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Old 04-27-2012, 05:43 PM   #1
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Default NATIONAL POST interview-Apr.27-2012

Gordon Lightfoot is happy to be All Live

Ben Kaplan Apr 27, 2012 – 2:24 PM ET

Matthew Sherwood for National Post - photo

“It’s the real stuff and the band at its peak,” Gordon Lightfoot says of the Massey Hall recordings that make up his latest release.

In the early afternoon, Gordon Lightfoot might arrive at a venue feeling down. “You know, you’re trying to get a doughnut out of the doughnut box or a muffin, a cup of a coffee and a cigarette; yes, here you go in the dressing room, that can be a little depressing,” Lightfoot, 73, says. “The rest of the band arrives at around 3 and the sound check’s at 4, but I tell you, as soon as those guitars begin to take shape, it gets vivid: I’m going to go out there on that stage tonight and make it sound like it’s my first time.”

Lightfoot is speaking on a couch in his mansion on Toronto’s Bridle Path, a house with tennis courts in the backyard and an Order of Canada certificate on the wall. The singer, author of 20 records and more than 200 songs, is releasing a concert album entitled All Live. After a myriad of health issues and one popular death hoax, it’s an album the iconic folk singer figured he wouldn’t live to see.

“When I woke up from the illness I said, ‘What am I going to do next? What am I going to do about my family? Am I even going to live?’ ” says Lightfoot, whose living room, referencing the album The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, is decorated with paintings of ships. “I then began thinking clearly: ‘OK, if I live, I’ll take the music and sort it out and, in case I don’t live, I’ll leave it in my will.’ ”

The graveness of Lightfoot’s illness stems from an aneurysm he suffered in 2002. The singer fell into a coma for six weeks and, even though he recovered and returned to performing, he then suffered a stroke four years later onstage. Still, Lightfoot continues touring; playing five cities in five nights, in his words, like a hockey team.

“I want to be a good singer like a guy wants to be a good hockey player,” he says. “I can take my place on the totem pole, too. I don’t want to be like Sidney Crosby.”

All Live is taken from a series of shows that Lightfoot played at Toronto’s Massey Hall between 1998 and 2001. Lightfoot’s played the venue 150 times over the past 40 years, but he threw out all his earlier footage in a bit of a creative cleanse. “You have to do that kind of stuff sometimes,” he says.

The songs that appear on the album, taken from five weekends and 18 shows, are presented exactly as the band performed them. There’s no technical alterations, every note, every key, is an original take.

“It’s all full-volume — no illness, no unforeseen future, nothing that might be on the horizon,” he says. “It’s the real stuff and the band at its peak.”

Lightfoot first played Massey Hall when he was 12, after winning a singing contest. “I was no couch potato, by that time I’d competed for three years,” says Lightfoot, adding that, as a 12-year-old, he was already performing at weddings across Southern Ontario. “I had The Lord’s Prayer, Bless This House and I’ll Walk Beside You — we had trouble fulfilling our obligations.”

From there, his career’s the stuff of legend and the songs captured on All Live — If You Could Read My Mind, Song for a Winter’s Night, Sundown, Carefree Highway — helped earn the singer 15 Juno awards. He’s been covered by Johnny Cash, Elvis and Bob Dylan and has lived his life like a folk song.

“I’m not here in this house by choice, I was outvoted. I had a very nice place in Rosedale,” says Lightfoot, who keeps an ashtray by his sofa and a stack of guitars by his front door. “When I got married the second time, I had to move on so to speak. We came up here and so I’m here now … I’ve been here for nine years.”

The singer hasn’t written an original tune since 2000, but that hasn’t kept him from the news. Two years ago, he was pronounced dead.

“I was driving in my automobile when I heard it. First, I thought, ‘Why are they playing If You Could Read My Mind on Charles Adler’s afternoon talk show?’ Then I noticed they were reading my obituary,” Lightfoot says. “I put pedal to the medal and dashed to my office and got on the telephone and cleared it up, but I still don’t understand it.”

Today, Lightfoot goes to the gym six times a week and rehearses his band every Friday. In his own words, he puts his obligations to his family ahead of his career. However, his eyes light up when he talks about songs.

“I get on the guitar, tune and think about the show — I’ve got a show right now that I think is going to be dandy,” he says. “I’ve never made any bones about the fact that it’s a challenge for me and I love it. It’s like being in the sports business and I want to be good.”

All Live by Gordon Lightfoot is out now on Warner Music Canada. His tour begins June 15 in Ottawa and includes four nights at Massey Hall in Toronto beginning on Nov. 14.
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