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Old 06-24-2016, 08:40 AM   #1
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Default LINCOLN Nebraska- June 28,2016

At 77, Gordon Lightfoot still on the road, singing his enduring songs
L. KENT WOLGAMOTT Lincoln Journal Star

If anyone would know what makes a song endure, it’s Gordon Lightfoot, whose ‘70s classics “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Rainy Day People” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” resonate after 40 years.

“I was taught it’s a combination of a good song, a great arrangement and a great vocal.” Lightfoot said. “The vocal is very, very important. What makes a song endure is its content and the level of performance on it. It’s got to be a really good song to have that kind of staying power and a great singer, the vocal, that’s the flagship.”

A song has to get exposure before it can connect. And sometimes that doesn’t happen.

“Songs don’t always pop right out. It can be a sleeper” Lightfoot said from his Toronto home. “I had one album that sat for eight months before the song got pulled out. That was ‘If You Could Read My Mind.'”

“If You Could Read My Mind” became Lightfoot’s breakthrough hit, starting him on a career-making decade.

But the then-32-year-old was already a music business veteran, having spent more than half his life studying, writing and making music.

“I got really interested in music by the time I was in grade four in public school,” said Lightfoot, who grew up in Orillia, Ontario. “I was about 10 years old when I started singing in public. I sang 'Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral,' the Irish lullaby over the school p.a. system for parent’s day. I had a vocal coach, I took piano lessons. I studied the keyboard. I use a keyboard very often in my writing.”

A star track-and-field athlete and nose guard on the football team in high school, Lightfoot moved to Los Angeles in 1958 to study jazz composition and arrangement at Westlake College of Music, where he supported himself by singing on demos and writing, arranging and playing on commercial jingles.

Returning to Canada, Lightfoot settled in Toronto, the home of Canada’s music industry, eventually landing a job writing and arranging scores tor 15-and-18-piece orchestras that performed on the Canadian Broadcasting Company, the country’s national radio.

A fixture in the local folk clubs, Lightfoot had a pair of hits in Toronto and Montreal and, by 1963, had traveled to Europe, where he ended up hosting BBC-TV’s “Country and Western Show” for a year.

By 1965, Lightfoot had become known as a songwriter, his “Early Morning Rain” recorded by Ian and Sylvia Tyson, then Peter, Paul & Mary, starting a run that saw Lightfoot compositions done by Marty Robbins, Judy Collins, Richie Havens and The Kingston Trio.

He’d also signed a record deal himself and released his debut “Lightfoot!,” which contained many of his early famous songs in 1966. That album and the four that followed made Lightfoot a star in Canada.

But it wasn’t until he moved to Warner Brothers Records, who finally recognized him as a singer as well as a songwriter and then stumbled upon “If You Could Read My Mind” that Lightfoot hit in the U.S.

Not coincidentally, Lightfoot’s first marriage started to fall apart in the late ‘60s (that’s the subject of “If You Could Read My Mind”) and ended in 1973.

“As my first marriage failed, I was able to devote all my time to songwriting,” Lightfoot said. “It’s a very isolating experience, writing songs. You have to shut people out of your life. I had to work very hard at it.”

Lightfoot made nine albums in the ‘70s, records that included his biggest hits, chart-toppers “Sundown” and the journalistic account of the 1975 sinking of a ship on Lake Superior, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Lightfoot continued to write and record albums through the ‘80s and ‘90s until he suffered an abdominal aneurysm in 2002. He’s released just two albums since then, 2004’s “Harmony” and a 2012 live disc.

Now a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Lightfoot no longer writes new songs.

“I can write more stuff, but I’m not under contract, so I have no obligation,” he said. “And I know how it feels to sell records in the millions. I learned how to do that in the ‘70s and I appreciate it.”

So what Lightfoot does is tour, doing at least 70 shows a year. He’d just returned from an annual trip to the U.K., where he did 11 shows and was readying for one of his handful of U.S. swings, this one covering the middle of the country, including a stop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts Tuesday.

His show, the 77-year-old Lightfoot said, is a good one, two hours plus of all the songs his fans want to hear and some lesser known nuggets from his extensive catalog, played with his four-piece band.

“We have a good, solid little band,” Lightfoot said. “It’s quite different than what you would think. It’s not folk. It’s more like folk rock.”

Now widely hailed as a songwriter, singer and one of the originators of folk pop, Lightfoot’s received all kinds of honors, here and especially in Canada.

In 2007, the Canadian Post selected him, along with Anne Murray, Paul Anka and Joni Mitchell, to have their names and images on postage stamps.

“When that came across my desk, I said ‘Go ahead, let them do. It sounds like fun,’” Lightfoot said. “That was great. It was a honor. I don’t know how to say thank you, but to work on my craft and ready to go out there and perform.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or

On Twitter @LJSWolgamott.
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