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Old 03-10-2011, 06:02 PM   #1
Join Date: May 2000
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Default Knoxville TN.article

No 'Sundown' for this guy: Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot keeps playing away
By Steve Wildsmith

Gordon Lightfoot apologizes for the description of his daily routine.

No doubt, to those who rightly view Lightfoot as one of the progenitors of the singer-songwriter movement that bloomed in the 1970s, the fact that he doesn’t spend his days chasing rain clouds with a guitar slung across his back or thumbing rides through the Canadian wilderness with a battered notebook of scribbled song lyrics in his back pocket may be cause for disappointment.

But for Lightfoot, who turned 72 last November, the past has provided plenty of drama. And while he’s gracious about the influence he may have had on today’s folk singer, he’ll take his life today, however boring it might seem to outsiders, over no life at all -- which was a real possibility when he suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm in 2002.

The same condition killed actor John Ritter, and it didn’t leave Lightfoot in the best of shape. He was in a coma for six weeks, underwent four surgeries and two years of rehabilitation. Combined with his battle with alcohol in the early 1980s, a problem he acknowledges but seldom talks about publicly, an uneventful day-to-day existence is a blessing, he told The Daily Times during a recent phone interview.

“Every week, there’s a rehearsal -- every Friday, and we run through the whole list,” he said of his music career these days. It takes us about 31⁄2 hours, and I keep practicing during the week, too. I try to stay sharp and stay prepared in the interim time between engagements, and then we’ll go out for 21⁄2 weeks, then come back for a month or five weeks, during which time we look after all of our other projects, which for me is my family.

“I know, it sounds terribly mundane. I belong to a health club, and I’m in there three or four times a week, and then the rest of the time I practice and think about the material we have that needs to be worked on, and usually all of that is a full-time job. You don’t look at it as fun, but you have to do it. I’m 72 years of age, and I store energy that way. It’s a feeling of accomplishment every time I go and do it, and when you do it for the number of years that I’ve done it, it becomes routine. If you miss one, you feel like you’ve really let yourself down.”

A native Ontario, Lightfoot is considered one of Canada’s greatest musical exports, ever since he moved to California in 1958. He taught himself to play acoustic folk guitar in high school, studying the songs of American songwriter Stephen Foster, and while he only lived for a short time on the West Coast before moving back to Canada, he discovered the music of such folk artists as Pete Seeger and took those back north with him.

By the early 1960s, he’d established himself as a regional folk artist and a songwriter of note — Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his songs “Early Morning Rain and “For Lovin’ Me,” and the former would be recycled by a number of artists, including Elvis Presley, Judy Collins and The Kingston Trio. In Canada, his status as a performer landed him a number of singles on that country’s charts, but it wasn’t until 1970 that he achieved similar acclaim in the United States with the single “If You Could Read My Mind.” He had minor success with “Me and Bobby McGee,” a full year before it became famous as Janis Joplin’s version. The song was written by Kris Kristofferson, a respected songwriter who gives Lightfoot credit for inspiration during his early years.

“He says that I influenced him a lot, but maybe that’s because I’ve known him such a long time -- since he was working around Woodland Studio in Nashville, way back around 1965, when he hadn’t gotten anywhere yet,” Lightfoot said. “He had his songs and was in the right place, and pretty soon they caught on. I’ve had some very nice compliments from various people who have said that I influenced them, and some of them say I influenced their work habits.”

His career continued to soar during that decade, with his most famous album, “Sundown,” spawning a No. 1 title track in both the United States and Canada. His other hits -- “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Carefree Highway,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” -- cast him as one of the preeminent singer-songwriters of his generation, on a tier with Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. He continued to record well into the 1980s and 1990s, has been nominated for five Grammy Awards, received 16 Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) and been bestowed the highest civilian honor in his country when he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2003.

His last studio album was released in 1999, but for the time being, he’s content to focus on fine-tuning his back catalog ... and himself.

“I’m not doing any recording right now; it would be exciting to be able to say that I was, but I’m not,” he said. “I was under contract for a total of 33 years, up until 1998, and then I got really ill for two years, and while I was recovering from that, I did an independent one.

“Since that time, we’ve been doing shows and playing all over the United States. We’re centered here in Toronto, and we have as many concerts as I feel I can handle. We did 81 shows last year, and sometimes people say, ‘Doesn’t it make you feel tired?’ But the answer is no -- I feel rejuvenated.”
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