Under the Influence

The day Gordon Lightfoot died, then came back to life

Why Gordon Lightfoot was surprised to hear he had died on his car radio one day, how the voices in his head helped Brian Wilson make music, and other rock history stories.
Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot performing during halftime at the 100th Grey Cup. (Photo by Kevin Light)

Why Gordon Lightfoot was surprised to hear he had died on his car radio one day, how the voices in his head helped Brian Wilson make music, and other rock history stories.

Say what?

There is a new biography of Gordon Lightfoot on the shelves called simply: Lightfoot, by Nicolas Jennings.

The book tracks the life and times of the famous songwriter, with many delicious stories.

One of the most amusing is the day Gordon Lightfoot was driving up Yonge Street in Toronto a few years ago.

He was listening to the car radio and If You Could Read My Mind came on.

79 years young.
Gordon was humming along with himself, arm out the window, nice summer day. When the song ended, the DJ said he was sad to announce Gordon Lightfoot had died.

Nobody was more surprised…than Gordon Lightfoot. So he pulled over and called the radio station to tell them he was still very much alive.

The next day a newspaper in Sault Ste. Marie ran the hilarious headline: "Gordon Lightfoot no longer dead."

There's another interesting story in the book about the power of words and the song If You Could Read My Mind.

Lightfoot had a new album out called Sit Down Young Stranger. And on that album was the song If You Could Read My Mind.

It wasn't considered single-worthy, but some DJs started playing it and it reached the Billboard Top 10. So Lightfoot's record company sent him a message saying they were going to change the title of his album from Sit Down Young Stranger to If You Could Read My Mind.

Lightfoot was so unhappy with the news that the record company wanted to change the title after the album had already hit the shelves that he flew directly to Los Angeles and demanded a meeting with the record label. He told them there as no way he's was going to change the title of his album. Period.

The record executive said, "Gord, did you take algebra?" Gord replied, yes, in high school. The exec said, "Well, changing the name of your album is the difference between x and 8x.

Lightfoot understood immediately. Change it, he said. Then he flew right back to Toronto.

Sure enough, the album went from selling 80,000 copies to 650,000 copies almost overnight. It would become Lightfoot's long-awaited U.S. breakthrough hit.

Willy and the Poor Boys

Fogerty loves language. (Image Source: ticketcrusader)
John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival learned the lesson of choosing well-worded titles when he first saw a Duane Eddy song called 40 Miles of Bad Road.

Fogerty thought that was an amazing title, especially since it was an instrumental.

CCR's album Willy and the Poor Boys was inspired by an ad in the paper for a "Winnie the Pooh Super Pooh Package." Fogerty just liked the way it sounded.

Vegetable Percussion

In the autobiography I Am Brian Wilson, the songwriting genius behind the Beach Boys gives us some interesting insights into his music.

First of all, Brian Wilson is deaf in his right ear. He was hit on the right side of his head with a pipe when he was a kid and lost his hearing.

But as Wilson says, many musicians had handicaps. Rocker Bill Haley was blind in one eye. Beethoven slowly lost his hearing and went completely deaf.

Wilson, who is very honest about his mental health issues, writes that he has heard multiple voices in his head for over 50 years. While he struggles with that, he also learned to use those voices in a positive way. It is one of the reasons he wrote such beautiful multi-voice harmonies. The signature sound of the Beach Boys.

Wilson says that almost every song he ever wrote came to him fully formed. God Only Knows was written in just 45 minutes.

One more interesting tidbit from Brian Wilson.

When you read the credits for the song Vega-tables, it says:

Brian Wilson – lead vocals and bass guitar.

Al Jardine – vocals.

Paul McCartney – celery.

Yes, the song uses the sound of Paul McCartney chewing celery as percussion.

A strange choice, but then again, the name of the song was "Vega-tables".

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Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)