Gordon Lightfoot Talks Drake, Elvis, Ian & Sylvia and more

Lightfoot Red Jacket no microphone

After reports surfaced earlier this month that multi-platinum-selling rap superstar (and Toronto native) Drake was moving into his neighbourhood, Canadian folk icon Gordon Lightfoot couldn’t help but think how far the Bridle Path area of the country’s largest city had come, albeit with an important disclaimer.

“Even though Drake is moving into the area, my place is still a little less ostentatious than one might think,” Lightfoot says from his Toronto-based office.

Although Lightfoot hasn’t taken it upon himself to head across the street and offer assistance in helping crews construct the multi-million dollar home, the musician has a bit of advice for the current king of rap:

“Make sure you build a rehearsal room.”

While a handful of Millennials might foolishly ponder Lightfoot’s choice to offer Drake advice in much the same spirit that some Kanye West fans gave that rapper credit for having “discovered” Paul McCartney at the start of 2015, the bulk of Canadians aged 40 and older need no introduction to the folk singer.

As the man behind timeless hits including “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and “Sundown,” Lightfoot’s career has spanned more than five decades. Artists ranging from the Irish Rovers and the Kingston Trio through Johnny Cash and modern-day songwriting troubadour Ron Sexsmith are among those who have covered selections from Lightfoot’s extensive catalogue.

With more than a combined three dozen studio albums, live efforts and compilations to his credit, Lightfoot credits the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, as having provided the inspiration to pick up the guitar.

“It was Elvis that turned me onto the guitar. How could you hear ‘Hound Dog’ or ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and not want to get your hands on a guitar,” he asks rhetorically.

In the early 60’s, Lightfoot would get his first taste of success after meeting iconic folk duo Ian & Sylvia Tyson. The pair included Lightfoot’s song “Early Morning Rain” on their 1965 album of the same name.

“They were the first to record any of my songs. I always had the utmost of admiration for them, and have always felt that it was very unselfish of them to have chosen to record anything of mine at all. It was them that help set my career in motion.”

Following the success that Peter, Paul & Mary found with Lightfoot songs “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me,” Lightfoot signed his first solo recording contract with United Artists, delivering five records in a five-year span. After fulfilling his first record contract, Lightfoot signed a multi-album deal with Frank Sinatra’s label Reprise in 1970, for whom he would record 14 albums before the turn of the century.

He says that while he was fortunate enough to have met Sinatra on numerous occasions, Lightfoot shares he had heard a rumour that Ol’ Blue Eyes had attempted to put his own spin on his song “If You Could Read My Mind.” Although Sinatra didn’t end up recording the song, Lightfoot says an even greater honour came his way when Elvis Presley included “Early Morning Rain” on his 1972 release Elvis Now.

“The cover that Elvis did was a thing of wonderment. The first time I heard it was on my car radio. It immediately took me back to being 15 years old and hearing Elvis for the first time. It was an incredibly surreal moment for me, both as a musician and as a music fan.”

With sales of more than a half-million units in Canada alone, it is arguably impossible to boil Lightfoot’s career down to just a handful of milestones. Everyone from Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson and producer Daniel Lanois have sung his praises, noting, among other qualities, his superior songwriting ability and the timeless nature of the music he has created.

While Lightfoot remains a fixture on concert stages throughout Canada and the world, the 77 year-old insists that he is not necessarily feeling any pressure to head back into the recording studio to follow up his last studio effort, 2004’s Harmony.  His reluctance to head back into the studio has more to do with making up for lost time than a lack of inspiration, however.

“Making a career out of music has been wonderful, but it can be isolating in some respects, as you need to have a significant amount of privacy in order to write. These days, I am enjoying spending time with my family, as it was them who were being neglected while I was under contract throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s,” he offers.

“Having the continued opportunity to play live is something I’m not able to pass up so easily, however.”

What: Gordon Lightfoot
When: Saturday Aug. 20, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $44.99 plus taxes and service charges. As of press time, limited tickets remain, available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone at 1-866-943-8849 and online at www.casinonb.ca