First published: Thursday, March 2, 2000
Lightfoot's music has weathered well
Gordon Lightfoot's audiences are a mixed bag these days. Three decades after the singer-songwriter's coffeehouse beginnings as a stalwart of the folk era of the early '60s, his music is now pegged as "adult contemporary,'' Lightfoot said in a telephone interview from his home in Toronto.
"When we tour, there are always quite a few folkies in the audience, and there is a certain curiosity quotient.''
Lightfoot and his backup musicians, currently on a tour that brings them to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday evening, perform about 50 times a year. "We like to keep the pressure on. There's not a man among us who doesn't love to play,'' Lightfoot said.
His band -- including guitarist Terry Clements, bassist Rick Haynes, keyboardist Mike Heffernan and drummer Barry Keane -- have been his core group for several years.
The songs on his latest CD, "A Painter Passing Through,'' have a strong autobiographical tone -- only natural at this point in his life, the 61-year-old Lightfoot said.
"Near the end game of the career, it's OK to reflect back on what a time it's been. I've settled down now and I'm in the great position of being able to make my own albums. I enjoy being able to have that ability to keep touring and keep writing.''
The title track is the most autobiographical, the songwriter said.
The lyrics tell his story: "I was in my stride, always at my game/ here comes Mr. Cool, along the walk of fame/ I was in demand, always in control/ The world was in my hands, my touch had turned to gold.''
But the refrain brings it into perspective: "If you want to know my secret don't come runnin' after me/ For I am just a painter passing through in history.''
Lightfoot has recorded 19 albums, but he's most excited about the four-CD box-set anthology that was released last year by Rhino Records (a division of Warner Bros., which has produced all but a few of his earliest recordings). In addition to his well-known songs, such as "If You Could Read My Mind,'' "Sundown,'' "Carefree Highway'' and "Summertime Dream,'' the anthology includes 16 previously unpublished songs. "These are songs that were cut from albums or were in demo stages previously,'' he explained.
Lightfoot's songs have been recorded by an array of legendary singers, including Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and Barbra Streisand. Marty Robbins had a hit with Lightfoot's "Ribbon of Darkness'' and Elvis Presley with "Early Morning Rain.''
Lightfoot's sound has changed with the times. Although the lyrics on "A Painter Passing Through'' have the personal tone of his earlier folk songs, the musical mix is contemporary and the beat more lively. Lightfoot says he has mixed feelings about the technical quality of his early recordings, and he takes the blame. In those days, he eschewed the refined, big studio sound.
"We would go in with our own little unit to retain our identity by trying to keep the folk-country sound. That was the intention, but in many ways it ended up underproduced,'' he said.
He recorded five albums in four years in the late '60s and early '70s, but then slowed down the pace. "Your plate gets full, with the responsibilities of family, and your work takes longer.''
Lightfoot's long career has had its ups and downs. In the late '80s he went through a period of reflection on both his music and his life, he said, but he never dropped out of sight. "There was a time when I threatened to stop, but it became a rumor, so I changed my attitude.''
His music has ranged "up and down the musical totem pole,'' he noted. "My recent work is classified as adult contemporary, though some people still refer to me as a folkie. But I've had stuff in the mainstream and in the country field, so I guess I'm in the middle somewhere, but anywhere on a totem pole in this business is fine by me.''