“Canada’s Greatest Songwriter” Gordon Lightfoot plays Weinberg, Capital One Hall – WTOP | Start Classified

Gordon Lightfoot will perform at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Maryland on Wednesday, July 20, followed by Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia on Monday, July 25.

Hear our full conversation on my Beyond the Fame podcast.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews Gordon Lightfoot at Capital One Hall (Part 1)

Gordon Lightfoot has been called Canada’s greatest songwriter, with the songs to prove it.

The folk-rock legend will perform at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Maryland on Wednesday, July 20th followed by Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia on Monday, July 25th.

“I have a very well chosen program of material that I play, including the hits,” Lightfoot told WTOP. “We do about 65 shows a year. … We play all over North America. … My stage show and my road show and how we do it and how we engineer the whole project is one of the really exciting parts because it’s fun to be prepared.”

Born in Ontario, Canada in 1938, he grew up listening to opera and classical music.

“The first music I heard was classical music very early on,” Lightfoot said. “As a kid, I sang myself to sleep and sang to classical music. … My aunt and uncle loved it, they did [records] by Jan Peerce, the famous opera singer, I would hum along to that stuff. When I turned 5 or 6, I started doing regular radio.”

Lightfoot says he was lucky to have parents who encouraged his passion for music.

“My mother recognized my musical ability and got me interested in joining the church choir and taking piano lessons,” Lightfoot said. “I was about 10 years old when I started studying piano and singing. … My mother Jessica was the person who inspired me the most. My father, Gordon Sr., was also very interested in what I was doing.”

As a teenager, he learned theatrics by performing in high school musicals.

“As soon as I got into high school, I got involved in music production,” Lightfoot said. “I got a job in a band and the story goes on from there. I lived in Toronto. I went to music school in California when I was 19. I flew there to learn how to transcribe music, became a copyist and worked for publishers who recognized my songwriting skills.”

He began writing hits for other artists including Marty Robbins, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, The Kingston Trio, Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul & Mary.

“I’ve been buying them for five or six years and finally got a bite from Ian & Sylvia, one of the well-known entities of the folk revival, a husband-and-wife duet,” Lightfoot said. “They were the first to record my songs. They knew Peter, Paul & Mary so they gave Peter, Paul & Mary two of my songs that had a hit with a song called ‘For Lovin’ Me’.”

His success as a writer for Peter, Paul & Mary established him in America.

“That was my entry into the industry in the United States,” Lightfoot said. “We had to be successful as Canadians south of the border. … If it didn’t make it to the United States first, the media there, music radio, you wouldn’t make it, so I found my way there through my songwriting and I got a record deal myself in the US.”

In 1966 he recorded his own hit song “Early Morning Rain” about a loner on a rainy runway.

“I went to the airport and looked at the plane…it gave me the inspiration for this song,” Lightfoot said. “When the first Boeing 707 was introduced… I remember putting the name on that song that was supposed to be ‘Early Morning Train’ at the beginning, but I had the foresight to change it to ‘Early Morning Rain.’ … This song was written in two hours.”

Few have written more poetically about relationships, ranging from the divorce in If You Could Read My Mind (1970) to the romance in Beautiful (1972) to the tryst in Sundown (1974).

“I’ve been on both sides of that coin,” Lightfoot said. “It’s like a roller coaster ride, the ups and downs of relationships. … I understand what it’s like to get out of a relationship and I understand what it feels like to get into a relationship. … A few divorces, you get some feeling in your writing … it creeps up on you later when you’re feeling better.”

More hits followed with “Carefree Highway” (1974) and “Rainy Day People” (1975).

“A lot of the tunes happened very quickly when you buckled up and climbed in: ‘Carefree Highway,’ ‘Home from the Forest,’ ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ … all were written very quickly,” Lightfoot said. “I was concerned that my talent wasn’t fully revealed during those early albums, but we had quite a bit of success. I tried to improve myself.”

In 1976 he recorded his best known hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” about the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.

“I first read about it in the paper the next day,” Lightfoot said. “A week later I read about it in one of the magazines, Newsweek, and I was like, ‘Gosh, are they just giving this half a column?’ It wasn’t taken seriously at all. I’ve been working on some of the melodies…so I’ve applied the Fitzgerald story to lyrics and chords that I’ve already worked with.”

The song was 6 minutes and 30 seconds long so it had to be cut for radio.

“A record producer at Warner Bros. called it a fluke,” Lightfoot said. “They also wanted it edited. … The record company tried to cut it down enough that they could get it in the radio top 20. … There were seven rather long instrumentals, so I took eight bars out of the middle and it worked. … I haven’t lost any of the verses.”

After Edmund Fitzgerald, Lightfoot continued to produce material that may be less known to the masses but is even more impressive to Lightfoot himself.

“By the time I got to album #10 or 12, I was starting to get the results I wanted in my songwriting, but it got to a point where it didn’t matter anymore. It seemed like my last hit after The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, but after that I made five or six great albums. … My best album was ‘East of Midnight’.”

Most recently, the 83-year-old musician released the documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind (2019) and his latest feature album Solo (2020).

“One day I will come into the 21st century; I don’t do internet, I don’t even have a cellphone,” Lightfoot said. “Tours are smooth, but there comes a time when it tires you out. … My wife is traveling with me, she takes care of the oxygen because I have pulmonary emphysema. … I have 240 [songs]. I don’t mind if I never do one again.”

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews Gordon Lightfoot at Capital One Hall (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my Beyond the Fame podcast.

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