It is said that music is a reflection of its creator's
life. Recently, through his own work, Canadian folk singer Gordon
Lightfoot got a rare chance to take a good, long look in the mirror.
What he heard and felt as he listened to more than 35 years' worth of
his work surprised him.
Over five days late last summer, as he prepared to select the lineup for
his upcoming 88-song, four-CD boxed set, Gordon Lightfoot: Songbook, the
singer took a musical trip down memory lane.
He listened to his entire catalog - 21 albums that included more than
200 songs - as part of his contribution to the project.
He and Thane Tierney, director of catalog development for Rhino Records,
selected the works. The set will be released June 15 by Rhino and sell
The package, which will include comments by Lightfoot on each song, as
well as 25 to 30 photographs, is to be a retrospective of his career.
Going through the catalog and the photographs, many of which were culled
by Lightfoot from his personal album, allowed him to take a private look
"Listening to all those songs going by brought back a lot of
memories,'' said Lightfoot, who will appear in concert at the Fox
Theatre in Detroit Saturday at 8 p.m.
"It was really the first opportunity I'd had to listen to my entire
catalog, and I really saw a lot of reflection of my life in that
material. It ran me right back through my whole personal spectrum.''
He realized how much his life and his music were intertwined.
He relived his 20-year battle with alcoholism and a tumultuous first
marriage, which lasted seven years (1963-1970) and ended in a painful
"A lot of those songs came out of situations in my life,''
Lightfoot said. "I remember burying myself in my work as a way to
escape the emotional roller coaster I was on many of those times.''
It also stirred up some strong feelings, said Lightfoot, feelings that
had been buried for quite some time.
"I mostly felt guilt. It took me back through times that I didn't
feel I'd been very fair with the people around me. I found I'd been
deceitful in many situations, and I felt very bad about that.''
But that was the Gordon Lightfoot of days past. The partier, the
Lightfoot, who turned 60 in November, now lives a quiet life near a lake
in rural Toronto. He got his start nearly 40 years ago in the city's
He said he is more focused, and perhaps more appreciative than he was in
his younger days.
He remarried in 1989, and has two children with his wife, Elizabeth.
He has been sober since 1982.
"It's not the way it used to be. It used to be that when the show
ended, the party started. But it's not like that anymore. Now my main
concern is not to do anything [on the road] that will ruffle the
feathers of the people back home. The last thing I do every night when
I'm on the road is call my wife. And it wasn't always like that.''
One thing that hasn't changed is his concert schedule. Although he
didn't actively written or produced every year, he has toured.
And toured, and toured.
Annually since 1965, he and his long-time backup grouphave done a full
The show at the Fox will be the 11th of 47 stops this year.
"I think the music's better now then it's ever been,'' Lightfoot
said. "The excitement and anticipation before a show is still
there, but the difference is we're much more aware of our
responsibilities at home.''
The recorded anthologycontains 18 rarities, some of them demos.
Some of the pieces regularly find their way into his concert lineup, but
have never been released. Many are original tracks that were never
re-recorded, as many of the songs for the 1975 look-back album
"Gord's Gold'' were.
Lightfoot found 14 of the unusual pieces himself. The others were
discovered in Warner Bros.'s North Hollywood archive. From 1976 to 1988,
he created six albums under the Warner Bros. label.
Other selections in the set were taken from albums produced under the
Reprise and United Artists labels.
"It took quite some time to find and discover these things,'' he
said. "It was an interesting process. Some were in the office I
have here (Toronto), others were in the wine cellar of my home, and some
were actually in an old storage unit I'd rented for years. Some were on
[cassette] tapes, but there are even some that were on reel [to reel].''
Two songs - "Remember Me (I'm the One),'' and "It's Too Late,
He Wins'' - released in the early 1960s on Chateau Records, a small
Canadian record company, kick off "Songbook.'' They are Lightfoot's
first commercially released recordings, made in Nashville in 1962, when
he set out for the country music scene.
"If there's someone out there who's familiar with the type of music
contained in "Sundown'' or "Sit Down Young Stranger (If You
Could Read My Mind),'' they might not recognize some of these songs,''
said Mr. Tierney. "They're very representative of Nashville music
at the time, but almost more Jim Reeves or Patsy Cline_like.''
Not only are there 18 unreleased songs included in the boxed set; there
are another 17 that have not appeared on compact disc.
"This is the first time anyone's compiled a cross-referenced career
history of Gordon Lightfoot's musical career,'' said Mr. Tierney.
"And I think it's a pretty defining set; it has something for
everyone, whether people are familiar with Gordon Lightfoot or not.''
Lightfoot's last original album, "A Painter Passing Through,'' was
recorded under the Reprise label and released in 1997.
His first was "Lightfoot,'' released by United Artists in 1965.