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Old 03-20-2021, 05:15 PM   #2
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 15,624
Default Re: Interview-Dec.2020-Steve Waxman-

There goes my hoop upon the floor /

I guess it’s spun about a hundred times or more /

The hoop has got me where it wants me and I’m slowly going nuts /

I see the kids on the street getting the best of me /

I’m really beat /

I used to be a hero to my kids but now I’m nothing but a square /

‘Cause I can’t hula hoop at all

Then comes the bridge. The publisher said to me “Keep writing, Gordon. We’re impressed that you’ve written a topical song because we’re always looking for topical songs. Not just love songs. We’re not just looking for the heart-throb tunes. We’ve got an eye out for topical songs too. If you do any more of this kind of work, call the secretary and come in and see us.” So, that was exactly what I did. I wrote some more songs and a few months later, there I was again.

Steve Waxman: When you wrote “The Hula Hoop Song,” did you write the lyrics and then come up with the melody?

Gordon Lightfoot: Yeah. Oh, it’s got a melody. Sure.

Steve Waxman: I understand that. What I want to know is did you have the lyrics first and then figure out a melody to go on top of that?

Gordon Lightfoot: No. I just got out my guitar and I wrote the darn thing. I was in grade 12. You see, I went and got a guitar. I was taking piano lessons at the time. It was a good thing that I had a knowledge of the keyboard too. I’m not a pianist but I do know the keyboard. But for this particular day, I got out my guitar and I sat down with the guitar and I wrote that tune. I got really creative. It didn’t take long either. I said ‘Maybe I can do this. But can I make everything different.’ So the next fifteen or eighteen songs I wrote I tried to make every song completely different and I only had five keys to work with. But still, all the songs had to be different. So they were all set to these different tempos. There are about seven or eight different kinds of modal directions in which I could go from at that point in time. I could write about several different topics. It could be love. It could be travel. I used to have all of these things written down. There were fifteen things. War. Relationships. Everything. Ships. I wrote a lot of sea shanties. About five of them. I remember the Springhill Mine disaster that occured here in Canada many years ago. I wrote a lot of songs about miners and the danger that was involved with mining.

Steve Waxman: The way you write songs, has it changed over the years? Or is it still the same process for you? You pick up a guitar or you sit down at the piano and the song just comes to you?

Gordon Lightfoot: All I know is that they’re all different and they’re like snowflakes. There are some things that are a similarity of approach like when I have a certain tuning that I use, what I call F tuning on one of my 12-strings from which I produced about five tunes using that. But even though they’re all in the same key they’re all different. They’re completely different. There’s the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” “Early Morning Rain,” “The Ring Necked Loon.” Those are my three favourite ones and they’re all in the same key but they’re all completely different. So I try to avoid using the same structural way about going about it.

Steve Waxman: Do you keep notes of things that you overhear and write things down later?

Gordon Lighfoot: Yeah. I wrote something down on my car contract one time - one of my best tunes. I was driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix one night. About one o’clock in the morning after a show, with my bass player, and a sign flashed by and it said “Carefree Highway.” So I wrote it down on a contract because there was nothing else handy to write on and I left it in the damn glove compartment of the car! Fortunately, it made such an impression on my mind that five days later when I actually started thinking about ‘what was it? Yeah, “Carefree Highway.” Oh! Eureka! I have found it.’ I wrote that song in about ten minutes. That’s the way it goes.

Steve Waxman: Okay. So with that, you’ve got the title. I presume that you looked at it as a title. What’s the process then? Are you starting to imagine what “Carefree Highway” means to you?

Gordon Lightfoot: Yeah. And then you start to go back to the beginning where your starting point is going to be and then you start thinking about ‘what would this person be thinking about out there on the road and homesick as hell.’ I kinda know how that felt because I used to get that way. And what are they going to think about first? They’re going to think about their mum and dad. And that gets it rolling right there. They’re gonna start thinking ‘how are the old folks doin’?’ And then the whole thing takes on its own momentum. You just carry it on through and then the title just drops into the middle of the whole thing while you’re doing it. The title finds its own positioning as you go along. I’ve had that happen lots of times. It happened with “Sundown” and that was one of my best tunes. I had a title and nowhere to put it and then ‘boom,’ it just drops into the order. That’s a song about slippin’ and slidin’ around…”Sundown”...slippin’ and slidin’, I like to call it.

Steve Waxman: What does that mean?

Gordon Lightfoot: It means that you’re feeling a little jealousy. A little stroke of jealousy. Like your girlfriend might not be 100% with you.

Steve Waxman: I’d like to tell you that my brother, who’s 8 years older than me, had a couple of your records back when I was a kid and “Sundown” was the first song of yours that I would ask him to play on repeat over and over again. I must have been 10. 8, 9, 10.

Gordon Lightfoot: Isn’t that amazing.

Steve Waxman: You know how kids are? When they hear something that they like they want to hear it over and over again. That’s what “Sundown” was for me. And then “Cotton Jenny” was the second one.

Gordon Lightfoot: Oh really? I’ll get to that one in a minute. But, it’s about rubbin’ another man’s rhubarb. It’s about, as Jack Nicholson so well put it in one of his movies “Don’t rub my rhubarb,” kind of a tune, “Sundown”. The other one that you just mentioned, we had to be careful with that one now. I had to take it out of my show because I don’t want to be accused of being a racist. And that’s one of my best tunes.

Steve Waxman: Now, you’ll have to excuse my ignorance. I sing songs but I have a hard time paying attention to what they actually mean. So, what was it that might be racist about “Cotton Jenny”?

Gordon Lightfoot: Well, if you’re talking about “Cotton Jenny,” you’re talking about people picking cotton. You’ve got to be careful of what you say these days in a song or whatever it is. I’ve had experiences where I’ve noticed that it’s not a good idea to play it.

Steve Waxman: Obviously, as a little kid, I didn’t pick up on that at all. I just thought that it was a sweet, actually sexy song.

Gordon Lightfoot: I know. And that’s the thing you see. That’s what it’s meant to be. That’s what it was always meant to be.

Steve Waxman: Okay, at least I got that part of it right as a kid.

Gordon Lightfoot: Yeah. Yeah.

part 3 - next post
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