Music Instrument News is sad to report the death of Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who has passed away at the age of eighty-four.
Although successful in his native Canada throughout the 1960’s Lightfoot reached a far wider audience with his deeply moving chronicle of the breakdown of his marriage, captured in one of the greatest ‘break-up’ songs ever written – If You Could Read My Mind. The plaintive tale of a man confused by the loss of the love he felt is perfectly underpinned by Lightfoot’s delicate twelve-string acoustic guitar accompaniment and sensitive arrangement.
His other major success told the true story of a shipwreck, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, detailing the sinking of that ship on Lake Superior in 1975. It could not be more different from the confessional marriage woes that created his other major success, but the disparity in theme and execution simply underlines Lightfoot’s skill and touch in terms of conveying the emotion of his subject matter, again with carefully arranged acoustic guitar backing.
Lightfoot’s songs crossed genres and generations, covered by artists as diverse as Neil Young, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and Barbra Streisand. Bob Dylan is a huge fan of Lightfoot’s songs, saying “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”
Although Gordon Lightfoot’s songs are far more famous as cover versions recorded by huge-selling artists, he still maintained a highly respectable recording and touring career, although the strain of his workload led to a serious drinking problem, which cost him his marriage. After recovering, Lightfoot returned to touring and recording. Hew suffered a near fatal abdominal aortic aneurism in 2002, spending six weeks in a coma before major surgery saved his life. A tracheotomy performed during the surgery greatly impacted on the power of his vocals, but he recovered sufficiently to co continue to record and tour – dates were planned for this year, but had already been cancelled due to his increasing health issues.
Hailed as a favourite son of his native Canada, Lightfoot was awarded an incredible sixteen Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of Grammys, and he was inducted into the Juno Hall Of Fame, the presentation made by long-term admirer Bob Dylan.
Acoustic players, and especially song-writers, who are not familiar with the work of Gordon Lightfoot, should make every effort to check out all his work, from his early, less popular albums, right through to his later albums, And anyone looking for a template to construct possibly one of the most perfect acoustic songs ever committed to vinyl, should pay close attention to the delicate acoustic accompaniments to his song, which mean that his obvious talent as a player has been long overshadowed by his giant status as a songwriter.
Gordon Lightfoot is survived by six children from his three marriages, and other relationships and a number of grandchildren.
MIN offers condolences to his family and friends.