HodgePodge: The sun has set on Sundown

The sun has set on Sundown

HodgePodge by Charlie Hodge

The sun has gone down on the man who made Sundown a hit record.

Talented troubadour Gordon Lightfoot died Monday night. He was 84.

A true balladeer, Lightfoot shared Canada with the world – penning tunes inspired by his knowledge of its people and history. Classic examples are his 1975 hit The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald recalling the huge freighter’s destruction on the Great Lakes in a winter storm, or the equally famous Canadian Railroad Trilogy written in 1966 recreating the construction of the railway across our nation.

“I simply write the songs about where I am and where I’m from. I take situations and write poems about them,” Lightfoot once explained. As a skilled poet Lightfoot’s ability to bring history alive through music and thereby influence people was not something he took for granted. He recognized the cultural clout he could create and was touched by it.

“I just like to stay there and be a part of the totem pole and look after the responsibilities I’ve acquired over the years,” he said in a 2001 interview.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said late Monday, “We have lost one of our greatest singer-songwriters. Gordon Lightfoot captured our country’s spirit in his music — and in doing so, he helped shape Canada’s soundscape. May his music continue to inspire future generations, and may his legacy live on forever.”

But Gordon was certainly not just a history lesson gone crazy with a guitar. His music dabbled in a couple of genres and was influenced by many things in life including women and booze. He freely admits likely too much of both.

Things started out simple enough with young Gordon singing soprano in church choir and at 13 won the Kiwanis Music Festival, held at Toronto’s Massey Hall. The roaring crowd lit a fire.

His early days were spent singing anywhere and everywhere: weddings, festivals, ladies auxiliary’s churches. Back then barbershop quartets were in and his group the Collegiate Four won a CBC showcase. Truthfully, it all began in 1956 when he first picked up a guitar and gave it a plunk. Song writing kicked in soon after and rest is history.

Lightfoot’s tunes were influenced by life around him and a popular pastime of the day inspired his first legitimate song, The Hula Hoop Song. It failed miserably in the Toronto scene so at 18 he headed to the United States. It failed in Hollywood too so he returned to Toronto planning to work in the day and play in cafes or pubs at night, determined to make his way into the music industry.

Fran’s Restaurant was his first regular gig where he met Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins helped Lightfoot find work in other better playing venues and the wheels started to slowly roll. Living in Yorkville he befriended Ian and Sylvia, who encouraged him to continue writing. In 1962 his radio debut single Remember Me I’m the One motivated more song writing and earned him a spot at the Mariposa Folk Festival in his hometown of Orillia. He became a regular at the festival and it proved to be his launching pad.

Gigs in bars and clubs were now drawing crowds and his next tune in 1965 I’m Not Sayin’ was a hit in Canada. Soon after, Marty Robbins recorded Lightfoot’s Ribbon of Darkness which hit number one in the U.S. Then Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Gord’s

For Lovin’ Me which made the U.S. top 30.

Lightfoot never look back hitting Billboard in 1971 with his classic If You Could Read My Mind which hit number five followed by his mid1970s single and album, Sundown which topped the Billboard charts. It was his one and only time at the top but a star was born.

Lightfoot recorded 21 studio albums and crafted brilliant lyrics and music for hundreds of songs, such as Early Morning RainBallad In Plain DCarefree Highway, and ‘Cold on the Shoulder’.

His amazing career saw him garner 12 Juno Awards, named four times as top folk singer at the RPM Awards (1960s predecessor to Junos), nominated for four Grammy Awards, received an Order of Canada citation in 1970 at the age of 32, and was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 2003. In 1986 he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Lightfoot received the Governor General’s Award in 1997 and entered the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Like so many others thrust into the spotlight Lightfoot’s fame proved too much for him. His first marriage ended in a huge public nightmare and considered by some media sorts as, “the costliest divorce settlement in Canadian legal history” at the time.

“When my first marriage broke up, it took me years to get over it,” he told The Canadian Press in 2013. “I had a good wife and two great kids, but the business just ate me up. The women ate me up. I wasn’t able to resist. I can now, but not then. And then it was alcohol, and there’s no greater catalyst to getting into further (trouble) than drinking.”

His public battle with alcoholism and with a plethora of women (who inspired his lyrics) set him back several times. Yet he would always bounce back and write more hits.

In the end Lightfoot found happiness marrying a woman 23 years younger than him.

Despite their age difference the pair became inseparable with Hasse frequently by Lightfoot’s side at public events.

He is survived by Hasse and his six children and several grandchildren.

The singer-songwriter died of natural causes at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. He had suffered numerous health issues in recent decades.

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Charlie Hodge is a best-selling author, writer, a current Kelowna City Councillor, and a Director on the Regional District of the Central Okanagan Board. He spent more than 25 years as a full-time newspaper journalist and has a diverse background in public relations, promotions, personal coaching, and strategic planning. A former managing editor, assistant editor, sports editor, entertainment editor, journalist, and photographer, Hodge also co-hosted a variety of radio talk shows and still writes a regular weekly newspaper column titled Hodge Podge, which he has crafted now for 41 years. His biography on Howie Meeker, titled Golly Gee It’s Me is a Canadian bestseller and his second book, Stop It There, Back It Up – 50 Years of the NHL garnered lots of attention from media and hockey fans alike. Charlie is currently working on a third hockey book, as well as a contracted historical/fiction novel. His creative promotional skills and strategic planning have been utilized for many years in the Canadian music industry, provincial, national, and international environmental fields, and municipal, provincial, and federal politics. Charlie is a skilled facilitator, a dynamic motivational speaker, and effective personal coach. His hobbies include gardening, canoeing, playing pool, and writing music. Charlie shares his Okanagan home with wife Teresa and five spoiled cats.


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