Gordon Lightfoot on his mom’s ‘little trick’ that keeps his career ticking

By David Friend, The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Gordon Lightfoot is a madly organized man and quite proud of it.

Even at 77 years old, he’s kept his “unerring sense of show business” in check, with the help of a pocketbook calendar where he meticulously logs his tour schedule.

“This is how I boil everything down,” says Lightfoot as he thumbs through the pages during an interview at his home in Toronto’s posh Bridle Path neighbourhood.

“It’s a little trick my mother taught me.”

In a few weeks, the man who penned some of the most thoughtful anthems of a generation — songs like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Sundown” and “If You Could Read My Mind” — will cap off a year of nearly 80 tour dates across North America and Europe.

The final round swings through Ontario with eight concerts, starting in Chatham (Nov. 16), Kitchener (Nov. 17), Belleville (Nov. 18) and Ottawa (Nov. 19). He finishes with a four-night run at Toronto’s Massey Hall (Nov. 23 to 26).

To keep order in this wildly busy lifestyle he’s planted a few checklists around the house to make sure he’s ready for the road.

“I’m thinking about: ‘Am I going to remember everything I have to take with me,'” he adds.

“Count out the socks, count out the underwear and the T-shirts.”

Apparently, one of Canada’s greatest songwriting legends — who’s a winner of 17 Juno Awards — still packs his own suitcase.

Lightfoot has also timed his live shows down to the minute. Two hours and five minutes, to be exact. He can play about 26 or 27 tunes in that time span. All three setlists run exactly the same length.

The singer-songwriter enjoyed a little summer break before hitting the road again, dividing his time between family life, the local gym and daily guitar practice.

Lightfoot credits his backup musicians for challenging him to “measure up” to them onstage.

“At this age, my challenge is doing the best show I can,” he says.

“I’m very much improved from where I was and the seriousness with which I take it.”

Lightfoot says he’s also impressed with the youngest crop of Canadian stars who have struck gold with massive global tours and hit records. Occasionally he’ll flip the radio over to a pop station to sample the latest Justin Bieber song that’s tearing up the charts.

“I grab the odd video. I caught the one with Drake and Rihanna,” he says.

“I didn’t know they had one out.”

Watching the next generation chase the spotlight doesn’t inspire Lightfoot to return to the game. He swore off the grind of pushing out new albums after 2004’s “Harmony,” his 20th studio record, which was shelved for years after he suffered a ruptured artery.

But later this month he will be sharing something new.

The unreleased “Plans of My Own,” a song that was originally recorded for the 1998 album “A Painter Passing Through,” was dusted off by Bob Doidge, owner of Hamilton’s Grant Avenue Studio, while he was cleaning house and sending original tapes back to musicians. It will be released through digital retailers and streaming music services on Nov. 18.

But don’t expect much else from Lightfoot. He suggests new material would just be a waste of his time.

“It’s such an isolating thing,” he says of songwriting.

“The isolation robs other people of your time. It sure did it to me.”

He pauses again to ruminate on that thought.

“I was not always the dad I should’ve been,” says Lightfoot, who has six kids from relationships that predate his current marriage to Kim Hasse.

“I’ve worked hard on improving that for many years now.”

Lightfoot has also found inspiration playing the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ont., which he thinks might become a new tradition. Just over a year ago, his hometown unveiled a four-metre-high bronze sculpture dedicated to him.

As a symbol of thanks he wanted to give the local music festival a boost.

“The first time I did it, they twisted my arm,” he says.

But playing for locals was so enjoyable he wants to do it again and again.

He adds with a smile: “I’ll probably keep doing it until I’m pressing up daisies.”

Follow @dfriend on Twitter.

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