May 1 (Reuters) – Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, the prolific singer-songwriter known for such folk-pop hits as “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” died on Monday at a Toronto hospital. He is 84.
He died of natural causes, his family said in a statement released by publicist Victoria Lord.
Known for his energetic lyrical and melodic compositions, Lightfoot has received five Grammy nominations over the years and won 17 Juno awards, Canada’s music equivalent.
Lightfoot reached the height of his popularity in the 1970s, with songs from albums like “Sundown,” “Summertime Dream” and “Dream Street Rose” building on his guitar-driven folk roots to produce more rock and pop-oriented song.
He has maintained a loyal following in Canada and the United States through extensive concert tours.
Lightfoot’s catalog of compositions tops 200 songs, some of which have been covered by performers such as Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Glen Campbell and Richie Havens. His “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Morning Rain” became hits for the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
Lightfoot emerged from the folk music movement of the mid-1960s with signature tunes such as “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Pussywillows, Cat-Tails.”
In the 1970s, he picked up an electric guitar to write pop ballads like “Beautiful” and “I’m Not Supposed to Care.”
Lightfoot’s 1976 epic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” about the drowning of 29 sailors when a freighter capsized in a storm on Lake Superior, remains one of the fans’ favorite songs.
In it, Lightfoot accompanies a soaring melody with poignant lyrics about the sailors’ final hours.
He also topped the singles charts with titles such as the mournful “Carefree Highway” in 1974 and the ballad “If You Could Read My Mind,” his first major international hit from 1971, about a dissolving marriage.
“If You Could Read My Mind” launched a successful run on Warner Bros Records, after Lightfoot left his previous label, United Artists.
He was saddened there in part by the lack of support he felt when many US radio stations banned his 1968 single “Black Day in July,” about the Detroit riots of the previous year, seeing it as too incendiary.
Two other major 1970s hits, “Sundown” and “Rainy Day People”, were reportedly inspired by his volatile romance with backup singer and rock groupie Cathy Smith.
Smith died in 2020 after serving time in prison for injecting comic actor John Belushi with fatal doses of heroin and cocaine in 1982.
Besides writing lyrics and music, Lightfoot performed his songs in a warm tenor suited to ballads, though his voice had grown stronger over the years, and he was noted for his clear articulation. as a vocalist.
He survived a major health crisis at age 63 in 2002, when he collapsed with severe stomach pains before a concert in his hometown of Orilla, Ontario, and had emergency surgery for stomach bleeding caused by a ruptured aorta.
He endured weeks of hospitalization and multiple surgeries before returning to the recording studio and live performances.
During his illness, Canadian country singer and admirer Ian Tyson saluted Lightfoot as a national treasure.
“I don’t think anyone before or since has had, or will have, the impact on Canadian culture, through popular music or folk music, that Gordon Lightfoot had,” Tyson told Reuters at the time.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech
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