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Old 01-21-2016, 10:43 PM   #1
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Default LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Gordon Lightfoot: The Queen likes my Canadian Railroad Trilogy song

Martin Chilton, culture editor
21 JANUARY 2016 • 10:51AM

Gordon Lightfoot, who was born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938, released his first album Lightfoot! in January 1966, 50 years ago. It contained the Canadian's gorgeous song Early Morning Rain. In the decades since, he has written some classics of popular music, including If You Could Read My Mind, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, Canadian Railroad Trilogy and Rainy Day People. Lightfoot will return to Europe in May 2016 for his first UK dates since 1985. In this Q&A with Martin Chilton, Lightfoot talks about his career in music.

You hosted a BBC show when you were 25. How did that come about?

It was in 1963 and it was called The Country and Western Show. It was a summer replacement series on the BBC and it was like a variety show. There was a lot of choreography and singers involved and a fine little orchestra. We did eight shows and my job was to be a compère at the beginning. Later on I dropped that job for lack of ability in that direction. I was given to doing a song each show and it happened because I was in Britain that year and some music publishing people in Denmark Street in London suggested me to the BBC. So I found myself in front of a British television show, which was a nice surprise.

And you were over from Canada when the Swinging Sixties were all the rage?

Both the Beatles and The Rolling Stones broke on the music scene the summer I was in England. I can vividly remember hearing She Loves You in August 1963. There was also a TV show called Thank Your Lucky Stars, with the catchphrase "I'll give it five!" The Beatles and Stones were so popular when they were on it. One week The Beatles were number one and then the Stones were right on their heels.

It was very interesting time to be in England. Even at that point Lennon and McCartney influenced my writing. I thought, "maybe there is a huck or two in here I haven't thought of". I also worked with a female singer called Clodagh Rodgers, who was managed by her father. We did some demos but nothing came of it. Once the summer was over I returned to Canada to get a few things happening back there.

And you loved London?

I can remember it so well. I lived at 56 Gloucester Road. On the fourth floor. I used to take the subway out to Shepherd's Bush. I was happy to be in England, because my mother had always loved the royals, and so do I. My mother had every memento you could find on the Queen. Some years later I met Queen Elizabeth II, in our capital Ottawa at a Canada Day celebration. David Foster and I were doing the show and we both met her afterwards. She told me how much she loved the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. She looked at me and said, "oh, that song", and then said again, "that song", and that was all she said.

You recorded a Ewan MacColl song on your debut album. Did you meet him in the UK?

I took the song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face from a folk singer called Bonnie Dobson. I knew her and she had a record with that track on it. I never met Ewan MacColl, though, or heard him play. He also did a song called Springhill Mining Disaster, about a tragedy that happened in Canada in the Fifites. MacColl did a few songs about disasters, which was not a common writing form. I liked the fact that he wrote about working guys who did tough jobs. I also liked the American folk style of Woody Guthrie [Lightfoot broke out into singing Guthrie's 1935 song So Long, It's Been Good to Know You at this point].

Who got you interested in music in the first place?

My parents got my sister and I to go to church and have piano lessons. We were keen and they could see that. I got to sing solo in the junior choir when I was 10 or 11 and won a competition, and my sister's piano playing improved to a certain level. One time my sister and I worked together. The first song we ever sang in High School was Rags to Riches by Tony Bennett.

A lot of people influenced me as I was learning but probably Bing Crosby was the most influential, because I would hear his Christmas albums, which my parents played a lot. Through him, the Irish stuff started coming out, because a lot of songs he did like Galway Bay were about the Irish and their traditional music and I caught on to it. Bing had a very mellow voice but he sang some deep songs.

One of your first songs was Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's an Irish Lullaby) and you were there when Van Morrison sang it at The Last Waltz in 1976. Did you not fancy joining in?

Well of course I knew The Band's Canadian keyboard player, the late Richard Manuel, but I didn't play that night because I was there as a guest with my record executives. People ask, "why didn't you play?" If I had known I was going to be playing then I would have been prepared for it. I didn't hear about it until the last minute, when Robbie Robertson asked me to play, and I said "I haven't even warmed my chops up". I was there with the record producer Lenny Waronker and Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones, so I was socially engaged. What an event. It was an amazing evening. Van Morrison stole the show, but Bob Dylan was great, too.

It is an often-quoted tribute but Dylan has said when he heard a Lightfoot song he wished "it would last forever". Did you enjoy working together?

I went on tours with Dylan – the big one was in 1975 and called Roaring Thunder Review. I knew him well because I met him around the time he did his second album, in 1963. He recorded one of my songs called Shadows. In the 1970s, it was suggested that we do a duet, because we had the same manager, Albert Grossman, who also managed Odetta and Peter, Paul and Mary. Dylan and I respected what each other did, but I just decided not to do it. But it was good to hang around together and it was a great music team to work for. They invited me up to Woodstock, for New Year's Eve, right after Janis Joplin had died in October 1970. There was such a group of musicians there, including Bob and Odetta. At midnight, no one spoke for 15 minutes. We were all in a room and no one spoke. Certainly not me. I would have hated to have been the one to break the silence in that gathering.

The list of people who have covered your songs is astonishing, isn't it? Even Telly Savalas is on it.

It really is amazing and I never heard one that I didn't like. Harry Belafonte recorded five of my tunes. He would come to my home in Toronto. One time I went to Harry's office and Eartha Kitt was sitting at the desk. It was a time of meeting interesting people out of the blue.

Did anyone surprise you with their interpretation?

Marty Robbins surprised me in 1975 with Ribbon of Darkness, because he sped it up and it went to number one in the country music charts. Another one was Viola Wills, a girl who had a hit disco version of If You Could Read My Mind. You should check it out. It came out right when disco music was hot. She was with a shaky little record company at the time and it just couldn't get over 35 in the Billboard charts. I also like the version of that song that Diana Krall does with Sarah McClachlan. Diana's husband Elvis Costello is pretty good, too, and they make a hot couple.

Do you still write songs?

My first song was Hula Hoop Song, in 1955. It was a novelty song. I had to find someway to reach out and it was with a novelty song. Now, all of my recording obligations have been taken care of. I made 14 albums for Warner Brothers. Five for United Artist before that.

There is always something wrong with a song, you can't be perfect. I could be doing songwriting again. I try to write songs. At our concerts, we take the cream of the crop from my back catalogue and I don't know if I could write something now that would replace any of that. We don't lose any of the standards. We have lots of songs in rotation. We had our three big ones in the 1970s – Read My Mind, Sundown, Wreck. I once performed The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to about 15 sea captains. The song was about a ship that broke in half and sank.

One of my favourites is 10 Degrees And Getting Colder from 1971 . Do you remember much about writing that?

I can remember sitting in a cabin outside of Denver writing that with a can of soup on the stove. I drove to Denver and rented a car and drove into the mountains and parked where they had cabins and I went to the grocery and got supplies and wrote some tunes and that was one of them.

And were you influenced by literature. I'm thinking of the song Don Quixote?

I wanted to borrow from the concepts that Cervantes was writing about while I was up to my ears thinking about empathy for what was going on the Vietnam War. Don Quixote was a song for a 1969 Michael Douglas movie called Hail Hero! I wrote the title song for the film and they also used the Don Quixote one I had submitted. I had lots of friends who were fighting in Vietnam and I am still friends with veterans of the war. The song was written in empathy about the people who were having to go out there in their thousands.

part 2 - next post
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Old 01-21-2016, 10:43 PM   #2
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PART 2 - I read in a high school yearbook that your ambition was to be a drummer.

I was a drummer in the bugle band in cadets. I marched. It's probably quite funny to look back on it. I enjoyed my time at Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute. There was nothing you couldn't do: there was music, hockey, everything – in this little tiny town. I never got really good at hockey. I did track and field, and I joined a football team.

And you said you might end up a "diaper washer at Waggs". What was that?

I worked in a plant when I was 14 for two years. I always wanted to do the summer jobs. Honest to God, I always had to be doing something. The plant was the laundry and dry cleaning plant. It was quite a large concern, not like a corner store. It was a business employing a hundred or so people. There were two or three plants and my father ran one and that's why I always had a job in the summer time. We did all the linen supply for the hotels in the resort areas. When I was 16, I used to drive huge loads of laundry in a three ton truck. I would turn round at night to drive back and see the band in a place north of Toronto called Dunn's Pavilion. I would drive that truck all day and they drive back and all the way until one day I wrecked the truck. I fell asleep and wrecked it. I was OK and so was my helper. I called my dad and the first words out of his mouth were, "are you OK?" I was really lucky I had a kind father.

What was the music you rushed to see?

Dunn's had everyone from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington and we went to see every one of them. I was amazed by Louis Armstrong. I remember when I first rocked in it was a great big dance hall and Tommy Young was blowing trombone and Louis was singing a tune and it was just Satchmo and you could hear it resounding through the dance hall and people were dancing. It was a highlight. One of the Dorsey Brothers. Harry James played there. Les Brown and his great vocalists.

Did you always love jazz?

I love jazz. I still do. Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz are so good. I took a notification course in Jazz Orchestration. It wasn't a grandiose as you'd think but I did have to to go to Los Angeles to do it and get an understanding of the keyboard because the keyboard became my tool and I used it a lot in transposing and composing. All the flats and time values. I spent a year doing that because in those days you had to be able to write your own music and read sheets. So I got paid to write them for other people and copying scores and individual parts for orchestras. I could do that with a picture of the keyboard in my mind. I play piano, but not well enough to play professionally.

And did you enjoy performing?

I never really had stage nerves but I did have had trouble getting up to the right energy level. For a long time I drank. I drank up until 1982 and then I gave up alcohol. I got into exercising and once I started going to the gym on a regular basis, which I still do to the current day, that helped sustain my career. I stayed dry until 2005 for 23 years.

One time in England I had a confrontation with a fan at the Dominion Theatre. I had been working for 15 days and I was pretty inebriated at the time. I need not say more. But I will do a lot better this time with the shows, including one at the Royal Albert Hall. I had a glass of wine in 2005 after recovering from a serious operation for an aneurysm. I had another one which nearly killed me and had I not been training I probably would have died. I often asked, "was it the training that brought it on?" but the trainers would say, "Oh, no, no... it couldn't be that."

And are you still enthused by music?

Totally. The other night, I heard Andy Kim, who had the hit with Sugar Sugar. He's hale and hearty. And I went to see Tom Cochrane. I recently saw a couple of young bands that blew my mind they were so good. We have a melting pot in Canada and they were so good and no one really knows who these young musicians are.

What has changed for me is that I now have a huge family [Lightfoot has four children, from his first two marriages] – the result of my living. It's very extended. I don't mind at all. They were all here with me at Christmas. A couple are in music. My daughter Meredith Moon from my second wife has a band that does Appalachian music, with five-strong banjo, clawhammer style. I may have to direct her somewhere. Meredith was my middle name. I would have to direct her because I am always directing something. She's in the musician's union and she is only 21. Your kids surprise you. And I just got married for the third time. I would never have ever dreamed that I would get married again and then all of a sudden you meet somebody. That's the thing about life. It can be so unexpected."

Gordon Lightfoot tours the UK in May, including a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
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Old 01-22-2016, 05:22 AM   #3
Dave, Melbourne,Australia
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Default Re: LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Another excellent article. Thanks for posting it, Char. Lots of wonderful detail about things we had only heard briefly. And I'm fascinated to hear one of my musical heroes attended the famous Last Waltz concert and said another of my heroes (Van Morrison) stole the show!

Last edited by Dave, Melbourne,Australia; 01-22-2016 at 06:00 AM.
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Old 01-22-2016, 08:33 AM   #4
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Default Re: LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Great article! Thanks, Char!
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Old 01-23-2016, 12:15 AM   #5
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Default Re: LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Many thanks Char for the heads up on what I think is the first UK newspaper article I have seen about Gord's UK tour this year,. a nice lengthy one in my one time favourite rag the Telegraph (fantastic crosswords that I spent the best part of 3 years at University studying !!)
I had previously spotted the article's arresting headline in a posting on Facebook
Gordon Lightfoot the Queen likes my Canadian Railroad Trilogy song
It also featured a few photos such as these two

I especially enjoyed the following paragraph
And you loved London?
I can remember it so well. I lived at 56 Gloucester Road. On the fourth floor. I used to take the subway out to Shepherd's Bush. I was happy to be in England, because my mother had always loved the royals, and so do I. My mother had every memento you could find on the Queen. Some years later I met Queen Elizabeth II, in our capital Ottawa at a Canada Day celebration. David Foster and I were doing the show and we both met her afterwards. She told me how much she loved the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. She looked at me and said, "oh, that song", and then said again, "that song", and that was all she said
I have previously posted about that address in Kensington see my later post at:-
that contains a now non functioning link to my original (I will be reporting this to Florian)
I had made up an ersatz blue plaque to attach to the shop front at 56 Gloucester Road see

you can see the fourth floor there in that screenshot from Google Streetview that I displayed on that earlier posting
in which I also displayed a historic marker plaque allegedly affixed to the shopfront's fascia board

I had previously used screenshots made from Google's "Streetview". but I recently saw that Microsoft's Bing has been playing copycat/catchup so here is the Bing "Streetside" view of the same shop front


On another link I found another 2016 concert see
Gordon Lightfoot
Jun 25, 2016
Sat 8:00PM
Deadwood Mountain Grand Hotel & Casino
Deadwood, SD
"Sir" John Fowles Bt
Honorary Curator Bootleg Museum

(where Sir does not signify that I am a fully benighted Knight just a Bt which signifies a humble Baronet -?? read the wiki!)
I meant no one no harm
Once inside we found a curious moonbeam
Doing dances on the floor

Last edited by johnfowles; 01-23-2016 at 12:20 AM.
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Old 01-23-2016, 10:53 PM   #6
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Default Re: LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Thanks for posting Char.

One of the most insightful interviews I have ever read with Gordon.

I hope someone in the Canadian government can ask the Queen to knight Gordon while he is in London. No one has done more to praise the beauty and wonder of Canada.

Just the humble opinion of this American boy! John
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Old 01-23-2016, 11:02 PM   #7
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Default Re: LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Canadians cannot be knighted...Canada does not allow its residents to receive titles, but Canadians settled in Britain who are being honored for services to Britain can be knighted (though even then the Canadian gov't protested Sir George Bain's knighthood despite his living in Britain for 30 years). People in the dependent territories/colonies are also eligible.
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Old 01-24-2016, 08:12 AM   #8
Dave, Melbourne,Australia
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Default Re: LONDON Telegraph interview- part 1-jan.2016

Down here in this part of the world, knighthoods haven't been taken seriously since our previous Prime Minister Tony Abbott resurrected Australian knighthoods (outlawed since 1983) in 2014 in order to give one to Prince Philip.
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