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Old 03-08-2017, 08:53 AM   #1
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Default Interview:

Gordon Lightfoot returns to our ‘Spanish Moss’
Iconic Canadian singer-songwriter plays the Lucas Theatre
By Jim Morekis

"I DON’T KNOW where we went wrong, but the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back."

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

Those two lyrics from two different hits sum up the songwriting and storytelling genius of Gordon Lightfoot: A complex depth of feeling and emotion, distilled to the most unadorned and unpretentious essence.

Now 78 years old and in his sixth decade of touring, Lightfoot hardly needs an introduction. Along with Leonard Cohen, he is Canada’s most influential musical export —sorry, Justin Bieber—and his string of hits in the ‘60s and ‘70s helped author the folk-rock sound, alongside his contemporary Bob Dylan.
You’re one of a handful of artists who, when one of your songs comes on the radio, people tend to keep it on that song until it’s over, no matter how many times they’ve heard it.

I was 12 when I wrote my first song. And I’ve never stopped writing since. When I was 23-24 years old I already had at least 30 songs of my own. I was listening to Bob Dylan, Bob Gibson, and, maybe surprisingly to some people, a lot of country songs. I had a huge repertoire built up.

I first wrote professionally when I was 21, when I sold a song for a TV series on CBC. A lot of it was me writing songs to pay the rent. But I kept writing, and my first wife really encouraged me.

I’ve always remembered something you wrote in one of your liner notes, about playing a bar in Canada where everyone was trying to watch the hockey game on TV.

Oh, that was the Saturday night hockey games at Steel’s Tavern in Toronto. I played there plenty of times. The crowds were actually pretty polite, but they were definitely more into the hockey game. I often liken it to paid rehearsal. I’d play a lot of what I call ‘bawdy ballads’ to entertain and amuse them. You know, ‘Long John Tiddly Whacker,’ ‘The Farmer’s Dog,’ stuff like that.

That was actually where the record folks first came to see me. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded my tune, ‘For Lovin’ Me,’ and that was my first major hit as a songwriter.

You’re often mentioned in the same breath with Bob Dylan. Would you say you share similiarities in that you both grew up near the Great Lakes?

Sure, you could say that. He grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, near Lake Superior, and then moved to Minneapolis. Of course we both ended up in New York about the same time, around 1963-64, when it was a whole hub of activity in folk music.
We were represented by the same talent manager, and the next thing I knew I was meeting Bob Dylan personally. I was awestruck. I still am, whenever I see him. I’ve met with him often through the years.

People are always trying to get us together to do a duet. Can you imagine that? A duet with Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot! Who knows, maybe the idea can pick up some momentum and we will make it happen! [laughs]

Since Dylan won his Nobel Prize for Literature, I’ve heard people say that if Dylan deserves a Nobel, surely Gordon Lightfoot deserves one as well. What would you think about that?

First I’d have to think if I really want to fly to go get it! [laughs]. No, I wouldn't care. I've received enough prizes in my life.

I finally managed to keep my nose clean enough to win lots of things. I’m particularly proud of being named a Companion to the Order of Canada, the highest level of that honor.

I even got to meet Prince Charles and Lady Diana one time. I get invited to a lot of stuff!

Americans have a brash type of outspoken patriotism. But I’ve found that Canadians are at least as patriotic, you’re just not as loud about it. What do you think?

We’re cousins. That’s always how I put it. We’re both cut from the same cloth. Basically, a bunch of English and French people coming over!

We make it down to the states to tour usually about six or seven times a year. I don’t know how any of the policies will change now, but we have all our work permits in order [laughs].

There’s a particular poignancy, a melancholy in your songwriting that always stands out.

“If You Could Read My Mind” was an example of me beginning to have the experience of losing. Of losing in love, losing in life. My first marriage fell apart, with two kids.

Unrequited love has driven thousands of songs. But for most young songwriters, the whole subject of pain and emotional loss is really a figment of their imagination. They don’t really know what it’s like, because they just haven’t lived through enough of it yet. Until then, they’re just imagining what it might be like.

When you begin experiencing that kind of loss, you turn to other things to get you through the emotional trauma. For us, we also used a lot of bennies back then. Handfuls of bennies to get you through.

You also had a battle with alcoholism.

Yes. That ended for me in 1982. I stopped drinking at age 45. It was fuel for songwriting though, for a very long time. But eventually of course it became an albatross. A real anchor around my neck.

It started out innocently enough. You know, a little Irish coffee on stage. But the more I drank, the more I got into the habit of doing irrational things.
You are one tough guy. You survived an aortic aneurysm in 2002, with a six-week induced coma. Within two years you were on the road again.

I finally woke up after six weeks, and immediately my first thought was what to do with my band! People were depending on me. And there were people hovering over my hospital bed with various documents to sign! [laughs]

I understand you had just completed material for the next album when you had to rush to the hospital.

It was providence that those recordings were there, already done. I really do chalk it up to providence. They were essentially demo recordings I made a year before. They were rehearsal tracks. My boys put the parts on while I was recovering.

It was your work, your music, that kept you going.

After awhile I just forgot about my condition. Overall though, I have to say I feel fortunate. Very, very fortunate.

Over 40 years after you released 'The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald,' you still maintain close contact with the extended families of the crewmen who died in the real-life tragedy.

Anytime we're in their area, we always meet people connected with the ship. Mostly in the Great Lakes region, but they're spread out all over. We meet often with the Ladies' Committee in Madison, Wisconsin, for example.

You ended up altering the performed lyrics after you helped out with a documentary about the incident.

They got all the crew and equipment up there, and of course the whole time they were shooting the lake was calm as a mill pond [laughs]. I think they ended up getting about 50,000 feet of footage.

A problem came up in the script, about how were we going to say the tragedy happened? That line about the main hatch cover caving in—in a way that puts the fault on the guys on that watch.

That was one of the first details I read in the newspaper, when I was inspired to write the song. It didn’t come until verse five, but that caused a real problem because that sort of made their guys responsible. The whole thing started getting out of hand. That’s when I began changing up the lyrics a bit in live performances.

To me the genius of the tune is the specificity of the lyrics, your decision to tell the story in the voice of someone familiar with the sea, using correct nautical language.

A lot of that came from all the Irish and Scottish maritime lingo I grew up with. I’m from mostly a Scots/Irish background. I guess really just Scottish the more I think of it [laughs]. All of that came to the fore in that song.

I’m a bit of a sailor myself, though. One time I sailed out of Charleston.

Yep. But I got blown back to port by a storm 14 miles out! [laughs]. I love the sea. I still have a sailboat up in the Great Lakes, on Lake Huron. And I was a canoe tripper for a long time.

I love being out on the water. Honestly, when I first started sailing, it gave me a chance to dry out from the alcohol.

How many gigs do you still do a year?

We did 78 shows last year, in seven trips. We did 12 shows in England. We played the Royal Albert Hall. That was my third time playing there.

We’ve played in Savannah a few times over the years. We feel really good to be able to come back. I even have Savannah in one of my tunes, “Spanish Moss.”

They filmed Forrest Gump in Savannah, didn’t they? That was a great movie!
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Old 03-09-2017, 03:01 PM   #2
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At 78, Gordon Lightfoot is nowhere near retirement.

Often referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter, Lightfoot still has plenty to say. On March 15, the folk-rock legend will perform at the Lucas Theatre.

“I’ve got a lot of friends in Savannah,” Lightfoot says. “We’re going to have a meet-and-greet after the show.

“I’m very fortunate. I have a great band, and we’re looking forward to getting down into Georgia again.

“I played lots of shows in Georgia,” he says. “I even wrote a song that mentions Savannah after having been there.”

Touring is something Lightfoot enjoys.

“There are 11 shows in this trip,” he says. “I enjoy the preparation that goes into it. It’s something we all look forward to. It’s planned well in advance.”

At an early age, Lightfoot was encouraged by his mother in his musical endeavors. He began his career as a child performer.

“I first sang at Sunday school when I was 5 years old,” he says. “It just went from there.

“I made a record in Grade 4 for Parents Day. It was made with one of those early recording machines that used to cut right into the plastic.

“From there on, I got involved in musical projects,” Lightfoot says. “I started songwriting when I was in Grade 12 and continued.”

It took Lightfoot a while to get established, but he was patient.

“I was filling up a catalogue,” he says. “By the time I got something recorded by a major entity, I’d been writing for years.”

Lightfoot’s many songs include “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “For Lovin’ Me,” “Early Morning Rain,” “Steel Rail Blues,” “Ribbon of Darkness” — the list goes on and on.

“I find that if I sit down at the desk and think about my life and look inside myself, I get things done,” Lightfoot says. “I’m going to write travel songs, songs about being homesick, about being in love, unrequited love, trains, ships, planes, a whole combination of things from many different topics.

“I wrote songs about Vietnam, three or four of them,” he says. “I wrote another one about Desert Storm, like an onlooker looking on. As a Canadian, I have ways of making commentary that could have been described as protest songs.”

At his concerts, Lightfoot wants both audience members and band members to enjoy themselves above all else.

“What’s going to happen today is anyone’s guess,” he says. “We’re mostly lively with a good beat. We keep things moving.

“We don’t get into the heavy stuff. I do the songs people enjoy. They’ve stood the test of time.”
“What’s going to happen today is anyone’s guess,” he says. “We’re mostly lively with a good beat. We keep things moving.

“We don’t get into the heavy stuff. I do the songs people enjoy. They’ve stood the test of time.”

Most of the music is original.

“I’m classified as a singer/songwriter,” Lightfoot says. “I write and sing my own material. I have done material — just seven or eight tunes — by other writers, but have mostly stuck to my own.

“Bob Dylan has been a model for me in work ethic,” Lightfoot says. “I really do enjoy the work.”

In addition to recording gold and multi-platinum albums, Lightfoot has had songs recorded by some of the world’s biggest stars, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., The Kingston Trio, Marty Robbins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Herb Alpert, Harry Belafonte, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, Eric Clapton, John Mellencamp and many more.

Meeting Mick Jagger in Switzerland is a career highlight for Lightfoot.

“It was an interesting afternoon,” he says. “I played piano and sang songs for Mick and he played a couple for me on guitar.”

Another highlight was playing the famous Los Angeles nightclub Troubadour.

“That was the first place Elton John played in the U.S.,” Lightfoot says. “Then there was the time we opened for Peter, Paul and Mary at the Hollywood Bowl for 15,000 people.

“They had me opening for them there and at a big amphitheater in Washington, D.C. John Denver joined us on stage for a couple of things.

“John and I were good friends and I really admired his talent,” Lightfoot says. “He was a great singer and wrote great songs.”

Just as Denver tried acting in the 1977 film “Oh, God!” with George Burns, Lightfoot did two films, including “Harry Tracy, Desperado.”

“It starred Bruce Dern and Helen Shaver was the female lead,” Lightfoot says. “I was a supporting actor. I wanted to do it and they gave me a shot. I didn’t take any acting lessons, but I did have a meeting with an acting coach.

“The other film was ‘Hotel’ with James Brolin. I was an itinerant country singer who tried to give up alcohol,” Lightfoot says. “Two years after, I really gave up alcohol and was totally dry for 23 years.”

But the dry spell ended because Lightfoot says he “blew it one night.”

“I had a glass of wine for dinner and was out of the business for two years,” he says. “I got back on stage after 28 months.

“Now today, I’m going full steam. All my energy goes into the show.

“I have a lot of family obligations,” Lightfoot says. “I have six children by four different ladies and was married three times.”

His wife, Kim, is an American from Iowa. “She was in the film industry in California,” Lightfoot says.

Local fans can expect to hear all their favorite songs.

“In Savannah, we’re going to do ‘If You Could Read My Mind,’ ‘Sundown’ and ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,’” Lightfoot says. “It’s going to be a toe tapper. We have fun doing it.

“My whole band is into it,” he says. “We don’t get corny. We try to keep it in the middle of the road, so to speak.”

What: Gordon Lightfoot

When: 8 p.m. March 15

Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.

Cost: $55-$95

Info: 912-525-5050,
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Old 03-13-2017, 01:10 PM   #3
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Default Re: Interview:

A direct link to the first article:
"I'll see you all next Saturday..."
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Old 12-05-2018, 02:02 PM   #4
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March 2, 2010 interview -

If you could read his mind
A conversation with folk music legend Gordon Lightfoot
By Bill DeYoung

Most of the world doubtless knows Gordon Lightfoot through his run of hit singles in the 1970s: “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Fair enough.

But this native Canadian with the world–weary voice is considered a living legend for his early folk material (“For Lovin’ Me,” “Early Morning Rain”), a lot of which was famously covered by the likes of Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, Richie Havens and even Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand.

In the wake of the James Taylor–led singer/songwriter explosion, he became one of the top–selling exponents of tastefully–arranged folk/pop. Lightfoot was a regular guest on Midnight Special and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

Of the hundreds of songs he’s written, Lightfoot is most proud of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which uses the structure of an old Scottish folk tune to tell the true story of a bulk freighter that sank on Lake Superior the previous year.

He’d read about the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the tragic loss of its 29–man crew, in Newsweek magazine. In true folk–bard fashion, he pulled out his guitar and made up a song on the spot.

The single came one hair away from reaching No. 1 in 1976.

Now 71, Lightfoot is the recipient of 16 Juno Awards – the Canadian Grammy – and is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In 2003, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor.

Canada has even issued a Gordon Lightfoot postage stamp.

Lightfoot, who’ll perform with his band March 9 in the Johnny Mercer Theatre, is a survivor in every sense of the word. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, alcohol and drugs almost did him in, and in 2002 he lay in a coma for five weeks after suffering an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Four years later, a small stroke left him without the use of two fingers on his right hand.

Just two weeks ago, a rumor spread that he had died. Several Canadian newspapers even reported it as fact.

Lightfoot is fully recovered – from everything, thank you – and living in Toronto.

It’s been a long and bumpy road. All things considered, do you feel lucky to still be here?

Gordon Lightfoot: Are you talking about the behavior that we exhibited in the ‘70s? I think I’m lucky that we’re even having this conversation right now!

I have a very strong desire to continue on. I have a wonderful orchestra – a wonderful band – and a wonderful show, I think. We get lots of people, as many people as we need to pay the bills, so they say. And get the tour around. Sometimes I worry a little bit about the fuel emissions. But we get around and do 70 shows a year.

Do you still have the same passion for it that you once had?

Gordon Lightfoot: Oh yeah, I really like doing the concerts. I recorded 20 albums in my career – that was pretty rough work and most of it was done under contract. That caused a lot of the bumpiness too, because it caused me to be isolated and cut myself off from my people and my kids, so I could work on the songs. I wanted to do it because by that time I was supporting a band, was supporting a crew, and had acquired two or three children. But I don’t regret any of it.

You’ve been playing guitar a very long time. Do you even have to think about it any more?

Gordon Lightfoot: Well, I have to think about it a lot more since I had that little transient stroke. Because that really got me practicing hard. It took about five months for that to come back. It’s a good thing I have a good backup orchestra, because it sure helped a lot (laughing). You know, I really started practicing a lot, and I’m back to about 98 percent with the hand.

I practice just about every day, in the evening for an hour or so. I lead a fairly quiet life. Sometimes I go out to a movie. My family has two houses – they live in one, and I live in the other one, alone. It’s one of those kind of situations.

But the thing is, my tuning has improved. Because I’ve been messin’ and messin’ with it, and I’ve almost got perfect intonation. That’s one of the reasons why our concerts are sounding so great, and why we’re getting such enthusiasm out of our audiences. It’s unbelievable. It’s very gratifying to me.

I know you’ve lived in other places for periods of time, but you’ve always returned to Canada. What makes someone distinctly Canadian – “I’ve just got to be here”?

Gordon Lightfoot: I never had that feeling! I wanted to get a green card at one point, but I never did because I have so many relatives here that I wanted to stick around where my relatives were. So all we did was work with an H–1 visa, and I do that to this day. We just have to keep getting our petitions issued and get permission to go in there. And settle with the IRS.

I rented a place in L.A. one time, thought I might write some songs there, but it didn’t work out. I’ve always had a place to live here in the city, and I like Toronto. I love Canada. Toronto really is the center of the music industry here in Canada.

You came to prominence during the folk renaissance of the ‘60s, when Dylan, Phil Ochs, Ian and Sylvia etc. were coming around. Rock ‘n’ roll, as you’ve noted before, pretty much blew it all out of the water. But your radio hits came after that period, well into the ‘70s. Was there some sort of vindication for you there?

Gordon Lightfoot: Yeah, I felt good about that. But also, I got a lot of good cover recordings during the latter part of the ‘60s. It wasn’t like I was spinning my wheels, because I was getting recordings by other artists. And being quite surprised by that.

By the time I changed over to Warner Brothers, round about 1970, I was re–inventing myself. I was trying to take it into a realm where I thought it might sell somehow! Without going rock ‘n’ roll, without getting heavy rhythm. And believe me, I got nothing against rock ‘n’ roll, I’m just saying that at that time I just felt there was room for a ballad. At the same time, we had the Beatles in our face the whole goddam time, too, all through the whole ‘60s. They sort of canceled out the folk revival.

Are you saying that when the singer/songwriter movement came, around ’70, you were thinking “This is where I should go”? Is that how you “re–invented” yourself?

Gordon Lightfoot: Let’s say I was probably just advancing away from the folk era, and trying to find some direction whereby I might have some music that people would want to listen to.

You gotta think “How it’s going to be onstage?” I was always a live performer, right back to when I sang in bars and coffeehouses and lounges.

I had an opportunity to get with that company, they had a house producer – Lenny Waronker – so all I had to do was make basic tracks. And then let their producers go ahead with the orchestrations. We had some really good overdubbed music in there, too, by other musicians like Ry Cooder.

Have you ever tried to write a hit?

Gordon Lightfoot: Not really. I sort of felt I was on to something when I wrote the song “Sundown.” I said “This one here sounds like it might do something.”

“Sundown” was the example I was going to use. Merle Haggard told me that once he’d written “Okie From Muskogee,” as a joke, and it became a huge hit, he got out his songwriters’ tool kit and started trying to write stuff in a similar vein.

Gordon Lightfoot: I tried doing that a couple of times. I tried doing it once with a song, and I was taking the song around the country on a promotion tour. I kept pushing Side B at the time, and Side A – “Baby Step Back” – was one modeled after “Sundown.”

part 2 in next post
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Old 12-05-2018, 02:03 PM   #5
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part 2 -
You must get weary of having to do “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Sundown” in every single show, when you’ve so many great songs.

Gordon Lightfoot: Sincerely, I love the songs. I really do believe in my songs a lot. I know which ones really work best on the stage. And fortunately, all those songs, they really work.

I’ve had other songs that they keep wanting to hear, which I don’t do because I know they just don’t work. There’s some kind of a redundancy factor that creeps into the situation somewhere along the line. I don’t like doing “Pony Man,” it’s an excellent song, I’m always getting requests, but I think it’s too long. It’s that simple reason. And I have so many other songs in a similar kind of approach and tempo to replace it with that are better, like “Sit Down Young Stranger” or “Don Quixote” and so forth.

I read somewhere that you don’t play “Minstrel of the Dawn” any more.

Gordon Lightfoot: I do! We play it a lot more than we have done in the past, because ever since we got our intonation right we finally started to zero in on getting a good, firm D chord. That took a lot of years.

I went to a Neil Young concert and I saw his acoustic set. And I think I learned how to tune my A string from watching him. I was picking up the tonality between the D string and the A string.

You don’t have to do this any more. What do you get out of it?

Gordon Lightfoot: I like the travel, I like the people, I like the music. It’s really an interesting way to make a living, I think. I really feel very fortunate.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is probably your most famous song.

Gordon Lightfoot: I think I found out what actually happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald. Just in the last couple of months, I issued a license for a National Geographic show called Underwater Detectives. The guy brought it over to the office and he played it for me on his laptop, before we would issue him a license to use some strains of the music for the final credits.

So what happened – it broke in half?

Gordon Lightfoot: It broke in half! That’s exactly what happened! So it was not the hatch cover.

(Editor’s Note: Part of Lightfoot’s lyrics are “At 7 p.m., the main hatchway gave in. He said fellas, it’s been good to know ya”.)

And there’s been a lot of controversy about that – at times it’s gotten quite personal, I tell you, it’s been very, very interesting.

There’s no hatch cover trouble involved, so a couple of guys are off the hook there. The mother of one of those guys, she’s worried about that for years. A lady called Ruth Hudson, her son Bruce died. He was one of the guys that was supposed to be checking the hatch covers.

Nobody’s ever come up with an actual reason why it sank, but when you see this show, you will understand why it broke in half.

Do you feel bound, in a way, to that story and to the families? You’ve performed at various memorials and commemorations over the years.

Gordon Lightfoot: I got to meet hundreds of people. We’ve been to all kinds of events. I’ve been three times down to the Mariners’ Church in Detroit – one Sunday I sang in front of 18 sea captains, all lined up in a row.

I know you’re very proud of that song.

Gordon Lightfoot: I’m going to be a lot prouder of it when I get that out about the hatchway – the very next time I sing it, I’ll tell you that. It wasn’t a hatchway. I don’t know what I’m gonna change it to, but I’m gonna change it.

I hope Ruth Hudson will be around long enough to hear it, because she’s 82 and she’s worried about that all her life.
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