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INTERVIEW: Gordon Lightfoot

SNOWED-IN gets personal with Canada's greatest singer/songwriter

Iconic singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot will take the stage for one show on Saturday, Nov. 7 at Seneca Niagara Casino. This is one of those shows that should be tagged “a must see” for anyone who loves music … just good music with thought provoking lyrics and soothing melodies to go along with them.

I had the pleasure of talking with Lightfoot from his home in Toronto and found him very easy to talk to and told him so, to which he laughed and replied, “Well, it gives me a chance to get things off my chest.”

Lightfoot’s love of music started early on; his first performance came at age thirteen at the famed Massey Hall in Toronto, winning a singing competition for boys. His career started moving forward in the early 1960’s and produced some of the best songs ever written - and incidentally the most recorded by other artists. Songs like “Sundown”, “Carefree Highway”, “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Early Morning Rain”.

The singer/songwriter’s career and life were severely interrupted in 2002 when he collapsed backstage at a show with a near fatal aneurysm in his abdomen. He was airlifted to the hospital where he underwent three major surgeries and spent six weeks in a coma.

His love of music gave him the strength he needed for the next two and a half years to basically “re-learn” his craft and get him back out on the road performing for his fans.

We talked about that and the many awards that have been deservedly bestowed on him through the years; I even got a very interesting history lesson on the subject of one of his most famous songs, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

Lightfoot put it all in perspective when we talked about his family of six children and four grandchildren. “My life is like two worlds I have to combine,” he said. “I have to stay sharp with the music and I have to stay sharp with the family.”

For ticket information visit www.senecacasinos.com and click on Seneca Niagara



HULICK: You’ve had another long running tour this year. You must really enjoy touring and performing live and getting feedback from the audience.

LIGHTFOOT: Yes I do.  I love to feel the outflow too.  It feels good to sing and have that communication with the audience.


HULICK: Do you change your set at all based on how the audience responds that night?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, we’ve got two shows we use. They hear the standards and we do a rotation of about eight or nine songs between the two shows. So some songs we do one night and the next night we don’t. We keep rotating it so it doesn’t get tired. Also, the whole order of it changes at the same time.


HULICK: Do you get requests from audience members? Do you get the little notes sent backstage asking you to do a certain song?

LIGHTFOOT: Yes, we do and I can do it, but I work within a certain framework of time, so if I bring a song in I have to lose one or I can stretch it a little bit. So we still take requests. But you know, people are so sure of what they think they’re going to hear so I don’t get that many of them.


HULICK: You have had many of the biggest names in music record your songs. How does that make you feel when you hear their renditions? Do you have an opinion in one way or another?

LIGHTFOOT: Let me put it this way Melanie … I never heard a cover recording that I didn’t like. I am simply honored that they would do so. Their treatment is always interesting and fine all around.


HULICK: Who do you listen to?

LIGHTFOOT: You know I do have a lot of people I like listening to, but right now I mostly listen to talk radio.


HULICK: If you were going to attend a concert, who would you go see?

LIGHTFOOT: Well if it were here in Canada and it was a rock show … well I went to see Ozzy Osbourne. They’re pretty good. I’ve seen Blue Rodeo and Neil Young. A few years ago I mostly took my daughter. We went to see Rush. I go basically because I’m asked, “Can you get us some tickets?”


HULICK: (laughs)

LIGHTFOOT: (laughs) I guess the reason being that I have a few connections around town here. And if my daughter wanted to go to something she really meant it. (laughs)


HULICK: You are one of the best, if not the best, storytelling songwriters. Where do you get your inspiration from?

LIGHTFOOT: Topical songs were something a lot of us wrote coming out of the folk revival. I guess for me many story type songs lead me right up to the “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. By that time I got to the point that I thought I knew what I was talking about, only I didn’t. So I got all the back copies of the newspapers and I read all the articles to get it in the proper chronological order. You’ll find this interesting - there was some controversy about whether it was the hatch cover that gave way. It was proven by some scientists that the ship broke in half. That was on National Geographic. They asked me if they could use some of the music from the song for the trailer and I said sure. They showed me the film and I was quite convinced about what they found. It was done by a group called Dive Detectives. They did an experiment in St. Johns, Newfoundland where they have a tank and they introduced this rogue wave idea and showed really what happened - it broke in half.


HULICK: Did your music change in any way after your illness and recovery?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, on the onset I wasn’t sure I’d be doing it at all the first six months. The whole thing lasted for about two and a half years. During the time I was recovering, I spent a lot of time practicing and concentrating. Of course, we always kept up our rehearsals too. Not the whole band, but two or three of us would get together once a week. It was great - it would keep us sharp and my playing improved a lot for one thing.


HULICK: What an amazing story of how you came back after being in a coma for six weeks and how long you worked to get yourself back to your music - your true love.

LIGHTFOOT: When I woke up from that, I could hardly move! They could hardly get me out of bed. When I look back on it now, I don’t have a bad feeling about it at all because I actually don’t remember encountering any pain. That was the amazing part about it, because with all of the operations you are of course anesthetized and a couple times they had to do an epidural and then I had the morphine button. There was never any more than about a two or three on the pain threshold. So I figured I was lucky that way.


HULICK: You’ve been honored so many times throughout your career with Grammy nominations, 17 Juno Awards, and you were presented the Governor General’s Award in Canada. And that is just naming a few. Is there one award in particular that means the most to you or one that maybe surprised you?

LIGHTFOOT: I got the Order of Canada in 1978. That’s really the significant one you could say. And I got surprised when I became the “companion” of the Order (highest level) after the illness while I was working my way back to the stage. I don’t talk about awards much. I take them seriously to a certain point, but I’m more interested in just doing a real good job more than anything else.