Gordon Meredith Lightfoot, Jr., (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer and songwriter who achieved international success in folk, country, and popular music. As a singer-songwriter, he came to prominence in the 1960s, and broke through on the international music charts in the 1970s with songs such as "If You Could Read My Mind" (1970), "Sundown" (1974) and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (1976). His songs have been recorded by some of the world's most successful recording artists, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. Robbie Robertson of The Band declared that Lightfoot was one of his "favourite Canadian songwriters and is absolutely a national treasure."
Lightfoot moved to California in 1958. He studied jazz composition and orchestration for two years at Hollywood's Westlake College of Music, which had many Canadian students. To support himself, he sang on demonstration records and wrote, arranged, and produced commercial jingles. He became influenced by the folk music of Pete Seeger, Bob Gibson, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, and The Weavers. In Canada, Lighfoot performed with The Swinging Eight, a group featured on CBC TV's Country Hoedown, and with the Gino Silvi Singers. He soon became known in the Toronto coffee houses promoting folk music. In 1962, Lightfoot released two singles that were local hits in Toronto and received some airplay elsewhere in Canada as well. "Remember Me (I'm the One)" reached #3 on CHUM radio in Toronto in July 1962 and was also a top 20 hit on Montreal's CKGM, then a very influential Canadian Top 40 radio station. The follow-up single was "Negotiations"/"It's Too Late, He Wins"; it reached #27 on CHUM in December. He also sang with Terry Whelan in a duo called the Two-Tones. They recorded a live album that was released in 1962 called Two-Tones at the Village Corner (1962, Chateau CLP-1012).
In 1963, Lightfoot travelled to Europe. In the United Kingdom he hosted, for one year, BBC TV's Country and Western Show. In 1964 Lightfoot returned to Canada; he appeared at the Mariposa Folk Festival. During this time he began to develop a reputation as a songwriter. Ian and Sylvia Tyson recorded "Early Mornin' Rain" and "For Lovin' Me;" a year later both songs were recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. Other performers recording one or both songs included Chad and Jeremy and the Johnny Mann Singers. Established recording artists such as Marty Robbins ("Ribbon of Darkness"), Leroy Van Dyke ("I'm Not Saying"), Judy Collins ("Early Morning Rain"), Richie Havens ("I Can't Make It Anymore"), and The Kingston Trio ("Early Morning Rain"), all achieved chart success with Gordon Lightfoot's material.
Between 1966 and 1969, Lightfoot recorded four additional albums for United Artists: The Way I Feel (1967), Did She Mention My Name? (1968), Back Here on Earth (1968), and the live recording Sunday Concert (1969). During those years, he consistently placed singles in the Canadian top 40, including "Go-Go Round", "Spin, Spin", and "The Way I Feel". His biggest hit of the era was a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", which peaked at #3 on the Canadian charts in December 1965. Internationally, Lightfoot's albums from this time were well-received, but did not produce any hit singles. Outside of Canada, he remained better known as a songwriter than as a performer.
Lightfoot's success as a live performer continued to grow throughout the late 1960s. He embarked on his first Canadian national tour in 1967, and also performed in New York City. Between 1967 and 1974 Lightfoot toured Europe and was well-received on two tours of Australia.
UA would later consistently release "Best of" album compilations in the 1970s, after Gordon Lightfoot became a success on his next label Warner Bros./Reprise.
Over the next seven years, he recorded a series of successful albums that established him as a singer-songwriter:
During the 1970s, Lightfoot's songs covered an wide range of subjects, including "Don Quixote" about Cervantes' famous literary character, "Ode To Big Blue" about the widespread killing of whales, "Beautiful" about the simple joys of love, "Carefree Highway" about the freedom of the open road, "Protocol" about the futility of war, and "Alberta Bound" which was inspired by a lonely teenaged girl named Grace he met on a bus while travelling to Calgary in 1971.
In 1972, Lightfoot curtailed his touring schedule after contracting Bell's palsy, a condition that left his face partially paralyzed for a time. Despite his illness, Lightfoot had several major hits during the 1970s. In 1974, his classic single "Sundown" from the album Sundown, went to No.1 on the American and Canadian charts. He performed it twice on NBC's "The Midnight Special" series. "Carefree Highway" (about the actual highway in Phoenix, Arizona) was the follow-up single from the same album. It charted in the Top 10 in both countries. Lightfoot wrote it after traveling from Flagstaff, Arizona on Interstate 17 to Phoenix.
In 1976, Lightfoot had a hit song about a shipwreck. In late November 1975, Lightfoot read a Newsweek magazine article about the tragic loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sinking during a severe storm on November 10, in which all 29 crew members died. His song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," most of the lyrics of which were based on the facts contained in the article, reached #2 on the United States Billboard charts, and was a #1 hit in Canada. "Sundown" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" continue to receive heavy airplay on many classic rock stations. In 1978, Lightfoot had another top 40 hit on the United States Hot 100, "The Circle Is Small (I Can See It In Your Eyes)," which reached #33.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Lightfoot recorded six more original albums and a compilation for Warner Bros./Reprise: Dream Street Rose (1980), Shadows (1982), Salute (1983), East of Midnight (1986), another compilation Gord's Gold, Vol. 2 (1988), Waiting for You (1993), and A Painter Passing Through (1998).
The album Dream Street Rose has the folk-pop sound that Lightfoot established during the previous decade. In addition to the title song, it produced songs such as "Ghosts Of Cape Horn" and "On The High Seas". He also included the Leroy Van Dyke's 1950s composition "The Auctioneer," a bluegrass-like number that for Lightfoot was a concert staple in the 70s & 80s, .
The album Shadows represents a departure from the acoustic sound of the 1970s and introduces an adult-contemporary sound. Songs like "Shadows" and "Thank You for the Promises" contain an underlying sadness and resignation. The 1982 American released single "Baby Step Back" marked his last time in the top 50 in that country. The 1983 album Salute produced no hit singles; the 1986 East Of Midnight album had several Adult Contemporary songs like "A Passing Ship","Morning Glory" and "I'll Tag Along" (East of Midnight). A single from East of Midnight, "Anything For Love" actually made the Billboard Country & Western chart.
In April 1987, Lightfoot filed a lawsuit against composer Michael Masser, claiming that Masser's melody for the song "The Greatest Love of All" — recorded by George Benson (1977) and Whitney Houston (1985) — stole 24 bars from Lightfoot's 1971 hit song "If You Could Read My Mind." The transitional section that begins "I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow" of the Masser song has the exact same melody as "I don't know where we went wrong but the feeling's gone, and I just can't get it back" of Lightfoot's song. Lightfoot later stated that he didn't want people thinking that he had stolen his melody from Masser.
Lightfoot rounded out the decade with his follow-up compilation Gord's Gold, Vol. 2, in late 1988, which again contained re-recorded versions of his most popular songs, including a re-make of the 1970 song, "The Pony Man". The original had been brisk in pace, acoustic and only about three minutes long. This new version was slower, clocking in at around four minutes plus.
During the 90s Lightfoot returned to his acoustic roots and recorded two albums. Waiting for You (1993) includes songs like "Restless", "Wild Strawberries" and Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells." 1998's A Painter Passing Through reintroduced a sound more reminiscent of his early recordings, with songs like "Much To My Surprise", "Red Velvet", "Drifters", and "I Used To be a Country Singer". Throughout the decade, Lightfoot played about 50 concerts a year. In 1999 Rhino Records released Songbook, a four CD boxed set of Lightfoot recordings with rare and unreleased tracks from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s plus a small hardback booklet for his fans that described how he created his songs and gave facts about his career.
In April 2000, Lightfoot taped a live concert in Reno, Nevada — a one hour show that was broadcast by CBC in October, and as a PBS special across the United States. PBS stations offered a videotape of the concert as a pledge gift, and a tape and DVD were released in 2001 in Europe and North America. This was the first Lightfoot concert video ever released. In April 2001, Lightfoot performed at the Tin Pan South Legends concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, closing the show. In May, he performed "Ring Them Bells" at Massey Hall in honour of Bob Dylan's sixtieth birthday.
In 2003, Lightfoot underwent follow up surgery to continue the treatment of his abdominal condition. In November, he signed a new recording contract with Linus Entertainment and began rehearsing with his band for the first time since his illness.
In January 2004, Lightfoot completed work on his album Harmony, which he mostly recorded prior to his illness. The album was released on his new home label of Linus Records on May 11th of that year. It was his 20th original album. It included a single and new video for "Inspiration Lady". Other songs were "Clouds Of Loneliness", "Sometimes I Wish", "Flyin' Blind", and "No Mistake About It". The album also contained the upbeat yet reflective Marshall Tucker(Band)/Allman Brothers Band-sounding track called "End Of All Time", which was unlike what most people perceive as a Gordon Lightfoot song.
In July 2004, he made a surprise comeback performance since falling ill at Mariposa in Orillia, performing "I'll Tag Along" solo. In August, he performed a five-song solo set in Peterborough, Ontario, at the flood relief benefit. In November, he made his long awaited return to the concert stage with two sold out benefit shows in Hamilton, Ontario.
Lightfoot returned to the music business with his new album selling well and an appearance on Canadian Idol. In 2005, he made a low-key tour called the Better Late Than Never Tour.
In 1969, bassist Rick Haynes joined the band, and lead guitarist Terry Clements joined the following year. Red Shea left the touring band in 1970, but continued to record with Lightfoot until 1975. He hosted his own Canadian variety show, played with Ian Tyson, and became band leader for Tommy Hunter's TV show in the 1980s on CBC. Shea played on most of Lightfoot's early hits, and his musical influence on later band configurations is undeniable. Shea died in June 2008. Haynes and Clements have remained with Lightfoot for the rest of his career and compose the core of Gordon Lightfoot's band.
In 1975, Pee Wee Charles added the important pedal steel guitar element to the band's sound, applying this traditional country instrument in a unique and creative way to Lightfoot's songs. Drummer Barry Keane joined the following year and in 1981, keyboardist Mike Heffernan completed the ensemble. This five-piece backup band remained intact until 1987, when Pee Wee Charles left the band to operate a radio station in Southern Ontario. Haynes, Clements, Keane, and Heffernan continue to tour and record with Lightfoot to this day.
In May 2003 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour. Lightfoot is also a member of the Order of Ontario, the highest honour in the Province of Ontario. In 1977, he received the Vanier Award by Canadian Jaycees.
|Year||Title||Canada||Canada: A/C||Canada: Country||US Hot 100||US: AC||US: Country||UK||Album|
|1962||"(Remember Me) I'm The One"||3†||-||-||-||-||-||-||Non-LP|
|1962|| "It's Too Late, He Wins" / |
"Negotiations" (Double A-Side)
|1963||"Day Before Yesterday"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||Non-LP|
|1965||"I'm Not Sayin'"||12||-||2||-||-||-||-||Lightfoot|
|1965||"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"||3||9||-||-||-||-||-||Non-LP|
|1966||"Go Go Round"||27||-||-||-||-||-||-||The Way I Feel|
|1967||"The Way I Feel"||36||-||-||-||-||-||-||The Way I Feel|
|1967||"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||The Way I Feel|
|1968||"Black Day in July"||68||-||-||-||-||-||-||Did She Mention My Name|
|1968||"Bitter Green"||44||-||-||-||-||-||-||Back Here On Earth|
|1970||"Me and Bobby McGee"||13||-||1||-||-||-||-||If You Could Read My Mind|
|1970||"If You Could Read My Mind"||1||1||-||5||1||-||30||If You Could Read My Mind|
|1971||"If I Could"||-||-||-||111||-||-||-||Back Here On Earth|
|1971||"Talking in Your Sleep"||19||2||-||64||-||-||-||Summer Side Of Life|
|1971||"Summer Side of Life"||21||-||-||98||-||-||-||Summer Side Of Life|
|1972||"Alberta Bound"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||Don Quixote|
|1972||"You Are What I Am" (A-Side)||3||1||1||102||-||-||-||Old Dan's Records|
|1972||"The Same Old Obsession" (B-Side)||3||1||-||101||-||-||-||Old Dan's Records|
|1973||"Can't Depend on Love" (A-Side)||27||-||-||-||-||-||-||Old Dan's Records|
|1973||"It's Worth Believin'" (B-Side)||-||-||12||-||-||-||-||Old Dan's Records|
|1975||"Rainy Day People"||10||1||-||26||1||47||-||Cold On The Shoulder|
|1976||"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"||1||1||1||2||-||50||40||Summertime Dream|
|1976||"Race Among The Ruins"||30||11||14||65||-||-||-||Summertime Dream|
|1977||"The Circle Is Small (I Can See It in Your Eyes)"||6||1||9||33||3||92||-||Endless Wire|
|1978||"Daylight Katy"||44||-||-||-||-||-||41||Endless Wire|
|1980||"Dream Street Rose"||-||1||8||-||-||80||-||Dream Street Rose|
|1980||"If You Need Me"||-||5||21||-||-||70||-||Dream Street Rose|
|1981||"Baby Step Back"||-||6||-||50||17||-||-||Shadows|
|1982||"In My Fashion"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||Shadows|
|1983||"Salute (A Lot More Livin' to Do)"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||Salute|
|1986||"Anything for Love"||39||14||-||-||13||71||-||East Of Midnight|
|1986||"Stay Loose"||86||10||-||-||-||-||-||East Of Midnight|
|1987||"East of Midnight"||-||11||-||-||-||-||-||East Of Midnight|
|1987||"Ecstasy Made Easy"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||East Of Midnight|
|1993||"I'll Prove My Love"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||Waiting For You|
|1993||"Waiting For You"||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||Waiting For You|
|1998||"A Painter Passing Through"||-||47||-||-||-||-||-||A Painter Passing Through|
† Lightfoot's first two singles were credited to "Gord Lightfoot". Canada did not have a national singles chart at the time of release -- these chart figures are from Toronto's CHUM Chart. All other Canadian chart figures from RPM magazine.