Rest in Peace:  Gordon Lightfoot — Canadian Folk Icon

Brief Comment by Kip Hansen — 3 May 2023

Gordon Lightfoot – how can we say enough good things about the living breathing force of humanity that was Gordon Lightfoot?   Born in 1938 and performing to the end:  His concert schedule announced on 11 April, 2023:

“Gordon Lightfoot announces the cancellation of his U.S. and Canadian concert schedule for 2023. The singer is currently experiencing some health related issues and is unable to confirm rescheduled dates at this time.

He passed over on the 1st of May, dying of natural causes in Toronto at age 84.  The NY Times carried his obituary on 2 May 2023.

If you were alive in the 1960s and 1970s, you heard his songs performed by Lightfoot himself and also by the popular  “folk singers” of the day.   And not just “folkies” but almost everybody recorded at least one Lightfoot song.   A very partial list includes: Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Marty Robbins, Harry Belafonte, Anne Murray, Sarah McLachlan, Eddie Albert, Herb Alpert, Erik Clapton, Petula Clark, Chad and Jeremy, Judy Collins, Jim Croce, Percy Faith, The Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, Ian and Sylvia, Waylon Jennings, Dianne Krall, Trini Lopez, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Billy Joel, Don Mclean, Liza Minnelli, Peter Paul and Mary, Lou Rawls, Frank Sinatra Jr., Conway Twitty, Hank Williams Jr., Neil Young and many more.

Gordon Lightfoot songs are a part of the musical iconography of the 1960s through 1980s folk era and have lasted and passed the test of time having become true classics of several genres.  YouTube offers a free listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s “greatest hits” album from Rhino Records.

There are many tributes being paid to this light of music from around the world – you can sample them here.  There is a ten-minute tribute from Folk Alliance International that covers his career.

To quote the man himself: “But stories always end.”

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Author’s Comment:

Gordon Lightfoot‘s connections to climate and climate change start and end with a song title:  In the Early Morning Rain

My connection to him lies only in memory and song – as it should be.

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May 4, 2023 12:46 am

I spent many happy hours of my youth flying along the road in that magnificent homage to freedom, the automobile, while singing along to Gordon Lightfoot tapes at the top of my lungs. I was so lucky to have experienced singing without embarassment in cheap, reliable personal transportation. Gordon was one of the best.

May 4, 2023 1:03 am

Kip – Excellent. Thank you.

May 4, 2023 1:05 am

Saw him live in Bristol back in the 1960s and at London’s Royal Albert Hall (dreadful accoustics!) in the early 70s – “Early Morning Rain” sounded much better when it was just him belting hell out of a twelve-string and a bass-player trying to keep up – no sugary strings in the background as on that later recording… A great loss.

Len Werner
May 4, 2023 1:26 am

An excellent tribute Kip. I was in engineering at UBC in the 60’s when Lightfoot first appeared, before he wrote Canadian Railroad Trilogy; he was the reason so many of us took up guitar and became at least cursorily familiar with one. Attended 2 concerts, both at the QE Theatre in Vancouver, the first time while a student in the 60’s in nosebleed seats noting that there was a human down there in a spotlight and it was indeed Lightfoot’s voice coming from the speakers–but I couldn’t prove it was him. The second time was in the mid 70’s where we had orchestra pit front row seats, right up there to shake his hand.

At that concert when he came back on stage after intermission many of us in that front row had our feet up resting on the edges of the carts that slid under the stage and were used to store the orchestra-pit seats; out of politeness everyone put their feet down when he came back out. He insisted that we just put them back up, relax and enjoy the evening.

Reply to  Len Werner
May 7, 2023 8:07 pm

I was in Marine Biology/Oceanography at UBC

May 4, 2023 2:04 am

Its Sundown finally for Gordon. RIP.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  SteveG
May 4, 2023 7:43 am

Good song!

Bill Parsons
Reply to  SteveG
May 4, 2023 11:08 am

The harmony in the chorus of “Sundown” always made me gasp. At his death last Friday I looked it up to see who did the backup- turns out it was GL himself, using mixing and overdubbing.

Chris Hall
May 4, 2023 4:45 am

I doubt if many people outside of Canada have heard the Canadian Railroad Trilogy, but you should track it down and listen to it. Too long for the radio, but I think of it as Lightfoot’s masterpiece.

Reply to  Chris Hall
May 4, 2023 6:27 am

This old man from NE Ohio loves that song. Having spent my childhood traveling through northern Ontario, sometimes by train, wilderness camping, fishing, that song caught my ear.
Gordon Lightfoot is a permanent fixture on my playlist.
May he rest in peace.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 7:13 pm

Canadian Railroad Trilogy…Oh the memories. In summer of 1967 and 1968 I worked on a tie gang on the railroad “swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun” and “away to the bunkhouse, a dollar a day”. It was a life for a 19 year old and the song captures it well.

Reply to  Chris Hall
May 4, 2023 7:11 pm

Canadian Railroad Trilogy…Oh the memories. In summer of 1967 and 1968 I worked on a tie gang on the railroad “swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun” and “away to the bunkhouse, a dollar a day”. It was a life for a 19 year old and the song captures it well.

May 4, 2023 5:03 am

“Gordon Lightfoot‘s connections to climate and climate change start and end with a song title: In the Early Morning Rain.”

Gordon Lightfoot wrote so many songs, he didn’t have to perform many written by others. But he did record and perform PRIDE OF MAN, by Hamilton Camp. It’s nearly sixty years ago. It is a ballad about anthropogenic catastrophy. It fits too closely to what would likely happen to civilization if a massive CME melted down all the transformers on the global grid.

Pride of Man
Gordon Lightfoot
Turn around go back down go back the way you came
Can’t you see the flash of fire ten times brighter than the day
And behold the mighty city broken in the dust again
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again
Turn around go back down go back the way you came
Babylon is laid to waste Egypt’s buried in her shame
Their mighty men are beaten down the kings are fallen in the ways
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again
Turn around go back down go back the way you came
Terror is on everyside though the leaders are dismayed
Those who put their faith in fire in fire their faith shall be repaid
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again
Turn around go back down go back the way you came
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of god is raised
On Babylon that mighty city rich in treasure wide in fame
It shall cause thy towers to fall and make it be a pyre of flame
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again
Thou that dwell on many water rich in treasure wide in fame
Bow unto a god of gold thy pride of might shall be thy shame
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again
And only God can lead the people back into the earth again
Thy holy mountain be restored thy mercy on thy people Lord
Songwriters: Hamilton Camp.
For non-commercial use only.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 9:18 am

Personally I like the Quicksilver Messenger Service version. Puts a lot more oomph into the music… Makes those lyrics really come alive…

Walter Horsting
May 4, 2023 5:36 am

May 7 1974, Gordon Lightfoot played Freeborn Hall, I was the Lighting Designer for his concert. I was impressed by Gordon arriving at the venue in a station wagon and unloading a Shure Vocal Master concert PA system by himself and setting up four columns and he was ready to play music all in under 30 minutes. I saw the value of keeping a light travel kit no overhead.

May 4, 2023 5:47 am

About the “Early Morning Rain” song.
This is from the music streaming service ROON.

Lightfoot wrote and composed the song in 1964, but its genesis took root during his 1960 sojourn in Westlake, Los Angeles. Throughout this time, Lightfoot sometimes became homesick and would go out to the Los Angeles International Airport on rainy days to watch the approaching aircraft. The imagery of the flights taking off into the overcast sky was still with him, in 1964, he was caring for his 5-month-old baby son and he thought, “ I”ll put him over here in his crib, and I’ll write myself a tune.” “Early Morning Rain” was the result.

May 4, 2023 5:52 am

Saw him in concert in late ‘60’s. We played and sang some of his works in a jam session yesterday.

Reply to  mkelly
May 4, 2023 10:01 am

Get out Gordon’s records
Bring out Gordon’s records
High above the fireplace
There’s a smile on Gordon’s face

If Gordon could see us now
I know he’d be so proud
If Gordon was with us still
I know he’d come around

Last edited 1 month ago by JonasM
Dr. Bob
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 1:12 pm

And Old Dan wouldn’t mind at all!

May 4, 2023 6:14 am


Great post to a great man. A weather site I follow wrote an interesting article several years ago about the storm that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Tom Kennedy

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 5, 2023 8:10 am

My first deer hunting trip was in 1958 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at age 14. We took a quick trip to Lake Superior one night and it was the first time that I really understood what energy was. Such force with those winds are waves. It’s stuck with me ever since.

Reply to  thomaskennedy2
May 4, 2023 11:18 am

Seeing the list of major loss of life sinkings, all Nov 10th to 18th.

I guess mid November is not the best time to be on the Great Lakes.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 7:36 pm

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound

and a wave broke over the railing.

And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too

’twas the witch of November come stealin’.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait

when the Gales of November came slashin’.

When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain

in the face of a hurricane west wind.

Dave Yaussy
May 4, 2023 6:31 am

Love his music. Also loved the production values of albums from his middle years, with excellent use and blending of dobros, steel guitar, strings, and other instruments. The layered sounds added a lot of depth to beautiful melodies.

May 4, 2023 6:51 am

Perhaps because many of the idioms of Folk music are unique to a location or culture, there is less ‘crossover’ between North American and British Folk music but Gordon Lightfoot transcends this with ‘The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’.

Surely only the dullest of minds would listen without seeking the meaning behind the words.

Likewise with another famous Canadian Folk Singer, the author of ‘Ohio’, which I note describes events of 53 years ago today at Kent State University.

Paul Hurley
Reply to  Cyan
May 5, 2023 1:01 pm

On a similar note, Gordon Lightfoot wrote Black Day in July about the 1967 Detroit riot.

May 4, 2023 7:14 am

Great stories in the comments so far, and I hope we see a couple of hundred more! Here’s mine.

My brother-in-law, Frank, was a HUGE Gordon Lightfoot fan. We he and my sister were dating in 2007, he took her to see Gordon at the Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids Iowa. On valentines day 2014, he wasn’t feeling well, and went to the doc late in the day only to be diagnosed with lukemia.

Gordon had just announced tour dates at this time and March 21st was at the Paramount Theater again! He told my sister that they were going. While lifting Franks spirits mightily, it wasn’t enough and he passed on March 15th.

I took my sis to see Gordon and I was forever hooked! What a singer and performer, even in his mid-70’s. While sitting at that show and crying with my sister, it felt like Frank passed the torch of appreciation to me.

Gordon’s another who can never be replaced. R.I.P.

Bill Pekny
May 4, 2023 7:14 am

Sigh! I’m going to dig out my old CDs that I haven’t listened to in years, and listen again. Thanks, Kip.

May 4, 2023 7:55 am

Gordon Lightfoot was the best of the 60s and 70s era singer-songwriters, whether Canadian, US, or anywhere else. He created songs that not only sounded good but created “mindscapes” where you could, and would, visualize what he was singing about in your mind’s eye. I went to see him live a couple of times – humongous treat that was. But not lately, unfortunately.

My personal favorites were “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”, along with “Sundown” and “Pony Man”. But there were so many other great songs … he never turned out a poor song or performance like so many performers do. His worst work was better than most artists’ best.

Last edited 1 month ago by Duane
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 10:09 am

Kip – I was a sub sailor (SSN) at the time of both the wreck and the song’s debut in ‘75. It never occurred to me, or any of my shipmates at the time, the notion of bad luck or worrying about storms … contrary to most other sailors. Maybe our vessel was so high tech, and deadly, and a submarine after all, that we didn’t think much about luck but rather focused on just doing our jobs competently, because our survival depended on doing so. Storms were not a major risk factor either, though it got very uncomfortable when we sailed thru a cat 4 typhoon, forcing rolls of 30-45 degrees at periscope depth.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 1:48 pm

Kip, my son is sails the lakes on a freighter and I can’t bring myself to listen to that song whenever he is out. I understand your edict. I know it is not rational but it is what it is.

Paul Hurley
May 4, 2023 8:41 am

You might say Gordon Lightfoot is on the Carefree Highway.

May 4, 2023 9:26 am

We flew a private plane down to FL to watch the Apollo 13 launch but due to weather ended up in Ft Lauderdale. I vividly remember being on the beach looking north to see if we could see the launch (we did see the booster go up to staging) and “If you can read my mind” playing on the radio. Every time after that hearing that song conjured up that memory. I loved Gordon Lightfoot. Every one of his songs was always well done with great lyrics.

R Taylor
May 4, 2023 9:49 am

Elaine Benes is disappointed you didn’t mention Edmund Fitzgerald as someone who covered a Lightfoot song.

Reply to  R Taylor
May 4, 2023 4:57 pm

I didn’t remember this one … had to look it up.

George: The tenant association made me give it to this guy because he was an Andrea Doria survivor.
Elaine: Andrea Doria? Isn’t that the one they did the song about?
Jerry: Edmund Fitzgerald.
Elaine: I love Edmund Fitzgerald’s voice.
Jerry: No, Gordon Lightfoot was the singer. Edmund Fitzgerald was the ship.
George: You could fit 15 people in that bathroom..
Elaine: I think Gordon Lightfoot was the boat.
Jerry: Yeah, and it was rammed by the Cat Stevens.

Dr. Bob
May 4, 2023 11:04 am

I have loved GL since 1967 when I started driving and loved his music much more than the rock of that time. I recommend stating your exposure to GL with the United Artest Collection CD set as it contains so many of his classic works. There are many songs recorded by GL that never made it to radio, but they were better than most of what did make it to radio.
I will miss him greatly. So will we all.

Dr. Bob
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 4, 2023 1:17 pm

I have both LP’s and CD’s of most of his work. Missing some of the newer work through and will have to locate it.

May 4, 2023 4:59 pm

Only Gordon Lightfoot could sing about the ‘wind in the wires’ and have it come out poetic.

Reply to  DonM
May 4, 2023 5:54 pm

It definitely created an image in your mind. Some people are just talented that way, in making words create a mind’s eye picture. Gordon was one of the very best.

“As dinnertime came, the old cook came on deck, sayin’ ‘Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya’

At 7 pm a main hatchway caved in. He said ‘Fellas, it’s been good to know ya’”

I can just picture that scene, the sense of pathos, of resignation, that the end is nigh upon us, in the person of the wizened old cook. Who comes up with such lyrics? Besides Gordon Lightfoot.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 5, 2023 11:27 am

… hadn’t ever heard the re-write.

May 4, 2023 7:23 pm

Hey, don’t forget our ! I wrote the post, but the comments greatly improved it.

While I focused on the November storms, there are several Lightfoot references there.

BTW, sonically, the best version of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald may be has period video from that era plus a news report by Harry Reasoner and radio communications from that night. It’s much more meaningful to people with any connection to the Great Lakes. While the sinking happened years after I left Painesville Ohio, the video lists the crew on that trip – one lived in Fairport Harbor, one town north.

Listen to the first, watch the second.

May 4, 2023 8:15 pm

Kip – Thanks for the link. I left my music behind in Alberta a decade ago and had forgotten how very good Gordon Lightfoot was at spinning a melodious yarn. Everything I had is gone, says it succinctly, but nice to hear him again.

Lightfoot and Ian & Sylvia, and Joni of course, were my favourite Canadian folksingers, never really understood the fascination with Leonard Cohen, and later Anna and Kate McGarrigle and the Cape Breton Celtic revolution displaced the original folk singers in my listening. So, very nice to listen to him again. I should probably stop before I get too nostalgic, and get some chores done, but not before ‘Minstrel of the Dawn’.

Med Bennett
May 4, 2023 8:55 pm

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” still makes me tear up – my family has been involved in the iron ore business in Northern Minnesota for generations. One of the most moving songs ever written.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Med Bennett
May 8, 2023 5:44 am

I have absolutely no connection to the iron ore business or shipping on the Lakes, and it makes me tear up every time.

Leslie MacMillan
May 4, 2023 9:44 pm

Lovely tribute to Gord. Thanks so much.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy is my favourite. We couldn’t build a transcontinental railway today. Every grievance group and grifter and his brother would be out there protesting and obstructing and vandalizing until they got their “consultation” payments. Then it wouldn’t be worth building. And at the end the government would say too much CO2 from the locomotives. Canceled.

But we actually built three transcons, can you believe it? Only the CPR (not named in Trilogy but that’s the one he means, the first) made money consistently. The other two were eventually rolled into government-owned Canadian National which, after it was privatized in the 1990s, did very well.

But I have a soft spot for Did She Mention My Name? (Personal reasons, y’know?)

May 4, 2023 9:57 pm

I was a fan of Gordon’s from the first time I heard “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” sometime in the late 1980s. I got the pleasure to see Gordon live on July 1, 1993 at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, OH. It is among my three favorite concerts to have attended. The other two are Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.

Last edited 1 month ago by 98UIGrad
May 5, 2023 6:14 am

I believe you are thinking of Cat Stevens. If you’re going to be a bigot, at least do it with a modicum of underlying accuracy.

Reply to  Charles Rotter
May 5, 2023 11:30 am

funny that a Cat Stevens tangent comes up again, wrt to Gordon Lightfoot (and Elaine Benes)

May 5, 2023 7:04 am

As a Canadian of a certain age, I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of US blogs that have recognized Lightfoot’s talents and impact. And blogs where you wouldn’t expect to see such tributes such as this and American Thinker.

By the way we also recently lost another folk/country icon Ian Tyson. Both Lightfoot and Tyson brought to mind the grant Stan Rodgers who was killed 30 plus years ago in a fire aboard an airplane after landing because of a smoker. Lead to no smoking on planes. His song Northwest Passage or Barrett’s Privateers are on par with Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald or Canadian Railway Trilogy.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 5, 2023 9:46 am

The last verse of the Mary Ellen Carter is an anthem for everyone who has been messed with by the authorities. Thank you.

May 7, 2023 12:19 pm

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn minutes to hours…”
One of the most powerful and heartbreaking lines ever written…

May 7, 2023 8:06 pm

He was an amazing singer. I do not mean ANY disrespect however this is the second time he died. And he had a really good laugh over the first “time”. Great music.

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