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Old 03-20-2021, 05:14 PM   #1
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Default Interview-Dec.2020-Steve Waxman-

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Creating Songs With Gordon Lightfoot - (Steve Waxman. Dec.8, 2020)

Rush's Geddy Lee called Gordon Lightfoot a timeless songwriter. Robbie Robertson of The band calls Gordon Canadaís national treasure. His longtime friend, Bob Dylan, inducted Lightfoot into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame calling him one of his favourite songwriters and has often been quoted saying that when he hears a Gordon Lightfoot song, he wishes it would go on forever.

Early Morning Rain, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy, Carefree Highway, Sundown, If You Could Read My Mind, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The list goes on and on and on. Gordon Lightfoot is Canada's greatest songwriter. Period. His professional career began over 6o years ago and he's influenced countless popular artists over the years and heís still at it. In 2020 he released Solo, his twenty-first album and heís hoping to get back out on tour as soon as the COVID pandemic is taken care of. I reached Gordon over the phone to see if I could get some insight into his songwriting process.

* * *
Steve Waxman: After all of these years, is songwriting still fun for you?

Gordon Lightfoot: Yeah, you know, itís fun if you see that it's going somewhere that you like. Then you think about Ďhow would this go over in a crowd.í And so, you think about that for a while and if it seems like it might have a chance that it might bite, you go ahead and finish it. And some of it you donít finish. But youíve got to at least know that theyíre going to like it. That theyíre going to be able to make sense out of it. And even then youíll only use one or two songs off an album. You get the best ones. The ones that have the best forward momentum.

Steve Waxman: How do you determine that?

Gordon Lightfoot: Well, thatís the feel. You feel like itís got a beginning, that itís logical and has an ending. You know, itís got a bridge and various kinds of sections, differing sections that you learn to come up with through the years that you can relate to other work that youíre doing. You know, I have one song that has about five different sections in it. That would be the ďCanadian Railroad Trilogy,Ē I guess.

I also like to make sense of what Iím saying in my lyrics. Anything that doesnít make sense, I canít deal with that one. I want people to be able to make sense of it. I want them to be able to relate to it. I want to be able to get in contact with them when Iím performing these tunes on stage because everything I write has a possibility of us doing it on stage. But there is a lot of them I sometimes say that we should be doing on stage, which Iím not. But, we have so much good stuff that weíre sort of settled down to the cream of the crop, sort to speak. We work with about forty-two to forty-five songs most of the time and for a show weíd never need more than twenty-six tunes for a two hour show or twenty-four for a ninety-minute show in a casino. And we try to keep it all in rotation around the twelve major which we consider to be the twelve or fourteen songs that always should get done. People would get disappointed if they did not hear those twelve to fourteen important ones. And the rest is all in rotation around that. That has to be sorted out beforehand. I have about four different change ups of shows that Iím using right now.

Steve Waxman: Do you consider songwriting a creative outlet or work?

Gordon Lightfoot: Yes, I do. I consider it a creative outlet. I started a long time ago. I learned how to write music because I was writing songs and I didnít know how to write music down. I went and took a course. I took a notation course.

Steve Waxman: Where did you do that?

Gordon Lightfoot: I went Stateside. I persuaded my parents to allow me to go to this school in the States where they taught a jazz course, a notation course that was based on the keyboard. I stayed there for a year. And, as fate would have it, one of the very first jobs I got when I got back to Canada was a job as a copyist, a person who copies orchestra parts for scores. And started thinking ĎJeez, Iím sure glad I took that course.í I wanted to learn how to write lead sheets because you had to be able to write lead sheets to register the stuff with the Library of Congress in Washington. You had to write it out. The music, the chords and the lyrics. Those three things. You had to commit those to manuscript. I didnít know how to do any of that in high school yet. I was writing songs in high school but I couldnít commit them to paper. In those days you had to. Nowadays, all you need is a CD. You donít have to write them out anymore. There are a lot of people that write great songs that really donít know how to write music. And that is not to call them short because Iím not doing that. Iím not doing that at all. But a lot of songwriters donít actually know how to write music. Itís fine by me. Itís side by each. Itís whatever you need to do. I went and took a notation course so that I could do it because it was my way of registering material and that was back in 1962, 1963. Way, way back then when I started doing it. I had 12 or 15 songs by this point and I was building up a little catalogue. Itís really good to have a deal and I wanted to be able to write all of this stuff down and went and learned how to do it.

Steve Waxman: How old were you when you started writing songs?

Gordon Lightfoot: I would have been in grade 12. I would have been 17.

Steve Waxman: How did you go about figuring out how to write a song?

Gordon Lightfoot: Well, I write a topical song. It was about a fad that was catching on just after the Korean War. The hula hoop. I called it ďThe Hula Hoop Song.Ē Itís about a guy thatís trying to hula hoop. His kids are all doing it just great. All his kids, they all know how to do it but he canít learn how to hula hoop. He just canít learn. I still canít learn how to hula hoop. I, personally. I read an article about it in a magazine. I said ĎJeez, let me go write a topical song with this hula hoop craze. It was the same time that Chubby Checker invented The Twist. Do you remember that era?

Steve Waxman: Itís before my time but I do know what youíre talking about, yeah.

Gordon Lightfoot: I went to his club one time too. It was in New York but thatís another story. In the meantime, I wrote this topical song about Hula-Hooping. About this father that canít learn how to do it. Heís terribly frustrated about it. All of his children are doing it and he canít and that was the tone of the whole song. I was so into it that I had just learned how to drive and I borrowed my fatherís car and brought it into Toronto and played it for the people at BMI Canada, the music publisher. I had to find out where to go and who to see and do everything. I was very entrepreneurial about this. And they said ďLeave your name with the receptionist and weíll call you.Ē

Steve Waxman: And did they?

Gordon Lightfoot: And I did. I kept submitting tunes and found out that they were connected to Leeds Music and when I got working with Leeds Music I got working with an agent called Billy OíConnor Enterprises here in Toronto and they found out that I was also a performer, not just a songwriter and they started booking me to play in clubs and bars and nightclubs.

Steve Waxman: What year are you talking about that they started booking you?

Gordon Lightfoot: 1962.

Steve Waxman: Was ďThe Hula Hoop SongĒ a fully realized song for you?

Gordon Lightfoot: Well, I certainly remember the song. I often tell people that they have to waterboard me to play it. But, I know the whole thing from start to finish. I use some language at the end of the song where the people at BMI Canada said ďYou shouldnít use words like that in songs.Ē I used the word slob. I used the word slob and the publishing guy said ďThatís actually not a very good word to put into a lyric.Ē And other than the four-letter word, I thought it was okay. ďĎCause I guess Iím just a slob and Iím gonna lose my job Ďcause Iím hula hula hoopiní all the time.Ē I thought it was okay. ďI guess Iím just a slob and Iím gonna lose my job Ďcause Iím hula hula hoopiní all the time,Ē and that was the last line as he was trying to catch up to his children. And I thought that was just the neatest little idea. His response was ďYou shouldnít use that word.Ē That was his advice. He liked the song. That was a good try.

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