Gordon Lightfoot recalls the night of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald's sinking
Published Tuesday, November 10, 2015 8:28PM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 23, 2015 12:00AM EST
Forty years ago today, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank during a fierce storm on Lake Superior, killing all 29 men aboard.
That same night, on Nov. 10, 1975, Canadian folk icon Gordon Lightfoot was working a new album while squatting in an abandoned home in Toronto.
In an interview with CTV Barrie, Lightfoot recalls that it was a "cold and windy" evening in the city and the windows of the home were shaking.
Lightfoot said he went downstairs for a coffee and flipped on the TV to see a news report about the American freighter sinking three hours earlier.
It was a moment that left a last impression on him and eventually inspired him to write "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which became a Number 1 hit in Canada and peaked at Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
At the time, Lightfoot was working on a number of songs, including one that had chords and melody but no lyrics.
While the tragic events of November 10 faded from his mind until Christmas, he eventually put pen to paper to a few months later.
"In January, it kind of got locked in my mind; I kept thinking about this melody and these chords," said Lightfoot.
"It seemed like an old Irish dirge that I had heard when I was three years old, so I combined the story with the chords and I read an article about the actual event in one of the news magazines."
Lightfoot said he recorded the song in February after collecting a wealth of newspaper clippings about the incident.
One thing that struck him in particular is that no bodies were ever recovered from the wreck.
"That was part of what got me, when I thought about of these men still part of this disaster below," said Lightfoot.
The track was released as part of his 1976 album Summertime Dream and became his second-most successful single after "Sundown."
"It came out in pretty good fashion, with a nice aftermath type of viewpoint and people loved it -- they love the song," said Lightfoot.
Lightfoot said he was also always intrigued by the mystery of the ship’s sinking.
There have been many theories examining the cause with some alleging that water entered through the Fitzgerald's hatches or deck.
Lightfoot's original lyrics allude to that possibility by saying: "At seven p.m., a main hatchway caved in."
But he says that theory became a "bone of contention and had to be changed."
"It was offensive to the relatives of the men who had been in charge of those hatch covers that particular night," he said. "The last thing I wanted to do was cause any offence to any of the relatives."
Despite these difficulties, Lightfoot says that writing the song was a "real experience," about a night that he'll likely never forget.
"You get to meet all these people, the relatives and all the people that they knew and the people that they sailed with, and (hear) their events. And I enjoy these things."