In the music spotlight: Gordon Lightfoot

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Gordon Lightfoot | PROVIDED PHOTO

Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot’s rich baritone has been a familiar sound in popular music since 1966, when his debut album produced the homesick folk-pop single “Early Morning Rain.” On the way toward broader acclaim under his own name, the song was recorded by established stars including Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary. Eventually, diverse artists including Elvis Presley, Jerry Reed, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis and Paul Weller of the Jam would honor the songwriter with their own versions.

Lightfoot’s early ascent was marked by 1962’s “(Remember Me) I’m the One,” which found regional success in his home territory near Toronto. He gained his first international No. 1 hit on the U.S. country chart in 1965 when Marty Robbins covered the uptempo but melancholy “Ribbon of Darkness.”

Lightfoot remains lean, fit and in fine spirits, although the richness of his voice is somewhat weathered by time and natural forces as he approaches his 80th birthday in November. “Hi, I’m Gordon Lightfoot, and the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” the singer wisecracked at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California, this spring. In that spirit, Lightfoot has dubbed his North American run the “The Legend Lives On” tour. The title is drawn from 1976 single “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

The seasoned performer brings a catalog brimming with stories and popular singles like easy-listening fixtures “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Beautiful” to the Copernicus Center this weekend. Although the troubled romance of “Sundown” represented Lightfoot’s most successful single as a chart-topping pop hit, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” endures as his signature song with its connection to his folk music roots.

Cargo ship the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in November 1975. The song’s disastrous tale gains personal significance for audiences the closer Lightfoot carries it toward the Great Lakes, all of which are named in the sixth of its seven stanzas. Although he originally took liberties in the interest of storytelling, Lightfoot has treated the song as a living document and refined the lyrics in concert for historical accuracy. The essential details remain constant, including the loss of all 29 lives aboard as the heavily laden Edmund Fitzgerald succumbed to the weather and waves of Lake Superior.

Gordon Lightfoot, 7 p.m. Sept. 16, Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence. Tickets $33-$87;

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer. Email:

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