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Old 06-20-2010, 05:35 PM   #1
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Default Lexington article

In a career of 40-plus years, Gordon Lightfoot has carved a secure place in the folk-pop pantheon.

Gordon Lightfoot
When: 8 p.m. June 23
Where: Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.
Tickets: $45, $55; available at (859) 257-4929,

The word creeps into conversation almost unavoidably: mellow. Gordon Lightfoot brings it up. The tag has been pinned to the Canadian singer-songwriter's music for more than 40 years. It's usually employed by fans and critics to describe the light, lyrical and decidedly folkish sway of his songs. Lightfoot doesn't shy from the label, but he is quick to apply a qualifier, lest anyone mistakenly think Lightfoot stands for lightweight."I think it's kind of a relief for people to get some music that's kind of mellow, that won't bust your eardrums," he said. "But don't let me make you nervous. We've got a good beat."

At 71, Lightfoot is responsible for one of the most consistent and distinctive folk-pop catalogs in or out of Canada. A listen to any of the 14 impressive albums he cut for Warner Brothers from 1970 to 1998 all of which were rereleased last week on the Wounded Bird label underscores the work of a writer whose most visible hits shifted from quietly sentimental songs accented by orchestration (1971's If You Could Read My Mind), understated folk-blues (1974's Sundown) and even a modern-day sea shanty (1976's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald).

That goes without mentioning the stylistic range of the artists who have covered Lightfoot's music, including British folk-rockers (Sandy Denny's darkly psychedelic cover of The Way I Feel), Americana stylists (Nanci Griffith's countryish update of Ten Degrees and Getting Colder), bluegrass stylists (Tony Rice and Kentucky's own J.D. Crowe), and iconic folk and pop stars (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and even Elvis Presley).
"The music just seemed to roll out of me," Lightfoot said. "I'd sing at festivals, weddings, everything when I was young. Luckily, I had a teacher that showed me how to sing with emotion. He taught me to do so by having me sing songs from Handel's Messiah. He had me singing a lot of really serious religious music at one point just to see what I could do with it. I think that's what you're hearing there in a lot of my music."

Lightfoot's career ignited in the late '60s with a series of five albums for the United Artists label that yielded folk hits including Early Morning Rain, The Way I Feel and Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Lightfoot has often voiced his displeasure with those early recordings. But when he sat down and gave them a fresh listen in preparation for a 1999 four-disc anthology of his music, titled Songbook, he gave a favorable reappraisal to their songs.
"I hadn't heard them back to back for a long time, so I took three days and listened to everything. All of that music seems to hold water for me when I look back on it. I was never happy with most of that stuff when we did it in those days, but they sound pretty good to me now. I have faith in them again."

Lightfoot's career skyrocketed after If You Could Read My Mind ushered in the Warner Brothers era. The singer enjoyed a strong artistic relationship with the label, drawing from its extensive stable of musicians, producers and arrangers for his recordings. Warner Brothers' support remained faithful until Lightfoot's personal demons specifically, a mounting struggle with alcoholism started to spill over into the spotlight.
"The alcohol was always the fuel until it started catching up with me," Lightfoot said. "I walked offstage one night in London and actually got into an argument with a fan way in the back of the hall. That one made it into the newspapers and out to Warner Bros. in Los Angeles. I think they might have lost a little bit of faith in me at that point."

Sober since 1982, Lightfoot completed his recording commitments to the label, even though his final four albums received fairly modest promotional support. Among those latter records is 1986's East of Midnight, which stands as Lightfoot's favorite.
"The only problem with that one was a suggestion was made to bring in (pop producer/composer) David Foster to work on one track. But it came off looking like he produced the whole album. It was self-produced. I worked on it for a long time. East of Midnight that's my all-time favorite."

Perhaps the most unforeseen obstacle Lightfoot has faced in his career has been his own death or, at least, the announcement of it. Having survived surgeries for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, which sidelined his career for 2 years beginning in 2002, reports spread quickly last February that Lightfoot had died. So swiftly, in fact, that Lightfoot heard of his own passing on the radio.

"Yeah, I was driving from my dentist's office to my office at 3 o'clock in the afternoon when I heard it. I mean, I wasn't about to complain. The next day, I had my picture on the front page of the newspaper here (The Toronto Sun) with the headline 'Dead Wrong.'
"So I enjoy reminding everybody these days of the Mark Twain saying: 'Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.'"
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Old 06-20-2010, 06:06 PM   #2
Join Date: May 2000
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Default Re: Lexington article

good stuff!
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