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Orillia: The birthplace of Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot

His melodic, soulful voice is unmistakable. A modern-day troubadour, Gordon Lightfoot has touched the lives of millions of people with his thoughtful, evocative portraits of Canadian life and landscape. He's a musician steeped in the folk tradition, his catalogue of songs, including such classics as Canadian Railroad Trilogy and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, earning him a place in the pantheon of Canadian icons.

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With its scenic landscape and natural open spaces, Orillia, Ont. nurtured Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot's love of music as a young boy. In this CBC Television clip, Telescope travels to Lightfoot's hometown to talk to the folks that had a hand in shaping the life of Canada's folk laureate. "He got all his music acumen from his mother," says Gordon Sr. "He was always in things all through school, always singing at something," adds his mother Jessica.

Lightfoot takes viewers on a tour of his boyhood hangouts in this clip, and explains how a childhood spent fishing and hunting in Orillia influences his song writing. "A lot of the images in my songs are drawn from this kind of country," says Lightfoot. He explains that his songs aren't necessarily autobiographical, that he uses the images of his childhood merely as a background. "It's a backdrop for the ideas and concepts [I'm] working on."
. Gordon Lightfoot was born Nov. 17, 1938 in Orillia, Ont. He began performing at church and at school as a youngster, cutting his first record at the age of ten with his sister Beverly. In 1951, he finished first place in the under-13 vocal competition of the Toronto Kiwanis Festival. A year later, he finished first in the "soprano unchanged" competition, appearing on stage at Massey Hall for the first time where he sang his winning performance.

. In 1955 he wrote his first song, The Hula Hoop Song, beginning his career as a song writer. After graduating high school, he moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and enrolled in the Westlake College of Music. He returned to Toronto the following year and became a choral performer and dancer on the CBC's Country Hoedown. He formed a folk duo with Terry Whelan called the Two Tones, but the duo was turned down to play at the first Mariposa Festival for being 'too commercial.'

. In 1964 Lightfoot discovered the music of Bob Dylan and started to flourish as a songwriter. Ian and Sylvia Tyson recorded some of his songs, including the classic Early Morning Rain, which led to him getting signed by the Albert Grossman talent agency in New York. By the end of the year, Lightfoot started recording songs for his debut album for the United Artists label. In January 1966 Lightfoot! was released, signalling the birth of a star.

. Ian and Sylvia aren't the only artists to have recorded Lightfoot's songs over the years. Others include: Harry Belafonte (You'll Still Be Needing Me), Johnny Cash (For Loving Me), Petula Clark (If You Could Read My Mind), Stompin' Tom Connors (Spin, Spin), Jim Croce (Steel Rail Blues), Bob Dylan (Early Morning Rain), Elvis Presley (For Loving Me), and Barbara Streisand (If You Could Read My Mind).
Medium: Television
Program: Telescope
Broadcast Date: Sept. 14, 1967
Guest(s): Jessica Lightfoot, Gordon Lightfoot Sr.
Speaker: Gordon Lightfoot
Duration: 8:12

Last updated: March 6, 2012

Page consulted on September 16, 2014

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