I slapped some headphones on and listened to some Gordon Lightfoot – I think it was “The Circle is Small” – and what’s left of my tiny brain made an instant connection that I had never made before – James Taylor. They both have a nice, smooth easygoing voice and traffic in folk and soft-rock sounds. Here’s six by Gordo,
Wikipedia: “Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr.(born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music.
He is credited with helping to define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He is often referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and is known internationally as a folk-rock legend.” (Hmmm – what would Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, or Robbie Robertson say about who Canada’s greatest songwriter is? – ME)
Gordon was recognized at a young age as a fine singer. He sang in choirs and performed on local radio. He learned to play piano and drums and by his teenage years was sometimes singing for “a couple of beers.” He moved to California in the late 50’s and studied jazz composition and orchestration. His influences included Pete Seeger and the Weavers.
Apparently finding California too warm and preferring to freeze to death, he moved back to the Great White North a few years later. He got a contract and started releasing singles, some of which were local hits. He started to become known as a songwriter with songs like “Early Mornin’ Rain” and ‘For Lovin’ Me.”
In 1966 he released his debut album LIghtfoot! Gordon’s albums at this point had no real impact in the American charts. We were still in thrall to the British Invasion and the era of introspective singer/songwriter with a guitar – ironically popularized off by James Taylor as much as anybody – had not yet arrived.
In 1970, Gordon released what I refer to as the greatest song about heartbreak ever recorded – or at least my favorite – “If You Could Read My Mind.” Has there ever been a better combination of music and lyrics to convey a feeling of sadness and regret? The song was inspired by LIghtfoot’s divorce:
And if you read between the lines
You’ll know that I’m just tryin’ to understand
The feelings that you lack
I never thought I could feel this way
And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it
I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back
I tend to not necessarily go chronologically in these posts so let’s jump ahead to the year 1976 and one of my wife’s favorite songs, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
“SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there.”
Lightfoot read about it in a magazine and decided to write about it. Who knows from whence inspiration comes? (Delayed song start on YouTube.)
In 1978, Lightfoot released an album called Endless Wire. This tune – about a cheating partner – is called “The Circle is Small (I Can See it in Your Eyes.)”
The city where we live might be quite large
But the circle is small
Why not tell us all, and then all of us will know
“Carefree Highway” is not just a made-up song title by LIghtfoot but is actually a nickname for a stretch of highway out in Arizona. Said Lightfoot, “I thought it would make a good title for a song. I wrote it down, put it in my suitcase and it stayed there for eight months.”
The song employs “Carefree Highway” as a metaphor for the state of mind where the singer seeks escape from his ruminations over a long-ago failed affair with a woman named Ann.” (Did Gordo have any good relationships one wonders? – ME)
“Robbie Robertson described Lightfoot as “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan called him one of his favorite songwriters and, in an often-quoted tribute, Dylan observed that when he heard a Lightfoot song he wished “it would last forever.”
From the same album as “Carefree Highway” comes the title track, “Sundown.” “I think my girlfriend was out with her friends one night at a bar while I was at home writing songs,” advises Gordon. “I thought, ‘I wonder what she’s doing with her friends at that bar!’ It’s that kind of a feeling. ‘Where is my true love tonight? What is my true love doing?’ (Jesus, Gordon! Better choices, man – ME).
Lightfoot had some serious health issues including – in 2006 – a minor stroke while performing. Amazingly, the 81-year old Mr. Lightfoot continues to perform and his 2020 tour was only halted by the coronavirus. And I seem to remember a blogger posting a video of him hanging out at a club or somebody’s house listening to some other artist (John Prine?) performing.
Let’s end this excursion to LIghtfoot-town with a 1971 tune that has a Dylan-sounding fingerpicking sound. It’s a beautiful song called “Talking In Your Sleep.”
Dylan made this comment about the him: “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Lightfoot became a mentor for a long time. I think he probably still is to this day.”