Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show celebrates the spirit of radio over on CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noise-makers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.
Gordon Meredith Lightfoot, Jr. celebrates his 75th birthday today — coincidentally, within two weeks of fellow Canuck songwriting Scorpios Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, all three of whom were a part of the vibrant Toronto folk scene in the 1960s. Along with those artists, Lightfoot achieved international acclaim for playing a major role in defining and popularizing the folk sound of those years.
In his long career, he's written and recorded over 200 songs, and has been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Elvis Presley. His list of achievements includes 20 studio albums, 15 Junos and a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. Back in 1986, he was one of the first inductees into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame — by none other than Dylan himself, who had once described the Orillia, Ontario native as one of his favourite songwriters.
Music has always surrounded Lightfoot. He grew up singing in youth choirs and made his first appearance at Massey Hall at the age of 12, when he won a competition for boys whose voices had not yet dropped. Two years ago, the iconic singer-songwriter, deep into his fifth decade of touring, returned for a four-night engagement at Massey — his 150th performance at the Toronto venue.
"Sundown," off Lightfoot's 1974 album of the same name, topped the charts on both sides of the border. A song about a troubled romantic relationship, its lyrics are rumoured to have been inspired by his then-mistress Cathy Smith, a singer later infamously known for her involvement in the death of John Belushi (The Band's Richard Manuel also proposed to her at one point). Lightfoot has since commented in interviews that Smith was “the one woman in my life who most hurt me.”
Earlier in his career, a young Lightfoot described how he finds words to match his soulful melodies in a CBC Television interview, while lazying around in his pyjamas:
Lightfoot visited for an interview with George two seasons back, in which they discussed his early years, his performance with Johnny Cash and what it was like to hear his own obituary broadcast while driving to work (in 2010, a rumour had gotten started on Twitter that he’d died):
And here he is with Cash:
For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or relisten, all of the episodes are archived on our Radio page.