Friday, July 9, 1999
Lightfoot at ease in live spotlight
By JANE STEVENSON -- Toronto Sun
So maybe there weren't hordes of screaming teenagers outside the CHUM-CITY building at Queen and John on Wednesday night.
There was a Canadian music icon "in the house" -- as some MuchMusic veejays like to scream -- in the form of singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
The normally private and shy 60-year-old Orillia native made a rare live TV appearance on MuchMoreMusic for an hour-and-a-half of "music and conversation" as part of the Intimate And Interactive format lifted from sister station MuchMusic.
It's as a performer rather than an interview subject that Lightfoot is truly comfortable. That's judging from the amount of singing Lightfoot and his four-man band did -- 16 songs, including Rainy Day People, If You Could Read My Mind, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, Sundown and Early Morning Rain -- and the few revelatory answers he gave to questions lobbed by host Jana Lynne White.
Dressed casually in a black T-shirt and jeans while counting down song intros in a raspy whisper -- finger-picking his acoustic guitar and singing in his trademark baritone, although his delivery has become noticeably more clipped and higher-pitched -- Lightfoot's performing style brought back memories of early Canadian TV music shows.
The studio added to the retro atmosphere, with Lightfoot playing "in the round" to a small audience in folding chairs -- including Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy -- while wooden-framed early photos decorated the set.
The main reason for his folksy, low-key appearance was a recently released four-CD box set, Songbook, which features 88 Lightfoot songs, 16 of which are rarities previously unreleased.
"I would have liked to have been even more ethereal had it been possible, but you have to draw the line somewhere," Lightfoot told White of whittling down the track listing from 19 albums over his 33-year career.
"It's supposed to be fun. When you're picking that stuff out, you have to think about it as fun. It's not going to be about maybe it's not as good or as well-produced as you would have liked."
Much of Lightfoot's sustaining popularity over the past three decades has had to do with the astonishing number of performers who have covered his material, including Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Harry Belafonte, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and fellow Canucks Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Anne Murray and Ron Sexsmith.
Last year the dance act Ultra Nate had a huge hit with their disco cover of If You Could Read My Mind, which was included on the soundtrack of the movie 54.
"I can't complain about that, you just let it happen and there have been many wonderful versions of many songs," Lightfoot told a 23-year-old Edmonton fan on the phone.
Next up for Lightfoot is a Canadian tour in the fall, including tentative dates at Massey Hall from Nov. 11-13.
"I'd like to carry on as long as time permits," he said. "The mandatory retirement age is coming up -- it's a good place to work toward."