January 2005

A Celebration of the Music of Gordon Lightfoot
January 14 – 16, 2005Hugh's RoomToronto
The Ontario Tour of the Third Annual Gordon Lightfoot Tribute Traveling Show played its last three nights before overflowing crowds at Hugh’s Room this past weekend. This is the cast of stars: Jason Fowler, Dave Gunning, Mad Violet, Dan Kershaw, Jenny Whitely and Joey White, Matheson and Ford, Suzie Venice, Justin Rutledge, Rick Fines, JP Cormier, and the organizers, Aengus Finnan and Jury Nash.

Jory Nash

Lightfoot is now an industry. Google “Gordon Lightfoot Tribute”, and you get 5 full pages of concerts and recordings in the States and Canada. Let me say right off that the performances were all very good, some were great, the synergy in the room was dynamic, the fans, many of them lifelong, were rapt. The songs resounded in the room like hymns to a life of devoted listening. Secondary to the songs in this Lightfoot culture are the ‘personal’ Lightfoot, or Mr. Lightfoot stories that get told by every performer and many of the fans I spoke to at the break.

Jason Fowler told a story about Lightfoot’s recipe for ‘boilers’, i.e. his method from the early days of cheap travel when he boiled his guitar strings to rejuvenate them and avoid the cost of replacing them. Lightfoot felt he had to remind Fowler, who played classical guitar at the time, not to boil his nylon strings “or they would ruin the pot at one go.”

Jory Nash told the story of being at a Lightfoot Massey Hall concert with a girl he was not doing too well trying to impress. She wanted to hear a particular tune, and Nash, despite his certain knowledge that Lightfoot ignored shouted requests, worked up his nerve and called out a request from the balcony, Lightfoot heard it, paused, and said, “That’s a good old tune,” then sang a few bars before going on with his setlist. Nash’s girl slid her hand into his.

Aengus Finnan
Here's one of my own Lightfoot stories. A bunch of us English types were getting ready to leave Ryerson Tech late in the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, when we heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot. Instead of going to our homes, we decided to gather at Bassel’s, a nice upstairs bar and grill near Yonge and Gould to drink and talk about this awesome event. Drinks led to dinner and at some point, the entertainment came on. This guy in jeans and cowboy boots with his blonde hair slicked back in a pompom got seated on the small stage with his 12-string and began doing tunes like “The Piddlin’ Pup, “The Auctioneer,” and “Don’t Let ‘em Tear That Little ‘Ol Builin’ Down—a song about a guy that loved his outhouse. A real hick! but he was versatile in his delivery, meaning he could yodel, and he was appealing. His name was Gordon Lightfoot. He also played “Changes” by Phil Ochs, and Ewan McCalls’ “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” showing he had sensitivity and taste beyond that of the drugstore cowboy singer he appeared to be. He also worked in, somewhat apologetically, a few originals, which were very impressive.

On the strength of those few originals, we stayed for that set, and the next as well, and gave him plenty of applause. Around midnight, with an hour to closing time, and an audience reduced to us few diehards, he asked would we like to hear him play a set of just his own music? Sure would! So he put away the twelve string, brought out his six-string, and proceeded to play “For Lovin’ Me,” “The Way I Feel,” “I'm Not Sayin',” “Ribbon Of Darkness,” “Steel Rail Blues,” and all the songs he would be recording the next month on his first LP, Lightfoot.

I bought that LP a few months later and learned to sing and play “For Lovin’ Me.” I made a parody of it, which I called, “That’s What I Got From Lovin’ You,” making reference to STD and all the typical emotional and financial devastations that can come about from romantic fixations. I typed up a copy and when Lightfoot came back to Bassel’s in the Spring of ’65 I gave it to him between sets. He read it over, didn’t appear to know why I was showing it to him, and after an uncomfortable pause, his face lit up with a big grin and he said “Hey, that’s “Lovin’ Me” backwards. Can I keep this?” Sure can. But Gord, if you’re out there and you still have your copy, could you fax it to me. I’ve lost mine.

Report and Photographs by Stanley Fefferman
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