Someone once dubbed his singing style “country-and-Lightfoot,” and there’s certainly some truth to it. With his distinctive nasally twang, there’s always been a big streak of country running through Canada’s greatest folk singer and songwriter. Just look at Gordon Lightfoot’s history:
- In 1959, Lightfoot joined CBC’s Country Hoedown, as part of the cast of the Singing’ Swingin’ Eight. The show’s set was a makeshift barn, complete with wagon wheels and bales of straw.
Members of the Singin’ Swingin’ Eight (four men and four women) wore yoked cowboy shirts and gingham crinoline. Can you spot Lightfoot?
- Lightfoot travelled to Nashville with Chateau Records’ Art Snider in 1962 and recorded his song “Remember Me (I’m the One)” Chet Atkins, one of the biggest names in country music, assembled top Nashville cats like guitarist Grady Martin and pianists Floyd Cramer and Hargus “Pig” Robbins to play on the sessions. It wouldn’t be the last time Lightfoot recorded in Nashville.
- With his Country Hoedown experience, Lightfoot was hired by the BBC in 1963 to appear on The Country and Western Show, a summer replacement series. The show featured live horses and corny scripting. Lightfoot spent hours in the BBC’s record library looking for songs to sing on the show and wound up performing tunes like Buck Owens’ “Foolin’ Around” and Johnny Cash’s “The Troubadour.”
- In 1965, Marty Robbins reached #1 on the country charts with his version of Lightfoot’s “For Lovin’ Me.” The country hit established Lightfoot as a songwriter to be reckoned with.
- The “Country-and-Lightfoot” tag stuck around for much of the 1960s and Lightfoot didn’t do much to shake it, performing twice on The Johnny Cash Show, always in cowboy boots and sometimes a buckskin jacket.
- In the 1970s, Playboy magazine’s annual music poll named Lightfoot top country and western male vocalist-composer for several years running.
- Lightfoot fully embraced the country music image in 1986, when he landed an on-screen role in Hotel, an Aaron Spelling TV series based on a novel by Arthur Hailey, one of Lightfoot’s favorite novelists. The series starred James Brolin and Tippi Hedren and a rotating cast of guest stars that included Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Baldwin and Johnny Depp. Lightfoot was offered a part he could certainly relate to: a Stetson-wearing, fringe-jacketed country singer named Joe Daniels, struggling with alcoholism, who is booked to play in the St. Gregory Hotel’s nightclub.
- In September 2001, Lightfoot was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
All stories and photos taken from Lightfoot by Nicholas Jennings, published by Penguin Random House.