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=Living Legend

Gordon Lightfoot

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Born in Orillia, Ontario, on November 17, 1938, Lightfoot displayed vocal ability early on, noticed by his mother, who encouraged him to sing before women's clubs and at Kiwanis festivals. Later he studied classical piano, performed in plays, operettas, and barbershop quartets, played drums and sang in a dance band, and, finally, taught himself the basics of folk guitar. At Westlake College in Los Angeles he studied orchestration, earning his living doing vocal arrangements, demo records, and commercial jingles. In 1960 his attention was captured by the growing folk movement. Encouraged by Canadian friend Ian Tyson (of Ian and Sylvia), Lightfoot pursued the guitar seriously. He wound up performing in coffee houses in eastern Canada, where his distinctive voice and compositions were first noticed by the public.

A number of Lightfoot’s original works were covered throughout the 1960s by folk and country musicians including Peter, Paul, and Mary, Judy Collins, and Johnny Cash, and he garnered a series of hit singles himself: “Remember Me,” “I'm Not Saying,” and “Black Day in July.” Before success, though, he worked on a number of musical assignments including a stint on the Canadian television show “Country Hoedown.” Of his experience he said in Canadian Composer, “I'm not particularly proud . . . but it sure taught me a lot of things. I don’t envy the kids who make it overnight. . . There’s no security in this business, but experience and training sure helps.”

Lightfoot had written some seventy-five songs, most of which “didn’t really mean anything,” before he heard wordsmith Bob Dylan for the first time and had his viewpoint about composing changed dramatically. His work became more personal, reflecting his own identity. When he made his New York City debut in 1965, the New York Times praised his “rich, warm voice” and “dexterous guitar technique.”

The following year, United Artists released Lightfoot”s first album, Lightfoot, and he was named Canada’s top folksinger. In 1967 he moved into the position of top male vocalist, and in 1970 he was awarded Canada’s Medal of Service, celebrating his positive general contribution to the good of Canada. After four more respectably selling albums, Lightfoot signed with Warner to record a number of albums on their Reprise label, including If You Could Read My Mind (originally released as Sit Down Young Stranger, which featured both title tracks as well as the melodic “Approaching Lavender”), Old Dan's Records, and Endless Wire. Several collections of Lightfoot’s songs, including music and lyrics, were published by Warner Bros. Publications.

By 1976 Lightfoot had earned eight gold albums and one platinum album--for Sundown, the title track of which brought him considerable popularity in the United States. The album sold over 1,500,000 copies during its first year of release (1974), replacing If You Could Read My Mind as a favorite of fans and critics and eventually holding a place on both the rock and country music charts. One of his best-known songs, the haunting ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” in which Lightfoot sings of the fate of the ship and crew of an ore carrier sunk on Lake Superior in 1975, appeared on his 1976 release, Summertime Dream.

Despite having written over four hundred songs—a number of which received regular airplay—and having a number of best-selling albums and several Grammy Award nominations, Lightfoot did not score another Top 40 hit. In 1987, after a three-year hiatus from the recording industry, he returned with East of Midnight, the slickly produced pop ballad “Anything For Love,” and a new stage show featuring more folk music.

But concert appearances in the early ‘90s confirmed that he remained an engaging performer and that his catalog of original songs was hard to match. A Painter Passing Through was released in 1998.

In 2002 Lightfoot suffered a near-fatal abdominal hemorrhage while performing in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario, causing him to cancel his fall tour. When he awoke from a coma weeks later, the tenacious artist immediately began picking tracks from the 18 demos he'd recorded in 2001 and urged his band to flesh them out in the studio. Harmony, his 20th album, was released in May of 2004.

Lightfoot has received fifteen Juno Awards and been nominated for five Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, and in May 2003 was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor. Lightfoot is also a member of the Order of Ontario, the highest honor in the province of Ontario.


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