STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
For the record, Gordon Lightfoot is alive and coming to the area this week.
There was a time when some people — including some in the news media — were duped into thinking the opposite because of some thoughtless pranksters on social media.
In a phone conversation from his home office in Toronto, Lightfoot, one of the memorable, easy-going, folk-influenced singer/songwriters of the ‘70s — along with James Taylor, John Denver, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and Philly’s own Jim Croce — recalled what he politely called “an interesting day” and “a great kerfuffle.”
While driving from a dentist appointment to a meeting with his estate lawyer, Lightfoot was taken aback to hear a talk radio station playing music — none other that his 1970 smash “If You Could Read My Mind.” “All of a sudden, an obituary began,” Lightfoot said, remembering that his foot dropped hard on the accelerator upon hearing that.
“The first thing I did — I got hold of all my kids. I have six children,” the 76-year-old Lightfoot said. One was traveling by train at the time. “Ingrid, my eldest daughter, got really emotional about it.”
A call to the radio station was also made to opportunely paraphrase the deadpan humorous Mark Twain quotation: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
“A great big picture ran in the local newspaper here in Toronto. It said: ‘Dead wrong’,” Lightfoot said with a laugh. The singer described one photo taken by the paper of him checking his own pulse.
Free and clear of any recording contractual obligations since 2000, it’s understandable that Lightfoot would keep a low profile to spend time with his five grandchildren. Although he occasionally gets sidelined by a health issue, the singer is very much alive, and enjoys performing for people. “For 19 years, all I did was write songs. Doing the shows is what’s the most fun,” he said.
Lightfoot’s July 31 concert at the Keswick Theatre, which will feature a full band, is his fifth trip to the venue in the last 25 years. “The place has a lot of stairs,” Lightfoot said with a hint of nervousness. He called the Glenside landmark “one of our favorite places,” and his Philadelphia area audiences a “special crowd.”
He said he’d be performing “all the standards for sure” Friday night, which would include “Carefree Highway” and the No. 1 “Sundown.” “And the support material will be wonderful,” Lightfoot added.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Great Lakes iron ore freighter disaster that inspired the signature song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Lightfoot said he tries to stay in touch with the families of the 29 men that died. The incident continues to haunt him to this day. “There were faulty hatch covers (on the ship). People are beginning to wonder whose fault was that,” he said.
When National Geographic channel approached Lightfoot about using the song in an episode of “Dive Detectives” that revisited the site of the shipwreck, he got to preview what Nat Geo had shot. It caused him to reevaluate the quickly-written lyric, “they might have split up or they might have capsized.”
“I was convinced the ship broke in half,” he said.
The hit — which had to be trimmed from six minutes to four for radio airplay — earned Lightfoot two Grammy nominations. “It was the only time I ever went (to the Grammy Awards ceremony). We were up against Barry Manilow,” he said of “I Write the Songs,” the song that beat out “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for Song of the Year.
Lightfoot said the song had a lot to do with him being honored by his country with the Companion of the Order of Canada medal in 1978. “At that time, it made me work harder,” he said.
Back in the ‘60s, Lightfoot had scored some hits in his native Canada, and was trying to figure out how to win fans south of the border in the U.S. “You had to do it (to be considered successful), and had it not been for Peter, Paul and Mary, I never would’ve been accepted by the music industry,” Lightfoot said of their 1965 top 30 hit rendition of his composition “For Lovin’ Me.”
“They did it tongue in cheek,” he said, noting that he “used to hate singing that song” because of lyrics that he now regards as chauvinistic.
When asked what cover versions of his songs he liked best, he instantly mentioned Elvis’ “Early Morning Rain,” followed closely by Barbra Streisand’s reading of “If You Could Read My Mind.”
To avoid falling prey to any erroneous reports in the future, follow the “Gordon Lightfoot Official” page on Facebook, @Lightfoot365 on Twitter and visit www.lightfoot.ca.
IF YOU GO
What: Gordon Lightfoot in concert
When: 8 p.m. July 31.
Where: The Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
Info.: Call (215) 572-7650 or go to www.keswicktheatre.com.