May 3 – Gord’s Final Sundown

A sad day for the music world and his family and friends…but a great day in Heaven.” So reacted retired baseball manager John Gibbons upon hearing the sad news we woke up to yesterday, that Gordon Lightfoot had passed away the Monday evening. The fact that someone from the sports world would say that was just one indication of how impactful Ol’ Gord was on the lives of an entire generation. Lightfoot was 84 and passed away “peacefully” in a Toronto hospital according to his family (he’s survived by wife Kim and six children) after an undisclosed illness which recently caused him to cancel a tour. He tried to play right up to the end; he had quipped “if I’ still pickin’ , I’m still kickin’”.

Gordon had of course been one of the pre-eminent voices (not to mention talented 12-string guitar players) of the Folk scene since the mid-’60s. So much so Bob Dylan called him a “mentor” and would famously say “every time I hear a song of his, it’s like, I wish it would last forever!”. In the ’70s, his popularity took off, with worldwide hits from songs like “If You Could Read My Mind”, “Sundown” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. And, “Rainy Day People” which actually hit the U.S. top 40 this very day in 1975. It was from his tenth album, Cold On the Shoulder, and it made it into the top 10 at home and #26 in the States, where it was his fourth top 40. He’d garner two more; in Canada it was his 16th, and some legendary album tracks of his like the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” weren’t even included as they weren’t 7” singles. Many a wedding reception were kicked off with his song “Beautiful”. Little wonder his “best of”, Gord’s Gold is double-platinum in both countries.

Lightfoot’s distinctive timbre, fine guitar work and ear for a melody made him a favorite of Canadians…and of musicians elsewhere. As noted, Bob Dylan loved his work and besides fellow Canucks like Sarah Mclachlan and Blue Rodeo, artists like Johnny Cash, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley and even Jane’s Addiction have covered his songs. He said Elvis’ take on his “Early Morning Rain” was impressive and “probably the most important recording that I have by another artist.”

Many responded to the news of his death, including Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau who suggested “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.” Bryan Adams noted “this one is really hard to write…I was lucky enough to say Gordon was a friend, and I’m gutted knowing he is gone.” The Toronto Sun pointed out that the famous Massey Hall in the city was nicknamed “Gord’s Room” because he played there so frequently, to which he had said “it became my place for me to worship the crowd, not for them to worship me.”

Worship” might be a tad strong, but many looked upto him as a musical hero and a big part of the soundtrack to their childhood or youth. As Kiefer Sutherland says “”Canada’s lost part of itself. And I lost a hero.”. RIP, Gord, thanks for all that Gold, eh.


April 25 – The Boss Overcomes A Quick Session To Make A Great Record

After over 30 years performing, 13 studio albums, several of them selling well into the millions and numerous world tours, it’s understandable that an artist might want to shake things up a little and not get too comfortable in a routine. And that’s just what Bruce Springsteen did this day in 2006 with the release of We Shall Overcome : The Seeger Sessions. It was a tribute to great folk singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, and shake things up for Bruce it did.

Seeger of course was a renowned folkie in the ’60s who made the old spiritual “We Shall Overcome” a popular rallying cry and wrote a number of hits for other artists like “Turn Turn Turn” and “If I Had A Hammer.” But he also sang many old traditional tunes, and that was the part of his career The Boss wanted to highlight.

The title track had actually been recorded for a 1997, multi-artist tribute to Seeger. Apparently he mentioned doing more and with some encouragement from his daughter, curiously enough, decided to make a full album. He and his wife Patti Scialfa (of his E Street Band) rounded up a number of local session musicians, who dubbed themselves the Sessions Band, including trumpeter Mark Pender who’d played on Max Weinberg’s Tonight Show Band and violinist Soozie Firschner. They got together for just two brief sessions and recorded live. Springsteen himself at times played mandolin, tambourine and organ besides his regular guitar.

The standard edition of it (a double LP or single CD) contained 13 songs often performed by Seeger, although surprisingly enough, not written by him (although a few had been modified from their original form by Pete). They included old chestnuts like “O Mary Don’t You Weep”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “John Henry” and even “Froggie Went A-courtin’”. It also came out in some deluxe versions which included a DVD and a few extra tracks like “Buffalo Gals.”

You can be forgiven if you didn’t notice it when it came out; Columbia didn’t release any singles off it and hence radio more or less ignored it utterly. But reviewers didn’t, and by and large it got raves. The Guardian and Rolling Stone both graded it 4-stars, Pitchfork 8.5 out of 10; Entertainment Weekly an “A-”. Uncut called it “a great teeming flood of Americana…a powerful example of how songs reverberate through the years.” Pitchfork declared it “a boisterous, spirit-raising throwdown on which The Boss tackles the tangle of war, strife, poverty and unrest without sacrificing joy.” Although there were a few dissenting voices, like The Observer which deemed it “too corny.” Later on, allmusic graded it 4.5-stars noting how quickly it was made and that it “does indeed have an unmistakably loose feel” but was still “unique” because “he has never made a record that feels as alive as this.”

Perhaps the most important opinion was that of Pete Seeger himself. The singer who was 86 at the time called it “a great honor. He’s an extraordinary person as well as an extraordinary singer.”

As for the public, considering how odd it was compared to most of his releases and its lack of single, it did quite well. It reached #3 in the U.S., Canada and Britain and actually went to #1 in Italy. The album was certified gold in both the states and Canada and an impressive double-platinum in Ireland. What’s more, it won Bruce his 14th Grammy, this one for Best Traditional Folk Album… which surprisingly he’d won once before, for The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1997.

April 17 – Turntable Talk 13 : Riding The Rails South

Thanks again to my guests for participating this time around in Turntable Talk, which I hope all of you have enjoyed. As you know, this time out, the topic was “This song’s going places!” . When I had the idea for this topic, it struck me how many great songs are about traveling. Not only are the unlimited number of songs about destinations – “New York , New York” by Sinatra, “Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins, “I Love L.A.” by Randy Newman or its cynical counterpoint “Dead Loss (sic) Angeles” by the Stranglers, “A Rainy Night in Georgia”… and on and on endlessly. But even more, there are thousands of quality songs about getting to whereever you’re going. The journey is the event, the memory, sometimes more than the destination.

There’ve been a few about jetting off – “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” the first hit ever written by John Denver, for instance – and one or two about boats (would we have the term “Yacht Rock” if we didn’t have Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”?) and many about the allure of the highway like the one Deke picked (“Heading out on the Highway”) . From the classic rock of “Highway Star” by Deep Purple to the weird alternative sounds of It’s Immaterial and their “Driving Away From Home” songs of the road appeal to musicians. But all those combined pale next to the number of great train songs.

Early 20th Century songwriters knew it – “Chatanooga Choo-choo”, “The Atkinson, Topeka and Santa Fe” – and even as train travel became less common, songs about it didn’t. Nor did they get worse.

I’ve always been fascinated by trains since I was a little boy. I grew up near the busiest mainline of the CP Rail, twenty, thirty trains a day rumbling along between Toronto and Montreal. I could hear every one of them from my house and could see them rolling from my public school yard. When I hit junior high, we had to run cross country for gym… on a dirt track paralleling the rail lines. When a fast-moving, 80-car freight coincided with my gym class, my already turtlish run times slowed some I can tell you. I spent more than one or two Saturdays with my first little 35mm camera standing along the tracks waiting for the lights of a distant diesel to come into sight and ready to grab some shots of noisy engines and brightly colored freight cars. My dad and I bonded over a model railroad we had dreams of building; we got the table and the rolling stock, I built a couple of 1’87th scale buildings for it. Never got it much done, but even as my dad hit his 80s, it was still in his basement, a bucket list thing for him to finish with me.

That was me, but the “romance of the rails” seemed universal. Best romantic movie of the ’90s? Many would say Before Midnight – a young Ethan Hawke runs into a sexy French girl on a European train and they spend one incredible magical night together in Vienna. Not as easy to pull off on a 747. It’s just a great way to travel. You talk to people and see the world go by leisurely, from a different perspective. Where I grew up, the Go Train was the ideal way to get from the suburbs into midtown Toronto for a ballgame or concert and a $6 ticket. You got a totally different perspective on the city than you would driving through the gridlock on the highway. You saw people’s backyards… the laundry hanging, the vegetable gardens… once in a blue moon, a pretty gal sunbathing nude. But at 60 mph, you couldn’t see her all that well. The backs of stores and factories. The hidden life of the city. It was such a different way of seeing it all. And maybe you’d strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting across from you.

All that in mind, no wonder my choice for the topic would be a train song. But there are a good number of them to choose from – “Midnight Train to Georgia”, “Long Train Running”, my countryman Gordon Lightfoot’s epic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, etc. Kenny Rogers couldn’t have gotten to know “The Gambler” if they were flying Southwest Airlines! But to me, the ultimate “going places” tune was from 1972Arlo Guthrie‘s “City of New Orleans”.

I will try not to over-analyze. I loved the song when I was a child and heard it on my transistor AM radio and would sing along. I love it now… but am not inclined to sing along, although no promises if you got me to the club car and I enjoyed a few refreshments!

The song’s a folk classic, and to me it just works in every way. A little bit poignant and sad, a little bit optimistic, a little bit excited about the trip ahead and then the terminus too. But never losing sight of how so much was mundane. A bit like a metaphor for life. And it’s played so well by Guthrie and his musician friends… on the song he was reluctant to do.

And the story of the song parallels the feel of it nicely. Guthrie didn’t write the song, which became, if not his best-known (“Alice’s Restaurant” might take that crown) certainly his best-selling single and only American top 40 hit. In my hometown, it actually hit #6 on the charts. But the song has a story behind it.

Young Chicago folk-singer Steve Goodman wrote it, and was first to record it. But, he ran into his idol, Guthrie, in a bar. He asked him to listen to his song. Guthrie… was reluctant. But he agreed, if the lad bought him a beer. He said he’d listen until his beer ran dry. By the end, he agreed to record it and hopefully bought Goodman a brewski!

Goodman knew “The City of New Orleans” very well. And it turns out, knew a hit song when he wrote one.

The City of New Orleans” is far from fiction. It was a real train, and the song was derived from real life. It was in fact the flagship luxury train of the Illinois Central Railroad, running the almost thousand miles between Chicago and New Orleans in around sixteen hours… impressive since it stopped in many river delta cities like Cairo,Illinois, Memphis, Jackson, Mississippi and Hammond, Louisiana along the way. Young Goodman went to the University of Illinois and used the train regularly in the ’60s to go the 200-odd miles from Chicago to the campus in Champaign, and sometimes to venture southwards to friends places. He and a school buddy traveled frequently together and he began to write the song around 1967. “He developed the ability to see meaning in mundance activities” his friend said later. Like the people he saw on the train and things he observed out its windows.

When he and his future-wife Nancy took it in 1970 to visit her grandma in southern Illinois,and then back, he finished off the song. “Just outside of Chicago, there was a bunch of old men standing around tin cans, warming themselves and waving”. Graveyards of rusted automobiles. Passing trains that have no names. “Nancy was still asleep, so I went down to the club car, and ended up playing cards with a couple of old men.”

Ahh yes, the club car. The City of New Orleans was the height of luxury when it was launched in 1947. It had an observation car, glass roof and all, a bar, a diner, a ladies’ lounge. Usually it carried 18 cars behind a couple of gleaming, shiny new E7 diesel locomotives, clad in elegant orange and brown. When you think of “glamorous train trips” or maybe a Hitchcock scene played out via train, this was the type of train you think of. It was busy and kept turning a profit for the IC into the ’60s. But by the time Goodman was a college kid and rode it, things were different. Air travel was coming down in price and I55 had opened up making a quick highway run south feasible. The train dropped its observation car, cut its online staff and from many reports, cleaning crew too. The streamlined engines built in the ’40s were breaking down far too often. Most railways were looking for ways to shed their passenger service. This bothered the songwriter, who saw them (correctly) as environmentally-friendly and pleasantly social.

He reflected that well in four minutes. But there was another sad parallel between song and writer.

Just as the train was beginning to lose money and esteem, Goodman felt he was nearing his final destination too. He’d been diagnosed with leukemia and worried he wouldn’t live long. That’s why he was emphatic with Guthrie. He was determined to get someone known to record it, to sell records and in doing make money for him. For his wife that he assumed would be a widow soon.

Sadly, he was right. He succumbed to his cancer in 1984, while just 36 years old. Right around when Willie Nelson’s cover of it was on the country charts and would win a Grammy . Willie did a fine cover, but for me the Arlo Guthrie version was greenlit; the one on the right track.

And the train? Well, it had its ups and downs. Before Arlo’s song hit the charts, Illinois Central – and every other main American rail line – had discontinued passenger trains and the government had started Amtrak to take over. What’s more, the Illinois Central itself with its “Main Street of Middle America” nickname and bright orange boxcars has now been bought out by … Canadian National! International free trade and all. But Amtrak restarted “The City of New Orleans” with newer equipment. As of 2022, it still garnered over 150 000 riders a year…. maybe some afraid of flying. Maybe some who just want to see for themselves those trains with no names, the frieght yards full of old black men and the graveyards of rusted automobiles, maybe go to the club car and pass the paper bag that holds the bottle around. Experience life as it used to be, take some time and say “Good Morning America, how are ya?”.

And yes, that is where ABC got the inspiration for their morning TV show’s name.

The City of New Orleans”. This song is going places. And takes me places, every time I hear it.

April 11 – Turntable Talk 13 : Rogers Sails Northwest

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks once again to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 13th instalment…hopefully lucky 13! For any new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columnists from other music sites, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is This Song’s Going Places! We’ve asked our guests to pick a song, or even album that is all about going somewhere…there’ve been tons of great songs about traveling, either geographically or mentally , not to mention ones about specific destinations.A big category, and I look forward to seeing what piqued the others imaginations.

Today we hear from Randy, from Mostly Music Covers. While he’s a knowledgeable fan of a wide range of music, his special area of interest is, as the site’s name suggests, cover songs. Will his travel song be one? :

This Song’s Going Places!

Thanks to Dave for the writing prompt and the opportunity once again to be part of Turntable Talk.

Another challenging topic, I mean literally ‘where’ do I start. There are so many destination songs and place names. Being from Canada I decided right off the bat to be a homer. I have talked about Joni Mitchell, and she makes a few references in her songs, then there’s the legendary Gordon Lightfoot with several good possibilities. Both Bryan Adams and Shania Twain wrote about “going home” and Alanis Morissette is “hailing a taxicab” so clearly she is going somewhere. The Guess Who are “Running Back to Saskatoon” and while The Tragically Hip were in Bobcaygeon,  Blue Rodeo were eating “Arizona Dust” which sounds quite unpleasant.

Although he didn’t write the song, Hank Snow was the first to have a hit with “I’ve Been Everywhere” and that is one long list of places. Anne Murray sang “Don’t Sell Nova Scotia” which thankfully they did not and Stompin’ Tom Connors wrote “Tillsonburg” and I myself have been there several times. Now before I list every Canadian singer, songwriter and somewhere I think it is time to land, by sea EH!

Today’s destination is “The Northwest Passage” as told by the great Canadian Folk Singer/songwriter Stan Rogers. A fair warning to listeners – this is a stunning vocal performance. You won’t forget it, guaranteed.

A little geography on the song. The Northwest Passage is a sea passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It is between the Artic Circle and the North Pole. It was a hard-fought route that joins the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and was since the days of Columbus a sought after route that allowed trade ships to travel from Europe to Asia. It’s discovery and indeed the conquering of the elements was a momentous day in history that took many attempted journeys from the early Vikings up to, as referenced in the song the death of the Franklin Expedition. Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first to complete the journey entirely by ship in 1908.

Stan Rogers was born November 29, 1949, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada ; and died June 2, 1983 (aged 33) (as listed by Wikipedia) in Hebron, Kentucky, U.S. He was a Canadian Folk Singer/songwriter that grew up in the Hamilton area. His East Coast born parents took the family on several trips to Nova Scotia where he became familiar with the Maritime lifestyle, music, and lore. He would eventually reside there. Stan and 22 other passengers were killed after a flash fire entered the smoke filled plane they were attempting to escape from while en route from Dallas to Toronto. It had landed in Cincinnati and 18 passengers, and five crew members escaped; it’s believed that many of them died of smoke inhalation during the flight. His last performance was at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.

His brother and bandmate Garnett, his wife Ariel and his son Nathan have kept his music and legacy alive.

From follow the link for the full song lyrics.


Ah, for just one time

I would take the Northwest Passage

To find the hand of Franklin

Reaching for the Beaufort Sea

Tracing one warm line

Through a land so wild and savage

And make a Northwest Passage to the sea

The following is from a CBC documentary called One Warm Line

Here is a link to another of Stan’s memorable songs, “Barrett’s Privateers” and yet another gloomy fate and destination. “But I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier, The last of Barrett’s Privateers.”

March 25 – Flo, Eddie And Millions Of Fans Happy Together

Knocking the Beatles “Penny Lane” out of the top spot on Billboard this day in 1967, one of the decade’s most iconic singles : “Happy Together” by the Turtles (who initially spelled their name “Tyrtles” in reverence to the Byrds).

The Californian sextet started out as a surf rock band similar to the Beach Boys but by ’67 had morphed more into a folk band. At this particular time though, they weren’t big and they’d recorded a few gloomy records, like a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” So they decided to try to sound a bit cheerier, and Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner of little-known band The Magicians had the ticket. They wrote this song, which Bonner points out is about unrequited love: lines about “imagine” how good it could be, rather than how good it was, and if he should call her rather than him doing so. (Nice little bit of nostalgia now, the line about the call costing a dime…wonder if any Gen Z person now could comprehend a pay phone?) “Happy Together” was by far the biggest of their five top 10 hits before the decade ended; surprisingly it only got to #12 in the UK and #2 in Canada, where their next single, “She’d Rather Be With Me” hit #1. It ended up being the second-biggest single of the year according to Billboard and regardless of the chart position remains one of the best-known and loved ’60s hits. That in no small part from its being used in a ton of ads for the likes of Toyota, Burger King and Coca Cola as well as in numerous movies from The Simpsons Movie to 29 Dresses to Naked Gun to a rather forgettable 1989 teen sex romp named for the song, which was memorable mostly for being one of the first roles for a young Brad Pitt.

The Turtles went into hibernation in 1970, to reappear in the 1980s as Flo & Eddie, in reality Mark Vohlman and Howard Kaylan from the band.

March 17 – St. Patty’s Favorite Band Sing About Noah’s Fave Animal

Seeing as how it’s St. Patrick’s Day, why not have a listen to a “spot of the Irish”? And although we’ve looked plenty of times at acts like U2, the Cranberries and Sinead O’Connor here, none of them go so far as to reference their homeland in their name. Enter the Irish Rovers. Who, oddly enough were from Canada. Anyway, on this day in 1968 they were sitting at #3 on that country’s most influential singles chart of the day, the CHUM chart, with a song that would become their trademark and an American hit as well – “The Unicorn.”

The Irish Rovers formed in Toronto but had its roots firmly in Eire. It was initially almost entirely comprised of guys who’d been born there but moved to Canada while young (although the original lineup did include one Scottish ex-pat for variety.) Chief among them ere the Millars, brothers George and Will and a cousin, Joe. Their mom suggested the name, taken from an Irish legend about a ship called the Irish Rover. It fit them well since the lads played essentially traditional sounding but lively Irish folk music, using mostly acoustic instruments like guitars, mandolins, fiddles and of course, accordions.

Their reputation as a fun live act grew in Canada through the ’60s and they landed a deal with Decca Records. Their lucky charm, as it were, which led them to a pot o’ gold was finding this song written by Shel Silverstein. Silverstein was a multi-talented Chicago man who was a frustrated baseball hopeful. He said, as a teen in the ’40s “I’d much rather have been a good baseball player…but, I couldn’t play ball. Luckily the girls didn’t want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and write.” And that he could do well. He soon became a popular creator of comics (notably for Playboy) and writer of poems and children’s stories. One of which was “The Unicorn”. He also dabbled in music, and wrote other songs that became hits including “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash and today’s other feature bit , by Dr. Hook.

The Unicorn” was a semi-humorous, semi-sad poem about the Bible story of Noah’s ark. As Shel figured, God told Noah “go build me a floatin’ zoo” and to be sure to get two of every animal before the rains set in. But alas, the unicorns, “loveliest of all” the animals were too foolish to get on the ship, preferring to play and splash in the growing puddles. Eventually Noah had to sail off without them – hence today “you won’t see no unicorn.”

Although ostensibly less-Irish than most of their material (typical of their other songs on the album was one called “Pat of Mullingar”) it was their ticket to stardom. The fun-sounding ditty with the sing-along chorus appealed to kids and adults and sounded folkie enough to make inroads with the Greenwhich Village crowds. Soon they were appearing on American TV shows like the Smothers Brothers and the song took off and was certified gold there. By 1971, they had their own Canadian variety TV show (which was shown in quite a few foreign markets including Ireland) which attracted guests of the caliber of Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

The Unicorn” went to #7 in the U.S., #4 nationwide in Canada and #5 in Ireland, their only hit there. Eventually it would sell an incredible eight million copies. Since then they’ve only had one more notable hit, “Wasn’t that a Party” in 1980, but they’ve kept on roving and singing, putting out an album as recently as last year and remain a fairly popular live act. More remarkably, George Millar is still one of them and a son of a different Millar, Ian is in them. All of which has the Irish Emigration Museum have an exhibit featuring them as one of “Ireland’s greatest exports.”

March 16 – Remembered By Dolphins & Dylan Alike

Sometimes in music, it seems like “Everybody’s Talkin’” about Bob Dylan. Or maybe ’60s greats like the Jefferson Airplane or Crosby, Stills & Nash. Very few however, are talking about a man they all considered a friend and even mentor, so today we will remember Fred Neil. He was born in Cleveland this day in 1936 and might be the closest thing to a “one hit wonder” writer. However, as with many so called “one hit wonders”, there’s much more to his story.

Neil was born in Ohio, but soon moved to Florida as a child. Both moving around and Florida seemed to quickly be in his blood. So too, playing guitar, which he began as a young child.

By the end of the ’50s, he’d begun a two-fold career in music, as a writer and performer. He worked at the Brill Building writing for awhile, there co-writing a song called “Candy Man” (not the Sammy Davis Jr one) which was recorded by Roy Orbison. Although in the U.S. it was a b-side to “Crying”, in some lands it was a hit in its own right, actually being a #1 in Australia. Around that time, he began singing in cafes and became one of Greenwich Village’s most popular – and influential – performers. As Anthony DeCurtis would later write, “why is Neil a hero for David Crosby? Because back when Crosby was an aspiring folkie who just arrived in New York, Neil bothered to take an interest in him just as he did for Bob Dylan, who backed Neil on harmonica.” Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens and Stephen Stills were among his many other fans in that time period. In time, he’d move to Woodstock and have a house just down the road from The Band’s Big Pink.

He kept writing songs through the ’60s, with a few minor successes like “Other Side of this Life” for Jefferson Airplane, whom he hung out with when he went West apparently. Paul Kantner of that group wrote their tune “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” about him.

He also kept singing and playing guitar, but didn’t ever find a national audience, unlike his “students”. But luckily for all, he wrote the song “Everybody’s Talkin’” and put it out in 1966. Few noticed, but somehow it was brought to the attention of Harry Nilsson, who of course did it for the Midnight Cowboy movie and made it a smash hit, worldwide.

About that time though, Neil was getting tired of the music business and more and more interested in Florida and in particular, dolphins whose cause he championed. In 1970, he helped establish The Dolphin Research Project, designed to help protect them, and spent more and more time with that and on his personal relationships (he was married several times and had four children) and less and less in music. Sadly he died at age 65 from complications of skin cancer.

So there you have it – another anonymous “behind the scenes” music man who helped kickstart the careers of several who are far from “anonymous.”

February 27 – The First Of Gord’s Gold

If you could read the Billboard charts, you’d have seen that Canadian newcomer Gordon Lightfoot was doing pretty well 52 years ago today. His first American hit, “If You Could Read My Mind” had peaked at #5 this day in 1971. Earlier the song had hit the top of the charts in his homeland, where the folkster was already a bit of a big deal.

The song was from Gord’s fifth album, but first on the Reprise label who’d spared no expense in the recording of it in L.A. Kris Kristofferson, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and John Sebastian are among the other musicians who appear on the record, but for this song a more basic arrangement was used, with Gord on guitars – often 12-strings – and a number of violins arranged by Nick Decaro.

Simple in production and obvious in theme, the lyrics though showcased Lightfoot’s talents with words and crafting memorable melodies. The song was inspired by his own divorce and written “sitting in a vacant Toronto house.” One might surmise with lyrics like “I’d walk away like a movie star, who gets burned in a three-way script” that the first Mrs. L left him for another man. Probably her loss but the public’s gain.

The album it came from was initially titled Sit Down Young Stranger, but Reprise quickly renamed it If You Could Read My Mind when the single became a worldwide hit. He admitted in a documentary that he fought the label tooth and nail over the title change – but once it quickly tripled in sales he relented and learned not to second-guess them.  The album got to #12 in the U.S., where he was being compared to a northern Bob Dylan, and #20 in Australia. At home, it hit #8 during its run of nearly a year-and-a-half on the sales chart. The record also contained his go at “Me and Bobby McGee” which did well on country charts.

The Dylan comparison is all the more apt since Bob himself has commented that when he “first heard a Lightfoot song” he “wished it would last forever.” Since then he’s had some 15 top 40 hits (including “Sundown”, an American #1 song) and a double-platinum greatest hits album at home and been awarded the Governor General’s Award, the highest honor for Canadian entertainers, as well a similar accolade from Queen Elizabeth.

And if you find yourself thinking, “that song sounds vaguely familiar even though I haven’t heard Gord singing it for awhile”, you may be right. It’s been covered by artists including Liza Minelli, Glen Campbell and, most powerfully, Johnny Cash since. Then there’s Whitney.

In 1987, Gordon had sued Michael Masser, not exactly a household name, for plagiarism. Masser had composed the song “The Greatest Love of All”, a platinum selling single for Whitney Houston the year before. Lightfoot explained “it really rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t want the present day generation to think that I stole my song from him.” Eventually he dropped the lawsuit as he thought it was doing more to harm Whitney than the actual writer; at that point Masser apologized publicly for the faux pas. Ironically, Duran Duran have said that the chorus of “Save a Prayer” was loosely based on the melody to “If You Could Read My Mind” as well, but didn’t get sued. Perhaps ‘fessing up is the best policy…because who knows if people could read your mind?

February 20 – Nitty, Gritty And Hit-ty

A “gritty” autobiographical song helped make a career for one of the States’ longest-running bands. “Mr. Bojangles” peaked at #9 in the U.S. this week 50 years ago, making it the biggest hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

The 1971 hit was a cover version of a song written and first recorded by country artist Jerry Jeff Walker (who’d gotten to a rather lowly #77 with his take on it). Walker wrote the song after spending a night in a New Orleans jail for public drunkenness. In there he met an aging man who called himself “Mr. Bojangles” to avoid identifying his real identity according to the singer. Much of the song’s lyrics were pretty much what happened – Bojangles talked a lot about his life on the street, dancing for tips, spoke of a pet dog who’d passed away, and did some tap dancing in the cell to lighten the mood.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered it for their fourth album, Uncle Charlie and his Dog Teddy. The California country-rock band packed that 45 minute album with 21 songs, including ones written by Michael Nesmith, Randy Newman and a yet-to-be-famous Kenny Loggins (“The House On Pooh Corner”) . They’d begun about five years earlier as a throwback band using fiddles, banjos and other acoustic instruments. According to Jeff Hanna (who sang lead on “Mr. Bojangles”) it was mostly a way for them “to figure out how not to work for a living.” It seemed to work! The band is still going, with Hanna still a member. At various times, Jackson Browne and Bernie Leadon (later of the Eagles) were among the 22 members that have cycled through it. In 1977, when they were going by the name The Dirt Band, they became the first American band to be allowed to tour the USSR.

Hanna sang lead on the single, as well as playing acoustic guitar, but no washboard, unlike some of their songs! Jim Ibbitson added harmonies and among the other musicians was Wrecking Crew drummer Russ Kunkel.

The song hit #9 at home and #2 in Canada, where “The House on Pooh Corner” also made the top 30. Curiously, the album scored its best showing in Australia – #31 – where neither single was as big as in North America.

The song quickly seemed to attain “classic” status. Sammy Davis Jr. adopted the song as his signature for years in his live act and artists ranging from John Denver and Jim Stafford to Lulu and Harry Belafonte have recorded it since..

January 11 – Turntable Talk 10 : Those Prairie Winds

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Randy from Mostly Music Covers. There he largely looks at songs so good they’ve been done time and time again. And he hails from Canada, a land which has produced its share of fine songwriters from Paul Anka to Neil Young to Joni Mitchell and many more. But his pick is…

Four Strong Winds”

by Ian Tyson

This is my song pick for another assignment from Dave at A Sound Day, who suggested:

pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.”

This clip is from a reunion in 1986, 23 years after the song was first released and eleven years after the divorce of Ian and Sylvia who first recorded the song.

Think I’ll go out to Alberta
Weather’s good there in the fall
I got some friends that I could go to working for
Still, I wish you’d change your mind
If I ask you one more time
But we’ve been through this a hundred times or more

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
If the good times are all gone
Then I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

If I get there before the snow flies
And if things are looking good
You could meet me if I send you down the fare
But by then it would be winter
Not too much for you to do
And those winds sure can blow cold way out there

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
The good times are all gone
So I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

Still, I wish you’d change your mind
If I ask you one more time
But we’ve been through that a hundred times or more

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change, come what may
If the good times are all gone
Then I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way

Apart from being a part of Canadiana, for me this evocative song is the first time I recall being able to relate to the lyrics. Originally sung by the author, Ian Tyson, and his partner, also soon to become his wife, Sylvia (Fricker) Tyson. Known as Ian and Sylvia they released it in July of 1963. It would appear on the 1964 album of the same name. I was only four when the song came out so I was a bit too young to be relating to anything beyond “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, but it was such an iconic song in Canada at least, that I would have heard it many times by many singers as I was growing up.

However, the first time I really listened, and now with a bit of life experience was when it was covered by Neil Young. That was in 1978, so I’m 19 years old with a few relationships behind me and I’m very much into music. Now I’m understanding or at least trying to get the message from song lyrics. While I came to appreciate the original just as much, at that age it was Neil that was talking to me.

If you read the lyrics, there is nothing very complicated about them, but then many of the greatest songs are thus due to their seeming simplicity. Ian Tyson was a real Cowboy, I mean the riding, roping, and rodeoing kind. After a serious foot injury, he decided to take up the guitar while he was laid up. Long story short he ended up via the Toronto music scene mingling in New York’s Greenwich Village. This is where he met a guy named Bob Dylan. After a particular encounter he thought if Dylan can write his own songs than maybe he should give it a try. At his manager’s New York apartment, he wrote this song in about 20 minutes.

As I understand the story the first verse tells me the protagonist is looking for a change of scenery and that even though it’s not going to happen, they want a loved one to join them. The second verse is such a brilliant metaphor with “Four strong winds that blow lonely”, I hear that as the winds themselves are traveling in aimless directions and that they come to you and go again just as soon. Sea’s “running high” suggests so many things to me personally. I think of my visits to my mothers native Newfoundland and watching the crashing waves and I also picture my father on a Navy Ship at sea during WWII.

The words to me are saying these things are implacable, and when love is lost, it is us that must realize it’s time to move on, the wind and the sea will not. Again, I am at an age at that time where I was struggling with these very same feelings. I had the impulse to leave, to be “bound for moving on”. As the story progresses there is still a hope, a thought that maybe they can meet again, but reality sets in as does loneliness and “winds sure can blow cold”. Yet the wish to somehow reconcile “I wish you’d change you’re mind” is tempered with “we’ve been through that a hundred times or more”.

To me this song is about relationships and difficult choices. Knowing that its time to move on but at the same time it won’t be easy. If only things were different. The last line “I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way” seems sincere but based on the reality of the separation and the leaving it seems unlikely this will happen. It is something I have found people say, perhaps to ease the pain.

Here is a video of the Neil Young version with lyrics.

This song has been covered about 100 times. Notable versions include Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Harry Belafonte all from 1964. There is Judy Collins (1971) and she did a duet with Glen Campbell on his TV show in 1970. Also covered by John Denver (1988) and Johnny Cash in 2006.

I started to write this on the evening of December 28 and just as I was putting in the finishing touches and starting to edit, I learned that Ian Tyson passed away today December 29, 2022, at the age of 89. Rest in Peace, Mr. Tyson and thank-you for the songs and the memories.