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Toronto Troubadour Gordon Lightfoot on legacies and writing music

The 77-year-old Gordon Lightfoot continues to tour and will play London’s Albert Hall and Massey Hall in 2016.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

The highway, carefree or otherwise, continues for Gordon Lightfoot. On the occasion of his involvement on a pair of new Ronnie Hawkins recordings (Robbie Robertson's Christmas Must be Tonight and Mr. Lightfoot's The Pony Man), we spoke to the 77-year-old troubadour about legacies and the year to come.

During the press conference, you and Ronnie Hawkins talked about writing songs for posterity. Were you thinking about your legacy and your songbook 40 years ago when you were writing the songs?

Yes.

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Really, you were?

Yes. But you don't believe it will happen. You begin to think about Mozart. You begin to think about Shakespeare and people like that. These are people you think about when it comes to music and other things lasting. You hope [that a song lasts], but whether it does or whether it doesn't, it makes no difference to me. Just as long as I can play them and the fans enjoy them, I'll do the best songs in my repertoire.

You're still touring. How are you feeling?

I'm getting ready to do 75 shows. I'm booked right to the end of next year. I'm playing Royal Albert Hall in London and I'm playing Massey Hall.

There was some confusion when those Massey shows were announced. They're scheduled for November in 2016, but some people thought they were 2015 dates.

I could complain about that, but it wouldn't do a damn bit of good. I called [booking agent] Bernie Fiedler and chewed him out. Could they not have waited until the first of December to announce the shows?

That's show business. Speaking of which, you're doing publicity for a couple of songs that Ronnie Hawkins has recently recorded, including a composition of yours from 1970, The Pony Man. How did that song come about?

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It's a story song. I wrote it for my own children. I wrote it for kids so I could put them to sleep, because my Swedish wife suggested it. With the lyrics, you can picture the whole thing. There was a child's book done on it.

There's a story I've seen about you writing Sundown while staying at Ronnie's place in Lakefield, Ont. But that's not true, is it?

No, no. I'd been thinking about material while visiting him, but physically written a song there? No.

You wrote Sundown in a farmhouse, north of Toronto, right?

I had rented a place in King, Ont., for the purpose of writing songs. That's where Sundown was written. Every night there was a beautiful sunset, and that's where I got the idea. I was on a roll. I'd written a whole bunch of songs that summer. I was going to record in the fall and I was getting ready to go on a canoe trip and I wanted to get all the songs done.

Was it the setting that inspired the song or was it a woman?

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I was looking at the sunset one evening and my girlfriend was in town with the girls. But I imagined the girl hanging out with the guys and at the bars. That's really what the song is. It was imaginary. She was home by midnight.

When you get compliments about your songwriting, is it more meaningful when fellow songwriters say nice things?

I never heard a cover version of one of my songs I didn't like.

What about the Rheostatics' recording of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald? There's the whole thing about the Rheostatics' Dave Bidini being upset that you wouldn't listen to it.

I respect [Bidini] completely. It's well done.

You have heard it then?

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It's well done. That's all I can say. It's well done.

So, have we buried a hatchet here between the two of you?

There never was one.

Guest artists perform Way We Feel: A Celebration of the Music of Gordon Lightfoot, Jan. 15 to 17, 8:30 p.m. $36. Hugh's Room, 2261 Dundas St. W., 416-531-6604 or hughsroom.com.

Gordon Lightfoot plays Massey Hall, Nov. 23 to 26, 2016, 8 p.m. $32.50 to $108.50. 178 Victoria St., 416-872-4255 or roythomson.com.

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