The title track and first single of Gordon Lightfoot's new album,
A Painter Passing Through, has a lot to do with the much-decorated artist who sings it.
"It's very autobiographical," says Lightfoot, who wrote the song and all but
two of the 10 cuts on his new disc. "It's sort of the way I see myself now-or could
see myself for quite a few years to come. I turn 60 this year. I've settled down now, and
I'm in this wonderful position of being allowed to make my own albums-and as usual, the
songs on this album paint pictures."
Be they pictures of wildlife, like the symbolic bird of "Ringneck Loon,"
character sketches like the subway busker in "My Little Love," or Toronto
cityscapes like "On Yonge Street," A Painter Passing Through is full of the
uplifting spirit and deep meaning that has marked "Gord" Lightfoot's
extraordinary career. Since emerging from the Toronto folk club scene in the early '60s,
the singer/songwriter has recorded 19 albums (14 for Warner Bros. or Reprise Records). He
has had five Grammy nominations and has won 17 Juno Awards in his native Canada. In 1970,
in recognition of his contributions in furthering Canadian culture, he received the
prestigious Order of Canada citation; last November he was presented the Governor
General's Award-the highest official Canadian honor, which is conferred on very few (Joni
Mitchell is another) for their international efforts in spreading Canadian culture.
Meanwhile, Lightfoot has continued to tour and record with his estimable core band of
guitarist Terry Clements, bassist Rick Haynes, keyboardist Mike Heffernan and drummer
Barry Keane. Lightfoot, of course, plays a variety of acoustic guitars, and regularly
co-produces his own albums-this time with engineer Bob Doidge.
"I'm not what I'd call a 'gifted' producer like my friend David Foster," says
Lightfoot. "I certainly don't over-produce, by any stretch of the imagination!"
But here Lightfoot typically understates. His albums characteristically focus on his
simple and direct singing approach, with instrumental backing solely serving the songs and
the feelings expressed therein.
"This is my nineteenth album since 1965, so I try to take everything I've learned
as I go along and apply it to each project," continues Lightfoot, who takes as much
time as he needs in order to complete the best album possible. Indeed, A Painter Passing
Through is his first album since 1993's Waiting For You.
"This is my professional occupation," he adds. "I start by assembling
material, which can take a year-and-a-half. Then I go into the studio-and it can take at
least that long again! So the ten songs on this album are the best that I could put
together in a five-year period."
The lead track, "Drifters," Lightfoot explains, is about "being
footloose, having your antennae out and searching for someone." It's followed by
"My Little Love" and the "Ringneck Loon," in which the bird is likened
to a working man in the city.
"I Used To Be A Country Singer"-a conversation with a hotel chambermaid which
turns into a sing-along-was penned by Steve McEown, who incidentally, hails from the same
area as Lightfoot. "Boathouse" was written around the time of "Ringneck
Loon" in the lakeside location where Lightfoot resides with his young family.
Lightfoot calls "Much To My Surprise" the "most impressionistic"
cut on the disc. The album proceeds, he explains, into "the very real stuff which
deals with both nature and life in general." Following the title track, "On
Yonge Street" depicts Toronto's main drag which is 500 miles long and actually runs
all the way to Manitoba. "The song itself is a romantic idea about people walking
down Yonge Street," says the writer, who follows it with his version of Ian Tyson's
"Red Velvet," which he has wanted to record for years and is "about a guy
living alone on a ranch after his girl leaves him. Can you imagine anything more
Closing the album is "Uncle Toad Said." "It's about the exuberance of
youth, as seen through the eyes of a simple garden toad who's observing the goings-on of
the young people living in the house that he lives behind-and they know he exists,
too!" As a whole, then, A Painter Passing Through is entirely in line with the
long-running skein of musical genius extending back to the church choir in Orillia,
Ontario, where the young Lightfoot first began singing. By the time he graduated high
school he had taught himself to play guitar and had written his first song; shortly
thereafter he became a mainstay in the Toronto folk music scene, and was a featured
performer on Canadian television.
In 1969, after recording five groundbreaking albums with United Artists, he signed to
Warner Bros./Reprise Records, where he recorded such enduring works as If you Could Read
My Mind (1970), Summer Side Of Life (1971), Don Quixote (1972), Sundown (1973), Summertime
Dream (1976), Endless Wire (1978), Shadows (1982) and Salute (1983).
But besides his albums, Lightfoot has composed a catalog of classic hits-for himself
and varied others. Foremost among these are "Early Morning Rain," "Canadian
Railroad Trilogy," "Cotton Jenny," "Don Quixote,"
"Sundown," "Shadows," "If You Could Read My Mind,"
"Carefree Highway," "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald,"
"Beautiful," "Alberta Bound" and "Ribbon Of Darkness." This
last song was a hit for country great Marty Robbins; other artists who have recorded
Lightfoot's songs include Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, Richie
Havens, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, Nana Mouskouri, Harry Belafonte, Elvis Presley, Barbra
Streisand and George Hamilton IV.
In addition to his musical accomplishments, Lightfoot branched out into acting,
appearing with Bruce Dern and Helen Shaver in the 1980 feature film Harry Tracy. He
appeared on network television later in the decade in an episode of Hotel-in which the
one-time problem drinker played a musician struggling to overcome alcoholism. Then after
the release of East of Midnight in 1986, Lightfoot went through a period of reflection and
reassessment of his music and his life, re-emerging with the renewed artistic commitment
and creative energy which was manifested in Waiting For You. "I was looking for
something more direct, from the heart," he said at the time, and these qualities are
again at the forefront of A Painter Passing Through.
"We worked so hard on this album-and really love it," says Lightfoot on the
eve of its release. "I feel like I'm part of a totem pole, a big totem pole. My stuff
has always been considered to be '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
Encyclopedia of Popular Music Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 1998
b. 17 November 1938, Orillia, Ontario, Canada. Lightfoot moved to Los Angeles during
the 50s where he studied at Hollywood's Westlake College of Music. Having pursued a
short-lived career composing jingles for television, the singer began recording demos of
his own compositions which, by 1960, owed a considerable debt to folk singers Pete Seeger
and Bob Gibson.
Lightfoot then returned to Canada and began performing in Toronto's
coffeehouses. His work was championed by several acts, notably Ian And Sylvia and Peter,
Paul And Mary. Both recorded the enduring 'Early Morning Rain', which has since become a
standard, while the latter group also enjoyed a hit with his 'For Lovin' Me'. Other
successful compositions included 'Ribbon Of Darkness', which Marty Robbins took to the top
of the US country chart, while such renowned artists as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis
Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis have all covered Lightfoot's songs.
Having joined the Albert Grossman management stable, the singer made his debut in 1966
with the promising Lightfoot. The Way I Feel and Did She Mention My Name consolidated the
artist's undoubted promise, but it was not until 1970 that he made a significant
commercial breakthrough with Sit Down Young Stranger. Producer Lenny Waronker added an
edge to Lightfoot's approach which reaped an immediate benefit with a US Top 5 hit, 'If
You Could Read My Mind'. The album also included the first recording of Kris Kristofferson
's 'Me And Bobbie McGee'.
A series of crafted albums enhanced his new-found position and in 1974 the singer
secured a US number 1 with the excellent 'Sundown'. Two years later 'The Wreck Of The
Edmund Fitzgerald' peaked at number 2, but although Lightfoot continued to record mature
singer-songwriter-styled material, his increasing reliance on safer, easy-listening
perspectives proved unattractive to a changing rock audience. Gordon Lightfoot nonetheless
retains the respect of his contemporaries, although his profile lessened quite
considerably during the 80s.
Contemporary Musicians, June 1990 (Volume 3)
by Meg Mac Donald
Full name, Gordon Meredith Lightfoot; born November 17, 1938, in Orillia, Ont., Canada;
son of Gordon Meredith and Jessie Vick (Trill) Lightfoot; divorced; children: Fred,
Ingrid. Education--Attended Westlake College of Music, 1958.
Began performing while a child; did vocal arrangements, demonstration records, and
commercial jingles in Los Angeles while studying orchestration at Westlake College, 1958;
singer, songwriter, guitarist, 1959-; began performing in coffee houses in eastern Canada;
debuted in New York City, 1965; signed first recording contract, 1966.
Awards: Winner of Canadian Juno Awards for top folk singer, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1973,
1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977, for top male vocalist, 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1974, and
for composer of the year, 1972 and 1976; recipient of awards from ASCAP for songwriting,
1971, 1974, 1976, and 1977; decorated Order of Canada, 1970; "Sundown" named pop
record of the year, 1974, by Music Operators of America; recipient of Vanier Award by
Canadian Jaycees, 1977; named Canadian male recording artist of the decade (1970s), 1980;
named to Juno Hall of Fame, 1986.
Office--c/o 1365 Yonge St., # 207, Toronto, Ont. M4T 2P7 Canada.
An eloquent composer, Gordon Lightfoot pens contemporary ballads that could easily be the
envy of historic bards entrusted to record the world around them in all its beauty,
harshness, and poignancy. Said Jack Batten, in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Lightfoot fills
the role of "journalist, poet, historian, humorist, short-story teller, and folksy
recollector of bygone days." From love songs to depictions of Canadian history and
wilderness, Lightfoot's songs, many of which became virtual overnight standards ("If
You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown," "Carefree Highway"), touch
the listener on more levels and in more ways than most musicians could ever dream of.
Born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938, Lightfoot displayed vocal ability early
on, noticed by his mother, who encouraged him to sing before women's clubs and at Kiwanis
festivals. Later he studied classical piano, performed in plays, operettas, and barbershop
quartets, played drums and sang in a dance band, and, finally, taught himself the basics
of folk guitar. At Westlake College in Los Angeles he studied orchestration, earning his
living doing vocal arrangements, demo records, and commercial jingles. In 1960 his
attention was captured by the growing folk movement. Encouraged by Canadian friend Ian
Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia), Lightfoot pursued the guitar seriously. He wound up performing
in coffee houses in eastern Canada, where his distinctive voice and compositions were
first noticed by the public.
A number of Lightfoot's original works were covered throughout the 1960s by folk and
country musicians including Peter, Paul, and Mary, Judy Collins, and Johnny Cash, and he
garnered a series of hit singles himself: "Remember Me," "I'm Not
Saying," and "Black Day in July." Before success, though, he worked on a
number of musical assignments including a stint on the Canadian television show
"Country Hoedown." Of his experience he said in Canadian Composer, "I'm not
particularly proud ... but it sure taught me a lot of things. I don't envy the kids who
make it overnight. ... There's no security in this business, but experience and training
Lightfoot had written some seventy-five songs, most of which "didn't really mean
anything," before he heard wordsmith Bob Dylan for the first time and had his
viewpoint about composing changed dramatically. His work became more personal, reflecting
his own identity. When he made his New York City debut in 1965, the New York Times praised
his "rich, warm voice" and "dexterous guitar technique." Continued
reporter Robert Shelton, "With a little more attention to stage personality, he
should become quite popular."
The following year, United Artists released Lightfoot's first album, Lightfoot, and he was
named Canada's top folksinger. In 1967 he moved into the position of top male vocalist,
and in 1970 he was awarded Canada's Medal of Service, celebrating his positive general
contribution to the good of Canada. After four more respectably selling albums, Lightfoot
signed with Warner to record a number of albums on their Reprise label, including If You
Could Read My Mind (originally released as Sit Down Young Stranger, which featured both
title tracks as well as the melodic "Approaching Lavender"), Old Dan's Records,
and Endless Wire. Several collections of Lightfoot's songs, including music and lyrics,
were published by Warner Bros. Publications.
By 1976 Lightfoot had earned eight gold albums and one platinum album--for Sundown, the
title track of which brought him considerable popularity in the United States. The album
sold over 1,500,000 copies during its first year of release (1974), replacing If You Could
Read My Mind as a favorite of fans and critics and eventually holding a place on both the
rock and country music charts. One of his best-known songs, the haunting ballad "The
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," in which Lightfoot sings of the fate of the ship and
crew of an ore carrier sunk on Lake Superior in 1975, appeared on his 1976 release,
Despite having written over four hundred songs--a number of which received regular
airplay--and having a number of best-selling albums and several Grammy Award nominations,
Lightfoot did not score another Top 40 hit. In 1987, after a three-year hiatus from the
recording industry, he returned with East of Midnight, the slickly produced pop ballad
"Anything For Love," and a new stage show featuring more folk music.
Contemplating retiring, Lightfoot told Maclean's, "When your albums aren't selling,
it's not practical for a man to spend his life chained to a desk and to a recording
studio. You have to grow up and realize that there is a new generation of recording
artists out there." New artists can, however, cause problems.
In April of 1987, Lightfoot filed a lawsuit against Michael Masser, alleging that Masser's
song "The Greatest Love of All" (recorded by Whitney Houston) stole twenty-four
bars from Lightfoot's 1969 hit "If You Could Read My Mind." According to
Maclean's, Lightfoot commented, "It really rubbed me the wrong way. I don't want the
present-day generation to think that I stole my song from him." Unlikely, though
Lightfoot himself has always remained cautious and questioning about the industry. Said
Toronto promoter Bernie Fiedler, "I don't think Gordon realizes that he has a
tremendous talent. When intelligentsia of the music business courted him, he felt
threatened. He's a cautious man who won't take chances."
Lightfoot has been honored as Canada's top folksinger often, receiving the prestigious
Juno Award sixteen times before being inducted into the country's Hall of Fame.
"Gordie is completely original," said singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan.
"He can spin a great yarn--in the gothic sense--and write bittersweet ballads that
are very poignant." Despite having traveled all across North America, Britain,
Australia, and other places, Lightfoot remains an essentially private man granting few
interviews and disliking having his picture taken. His troubadour image is enhanced by his
reedy voice and his timeless, thought-provoking lyrics of life and love and sorrow. What
Milton Okun observed in his book Something to Sing About remains true: "He seems to
offer the sort of restrained self-composure so often seen in highly talented performers.
He has no need to shout, because he feels he has something of musical and poetic validity
to say." And Gordon Lightfoot has said it well.
Lightfoot, United Artists, 1966. Way I Feel, United Artists, 1967. Did She Mention My
Name, United Artists, 1968. Back Here On Earth, United Artists, 1969. Early Lightfoot,
United Artists, 1969. Sunday Concert, United Artists, 1969. If You Could Read My Mind
(originally released as Sit Down Young Stranger), Reprise, 1970. Summerside of Life,
Reprise, 1971. Don Quixote, Reprise, 1972. Old Dan's Records, Reprise, 1972. Sundown,
Reprise, 1974. Cold on Shoulder, Reprise, 1975. Gord's Gold, Reprise, 1975. Early Morning
Rain, Sunset, 1976. Summertime Dream, Reprise, 1976. Endless Wire, Warner Bros., 1978.
Dream Street Rose, Warner Bros., 1980. Salute, Warner Bros., 1983. East of Midnight,
Warner Bros., 1986. Gord's Gold, Volume II, Warner Bros., 1989.
Books: Anderson, Christopher P., The Book of People, Putnam, 1981. Nite, Norm N., Rock On,
Volume 2, Harper, 1978. Okun, Milton, Something to Sing About, Macmillan, 1968. Stambler,
Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin's, 1974. Periodicals: Maclean's,
March 16, 1987. Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 4, 1970. Village Voice, February 14, 1974.
Washington Post, December 27, 1974. Other: Liner notes from album Gord's Gold, Reprise,
~~ Meg Mac Donald
Gordon Lightfoot, by William Ruhlmann, All-Music
Active Decades: '60s, '70s, '80s and
Born 11/17/1938 in Orillia, Ontario, Canada
Genre - Folk
Styles - Singer-Songwriter, Folk-Rock
Canadian Gordon Lightfoot first began to gain recognition in the mid-'60s as a
songwriter when his compositions "For Lovin' Me" and "Early Morning
Rain" became hits for Peter, Paul & Mary, and Marty Robbins topped the country
charts with "Ribbon of Darkness." Lightfoot's own style was understated, his
tasteful folk arrangements topped by a gentle burr of a voice. His albums began to appear
in 1966, but it was not until the start of the '70s that he became a big success as a
performer, scoring in 1970 with Sit Down Young Stranger,
which contained his hit
"If You Could Read My Mind," a song with a typically flowing melodic line and
gently poetic lyrics.
Thereafter, the first half of the '70s were his. Lightfoot hit a peak in 1974 with Sundown,
which went to number one, as did the title song when released on a single. Though he had
developed a timeless style, Lightfoot was caught by the popular decline of folk-based
music in the latter half of the 1970s, and has performed and recorded less frequently
since, sometimes trying to conform to perceived commercial trends without success. But
concert appearances in the early '90s confirmed that he remains an engaging performer and
that his catalog of original songs is hard to match. Painter Passing Through
followed in 1998. ~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide