Gordon Lightfoot - 12 & 6 string guitar, vocals; Red Shea - guitar; John Stockfish - bass
This 1968 Fillmore West performance captures Gordon Lightfoot opening a show that also featured Cold Blood and Canned Heat. Although a relative newcomer to American audiences at the time, Lightfoot was already 30 years old and a seasoned songwriter and singer, well respected in his home country, and fairly well known within the folk community. Distinctly Canadian, Lightfoot already had an impressive body of work that covered a wide range of territory, from slow romantic ballads to traditional folk, all delivered in his robust baritone voice.
Accompanied on this performance by cohorts Red Shea on guitar and John Stockfish on bass, Lightfoot delivers a consistently captivating hour of material, consisting of choice tracks from his 1965 debut album, the 1967 follow-up, The Way I Feel and both his 1968 albums, the second of which had yet to be released at the time. The earliest material featured here, "I'm Not Saying," "Steel Rail Blues," and the often covered "Early Morning Rain," were featured on his 1965 debut. All three hold up well and display a timeless quality that would remain an essential quality in much of his future writing.
The fuller sound that he began exploring on his 1967 album, The Way I Feel is well represented by the likes of the lilting romantic ballad, "Softly," "Walls," "Rosanna," and the set-closing epic, "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." On the latter, Lightfoot's magnificent lyrics capture the endless expanse and textures of Canada as well as anything ever written.
Like many songwriters of the era, Lightfoot followed Dylan's path toward Nashville in 1968. He began working with producer John Simon (the Band) and utilized some of the same Nashville musicians that Dylan had employed during the Blonde On Blonde sessions. Although the results were somewhat erratic, Lightfoot's songwriting remained consistently strong. Many of those newer songs are performed here, with sparser accompaniment. "Black Day In July," written in response to the 1967 riots in Detroit, is even more chilling than its studio counterpart and he even performs his unusually baroque orchestral pop song, "Pussywillows, Cat-Tails," here stripped down to its bare essentials.
His fourth album, Back Here On Earth was still a month away from being released, but a good sampling of its content is here, including "If I Could," "Cold Hands From New York," "Long Thin Dawn," "Unsettled Ways," and the finely crafted "Affair On 8th Avenue." It's not surprising that all remain close to the acoustic countrified approach of the studio versions, having just been recorded. The one total surprise here is "The Auctioneer," a song that wouldn't surface until 12 years later on Lightfoot's 1980 release, Dream Street Rose,
Lightfoot was still a few years away from real stardom outside of Canada, but his songwriting craft and distinctive voice was easily as appealing as his more recognized later work. These songs reflect many of the same themes that he would return to throughout his career. Lightfoot would continue to gain recognition for his writing, with the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, Marty Robbins and even Elvis Presley covering his songs, but few could improve on Lightfoot's own delivery.
Listening to this early live set exemplifies the fact that although he deals with universal themes, Lightfoot and his songs remain the living, breathing embodiment of Canada.