By Keith Sharp
Much has been written, televised, and praised online to eulogize the passing of Gordon Lightfoot, who died on Monday, May 2nd, at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital at the age of 84. But it should be pointed out that this Canadian music icon, along with Ian and Sylvia, helped create Canada’s first established music scene when the Orillia Ontario native moved to Toronto in 1965 to join Yorkville’s percolating folk music scene, which also sparked the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Cockburn
Historically, it has been established that Victoria B.C’s Ian Tyson and Chatham Ontario’s Sylvia Tyson (nee Fricker), who had already established themselves in North America with their hit, “Four Strong Winds,” took the young Lightfoot under their collective wings, featuring one of his compositions; “Early Morning Rain” as the title track of their fourth album and introducing him to their manager, the legendary Albert Grossman in New York, who also managed the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary, thus gaining him access to publishing opportunities for the likes of Dylan, Elvis Presley, the Kingston Trio and even the Grateful Dead from covering his songs.
Lightfoot’s hit songs like “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Rainy Day People,” “Carefree Highway,” and “Sundown” have already been lauded by others. Still, it should not be overlooked that there was a healthy dose of Canadiana about Lightfoot’s material, with his “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” “Alberta Bound,” and his epic “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” being particularly poignant.
Prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to comment, ”We have lost one of our greatest singer-songwriters, our country’s spirit in his music, and in doing so, has helped shape Canada’s identity. May his music creativity inspire future generations and his legacy live on forever.”
Lightfoot won every domestic honour during his career, including 16 Juno Awards and five Grammy nominations. He was inducted into Canada’s Music Hall Of Fame in 1986, into Canada’s Walk Of Fame in April 1998 and won numerous awards and honours, including the Governor General’s Award for Performing Arts in November 1997 and the Companion Order of Canada in May 2003.
Unfortunately, a litany of health problems plagued Lightfoot. He almost died after suffering a ruptured abdominal aneurysm in January 2002, recovered only to suffer a mild stroke on September 14th, 2006, but gainfully kept on performing until severe health problems forced him to cancel 18 planned concert tours due to start in April of this year.
Lightfoot recorded 21 studio albums, including his final ‘Solo’ release on March 20th on the Warner Music label, and will also be acclaimed for his 170 performances at Toronto’s Massey Hall, turning in the final performance of the building before it closed for renovations in July 2013 before being the first artist to perform at the newly renovated Massey Hall in October 2021.