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Old 11-07-2019, 08:34 PM   #2
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 15,624
Default Re: NEW BOOK!-ONCE UPON A RED EYE-Life on the road with Gordon Lightfoot-Richard Hari


And so begins this long awaited narrative - part biography; part social commentary; part music business insider; part travelogue, with a foreword by the central figure in this engrossing and mesmerizing ride through the 60's and 70's, Gordon Lightfoot. The author, Richard Harison, as Lightfoot's road and stage manager, was there as a first hand witness and participant in it all. If you were to try to write a fictionalized account of every twist and turn, while navigating the intersections and interactions Richard experienced in this tale, it might strain credulity to believe. But from the heady days of the 60's in New York's Greenwich Village folk scene, the Newport festival where Dylan went electric, the counterculture social and musical revolution of San Francisco and LA, Harison was indeed there through it all, with a one of a kind viewpoint he now shares. He was brushing shoulders with the likes no less of Dylan, Johnny Cash, the Byrds, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt and a list of many other musical and cultural luminaries too long to list here.

Richard Harison spent his early years in California, raised in Connecticut and was roadie and equipment technician for the Byrds in the mid to late 60's, and as the early chapters illustrate, many unique and even tense situations develop in service to Roger McGuinn and the Byrds. But most notably, Harison performed his duties for iconic singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot from 1970-1981. He played a pivotal role in keeping the tight knit Lightfoot operation rolling smoothly along the carefree highways and flyways of the turbulent 1970's and beyond. Those were the years when Lightfoot was at the pinnacle of his box office and creative powers.

Harison came of age in the 1960's at the height of a musical and cultural upheaval. The Vietnam War was escalating with each passing year and loomed large over every facet of life for that generation's youth. The burgeoning music scene and the war combined to form a formidable fork in the road that was soon to determine how the author's life was about to unfold. Richard Harison comes across through his self-depreciating style of writing, as a loyal and reliable figure, who's inner compass is always pointing true north.

Richard's father worked in TV and Broadway productions and as a teenager Richard would often tag along with him to those studios and theatres. There he absorbed many aspects of live performance production that would, unknown to him at the time, provide an apprenticeship that would be the underpinning of his future endeavours, as he began to cast about looking for his calling in life.

The early chapters weave an intricate pattern of Harison's travels on both coasts, attending festivals and concerts, and in doing so he meets up with some of the top musicians of the day. Amid a myriad of vividly recreated scenes, he describes how each chance encounter strangely built upon the previous ones, collectively forging onward with what seems, looking back now, as an almost preordained destiny. His future begins to come into clearer focus while attending a Gordon Lightfoot concert in 1968 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, where he meets Lightfoot's legendary guitarist, Red Shea. A friendship ensued, culminating several years later at Carnegie Hall in New York, where, at Shea's urging, Lightfoot hires Harison to be his tour manager.

The years with Lightfoot form the central core of the book. Tantalizing minutiae from the studio and the road are revealed that hard core fans will find irresistible! Lightfoot has always had a reputation for his generosity and Harison provides multitudes of examples of how that generosity manifested itself in the daily course of events, going a long way to explain the undying loyalty Lightfoot has engendered from those around him. Harison pulls the curtain back, allowing readers to see the interactions between Lightfoot and his entourage, far removed from the music business spotlight. Happenings, whether backstage; on planes; in hotel rooms; rented cars; in restaurants and more, are given the light of day, as Harison, being an integral part of those events, captures them for us in a way that only a first person perspective truly could. While many books on musicians' road exploits are generated from second or third hand accounts, giving readers a 20,000 foot perspective at best, Harison is there on our behalf to provide us with true "on the ground" reconnaissance. We are shown the group's camaraderie on full display, in all of its playful humour, juxtaposed against the ever present deadlines and pressure.

Harison also bears witness to some of the harrowing and difficult times that Lightfoot faced along the way. Crucial career decisions, bomb threats, midair engine failures, and in one of the most captivating chapters, we find Lightfoot touring through troubled Ireland in 1981. Amid the violence and chaos of Dublin and Belfast, with armed soldiers in the streets and barbed wire barricades in front of hotels and concert halls, Harison describes how Lightfoot presses on, even as explosions coming from the outside can be heard during the concerts and political events are developing at breakneck speed. In one instance Harison is invited pre-concert into a Belfast pub where he marvels at the warm and friendly environment he finds there, only seconds after stepping in from the war-like zone in the streets.

In the course of reading this book, one question was continually cycling through my mind, that being how was the author able to ingratiate himself in those early days, being a virtual unknown, into the confidences of these professional musicians that would help propel him along his forward trajectory? After all, aren't those celebrities notorious for erecting barriers around themselves to protect against grifters and worse? Part of the answer perhaps lies in the open nature of the 60's. But even so, as the book was winding down I was resigned to the fact that I would most likely be left to speculate on the matter on my own. But no, it turns out Harison himself had been asking that same question as he reflected on his journey. Following Red Shea's passing, the author asked Red's widow why she believes Red, and by extension so many others, went out on a limb for him, as in Red's case by recommending Harison be hired by Lightfoot. Her answer was succinct and illuminating - but sorry, I'm not inclined to reveal the answer here.

Discover for yourself as you take your seat and buckle up to enjoy Once Upon A Red Eye!

- Wayne Francis
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