Friday, October 17, 2014

Gordon Lightfoot, The #84 Artist of the Seventies*

Gordon Lightfoot began training in music at an early age, and he sang in the choir at St. Paul's United Church in Orillia, Ontario, Canada.  Gordon began performing at music festivals and local operettas.  In his teens, Lightfoot learned how to play piano and taught himself how to play drums.  In high school, Gordon taught himself to play folk guitar, and performed often. 

Lightfoot moved to California in 1958, where he studied jazz composition and orchestration at the Westlake College of Music in Hollywood.  He sang on demos for others, and wrote, arranged, and produced commercial jingles.  But Lightfoot missed Canada, and moved back in 1960.

Gotdon began performing with the Swinging Eight and the Gino Silvi Singers, and played the coffeehouses around Toronto.  He began experiencing success in Canada as early in 1962 with two local hits. 

In 1965, Lightfoot signed a management contract with Albert Grossman, who was also Bob Dylan's manager.  Grossman helped Gordon get a recording contract with United Artists later in the year.  Lightfoot's appearance at the famous Newport Folk Festival garnered him significant attention, and he released his debut album Lightfoot! in 1966.

Lightfoot released four more albums before switching to Warner Brothers Records in 1970.  His first album for Warner Brothers was Sit Down, Young Stranger.  Warner delivered for him, as Lightfoot achieved an international smash with "If You Could Read My Mind".  The single sold over one million copies and officially peaked at #5, although many stations had it #1.  The song did reach #1 on the Easy Listening chart.

Lightfoot won an ASCAP Songwriting Award for his great song, and he also received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Performance, Male.  Unfortunately, Lightfoot didn't have a capable follow-up, and his next four releases stalled.  In 1972, he came back with the album Don Quixote, which included this underrated track--"Beautiful".

In 1974, Lightfoot released one of his best career albums, Sundown, which contained the #1 title song.  "Sundown" achieved #1 in both the United States and Canada, and Gordon won another ASCAP Songwriting Award.

"Carefree Highway" gave Lightfoot his third career #1 song on the Easy Listening chart, and a #10 Popular hit.


"Circle Of Steel" is another popular song on the album.

In 1975, Lightfoot released the album Cold on the Shoulder.  The top song from the album was "Rainy Day People", a bit underrated at #26 overall, but another #1 Adult hit.


In November, Lightfoot read about the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank on November 10 on Lake Superior, with all 29 crew members losing their lives.  He sat down and wrote a song about it, with many of the facts coming from the news.  In 1976, Lightfoot released the album Summertime Dream, which gave him another smash hit.  "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" did not reach #1, but it was a solid #2. 

Lightfoot received another Grammy nomination for "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.  He also captured Song of the Year honors at the ASCAP Awards.

The album Endless Wire yielded another big Adult hit for Gordon--"The Circle Is Small (I Can See It In Your Eyes)", a song he had included on an earlier album, but re-recorded in 1978.  It reached #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Lightfoot never found the Top 10 again, but he has proven to be one of the most enduring of the 70's stars.  His career has now included recordings and performances in five decades.  His songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Olivia Newton-John, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, John Mellencamp, Anne Murray, Glen Campbell, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sarah McLachlan, Jim Croce, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Buffett, and many others.

Robbie Robertson of the Band said that Lightfoot was one of his "favourite Canadian songwriters and is absolutely a national treasure."  Dylan said that when he heard a Gordon Lightfoot song, he wished "it would last forever".

Lightfoot was one of the featured performers at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta.  He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1979.

In 1991, Lightfoot was selected as the celebrity captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team for the National Hockey League's 75th anniversary season.  In 2003, Gordon was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest honour a Canadian civilian can attain.  In 2007, Canada Post honored Lightfoot by including his name and image on a postage stamp.

In 2012, Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.   

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