Lightfoot Pickin' Up Right Where He Left Off

By Don Ketchum, The Phoenix Gazette

June 26, 1990

"I have played on my guitar, coffeehouses, halls and bars . . . "

Gordon Lightfoot has been living that line from his song, "Hi'way Songs," since the mid-1960s, when he first became a musical force. He has circled the globe numerous times and has recorded 17 albums of virtually all his own material.

But in the mid-1980s, the dotted lines in the road became a blur and the wicked wind began to chill him to the bone. Maybe it was time to let old Gord's records nostalgically spin in the minds of his fans and let it go at that.

Lightfoot concedes he was going to be content to stand on his own sod at his home in the Toronto area.

"I was pretty much sure that was going to be my last (album) in 1985," Lightfoot says of his final album of original material, "East of Midnight."

But he since has released an album of older songs he re-recorded, "Gord's Gold Vol. II."

"It had been taking longer and longer (to produce an album) as the years went by," he said last week in a telephone interview from his home. "They got further apart. The last time, I swore to God, I said, 'I can't . . . I can't do it again. But things changed . . .' "

Things indeed have changed for the 51-year-old native of Orillia, Ontario. He might not be ready for the old folk home after all.

"A record producer came by and we went in and did a song. I wrote it and the record producer produced it according to a (AM) format. It sounds quite nice, so we're gonna make another."

Lightfoot says the producer "spends all his time makin' jingles, and he's got a lot of 'em. He's got a big business. I mean, don't get it confused. The songs aren't gonna come out sounding like jingles."

In the meantime, Lightfoot will continue his North American tour that began last fall. His next stop is at 8 p.m. Wednesday in ASU's Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium.

Lightfoot usually visits the Valley in the fall or early spring. This time, he knows that the temperature likely will be around 110 or higher.

"Well, we're on our way. We'll try to bring some of that cool, Canadian air with us," he said.

In the past, Lightfoot says he felt sort of imprisoned by his desire to write. But now, he says, "It's not the overwhelming, monopolizing thing that it used to be, where I felt compelled to do it and think about it all the time."

Lightfoot has earned three platinum and five gold albums, a gold single (for "Sundown"), four Grammy nominations, and 16 Junos (the Canadian Grammy).

On Wednesday night, Valley fans will hear many of those award winners, such as "Sundown," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," "Christian Island (Georgian Bay)," "Beautiful," and "If You Could Read My Mind." He also will perform a tune or two by Bob Dylan, who he says has been the biggest influence on his music.

Over the years, Lightfoot has provided musical commentary on issues such as the Vietnam War, Indians and racism, the insensitivity toward the homeless and the plight of the whale.

Now, Lightfoot says: "There is only one issue and that's the environment. That's that."

He has worked extensively with a group helping Indians trying to prevent the deforestation of a 420-square-mile area in British Columbia, and joined singer Sting and others to help another tribe in Brazil stop forest damage by preventing the building of two hydroelectric dams.

"It's not a pretty picture out there," Lightfoot says. "But I'm not gonna be the one to say it's too late (for a reversal)."

After 1982, Lightfoot began to see a reversal in a career that had been sagging due to his heavy use of alcohol.

He says "major (acting) offers came" in his early to mid-30s. But "I was still drinking and knew I wasn't gonna stop drinking. And I didn't stop drinkin' by God until 1982. As long as I drank, I didn't wanna make any movies (he did make one -- "Harry Tracy" -- a Western with Bruce Dern).

"You get sort of a feeling after three or four years (of abstinence) that you can go the whole way and just know you're never gonna do it again. My last two albums were done after that fact. I think the singin' was better and the albums were better, too."

And how long will he tour? "As long as I got the strength and willpower to do great shows."

So if you're still pickin', you're still kickin'?

"That's right," Lightfoot says, laughing, "If I'm still pickin', I'm still kickin."

Sounds like a good name for a new song, eh, Gord?

Don Ketchum is a sportswriter for the Arizona Republic who has been a huge fan of Gord's since the early 1970s. In the 1990s, he branched out and began interviewing and writing about Gord. This is his earliest article.

©1990 The Phoenix Gazette