Gordon Lightfoot was born on November 17, 1938 in Orillia, Ontario, Canada. His parents recognized and encouraged his interest in music; his first appearance as Massey Hall in Toronto, now a revered standard in his tour schedule, was just before he turned 13, as the winner of a competition for boys with unchanged voices.
After a background in barbershop quartets, and as a member of a duo, Lightfoot struck out on his own in the early 60s. He had written perhaps 75 songs, when he was caught up in the country music scene and folk revival of the time; Bob Dylan's music and a song by Merle Travis, Dark As A Dungeon, combined with his sensitivity, inventiveness and beautiful voice, resulted in his unique songwriting and singing style. In less than two years, between late '61 and some time in 1963, his sound and his life changed forever. For more about this early period in Lightfoot's career, read the article Early Lightfoot.
His music was discovered in 1964, when he was performing on the Toronto folk scene; Fellow Canadians Ian and Sylvia chose two of his songs, Early Mornin' Rain and For Lovin' Me for their next record, aptly named for that song. (See the album or the Vanguard boxed set, at left. In addition to the two Lightfoot covers, both also include Steve Gillette's Darcy Farrow, and Ian Tyson's Red Velvet which Lightfoot would record decades later).
Ian Tyson introduced Lightfoot to Albert Grossman, their manager and also the manager of Peter, Paul and Mary, Gibson & Camp (Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp), and Bob Dylan. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded the same two songs as Ian and Sylvia and enjoyed considerable success with them, getting a Billboard top 100 hit with one of them. Marty Robbins recorded Lightfoot's Ribbon Of Darkness, as he says 'in Gordon Lightfoot's style'
, and took it to the top of the Billboard Country charts. Albert Grossman signed Lightfoot and under that arrangement he recorded five albums for United Artists, four studio albums and one live album - to this day, the only live album he has ever released. For more about Lightfoot's career in the '60s, read Gordon Lightfoot: A Musical Tour of the 1960s.
At the completion of his contract with United Artists, Lightfoot signed with Warner/Reprise and - from 1970 through 1998 - released 14 more original albums including If You Could Read My Mind, Summer Side Of Life, Don Quixote, Old Dan's Records, Sundown, Cold On The Shoulder, Summertime Dream, Endless Wire, Dream Street Rose, Shadows, Salute, East Of Midnight, Waiting For You, and his final Warner/Reprise album A Painter Passing Through. Four of them, termed the 'Final Four'
by fans, were not released on CD until the summer of 2002. In addition, he released two 'greatest hits'
compilations while signed to Warner, Gord's Gold and Gord's Gold Volume 2 on which a significant number of tracks were new recordings. He had split with Grossman when he went to Warner Brothers and formed his own company, an arrangement that continues to this day.
By Valerie Magee