Considered a national treasure, Gordon Lightfoot’s career has spanned six decades – and there are no plans to retire

Gordon Lightfoot has been creating music professionally since the 1960s, and at 68, he is in the midst of a Canadian tour. While there is a world-wide demand for his performances, he prefers to play in Canada. He has recorded 19 albums, received five Grammy nominations, and has won 17 Juno Awards in Canada. He has written hundreds of songs and many have been recorded by a wide range of international artists. Many of us have listened to Gordon Lightfoot songs throughout our lives; going to school, getting married and starting families, becoming empty nesters, and then grandparents. His music has been significant in six decades!

Gordon was born in Orillia, Ontario in 1938, and began his life in music as a young boy, singing in the choir of St. Paul’s United Church. In a 2005 interview, Gordon credited the positive influence that choir-master Ray Williams played in his career; “He taught me how to sing with emotion and to have confidence in my voice”. His singing was recognized beyond his choir performances, and Gordon performed on local radio programs and in music festivals. As he grew older, Gordon studied piano while a teenager, and taught himself how to play drums.

In the late ‘50s, Gordon moved to California where he studied jazz composition and orchestration. While in Los Angeles, he tried his hand at writing and performing radio jingles for commercials. In 1958, Gordon returned to Canada and began performing with a variety of groups. He performed on Country Hoedown as a member of the Swinging Eight He was also a member of the Gino Silvi Singers. By now Gordon was an active performer in the Toronto folk music scene, playing guitar and singing. The Two Tones, a duo consisting of Gordon and Terry Whelan recorded a live album in 1962. He left Canada in 1963 to host a country and western television show for the BBC television – but returned in 1964, and performed at the prestigious Mariposa Folk Festival.

Gordon was a regular at coffee houses in Toronto, and Bernie Fiedler, his long-time promoter and friend explained his introduction to Gordon in a recent interview. “I owned a club in Toronto called The Riverboat. Someone told me that there was this guy – Gordon Lightfoot – playing at a club called The Steel Rail. They said I should scout him out for The Riverboat.”
“I stayed for the first set and afterwards went backstage to see him.” Bernie chuckles at the memory of his negotiating skills. “Whatever this guy is paying you – I’ll pay double! I didn’t have a clue as to how much Gordon was being paid.”

Bernie continues; “Gordon started with me at The Riverboat shortly after that – and I’ve been producing his concerts ever since, including as many as 10 consecutive concerts at Massey Hall in Toronto. Gordon is one of the most loyal people I have ever met.”

Other performers began recording his songs and they were turning into hits. Ian and Sylvia Tyson recorded For Lovin’ Me and Early Morning Rain. Peter, Paul and Mary also had a hit single with For Lovin’ Me; and again by Chad & Jeremy, part of the British Invasion of pop music in the 60s’. The list grew – and soon included Judy Collins, Richie Havens, The Kingston Trio, and even Harry Belafonte. In 1966, Gordon released his debut album, featuring his own versions of these now well-known songs.

He toured Canada extensively, and expanded his schedule to include the United States, Europe, and Australia. His first really big hit was If You Could Read My Mind in 1971. Bernie Fiedler remembers travelling to Los Angeles to see his friend playing at the prestigious Troubador club in L.A. “I flew from New York on a 747, it was an inaugural flight for this new aircraft. I put my headphones on and couldn’t believe it when If You Could Read My Mind came on. I had tears of joy streaming down my cheeks!”

Bernie continues: When I got to L.A., there was a message for me at the front desk to call Gordon. “Bernie – don’t even check in. Come to this address. I’m staying at Jack Nicholson’s house and you’re invited too.” Bernie continues; “So off I went, and oh – what a party we had!”

“Gordon has earned the respect and admiration of so many people. Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Simon, Jerry Jeff Walker – even the Rolling Stones.” Bernie, who is producing the current Canadian tour, notes that in Regina, The Rolling Stones have a day in between their two performances. Gordon Lightfoot and his band are playing on the day between their shows. “I’m sure that they’ll be there to see Gordon.” Referring to his friend’s huge production of material, Bernie Fiedler notes; “Gordon will be remembered for his songs – there’s so many of them.

Who else has had such a wide variety of artists record their material? Elvis doing Early Morning Rain in Hawaii, and again in 1977, (his last concert), Dylan, Ann Murray, Glen Campbell, Barbara Streisand, Roberta Flack, and Johnny Cash – such a variety of talented people all performing Gordon’s songs! What makes it so intriguing is that Gordon doesn’t believe he’s doing anything special.”

Gordon has received recognition from other quarters, even if he has a tendency to down play his accomplishments. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada, for bringing Canadians closer to their country through his music. He’s been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and also the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. And of course there are the Grammy nominations and the Juno Awards.

But after all the hits and the awards; what makes Gordon Lightfoot special to the people who know him is his humanity. “Gordon’s probably one of the kindest and most beautiful human beings I’ve ever met,” observed Bernie during our conversation. “He helps people out all the time.” He continues; “When I got into financial trouble – and we’re talking about a fairly big sum – Gordon wrote a cheque for $100,000. This would be about a half $million today. He didn’t charge any interest, and just said to pay it back when I could.”

It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Gordon Lightfoot. After years of parties and a very fast lifestyle, Gordon stopped drinking twenty years ago. “There were fewer parties,” noted Bernie. “He lost a tremendous amount of weight, and maintains a vigorous exercise regime. He’s in great shape.”

This conditioning probably saved Gordon’s life. Two years ago, he suffered a ruptured abdominal organ, and was in a coma for over two months. Doctors confirmed that he almost didn’t make it on three separate occasions while he was in the coma. They credited Gordon’s excellent physical conditioning to saving his life.

His loyalty extends to his musical relationships. Anne Liebold of Early Morning Productions told me; “Rick Haynes on bass and Terry Clements on guitar have been with Gordon since the late 60s. Barry Keane is on drums and Mike Heffernan is the keyboard player. Mike’s the newest member – and he’s been with the band since 1981.” Bernie adds; “The band’s been together for 15 years, and they just keep getting better. Gordon tells me that after all these years; the pure pleasure of playing live never wears off. I don’t think he’ll ever stop.”

The concerts are selling out all across the country, and according to both Fiedler and Liebold, Gordon is excited about playing in Montreal. “He hasn’t played in Montreal in ten years,” noted Bernie; “and I know he’s looking forward to being at Place des Arts – its one of his favourite halls.” Adds Liebold; “Gordon was really keen to include Montreal. He said the tour wasn’t complete without Montreal.”

Gordon Lightfoot and his band will be playing in Salle Wilfred Pelletier at Place des Arts on Thursday, November 9th. The show is produced by Rubin Fogel of Montreal and Bernie Fiedler. For tickets, please call the Place des Arts box office at 514-842-2112; Toll Free at: 1-866-842-2112, through Admission Outlets at: 514-790-1245; or online at:

Gordon Lightfoot’s hit songs
Alberta Bound
Bitter Green
Canadian Railroad Trilogy
Carefree Highway
Cotton Jenny
Did She Mention My Name
Does Your Mother Know
Don Quixote
Early Morning Rain
Ghosts of Cape Horn
If You Could read My Mind
I’m Not Supposed To Care
In My Fashion
Me & Bobby McGee
Rainy Day People
Steel Rail Blues
Song for a Winter’s Night
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
The Pony Man

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