance, but throughout her career Boyd’s performed for the Queen and Prince Philip, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show and more. Her 2017 PBS Christmas special, A Winter Fantasy, can be streamed on CBC Gem.  

Boyd spoke with Zoomer from her condo in Toronto about her first children’s book and its muse, Muffin.


Liona Boyd
Liona Boyd was inspired to write ‘The Cat Who Played Guitar’ as a tribute to her own cat, Muffin, who passed away two decades ago. Photo: Dean Marrantz


KAREN BLISS: What a beautiful tribute to your cat. When did Muffin pass away?

LIONA BOYD: Hate to tell you, about 20 years ago.

KB: So this idea has been bubbling inside you all this time?

LB: Yes, I wrote it in prose, just a story, and then I thought ‘I’m going to try and see if I could write it in poetry.’ It’s been on the back burner because I was so focused on recording music. 

KB: Did you really get a tuxedo made for your cat?

LB: Yes, [by] my dressmaker, Gilles Savard, who made all my concert gowns, when I played for the Queen and all kinds of galas. It was tricky to get it on Muffin; he had safety snaps under his tail. I’m sure it wasn’t that comfortable for him, but my cat was very patient. Took two days to get the photo. I actually haven’t seen a picture of a real cat playing guitar; there’s a lot of fake ones. But everything about that is actually real. I got the little Mexican chair in the old part of Los Angeles, and then I made the stage with the curtains. That was my desk. Then I had the little guitar that I bought in Seville, Spain, and I have it actually in my Toronto condo now. It was the perfect size for a cat. He was always intrigued by my guitars. He’d step over them very gingerly and never harm one. Muffin seemed to sense these were very special instruments.

KB: Have you read the book to any kids?

LB: Yes, my sister’s grandchild, who isn’t even three yet. She loved the book. It’s so important that parents and grandparents read to their kids. I know that’s why I became a writer, because my parents were always reading to us — my sister and I, and particularly poetry. Since I was little I was writing poetry and mine always got selected in the school yearbook or the school newsletters.

KB: This story is a mix of fact and fiction. But you did, in fact, perform for the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

LB: I was friends and pen pals with Prince Philip. I have more than 130 letters from him. For about 35 years, we were pen pals and I played for the Royal Family many times — not just Prince Philip, but also three times for the Queen. She introduced me to her mother, the Queen Mother. And then I met all the corgi dogs. I got to sleep at Windsor Castle. It was so wonderful.

KB: Did you actually cook shrimp for Muffin?

LB: Oh yes I did. That is true. There’s a lot of things in the actual story that are true, but Muffin secretly wanting to play the guitar, of course, that’s not. [Laughs.]

KB: You did an audio version of The Cat Who Played Guitar that includes music passages.

LB: Yes, I did. Parents who don’t want to read it, they can let me read it to their child. You hear me reciting it and then all these little classical guitar pieces that are very simple and melodic. I want kids to not only fall in love with Muffin, but also fall in love with the classical guitar. It’s educational, teaching children that if they work hard enough and focus on a project, maybe they’ll make an impossible dream come true. Just like Muffin did. You have to practise hours to learn the pieces Liona had played.

KB: Did you ever get a new cat after Muffin died?

LB: No, I only ever had Muffin. And he’s in kitty heaven now. But it added a lot to my life when I was married. It was great to have an animal in the house, and such a precious one. He was so loving. And he used to sit on our laps when we had lunch. We spoiled him. My husband would do exercises with him every day. [Laughs.] We had little dances and songs that we composed for him. Muffin was a good salsa dancer; we’d take his little paws and dance. I wish I had some videos of that.

KB: That sounds like a sequel.

LB: Yeah. Playing hide and seek. He did that almost every night. I’d be racing around the house. [John] would be watching, very amused, and Muffin thought he’d be hidden, but then his tail would be out behind the curtains. I’d pretend I hadn’t seen it. He was kind of like a dog. He’d be waiting there at the door when we came back from all our trips. We’d call him on the phone. Anyway, I’m just very gratified that it finally got out into the world. 

The Cat Who Played Guitar is currently available in paperback at, paperback and digital formats at, and in hardcover from Barnes & Noble.