Friday, February 21, 2014

Lightfoot: from The Canadian Railroad Trilogy to Bobby McGee

Image from Canadian Music Hall of Fame

When I was young in rural Alberta, my parents subscribed to a newspaper called the Winnipeg Free Press, a farmer's paper.

That paper continued to arrive in the mail when we moved to BC. In fact, I got a free teddy bear when my father extended the subscription by another five years.

It was in this paper that I read about Gordon Lightfoot's early ambitions to become the most famous Canadian folksinger. Impressed by his determination, I watched his rise to fame.

By the time I started at UBC, he had put out the Canadian Railroad Trilogy, a historo-cultural document sung for Canada's Centennial in 1967. In 2010 it became a book.

Lightfoot went on to write and sing many more hits, from romantic lyrics to If You Could Read my Mind, Love and Song for a Winter's Night to lonesome rambler ballads like For Lovin' Me, Bobby McGee and Early Morning Rain. That was playing on the local radio station on a hot summer day when as a teen I made my first saskatoon pie with wild berries.

I listened to his songs and sang them over and over, and even my mother expressed a liking for "that fellow who sings about the old roof leaking." She was referring to Did She Mention my Name?

Other artists who have sung his songs include Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary.

For his great musical output, Gordon Lightfoot has been awarded with both the Officer and Companion awards of the Order of Canada. He has also earned 17 Juno Awards, and in 2007, his face was put on a Canadian postage stamp.

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