So, back in July and August of 2001, I had the most remarkable summer student job, working as a reporter for the Cambridge Times. My Editor, Jeff Hurst, was very encouraging and had me covering local news, sports, and arts and culture stuff.
I convinced him that I should attend Gordon Lightfoot’s show at the Sanderson Centre in nearby Brantford, Ontario on August 9 (that’s a photo up above that I took of Mr. Lightfoot that night), and then I also made plans to see him in Kitchener, Ontario on August 10, at Centre in the Square. For what exactly, I don’t recall, maybe I pitched a live concert review.
Though Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t doing much press and had a lot of friends and family to visit with in Kitchener, his manager at the time, the late Barry Harvey, arranged for me to get backstage to try to ask him some questions (this was unusual, and I’m not sure why after asking Mr. Lightfoot to speak with me, and him saying no, Mr. Harvey still urged me to give it a shot). So, I did this, briefly speaking with Mr. Lightfoot, and here’s the resulting article that ran in the Cambridge Times, on Tuesday, August 14, 2001.
On a Carefree Highway: A Conversation with Gordon Lightfoot
By Vish Khanna
Special to the Cambridge Times
Since emerging from the Toronto folk club scene in the early 1960s, Gordon Lightfoot has recorded 19 albums, received five Grammy nominations, won 17 Juno awards and is one of the only artists who has counted Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, and Peter, Paul, and Mary among his fans.
In 1970, in recognition of his contributions in furthering Canadian culture, he received the prestigious Order of Canada citation. More recently, the singer-songwriter was honoured as a charter member of Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Armed with a stellar band and a catalogue of his classic songs, Lightfoot returned to the stage after a two-month absence and captivated audiences in Brantford’s Sanderson Centre on Thursday, and Kitchener’s Centre in the Square on Friday. Having attended both performances, reporter Vish Khanna took advantage of a rare opportunity and spoke to the Canadian icon after Friday’s performance.
You mentioned that you were feeling a little rusty last night after the time off the road. How did you think the shows went?
It always takes one day to get it tight. So, if you compare tonight to last night, you’d probably find that it went by a little bit smoother. The tuning was better, but then the looseness of not having played is good as well.
How long is this tour?
We’ve got two trips to the northwest States coming up actually. We’ll finish up sometime early in, October, and I’ll start writing again; we’ve got to make a new album.
You were saying last night that you just recently finished writing the song, “Hotel No” which you started writing 12 years ago?
I just finished it a few months ago. It was one where you have a title but you don’t have a song and sometimes it goes the other way. That’s about the longest l’ve really hung on to just a title.
I really enjoyed that song.
Well, thank you. It’s different.
Are you ever surprised by the loyalty of your fanbase after all these years?
I would only be surprised if I could not pay the bills (laughs). Then I’d be surprised!
Are there singers or songwriters that you’re especially fond of?
My all-time favourite: Bob Dylan. I could tune in to Leonard Cohen, I like Elton John a lot, I think he’s a great artist. I’d be a little bit stuck (to name a younger artist) because I wouldn’t be able to nail down the ones who are finding the way through the swamp. There’s the soundtrack to The Pledge, which is a Jack Nicholson movie, and there’s some wonderful folk-type music on there, really hip.
Is there a song of yours that you’re particularly proud of?
Well, I’d have to put the “Early Morning Rain” up there, “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” As ballads go, I like “If You Could Read My Mind,” but yet there are some that I actually like to play better than that one, but still it’s a nice song to play and I don’ get tired of playing it.
You must be hard-pressed to figure out what’s going to make it into the set on any given night.
It drives me bananas! But I think about it everyday and I ty to keep a state of rotation. If I have a good new one, we’ll put them in. Like we lost “Carefree Highway” tonight and that’s sort of a standard for us!
You mentioned Bob Dylan, and I know people like him and Peter, Paul, and Mary are always touring. Do you ever cross paths or still correspond?
I’ve spoken to Peter Yarrow and Mary Travis several times, and occasionally I get to talk to Noel Paul (“Paul”). I see Dylan actually fairly regularly, every few years. We’ve done some visiting back and forth, like the time of the Rolling Thunder tour–the party was at my place. When he comes into town, he’ll come over. He came up for the Hall of Fame awards and the Canadian Music awards about 10 years ago and did that. The last time I saw him was last summer when he played the Molson Amphitheatre.
Yeah, that was a great show.
Yeah, it was a very good show. Brand new band. He’s the most talented son-of-a-bitch in the whole works and a great harmonica player.
Do you ever stop to think of your contribution to music from a historical perspective or do you just feel like a guy who’s playing some songs?
I feel like a guy who’s playing some songs. But I go because I feel I should participate. You have to participate in these things and you better enjoy it. For a while I didn’t, y’know, and I was getting these awards, and for the first time I couldn’t understand why I was getting them. But now, I just go in, like there’s the Country Music Awards and we’re accepting that this year, because it’s time! It’s my turn!