Canadian icon happy to be back onstageWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon Lightfoot suffered an abdominal aneurysm in 2002 and was in a coma for six weeks.
“I enjoy the work; I enjoy the challenge — it’s the reason why I fought my way back from my illness. There’s no way I wasn’t going to do it again if I was able to sing and play,” he said. “That was part of my recovery — not just making an album, that ‘little afterthought’ as I call it.”
Released in 2004, “Harmony” is the 20th original album by the legendary singer-songwriter.
“When I started to make that album, I was on my back. I had already made the recordings — 18 of them, but only 10 of them were serviceable enough to be worked on,” Lightfoot said during an interview from his Toronto home. “I had two years there, so I spent 14 months of having the band put parts on these previously prepared vocal-guitar tracks, which I had made before I got sick.”
He was glad to return to the stage.
“It was great; it was 28 months almost to the day. In fact, I did two concerts for the hospital that looked after me,” the 69-year-old said. “And that put me back on the road again.”
Lightfoot will play Stranahan Theater at 7 p.m. June 10. Tickets are $53 and $43.
“Toledo is the first date of this [leg] of the tour. We’ll be nice and loose,” he said. “You get to a certain point where you’ve been playing four or five days, and sometimes it gets almost too structured. When you’re opening up and you haven’t played for a while, you tend to be a little bit more loose and it’s more fun.”
The native of Orillia, Ontario, started having fun singing as a boy.
“I started at 10; I got singled out in the choir for training,” he said. “When they asked my mother if they could do it, I said, ‘Sure we can do it: When do we start?’ I was all for it. So I started singing in competitions. I was taking piano lessons, too, so I was getting things moving right back then, very young.”
In the early 1960s, Lightfoot started playing coffeehouses in Canada.
“The first five years of my career, I learned lots of songs and I wrote lots of songs while I was learning lots of songs. The folk revival was under way, and I was able to clock into that and make it work for me,” he said. “In 1965 I got my first important recording contract. From that point on, I was under contract for 33 years, not with that same company, but I finally wound up on Warner Brothers, which was a big record company. That was about 1970. I did 14 albums for them by 1998. At that point, I could have resigned again, but I decided I didn’t want the isolation that causes.”
The guitar-playing baritone became one of Canada’s biggest exports with hits “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Carefree Highway,” “Sundown,” “Rainy Day People,” “Beautiful” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
“Sometimes I felt I almost had done something that was wrong in a funny sort of a way, that I shouldn’t be doing this, but the fact still remains that it was never meant to be a single,” Lightfoot said of the story song about the ship that sank in Lake Superior in 1975. “The record company decided to put it out as a single … I wasn’t even around when the decision was made. Nevertheless, it came out as a single, it was right, it was in chronological order, and I started meeting the people right then.”
He’s kept in contact with family and friends of the 29 crewmembers who went down with the freighter.
“There’s four women who have stayed in touch with me through all these years. Every time the song would come up for some kind of usage, we’d clear it with the ladies’ committee in Madison, Wisc. We let it go for an IMAX film this year, but they wanted me to do that; it was called ‘Mysteries of the Great Lakes.’ They were very excited about that. I own the publishing rights to that song; I won’t let it go to anyone where it’s going to be misused in anyway.”
When “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” became a U.S. and Canadian hit in 1976, Lightfoot established a scholarship at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, a division of Northwestern Michigan College.
“When I let [the song] go for the IMAX film, I had them send $15,000 up to the scholarship just last month,” he said, adding his support has continued. “It’s my way of saying I’m grateful in a very roundabout, funny sort of way, but yes, it was a hit single, and it probably prolonged my career.”
“Edmund Fitzgerald” is referenced on the new Weezer CD, out June 3, in the song “Heart Songs.”
The singer has written and recorded more than 200 songs during 40-plus years in the business.
What makes a song memorable?
“There are three elements: great song, great arrangement, great vocal,” Lightfoot said. “ ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ — I was lucky there; I had a great arrangement and a great song, but I didn’t think I did the vocal very well. I didn’t even know how good that song was — it sat and gathered dust for eight months.
“I know that I do it twice as good now. It’s a wonderful song to sing — I just love singing it.”