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Old 08-07-2017, 12:53 PM   #1
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Default Article: The Road Beckons to Gordon Lightfoot

During a music career that is now in its sixth decade, Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot has recorded 20 albums, penned a staggering string of classic songs (“If You Could Read My Mind,” “For Lovin’ Me,” “Ribbon of Darkness,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Early Morning Rain,” to name just a handful), become a Canadian institution, and achieved recognition on an international scale for his artistry. With all that, he might well be content to rest on his laurels, but he’s doing 81 shows this year, including a stop in Boston. We asked Lightfoot about that and other matters when we reached him at his Toronto home ahead of his appearance Aug. 9 at the Wilbur Theatre.

Q. You’re now 78 years old, and you continue to tour on a regular basis. How do you keep it up?

A. I have to stay prepared. I try to eat the right food, and exercise. I have a purpose for exercising, which keeps me at it. It helps my singing, it helps my guitar playing, and it helps my stamina. We’re doing really well, and we’ve got the crowd right now. So we’re enjoying it a lot.

Q. While you continue to perform live, you no longer seem to be an active recording artist.

A. I finished all of my recording obligations around 2000. I’d done 19 albums at that point. I was between marriages when I did most of them. Then things were getting pretty busy on the home front; I was getting into my second marriage, and had my kids. I didn’t know if it would be quite fair to my record company to sign with it again. And I didn’t actually know if I wanted to put myself up against it at that point. I made a record independently after that. I wanted to prove that I could do it, so I put one out in 2004 [“Harmony”]. I’ve always been a performer; I love working in front of an audience. Being allowed to concentrate on that part of it right now actually makes it better on the personal performance side.

Q. I’ve read that “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is the favorite of your songs.

A. It’s certainly a song that you have to respect. But I would not say that it is my favorite. “If You Could Read My Mind” would probably be my favorite, because it has that kind of quality where you feel that total connection, that total communication going on.

Q. Were you surprised that “Edmund Fitzgerald” had the commercial success it did?

A. Well, it was written as a folk song for an album to begin with. The promotion department heard it, and they started shopping it around, and radio station KNX in Los Angeles said they couldn’t play it because it was too long. I was just coming out of the bush, a canoe trip in northern Canada, and I started thinking about how can we do this and not lose any of the story, because I was very faithful to what I hoped was the story, apart from the conjecture that occurs in the fourth verse. I found a way to shorten all of the instrumentals, and I got it down. The single went up to No. 2 in Billboard and No. 1 in Cashbox. I was fairly surprised by the whole thing, frankly. But it gave me a new lease on life, because I got to meet all the people who had anything to do with that ship. It was a wonderful experience. It’s been a real life-experience having written that song. And it prolonged my career.

Q. You’ve had a profound effect on Canadian culture, to the point that your music can be considered part of the country’s national fabric. How did that connection come about?

A. I was asked to write a song in 1967 for Canada’s 100th birthday. So I went to the library to read a book on Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, the chief architect of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and then I wrote the song “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” It came out so well that I had it in my show for 50 years. It really established my identity powerfully as a Canadian when I wrote that song. It put the stamp on me.

Q. Who do you point to as your musical influences?

A. There’s probably three or four from the outset of the folk revival — the Kingston Trio, the Weavers, Pete Seeger. Then there was Bob Dylan, and Simon and Garfunkel. There was John Denver, Harry Chapin. I can think of many more, but mostly Bob Dylan, and Pete Seeger.

Q. You are arguably Canada’s greatest singer-songwriter. When you look back, how would you sum up what you’ve accomplished?

A. Well, we must not forget about Leonard Cohen. But I don’t really think about that too much. The past is going to have to look after itself. I just keep looking after the things I have to take care of. None of us gets any younger. I would just like to leave a clean campsite behind.


At Wilbur Theatre, Aug. 9. Tickets $50-$75, 800-745-3000,

Interview was edited and condensed. Stuart Munro can be reached at
"I'll see you all next Saturday..."

Last edited by imported_Next_Saturday; 08-07-2017 at 01:07 PM.
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