Musician best known for folk-pop hits such as If You Could Read My Mind and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald continued to tour in his later years
The Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, best known for folk-pop hits such as If You Could Read My Mind and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, has died at the age of 84, his family has announced.
His longtime publicist Victoria Lord said Lightfoot died at a Toronto hospital on Monday evening.
Once called a “rare talent” by Bob Dylan, dozens of artists have covered Lightfoot’s work, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Jane’s Addiction and Sarah McLachlan.
Most of his songs were deeply autobiographical. His 1975 song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald chronicled the demise of a Great Lakes ore freighter, and 1966’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy depicted the construction of the railway.
“I simply write the songs about where I am and where I’m from,” he said. “I take situations and write poems about them.”
Often described as a poetic storyteller, Lightfoot remained keenly aware of his cultural influence. It was a role he took seriously.
“I just like to stay there and be a part of the totem pole and look after the responsibilities I’ve acquired over the years,” he said in a 2001 interview.
Lightfoot started off singing in his church choir and dreamed of becoming a jazz musician.
At age 13, he won a talent contest at the Kiwanis music festival, held at Toronto’s Massey Hall.
“I remember the thrill of being in front of the crowd,” Lightfoot said in a 2018 interview. “It was a stepping stone for me.”
He strummed his first guitar in 1956 and began to dabble in songwriting in the months that followed.
At 18, he headed to the US to study music for a year. But life in Hollywood wasn’t a good fit and it wasn’t long before Lightfoot returned to Canada. He pledged to move to Toronto to pursue his musical ambitions, taking any job available, including a position at a bank.
His first gig was at Fran’s Restaurant, a downtown family-owned diner that suited his folk sensibilities.
By 1964, he was garnering positive word-of-mouth around town and audiences were starting to gather in growing numbers. By the next year, Lightfoot’s song I’m Not Sayin’ was a hit in Canada, which helped spread his name in the US.
As the folk music boom came to an end in the late 1960s, Lightfoot was already making his transition to pop. In 1971, he made his first appearance on the Billboard chart with If You Could Read My Mind. It reached No 5 and has spawned a number of covers.
Lightfoot’s popularity peaked in the mid-1970s when both his single and album Sundown topped the Billboard charts, his first and only time doing so.
Lightfoot received five Grammy nominations over the years and won 17 Juno awards, Canada’s equivalent.
Lightfoot suffered several health problems during his career, including Bell’s palsy, alcoholism, and a ruptured artery in his stomach that put him in a coma for six weeks in 2002.
In 1986, he was inducted into the Canadian Recording Industry Hall of Fame, now the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He received the governor general’s award in 1997 and was ushered into the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001.