March 5, 1999
By Brian Bixler
of the News staff www.tcpalm.com
Gordon Lightfootís music is never heavy-handed
Whether you call it folk music or relegate it to the realm of adult contemporary, Gordon Lightfootís music could never be called heavy-handed.
Evocative lyrics, soft arrangements and Lightfootís deep, easy vocals have often combined to make him a top-10 troubadour during his three decades as recording artist.
He will appear 8 p.m. Saturday at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.
Though it has been more than 20 years since Lightfoot had a chart-topping hit, his romantic music seems never to have gone out of style. His first major success, 1970ís If You Could Read My Mind, has been covered by numerous artists, including superdiva Barbra Streisand, and in many styles from country to pop. So the songwriter wasnít surprised when a trio wanted to record a disco-ized version of the song for the 1998 film 54, about New York Cityís legendary Studio 54.
It wasnít the first time someone wanted to back Lightfootís poetic lyrics with a pounding disco beat. The song was eventually recorded by Ultra Nate, Amber and Jocelyn Enriquez for the filmís soundtrack.
I knew it was going to be good because a lady over in Europe did a disco version of it 22 years ago, Lightfoot said in a telephone interview from his home in Toronto. It came as a very pleasant surprise and I thought that the girls did a fine job on it, too.
Lightfoot, who turned 60 in November, is currently on tour to promote his latest CD, A Painter Passing Through. Last yearís effort, the 19th recording of his career, finished his contract with Warner Bros. after 14 albums.
In concert, he performs five songs from the new album while mixing in the standards that have helped define his career: Read My Mind, Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It isnít always easy keeping his extensive repertoire to a time frame of two hours and 15 minutes onstage.
I guess we could probably let it all hang out, but people want to hear a concert. They donít want to feel like theyíre being held prisoner, he said, laughing.
Lightfoot is booked to tour the United States and his native Canada through the fall. Meanwhile, Rhino Records is planning to release a boxed set of his work this summer. Lightfoot said he searched several storage companies to assemble a complete anthology.
Thereís so much material, he said. It gave me a chance to digest my entire catalog again, which was very interesting. All 19 albums. Iíd lost track of what order they were in and everything.
The four-CD affair will have 88 songs, including several surprises.
Eighteen of them have never been released, so itís got a double punch, Lightfoot said. I really did, I can honestly tell you, find three good rarities at the storage company. They go all the way back to 1962, because a couple of them were singles that I recorded when I was just a kid in Nashville with a pretty good backup band. But I had no show and I had nothing of that kind at that time. So I didnít record again for four or five years after that.
Lightfoot admits he gave careful consideration to including the previously unknown works.
I sort of went against that for awhile, because I said, If Iím not going to use something, Iím not going to use it forever,í back at that time. I just decided not to take myself quite that seriously and letís just have some fun and letís do it. It was quite a search too, I might add. They went through the Warner Bros. archives in North Hollywood and I went to three or four different places here.
Two or three of them are pretty raw and that makes it even more interesting, I think. A couple of them are basically just demos. It might sound a little under-produced.
The same could not be said of the artistís haunting 1975 hit, Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a story-song that chronicled the harrowing tale of a freighter that sunk to the bottom of Lake Superior during a storm. Lightfoot said he was inspired to write the song after reading an article in Newsweek about the shipwreck 10 days after the incident. Twenty-nine men lost their lives in the tragedy and Lightfoot felt the magazine article was too short. He set out to pay tribute to those who died.
I had no idea it would be a hit. Just that some of the relatives might hear it, so Iíd make it just perfect for them so that it would not be offensive.
Lightfoot said he isnít writing much these days. Instead, he stays busy at home with wife, Elizabeth, and 9-year-old son Miles and 4-year-old daughter, Meredith. Though he has been nominated for five Grammy Awards, he has never taken one of the trophies home. Still, he has no regrets about his professional life.
It actually went better than I thought it would, he said, because Iím still doing it. Iím still alive. Iím 60 years old and Iím still able to perform and I feel good about doing it. And Iíve still got a voice.