By Nate Johnson
In an industry where the term “legend” is often thrown around too loosely, the man who well might be Canada’s greatest singer-songwriter of all time fits the word to a tee. During a career spanning over 50 years, Gordon Lightfoot has had thirteen US top 40 hits and 21 in Canada, has been nominated for five Grammys and has won 17 Juno Awards (the Canadian recording industry’s equivalent to the Grammy), and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012.
Lightfoot is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, has been decorated with the Governor’s General Aware and the Companion to the Order of Canada honor of merit. The man even has his own postage stamp. Perhaps the greatest reflection of his how large his shadow looms in the world of music is the array of musicians who have recorded his songs, including luminaries such as Bob Dylan (who has called Lightfoot a “mentor”), Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Glen Campbell.
Such greatness will be on display at the Coronado Theater Tuesday, March 17, as Lightfoot brings his seemingly never-ending touring show to Rockford for the first time since late 2002. This year’s tour, entitled “50 Years On The Carefree Highway”, is over 100 minutes per night of songs from all corners of his history, sprinkled with stories of a lifetime spent on stage.
We had the opportunity to speak with Gordon Lightfoot for a few minutes in advance of his visit to Rockford.
The Rock River Times: Mr. Lightfoot, thanks for taking some time for us. How is the current tour going so far?
Gordon Lightfoot: Very well, we did some shows in the Southern United States last month and are now home before heading out for the next set of dates, including the show in Rockford.
TRRT: What’s your schedule like these days?
GL: We do around 80 shows per year. We’ve played every corner of the US, all 50 states, and all across Canada. We generally play venues in the 2000-3000 seat range, more intimate venues than some of the other artists.
TRRT: I have to imagine it’s not a matter of how you keep touring exciting as you are so passionate about performing for fans, but how do you prepare differently for touring as the years go on?
GL: You have two worlds in life: one world made up of family, one world of music. In the family world, you look after everybody, you do your parenting. I spend a lot of time these days keeping myself in shape for performing. I go to the gym, I try to eat the right foods. I take touring and performing very seriously.
TRRT: How much does the continuity of playing with the same supporting musicians mean to you, especially as someone so rooted in the touring lifestyle?
GL: Certainly, it means a lot. Right now, we’ve got the best band we’ve ever had. We have that familiarity with each other, but we’re still improving. Our current guitarist, Carter Lancaster, joined the band in 2011 after we lost Terry Clements, and he is a great player. He has helped us really improve the sound with what we have all learned about intonation.
TRRT: So someone who is a fan but hasn’t seen you in a few years will notice the difference?
GL: They will. I know they will. Even if it’s subliminal, they’ll notice a difference. I’ve seen it in the crowd’s responses.
TRRT: Is there one artist whose reinterpretation of one of your songs means the most to you?
GL: Ian and Sylvia’s version of “Early Morning Rain.” That one means the most to me. Ian’s three years older than me and he’s still playing!
TRRT: You released your last record of original songs in 2004 (which was being worked on in 2002 when Lightfoot suffered a serious health incident, leaving him in a coma for six weeks), do you write at all anymore? Do you get the itch?
GL: Sure, I could certainly see that happening again at some point. However, the touring obligations and the business keep us so busy for now. In the future, though, anything is possible.
TRRT: Of the many accolades you have received over your career, is there one that means the most to you?
GL: I received a plaque when I was 13 years old for being first in my class. (Laughs) They can take all of the rest and throw it to the wind as long as I have that.
TRRT: I think I know the answer to this question, but how long do you plan to keep up this schedule?
GL: Until I can’t do it any longer! Let’s put it this way, I have no plans to retire.
TRRT: Mr. Lightfoot, thank you so much for the time. We’ll see you on March 17.
GL: I look forward to it.
For tickets, contact the BMO Harris Bank Center at (815) 968-2722 or go online at www.coronadopac.org.