W5 exclusive: Gordon Lightfoot still 'pouring it on' at age 79
Published Friday, December 1, 2017 1:30PM EST Last Updated Friday, December 1, 2017 2:21PM EST
It’s a drizzly Sunday afternoon in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
The roadies spent the morning setting up the stage equipment at the Port Theatre and everyone is preparing for the show called “Legendary Lightfoot”.
The band knows every song, every lick, everything their boss, Gordon Lightfoot, will demand of them in a few hours. They’ve performed with him hundreds of times.
The night before, they’d played in Vancouver. But here they are, a few hours later, on stage doing another thorough sound check. Because that is the way Lightfoot works. He’s been performing for more than 70 years and still everything needs to be checked out.
Ask anyone around Lightfoot what his routine is on show day and they’ll talk about the hours he spends tuning his guitars. And, when I have a chat with him backstage, he is quick to tell me, “I still need to tune my guitars.”
Now 79 years old, Lightfoot has just wrapped up his latest tour. He toured North America performing 78 shows starting in Texas and ending in Burlington, Ontario. And every night, Lightfoot says he wants one thing: “I really want it to sound good. I want to continue… Our output is pretty good right now. We’re really pouring it on.”
His very first performances were as a boy standing on the dining room table in Orillia, Ontario singing for his family and friends. He was only around eight years old when he sang on the local radio station and just 13 when he lit up the stage at Massey Hall in Toronto for the first time.
That performance earned him a mention in The Toronto Star. The reviewer noted that one of the highlights was “Gordon Lightfoot, 13 year old boy soprano of Orillia singing Schubert’s “Who is Sylvia.” Lightfoot would go on to play the venerable Massey Hall more than 160 times during his hugely successful career.
Back in Nanaimo, the fans at the sold-out show can’t wait to see and hear the music of one of Canada’s most revered singer-songwriters. One concert goer gushes, “I just love Gordon Lightfoot. Period.” And another sums up her feelings about Lightfoot: “He’s just so Canadian.”
And when Lightfoot takes the stage, he begins a two-hour show, 26 songs from his legendary songbook.
His drummer Barry Keane recognizes how privileged he is to be on the stage with Lightfoot: “Lucky me,” he says, “I’m part of greatness.” And Keane acknowledges that greatness every show.
As the crowd applauds Lightfoot’s number one hit, “If You Could Read My Mind”, Keane stands at his drum kit and applauds his boss for a song Keane says, “Is one of the greatest songs ever written.”