View Full Version : Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot

4th Dec 2013, 14:03
No, he's not dead yet (or at least I hope not). Usually, tributes are made once the subject is deceased. That is not my style and I hope I can change this mindset where "everyone only comes out" once the person is dead. As opposed to celebrating their works whilst they're still alive, and around to appreciate whatever we might have to say about them...

I first heard him aged about 10 years old or so back in ca. 1970, around about the same time as I "engaged" with John Denver. And you couldn't expect to encounter women who appreciated either of the above in the '80s discos which I frequented back then, albeit uncomfortably... :{

Whatever, I'll kick off with a suitable warm (for this time of year) "Song For A Winter's Night":

Song for a winter's night . Gordon Lightfoot . (Live). - YouTube

And most Gordon Lightfoot fans "don't believe in come what may". Nor do we intentionally "wish to cause each other pain". And Heaven help the devil (inside us or elsewhere), may he have a few unpleasant memories:

Heaven Help the Devil - Gordon Lightfoot - YouTube

Yeah, I know, there's probably a whole lot of more modern singer/song-writers out there today, perhaps singing about similar things, but all the hiphop and rap generation basically "went over my head" - shows my obstinancy and age undoubtedly. Sorry :(

4th Dec 2013, 14:06
One of favourites is the lovely Canadian Railroad Trilogy

4th Dec 2013, 14:09
I've covered a lot of GL songs over the years; he's a great writer. Sadly, I've never yet had the chance to see him in concert. Maybe one day; until then, I have his recent(ish) DVD to enjoy.

4th Dec 2013, 14:17
Follower from the sixties - have albums, tapes, cds and now internetty options. Brilliant self-effacing musician as man. Not like some of the current issue.

4th Dec 2013, 14:17
For Capetonian (who would have believed he also appreciated Gordon Lightfoot)...?! ;)

Gordon Lightfoot - Canadian Railroad Trilogy- Live - YouTube

4th Dec 2013, 14:39
That's a relief. I thought, damn, another one dead. (Gerry Rafferty...)

'Sundown, you'd better take care, if I find you've been creeping round my back stair...'

Mellow voice, handy guitarist, good melodies and good lyrics. Not a bad package in a performer. A sort of Canadian Randy Newman although without the musical variety or political edge. More like Don McLean...

Off to dust off some vinyl.

4th Dec 2013, 14:44
..and we have to have...
"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" - Gordon Lightfoot (HD w/ Lyrics) - YouTube

n.b. since more details of the loss emerged, Gordo now sings a slightly different version live to maintain accuracy (Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald -Gordon Lightfoot Song Lyrics (http://gordonlightfoot.com/wreckoftheedmundfitzgerald.shtml)).

..and if you've ever been afloat in a storm when the waves get big, this will have resonance (does for me anyway).

4th Dec 2013, 14:49
(All) the YouTube videos (I) posted above show Gordon Lightfoot as an ageing singer/song-writer, earlier renditions being very rare or at least unavailable on YouTube. I like to think that provision for his "old-age" has hitherto been secured, and he doesn't have to worry much about that, whilst still performing live-concerts across the USA in recent years, for his own pleasure. And reminds me of another of my favourite singer/song-writers:

Lobo- A Big Red Kite (1972) - YouTube

Fly A Big Red Kite, "What Uncle Sam don't take from me, I don't need to count", before disappearing into relative obscurity. Apologies, I'm digressing, here's Lobo in Singapore in 2010. Lobo deserves his own thread anyway:

2010 Lobo Live in Singapore - "How Can I Tell Her" - YouTube

But enough about Lobo, back to Gordon Lightfoot...

4th Dec 2013, 14:57

Ah yes, the Edmund Fitz. I remember the night she was lost as if it was yesterday. And Captain McSorley's final words: "We are holding our own."


4th Dec 2013, 15:12
Song for a Winter's Night IMO is one of the world's better love songs and Canadian Railroad Trilogy is one of the world's great songs period. Also do not forget the late, great Red Shea who often accompanied him. Flash here had the good fortune to work with both for a week or so many years ago.

After an excellent landing etc...

4th Dec 2013, 15:14
Had me worried with that title!

4th Dec 2013, 15:34
Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

Music and lyrics 1976 by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee."
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the "Gales of November" came early.

The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship's bell rang,
could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev'ry man knew, as the captain did too
'twas the witch of November come stealin'.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin'.
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind.

When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin'.
"Fellas, it's too rough t'feed ya."
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
"Fellas, it's bin good t'know ya!"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
and the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when 'is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
if they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the "Maritime Sailors' Cathedral."
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee."
"Superior," they said, "never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!"

Captain Dart
4th Dec 2013, 20:51
Phew! The title of this thread had me worried too.

'Sundown' is one of my Desert Island Discs. If I was the dictator of Canada, 'Seven Island Suite' would be its national anthem!

4th Dec 2013, 21:02
well if I was the Dictator in Chief of Canada I would make "Let It Snow" the national anthem. Because that's all that seems to come out of that damned country which heads this way! :}

4th Dec 2013, 21:50
aw, come on!
We give you freezing rain and arctic winds too!

...and drinkable beer.;)

4th Dec 2013, 22:00
The Maritime Sailors Cathedral (it's really just a little church) is still there in Detroit, at the foot of the Windsor tunnel, and you can walk in off the street and take it in. I last did it about 10 years ago, thinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Always felt that song applied to crewmembers in general. We face the challenges and rise up to them the best we can. Never give up.

5th Dec 2013, 01:50
An earlier Lightfoot song about another maritime disaster that didn't get as much airplay as his song about the Fitz.


Google SS Yarmouth Castle. Schittino wasn't the first Captain to leave his ship on the first lifeboat.

Lightfoot sings

...Then the ship Bahama Star came steamin' through the night
She sees the Castle blazin' and it is a terrible sight.
Jump down jump down her Captain cries we'll save you if we can,
And the paint on his funnel is a-fryin'."

The Captain of the Bahama Star brought his ship close along side the Yarmouth Castle to pick up survivors. There is a picture somewhere, taken after, that shows the paint on the side of the Bahama Star all blistered from the heat.

5th Dec 2013, 02:37
With all respect to Gordon Lightfoot (and the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald), the lyrics of the song are some of the most forced, in rhyme and metre, since William McGonagall. Admittedly, Lightfoot is constrained by facts, but some of it seems as if it could do with more work. Try singing it. Even Lightfoot has trouble.

On the wreck, the bit of sailing I've done taught me that the best place to be in a storm is in harbour or well out at sea, where the water's deep. I don't know how deep that lake is, but high winds and shallow water can mean big, steep seas. :ooh:

5th Dec 2013, 03:23
I was chatting once with a ferry Captain down near here. Over his 40-year career, he'd spent the first 15 years on the North Atlantic then the next 25 years on a laker. He told me that Lake Superior can throw stuff at you that rivals the North Atlantic.

Superior facts. (http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/superior/superiorfacts.html)

5th Dec 2013, 16:37
RJM, pigboat etc., your points duly-acknowledged. I doubt if Gordon Lightfoot ever experienced any truly "severe weather" experiences at sea himself. But he once had the empathy together with the brilliance in expressing such event(s) and many more simpler episodes which have touched ordinary people in their daily lives over the past 4-5 decades in song... :ok:

Even the most cranky (or croaky) ex. seafarer (like meself) should be able to comprehend...?!

5th Dec 2013, 19:14
Try singing it. Even Lightfoot has trouble. I performed it regularly as part of my folk act and never had any trouble with the lyrics. Part of the job of a singer of other people's songs is to do just that, get up front with the lyrics. I still sing it around the house and, should you doubt this post, I'd be happy to record it on my Mac and post the resulting sound file! Gordon Lightfoot set the pattern for lots of others who followed him. I used to sing a whole bunch of his songs. So glad he's still around. My all time favourite, because it is one of the most profound statements of the real cause of wars, is Protocol:
Gordon Lightfoot - Protocol(Original Studio Recording).wmv - YouTube

5th Dec 2013, 19:42
As a native Michigander (as we call ourselves), I can attest to the almost mystical reverence shown to Lake Superior. It is huge, rough, and fraught with hazards, yet contains the best of all fruits for anglers, boatsmen, and general sea-faring you're going to find in inland North America.

My waterman creds were gained as a youth fishing for perch, bass and catfish in the Saginaw Bay part of Lake Huron, which could provide the occasional heart thumpers with its unpredictable squalls. But I knew from the lore of the Great Lakes that Superior was an entirely different and largely untamable beast.

Gordon Lightfoot captured the essence, I think, of the maritime culture of the Great Lakes, and crafted an enduring tribute. I consider 'Edmund Fitzgerald' to be a narrative and cultural masterpiece of songwriter craftsmanship.

5th Dec 2013, 19:52
Thank you, Sunnyjohn, I'd quite missed that song, which reinforces much of what everyone has said about Gordon Lightfoot generally. For many years between 2006-2013 (losing my ageing parents, losing many of my older cats etc.) I also purposely ignored (as being too painfull in terms of re-awakening memories etc.) to even listen to any of his songs (and others'). I'm coming out of all of that now I think.

I came across a so-called Joe Mills who likes to interprete songs from Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver (another of my most favourite artists - but who is really dead, having died in an aviation accident as a pilot). IMHO, he does a great job rendering songs (in his modest way) by these great singer / song-writers very well. Here's an example, you together with everyone else will be the judge:

Gordon Lightfoot's "Song For A Winter's Night":

Song For A Winter's Night - Gordon Lightfoot - cover - aufg. in Hauzenberg - YouTube

John Denver's "This Old Guitar":

John Denver-This old guitar-cov.-Joe Mills-rec.in Hauzenberg/Passau - YouTube

This "Joe Mills" resembled my bosses' stepson so much that I did ask him once, if he was "Joe Mills". "Negative", he liked John Denver, but never heard of Gordon Lightfoot...

5th Dec 2013, 19:57
Fox3 wrote:

aw, come on!
We give you freezing rain and arctic winds too!

...and drinkable beer.

Hmmmm. and which beer is that Fox3? Molson? (:yuk:) Labatts? (:yuk:)
Moosehead? (:yuk:)

Your turn. :}:E

5th Dec 2013, 22:12
Thanks, Airship. Joe Mills does a lovely job; he gets the feeling of Gordon Lightfoot's lyrics and style but still manages a style of his own. Thanks for posting.

6th Dec 2013, 00:16
Trivia tidbit for today. Song For A Winter's Night was written in August, during a thunderstorm, in the Hollenden House Hotel in Cleveland OH.

Ben, Lightfoot used to own a sailboat that he kept on Lake Huron. He also used to be an avid white water canoeist. I met him here in town on his way to Schefferville, QC, where he flew to the headwaters of the Caniapiscau/Koksoak rivers and canoed to Kuujjuaq.

owen meaney
6th Dec 2013, 05:07
"if you could read my mind"
He changed a word to please his kids in later life

6th Dec 2013, 09:24
Airship, I wasn't questioning Lightfoot's understanding of the sea, or lakes. Just making the point that the waves can get very big in relatively shallow water.

Sunnyjohn, I stand by what I said. I have difficulty getting all the syllables into dome of the lines in the Wreck of the EF. Now I'm not the best singer, so you'd expect me to run into trouble, but I think I can hear Lightfoot having to work to get everything in, in some lines.

Compared with the perfect scansion of 'Sundown', the Wreck seems a bit unresolved.

On the other hand, I bet Lightfoot would spot a few flaws in my singer/songwriter efforts!

6th Dec 2013, 13:22
Gordon was given a lot of grief over "The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald" and many still harbor bad feelings toward him for that. But he always intended it as a tribute to all those who sail the lakes in freighters, and not as a way to profit from it. In fact he's given much money to the causes which help such folks. There as several version of the song, which he altered through time to better fit the facts of the wreck and to better show respect for the Mariners, so most of the hullaballo is thankfully over.

He too is something of a victim of fame with this song, which is the only one of his which far too many have ever heard, while so much of his other great work has not been given it's proper due. He's one of the lesser-noticed great ones of the music world and I don't think he knows how to do less than quality work- all I've ever heard from him was well worth hearing.

But most of all, I'm glad he's still here to give us more- the title of this thread had me worried!

6th Dec 2013, 16:50
Point taken RJM. When you write a ballad song about an event, your main priority is to describe the event; scansion and rhyme take second place. When you write a more emotional song, such as Sundown, you want it to scan and rhyme in order to portray the emotion. Songwriting is an interesting business. The first thing we used to tell people when we ran songwriting workshops is that a song is not a poem, although in rare cases a song may be read as a poem (Leonard Cohen - Suzanne), and rarely a poem can be sung (Timothy Winters - Charles Causley). Gordon Lightfoot in my book is a songwriter/poet up there with the best.

6th Dec 2013, 17:33
The first song by GL I ever heard was Sundown. Good tune. My wife and I still take the Gord's Gold disc out now and again for a listen. Glad he's still among the quick.

airship, thanks for this thread. It's a feel good thing. :ok:

6th Dec 2013, 19:23
You're right, Sunnyjohn, it's an interesting business. I may be overemphasising the importance of scansion and rhyme because in my feeble efforts I tend to start with a tune - usually something with a clear beat - then try to fit words to it.

But some of the best songs - Lennon/McCartney's Eleanor Rigby, or Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia - seem to be neither 'lyrics first' or 'melody first' songs. Those songs seem almost perfect to me, but how did they do it? Did the songs just grow organically, words and melody together?

Hmm. Back to the ol' fretboard....

6th Dec 2013, 19:45
The ship's bell off the Edmund Fitzgerald was recovered in 1995 by a joint Canadian/US salvage effort and a replica with the names of the 29 crew engraved upon it was hung in its place. At the first memorial service after the bell had been installed in the Mariners Church in Detroit, it was rung 30 times, once for each member of the crew and once, by Gordon Lightfoot, in a tribute to the song that had kept the memory of the Fitz alive in the public conscience.