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Gordon Lightfoot

Biography

Melancholy folk-rock minstrel Gordon Lightfoot is one of Canada's proudest exports, with a prodigious career spanning over six decades, including seven Grammy nominations, 17 Juno Awards, and a number of prestigious accolades, among them the Order of Canada in 1970 and the Governor's Performing Arts Award in 1997 - the highest official honor, conferred on the very few (Joni Mitchell is also a recipient). The singer began his long career at a remarkably early age, cutting his first record at the age of 10 in a single take, with his sister Bev as his accompanist. His first brush with fame occurred shortly after when the principal of his elementary school played the disc over the school's PA on Parent's Day. Lightfoot never looked back, forging his storied career first as choral performer and dancer on the CBC's Country Hoedown for two years, before drumming for a revue dubbed Up Tempo '61, under the unexpected pseudonym Charles Sullivan. But his anonymity didn't last long. "Remember Me (I'm The One)," which he recorded as a member of the folk duo Two Tones with partner Terry Whelan, climbed up the Canadian charts and reached a respectable No. 10, and in 1964, he was "discovered" by popular folk duo Ian & Sylvia at Steele's Tavern in Toronto. They were wowed by his weathered voice and sparse, striking arrangements, and recorded some of the young artist's songs, which led Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, to sign him. Lightfoot performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, that seminal day when Dylan -- a life-long friend who wrote in the liner notes to his own Biograph box set: "Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it's like I wish it would last forever" -- went electric and set the folk community on its ear. By the mid-'60s, Lightfoot became a much sought-after songwriter, his ethereal compositions becoming hits for Peter Paul & Mary and Johnny Cash, while "Ribbon of Darkness," a song he penned for Marty Robbins, topped the country charts. Lightfoot's star really began to rise at the beginning of the next decade, when he entered the U.S. charts for the first time with "If You Could Read My Mind," which reached No. 5 on the singles chart. But his career didn't reach its commercial apex until 1974, when his album Sundown perched on top of the U.S. charts. The next year, "Rainy Day People" peaked at a still-respectable No. 26 on the singles charts, and two years later 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" soared to No. 1 -- but it was clear that commercial tides were changing. The musician continued to record his soft-focus, mature singer-songwriter-styled material, but it just wasn't as appealing to this new rock audience, who hungered for harder music. Nevertheless, Lightfoot's popularity has been sustained over the decades because an astonishing number of high wattage performers like Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Ron Sexsmith have covered his material. If that weren't reason enough, the iconic balladeer lives on in "Lightfoot," a rather serious-minded tribute by the Guess Who that references Lightfoot's own songs. The folk legend nearly died in 2002, after an artery ruptured in his abdomen during a performance. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, and spent three months in recovery, including five weeks in a coma. He returned to performing in 2004.
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