Gordon Lightfoot 1938 – 2023

John Gilbert

Gordon Lightfoot in concert in Minneapolis, 1977. (Photo by John Gilbert)

After being impressed with Gordon Lightfoot lyrics sung by other artists, I was consumed at first hearing “Black Day in July,” Gord’s stunning depiction about the 1960s race riots in Detroit. My wife, Joan, and I saw him perform at the Guthrie back in the 1960s, and we watched his shows annually in the Twin Cities.

As a sportswriter at the Minneapolis Tribune, I asked why we were expected to get game stories with quotes about every game, but music critics could take a day or two to write terse reviews of a concert without ever interviewing the performer. So they let me write an interview/review of his next show, at Northrop.

I met him backstage after his sound check, and I started out telling him I was mainly a hockey writer. He lit up, and we talked for over an hour because he was an intense Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and they were engaged in a vicious, nasty Stanley Cup series with the Philadelphia Flyers. They came to get him twice to do the show, but he wanted to keep talking hockey.

Finally I went down to my front-row reviewer’s seat and he strode on-stage, startling the audience by a rambling intro in which he talked about that series — as if everyone there must be a hockey fan!

After that, we had a bond; I wrote several more interview/reviews, including one after he introduced “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which prompted us to drive to Duluth to see his show the next night, so I could better absorb the chills from that epic song, next to the harbor from which it sailed. He gave me his telephone number at the Georgian mansion where he lived in Toronto so we could talk more hockey, although I never dared bother him by calling him. Now I wish I had.