With “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Carefree Highway,” Gordon Lightfoot has written and recorded some of modern folk and classic rock’s most enduring songs.
The 76-year-old Canadian folk musician – who returns to Charlotte on Thursday, making his Knight Theater debut – talked to the Observer recently from his home in Toronto about touring in his 70s, how the Internet has grown his audience, and why he should’ve taken typing in high school.
Q. You’ve had health problems in recent years (an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2002 and a mini-stroke in 2009), but you got back to touring as soon as you could. What’s kept you at it?
A. I had to recover from that (2002) illness, and it took 28 months between engagements. We’ve always toured. While making records, we put the recording aside and toured. It gets everybody sharp. Touring itself has become a science after awhile. It runs by itself. All we have to do is stay healthy.
Q. Some of your hits became pop culture staples. Do you notice your audience growing as new generations discover them?
A. When the Internet came in, I started getting more people. It’s been like that ever since.
Reviews that come through the Internet – in a funny sort of way, it’s not taken as seriously as an official review by the newspaper – but there are lots of them out there and we have a great band and a great repertoire.
Q. Is there a version of one of your songs by another artist you consider your favorite?
A. There was one recording of “Read My Mind” that knocked me right out, done by Viola Wills – a great recording of it, done disco.
Q. Your last album came out in 2004. Are you writing anything new?
A. I always have two or three songs afloat. I’m not under contract to anybody.
I’ve thought about writing something and releasing it over the Internet like a single. I could try doing that. I don’t know. I could be like my little friend Justin Bieber. We did a show together. I did my part, and he did his part. It was great fun. He’s controversial. He’s young.
Q. Did you ever do anything controversial when you were that age?
A. Only stuff that wasn’t done in public.
Q. What else are you working on?
A. I’m trying to write a book right now, and can’t get anything into chronological order.
I never took typing in high school. My friend Bob Dylan did, and I saw him typing one day and said, “Where’d you learn that?”
He said, “I learned it in high school. Didn’t you?” I had to tell him I took Latin. ... Totally irrelevant. If I could type now, I’d be in great shape.