Still Light On His Feet

Minstrel With Rejuvenated Life, Career, Sets Valley Gig

By Don Ketchum, The Phoenix Gazette

June 5, 1993

Gordon Lightfoot has become the man he wrote a song about many years ago -- the minstrel of the dawn.

The 54-year-old Canadian folk singer-songwriter has rejuvenated his life and career, writing and strumming peacefully in the morning as his young son rises.

"My new little son (Miles) is now 3. I suppose if I hadn't changed my schedule, which I had to do, I might not have written any songs. So it's a blessing in disguise," says Lightfoot, who has three grown children from his first marriage and two grandchildren.

"To get the time (to write), the most peaceful time of the day, I felt it was best to work through sunrise," Lightfoot says by phone from Toronto. "If I go that route, I might do it three times a week."

He recently released his first collection of new material since 1986, titled "Waiting for You." And he is touring again, with a stop at Arizona State University's Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium at 8 p.m. today.

The new schedule is quite a departure for Lightfoot, who for much of his life was just getting home at that hour, who once wrote a song ("Early Mornin' Rain") about being stuck in an airport, "as cold and drunk as I can be."

His battle with the bottle is well-chronicled. But that ended in 1982, and he says he remains dry to this day.

"I've been pretty damn lucky to have some good people around me at certain times," he says. "My second marriage came out real good . . . it's been four years. I'm committed now. It's work and tour. I take my wife and son with me occasionally."

He's also building his body at a health club near his Toronto home.

"The kind of input I get from that activity, it rubs off on the performance," Lightfoot says. "More of the breath control and the output volume and the way you feel."

Lightfoot also has a better working relationship with himself.

"I feel more of a necessity now again, more compelled," he says. "Compulsion . . . that's a serious word. I feel much more passionately driven."

In the majority of the cuts on "Waiting for You," Lightfoot returns to the acoustic style that put him on the map in the mid-1960s and carried him into the 1970s with "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," "The Last Time I Saw Her," "If You Could Read My Mind," "Beautiful," "Don Quixote" and others.

"It seems like acoustic music seems to be enjoying a little bit of a resurgence," he says. "I could have done a lot of sweetening, a lot of extra voicings into the album, but it sounded nice the way it was, so I just said, 'Let's leave it. We'll put percussion on it, a few high string parts. Let's just leave it at that,' and that's what we did. It's honest."

The fact that Lightfoot is content with his life comes across in the songs. He has fun with his audience, even to the point of poking fun at himself.

In "Wild Strawberries," Lightfoot reveals a secret:

"People often ask me just the way it must feel, to be standing up here with you down there . . . Let it now be known that throughout all of these years, I have been wearing . . . polka-dot underwear . . . "

Lightfoot still has his serious side, devoting much of his time to the issue of the environment.

He is signing 700 prints of a painting of the Edmund Fitzgerald, an iron ore ship that sank in Lake Superior and was the subject of one of his most famous songs. The prints will be sold to benefit an environmental foundation.

Lightfoot would like his new music to be a commercial success, but says he isn't going to hold his breath. He is writing songs for another release and enjoys touring with his band -- lead guitarist Terry Clements, bassist Rick Haynes, drummer Barry Keane and keyboardist Mike Heffernan.

"We have the incentive to go out and do what we do best and that's play on stage," Lightfoot says. "That's where I feel the best about what I'm doing."

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 second article.

©1993 The Phoenix Gazette