Known for his lilting melodies and sweet tenor voice, Mr. Lightfoot began his career as a songwriter and performer, part of the folk music explosion that saw the rise of talents such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. He said that while some performers managed to evolve, he depended on his skill as a songwriter rather than a singer after the British Invasion.
That folk revival started in about 1960 and lasted until about 1963, he said in a recent telephone interview. But once The Beatles got here, a lot of us got put on the back burner. It was like we were in a period of incubation.
Mr. Lightfoots songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and Richie Havens before he re-emerged as a performer in 1966 with the Lightfoot! album. Mr. Lightfoot said the time away from performance honed not only his skills as a writer but also his knowledge of the music business. Watching the advent of pop and then rock showed him the importance of evolution as an artist.
I was always reminded that things were changing, he said. I started thinking about things a little more, and thats something I didnt always do.
It was a realization that led Mr. Lightfoot into the most fruitful period of his career. Between 1970 and 1978, the Canadian put together a string of albums and singles that would garner him both critical and popular acclaim.
The songs he wrote were based in the folk tradition but performed with complex arrangements and a full band. Mr. Lightfoot said he has been fortunate to retain members of that original act, including lead guitarist Terry Clements and bass player Rick Haynes. Although the musicians have played together for nearly 40 years, the band still rehearses, running through songs its members have played thousands of times.
We are still in a state of improvement all the time, Mr. Lightfoot said. We get together once a week and work on technique, work on absolute tuning. Its one of the reasons, I think, we still do such good shows.
A fitness fanatic both on and off the road, Mr. Lightfoot said his attention to health became particularly acute when, in 2002, he suffered from an abdominal hemorrhage that nearly killed him.
It took me two years to come back from that, he said. I was unconscious for six weeks. I couldnt hear for five months. But all I wanted was to get the music back.
Today, Mr. Lightfoots relationship with his songs and fans is as strong as when he first stepped into Canadian coffeehouses in the early 1960s. Although his music has evolved, he said, his approach remains unchanged.
I have complete faith in my material, he said. I know and understand what people want to hear, and thats what I give them.
WHAT: Gordon Lightfoot
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: Bell Auditorium,712 Telfair St.
COST: $38-$48. For more information, call (706) 428-4849 or go to augustaentertainmentcomplex.com.