If Gordon Lightfoot had written no other songs besides the majestic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” his place in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame would still be assured. Few performers have so eloquently captured the adventure, hardship, tragedy and elation of nation building.
Fewer still have impacted and inspired multiple generations of listeners and would-be musicians while helping to define the very essence and sound of folk music across the decades.
As it happens, however, “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” is only one of dozens of classic, enduring and chart-topping Lightfoot compositions, which include, “Early Morning Rain,” “Alberta Bound,” “Cotton Jenny,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Carefree Highway,” “Rainy Day People,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Sundown.” For the past five decades, Lightfoot has contributed some of the richest colours to the tapestry of Canadian culture. As a musical innovator, he’s mentioned in the same breath as Bob Dylan, a confessed Lightfoot fan. And he’s never, ever stopped performing.
In 1960, at the instigation of friends Pete Seeger and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Famers Ian and Sylvia Tyson (who included Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me” in their repertoire) he began his solo career under the management of legendary American manager Albert Grossman, who also helped guide the careers of Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Band. Soon, Lightfoot had a pivotal role in the burgeoning music scene that developed amid the clubs and coffee houses of Toronto’s famed Yorkville area.
In ’65, one of Grossman’s other acts, Peter, Paul and Mary, had a hit with “For Lovin’ Me.” Five years later Lightfoot had his own Top 10 single with, “If You Could Read My Mind.” Long before the album Sundown and the single of the same name hit number one on their respective charts in 1974, Lightfoot’s reputation and career were cemented. Even now, scant few performers trigger the instant recognition of the name Gordon Lightfoot. Everyone, it seems, has a favourite Gordon Lightfoot song.
As a singer/songwriter, Lightfoot has sold millions of albums and singles as well as earning numerous gold and platinum records in Canada and the U.S. Besides his 13 JUNO Awards (out of a whopping total 29 nominations), Lightfoot has received four Grammy nominations, and is a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour.
Among multiple other honours, Lightfoot was presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario in 2012. That same year, Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a New York City ceremony alongside Stevie Nicks and Bob Seger. He was also immortalized on a limited edition postage stamp issued by Canada Post in 2007.
His songs have been covered by artists including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, Eric Clapton, Paul Weller and Glen Campbell. He has graced the most prestigious stages on the planet, and has been feted multiple times by his hometown of Orillia, where he was born in 1938, notably with a bronze sculpture that shows Lightfoot sitting cross-legged, playing an acoustic guitar underneath an arch of golden maple leaves. Still prolific and enthusiastic, Lightfoot issued All Live – documenting live-off-the-floor performances captured during his famed annual residencies at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall – in 2012.
“If You Could Read My Mind” charts Stateside
Lightfoot’s album Sundown reaches #1 on U.S. charts
Was a featured musical performer at the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary.
Made a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour