What made Gordon Lightfoot great: Remembrances from musicians, writers

Gordon Lightfoot's music was part of the Canadian cultural fabric since the mid-1960s. Musicians and writers reflected on his legacy with CBC News on Tuesday.

Lightfoot's enduring songs, love for performing and a 'typically Canadian' humility are being praised

A closeup of an older man is shown.

Gordon Lightfoot's death at the age of 84 after six decades of songs that have resonated with Canadians and music fans worldwide has led to an outpouring of tributes.

Lightfoot led the way for Canadian performers to follow at a time when the music industry in Canada was in its infancy, legend Anne Murray told CBC's Q on Tuesday.

"He was a role model for people," said Murray. "He was really proud of the fact that he and I stayed at home and had international careers.

"Neither one of us wanted to go anywhere. He thought that was wonderful."

For Jim Cuddy, Lightfoot's music has been an inspiration for a half-century. The singer-songwriter remembers performing (That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me as a 10-year-old for family members, and his group Blue Rodeo contributed Go-Go Round to 2003's Beautiful: A Tribute To Gordon Lightfoot, an album also featuring tributes from Cowboy Junkies, Tragically Hip and Quartette.

"He showed us how to embrace our Canadian-ness and how to be ourselves," Cuddy told CBC News Network. "He was an inspiration in that right to his dying day."

WATCH | Canadian musician Jim Cuddy reflects on Gordon Lightfoot's legacy:

Canadian musician Jim Cuddy reflects on Gordon Lightfoot's legacy

19 hours ago

Duration 9:54

Canadian singer-songwriter and Blue Rodeo co-founder Jim Cuddy remembers Gordon Lightfoot as a singular performer and a writer of 'perfect songs.'

Lightfoot's music has been part of the fabric for many Canadians, including musicians J.P. Cormier and Lori Cullen.

Cormier vividly recalls his brother buying the 1976 single The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald "the day it came out" and wearing out his own vinyl copies of Lightfoot records.

Lightfoot was the "only touchstone I needed to become a writer and performer," Cormier said.

Cullen's introduction to the music came when a Grade 3 teacher at her Mississauga, Ont., school strummed a version of Pussy Willows, Cat-Tails.

"To hear that song when I was so young and to immediately feel how authentic it was, it felt like a part of where I came from, even when I was that young," said Cullen.

Musician-author Dave Bidini wrote an entire book about the Canadian bard's music as connective tissue, in 2011's Writing Gordon Lightfoot: The Man, the Music, and the World in 1972.

"Everyone talks about how you provided a cultural bridge: how you bridged town to city, country music to folk, folk to pop, old to new, square to hip, Canadian music to hit radio, and, later, sixties sound to the seventies," writes Bidini. "Even now, when people see you or hear you, they see the past being bridged to the present."

Songs built to last and to be shared

Nicholas Jennings, author of 2016's Lightfoot, said whether it was as a chronicler of Canadiana through songs featuring the outdoors or trains, or on matters of the heart, Lightfoot "managed to write from a deeply personal place but make it universal in such a way that everyone … could relate to those songs."

Cuddy found that to be the case, as well.

"There are some perfect songs where you can't imagine any alteration of the melody, any alteration of the lyrics or any alteration of the performance, even though many people have done it. If You Could Read My Mind is one of those songs," said Cuddy.

To Cuddy's point, the adaptability and sturdiness of that particular classic has been proven through the years. In addition to faithful covers that hew closely to Lightfoot's 1970 original there was: Skeeter Davis's country weeper featuring steel guitar, a disco version by Viola Wills, a 90s house update performed by Stars on 54 that hit the pop and dance charts worldwide, and a number of instrumental versions — including an elegiac horn arrangement from Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and a classical version by the Saint John String Quartet.

The roots musician Cormier, meanwhile, released The Long River: A Personal Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, an 18-song collection featuring songs like Steel Rail Blues, Home from the Forest and Early Morning Rain.

Two men are shown posing for a photograph at an event, with one holding a triangular shaped award.

While many terrific songwriters can put together enough work for a greatest hits compilation, Lightfoot compiled "an incredible catalogue of songs," said Jennings.

As such, in 2012 he became one of a select group of Canadian performers to be inducted into the U.S.-based Songwriters Hall of Fame, joining Paul Anka, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.

A true craftsman

While songwriters often speak of channelling songs that come to them in a burst, Jennings said listeners should understand Lightfoot was more often than not a true craftsman.

"He struggled over them, he was such a perfectionist," said Jennings. "He laboured over the words, wanting to get every single phrase, every poetic turn right."

WATCH | Murray McLauchlan on how Canadians connect to Lightfoot's body of work:

Lightfoot's artistry connects with Canadians, says singer Murray McLauchlan

15 hours ago

Duration 1:34

Fellow Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame inductee Murray McLauchlan says Gordon Lightfoot was the ultimate craftsman.

Cuddy chuckled at that trait, relaying a story of Lightfoot advising him of the exact beats per minute for a drummer to follow throughout if Blue Rodeo planned on tackling the seven-minute epic Canadian Railroad Trilogy.

"He didn't want us to be around that [tempo]; he wanted it to be exact," said Cuddy.

'Lived to perform'

While some older songwriters of his esteem could rest on their laurels or concentrate on studio work, Lightfoot endured the rigours of touring to continue to play his favourites before appreciative audiences. At the time of his death, he had upcoming shows on his schedule.

"Gordon Lightfoot lived to perform. He was known as a songwriter, but what he cherished most of all was his time on stage with his audiences," said Jennings.

Lightfoot was born and raised in Orillia, Ont., at a time when its population was about half the size of its current 33,000.

The Current23:39Remembering Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian folk music icon

Canadian folk music legend Gordon Lightfoot has died, aged 84. We remember the man and the musical icon, with Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy; and Lightfoot’s friend and biographer Nicholas Jennings.

Jennings, who remained in touch with Lightfoot long after writing a biography, said the musician stayed a "small-town guy until the very end."

"He never really understood why people made such a fuss about him," said Jennings.

Murray agreed that Lightfoot was hardly effusive about his talents, describing the attitude as "typically Canadian."

"He really didn't think himself to be anything special at all, but he certainly was."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

Check Also

Flash floods hit Metro Manila following downpour

FLASH floods hit parts of Metro Manila following a downpour on Saturday, the Metropolitan Manila …