Gordon Lightfoot 1960s

Lightfoot in the 1960s

Legendary singer-songwriter and SOCAN member Gordon Lightfoot, whose work spanned more than 60 years, has died at the age of 84, on May 1, 2023. His exact cause of death wasn’t immediately available, though he had been suffering from emphysema, and reports say he died peacefully, of natural causes.

“Gordon Lightfoot was one of the greatest Canadian songwriters to ever put pen to paper, and lyrics to music,” said SOCAN CEO Jennifer Brown. “His music not only helped define the 1960s and early 1970s, but has proven itself true for all generations, everywhere in the world. SOCAN was privileged to count Gordon Lightfoot among our most celebrated members. He’ll be truly missed, and his songs will continue to be cherished by music lovers for as long as people listen to music. He’s an indelible part of the Canadian national spirit.”

Among countless honours, Lightfoot received the Governor’s General Award, and was inducted into the Order of Canada.  He also earned the SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 (and four other SOCAN Awards), as well as 17 JUNO Awards, four Grammy nominations, and was inducted into both Canada’s Walk of Fame and The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Lightfoot is also in the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, and at the 1986 JUNO Awards, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame by his friend and musical colleague, Bob Dylan, who has always complimented Lightfoot’s songwriting skills. His radio hits in the U.S. have earned five No. 1s, five Top 10s, and 13 Top 40 hits; In Canada, he’s earned 16 No. 1s, 18 Top 10s and 21 Top 40 hits.

Lightfoot’s vast catalogue includes such all-time classics as “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Carefree Highway,” “Sundown,” “(That’s What You Get) For Lovin’ Me,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” to name just a few. His songs have been covered by Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Rose Cousins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Anne Murray, Sarah McLachlan, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Jane’s Addiction, Lori Cullen, Glen Campbell, Toby Keith, Eric Clapton, and many more.

Gordon Lightfoot, Early Morning Rain

Click on the image to play the Gordon Lightfoot video “Early Morning Rain”

Lightfoot’s songs are poetic in language but realistic in content, and his clear, resonant voice and often minimal backing (of electric bass and acoustic lead guitar) only add to the listening experience. In the mid-1960s, he broke out as a folk songwriter, but his work in the 1970s cemented him as a key figure – alongside James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Carole King, and several others – in the singer-songwriter movement of the era.

While Lightfoot’s more personal songs of romantic relationships gone wrong (like “Sundown,” “If You Could Read my Mind,” and “Carefree Highway”) have always resonated with a global audience, his distinctly Canadian historical-narrative anthems (like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”) capture our unique national heritage and spirit, and resound even more strongly in Canada.

Lightfoot was born in Orillia, ON, taught himself to play guitar as a youth, and began performing with a folk group called the Teen Timers, then took up drumming, and singing with a barbershop quartet. After high school, he moved to California to study composition, and sang for awhile in a big-band jazz group. He returned to Toronto, and in 1960, joined a vocal group chorus on the TV show Country Hoedown. Lightfoot formed a singing duo with Terry Whalen, the Two Tones, who played at the Mariposa Folk Festival, and released an album in 1962. Wanting to pursue a solo career, he then moved to the U.K. and hosted an eight-week BBC-TV series, The Country & Western Show. He’d started to play occasional solo dates, and had a hit in Ontario with “Remember Me (I’m the One).”

Gordon Lightfoot, If You Could Read My Mind

Click on the image to play the Gordon Lightfoot video “If You Could Read My Mind”

In 1963, he discovered Dylan and began to write songs in a new, more personal style. Folk duo Ian & Sylvia heard Lightfoot performing in Toronto, and enjoyed his songs enough to add some of them to their repertoire. They also brought Lightfoot to the attention of their (and Dylan’s) manager, Albert Grossman, who signed the young singer-songwriter to a deal. Several artists began to have hits covering his songs, like Peter, Paul & Mary (“Early Morning Rain” and “(That’s What You Get) For Lovin Me,”) and Marty Robbins (“Ribbon of Darkness”). In 1966, Lightfoot signed a recording contract with United Artists, and from 1967 to 1969, he recorded four studio albums and a live LP for them. He became a major star in Canada, releasing hit singles and headlining an annual, sold-out concert series at Toronto’s Massey Hall – where he played more than 170 times, more than any other performer.

In 1970, his contract with United Artists expired, he broke with Grossman, and signed a new record deal with the Reprise label. His first album for them, Sit Down Young Stranger, spawned a long-overdue U.S. hit, “If You Could Read My Mind.” It reached the Top Five of the pop charts, and after the album was re-titled If You Could Read My Mind, the LP also reached the Top 10. In 1971, he released Summer Side of Life, and in 1972, Don Quixote and Old Dan’s Records, but he had to temporarily stop touring when he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. In 1974, he returned with the album Sundown, which included the title song and “Carefree Highway,” both of which became major hit singles, and his next two albums would also feature pop hits: Summertime Dream included “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and Cold on the Shoulder included “Rainy Day People.”

Gordon Lightfoot 1970s

Lightfoot in the 1970s

The 1975 “best of” compilation Gord’s Gold featured new re-recordings of 10 songs from his days at United Artists, and 12 of his more recent hits of the day. He continued to record and tour regularly, and his annual run of performances at Massey Hall confirmed his large and loyal audience. Lightfoot began playing benefit shows for various charitable concerns, including world hunger and the environment, and tried his hand at acting, appearing in the 1982 films Harry Tracy and Desperado, and playing a country singer on the American TV series Hotel in 1988.

Lightfoot experienced a creative revival in the 1990s, recording two of his best-reviewed albums in decades, 1993’s Waiting for You and 1998’s A Painter Passing Through, but in 2002 he suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was in a coma for six weeks, and in the hospital for three months. He survived the illness, and in 2004 released Harmony, an album he’d begun working on before he fell ill; by the end of the year, he was back on the road. Lightfoot experienced another health scare in the fall of 2006, when he suffered a minor stroke that cost him some mobility in his right hand, but within six months he was able to play guitar again and continued to perform on a regular basis.

In 2012, Lightfoot released All Live, a collection of recordings from his many appearances at Massey Hall. He toured regularly into the late 2010s, and released the double-disc collection The Complete Singles 1970-1980 in 2019. After discovering a set of demos of unreleased songs, written in 2001 and 2002, Lightfoot recorded 10 of them, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, for 2020’s Solo –  his first studio album in 16 years.

Lightfoot is survived by his wife, Kim; six children — Fred, Ingrid, Galen, Eric, Miles, and Meredith; and several grandchildren.

On behalf of its more than 185,000 songwriter, composer, screen composer, and publisher members, SOCAN offers its sincerest condolences to Gordon Lightfoot’s family, friends, loved ones, and fans all over the world.

For an in-depth look at Lightfoot’s life and work, play the CBC Gem documentary, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.

Gordon Lighfoot, Mariposa Folk Festival, 2022

Lightfoot playing live at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 2022. (Photo: Brad Ardley)

Winners List
Photo Gallery 1: Winners
Photo Gallery 2: Performances and Awards
Photo Gallery 3: Red Carpet
Photo Gallery 4: Ambiance

May 7, 2023, marked the long-awaited return of the SOCAN Gala at Montréal’s La TOHU. More than 500 songwriters, composers, screen composers, producers, music publishers, and music industry professionals gathered to celebrate the 33rd annual SOCAN Gala, during which over 100 trophies were awarded to highlight the work of Québec’s creative talent over the past two years.

Gala SOCAN 2023, Winners

A gathering of some of the winners at the Gala SOCAN 2023

Hosted with glamour and humour by the flamboyant drag queen Barbada, the SOCAN Gala began with Jeanick Fournier’s powerful, moving performance of the timeless “Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin,” celebrating the incredible work of Jean-Pierre Ferland, recipient of this year’s Cultural Impact Award.

Many other Achievement Awards were presented during the gala, including the Special Achievement Award to Ginette Reno for her illustrious career; the Lifetime Achievement Award to the great Plume Latraverse; and the Songwriter (Performer) and Songwriter (Non-Performer) awards, given, respectively, to two successful creative duos: Roxane Bruneau and Mathieu Brisset, as well as hit-makers Banx & Ranx. The Screen Composer Award was presented to two outstanding creators, Nathalie Bonin and Cristobal Tapia de Veer, celebrated for their incredible composition work on both small and big screens over the past two years. The Publisher Award went to Bloc Notes Music Publishing, an outstanding company in the music ecosystem of Québec and Canada. And the International Award went to Montréal-based music production duo Demy & Clipz, responsible for, among other things, the worldwide hit “La Corriente” by Grammy-winning mega-star Bad Bunny.

“The annual 2023 SOCAN Gala was a wonderful snapshot of our accomplished and very important members from Québec: touching, creative, and full of talent,” said SOCAN CEO Jennifer Brown. “Québec’s music community is dynamic and gifted, and must continue to thrive. SOCAN recognizes and understands the specific challenges it faces, and we’re fully committed to our mission: to license the use of our members’ music, collect the money due to them, and return the royalties they’ve earned for their work. We believe that together, we can do great things. More than ever, SOCAN is proud to be a key player in Québec’s vibrant music ecosystem, and is passionate about its continued success.”

Breathtaking Performances and SOCAN Classics 

Several musical performances marked the gala with unique and moving moments. Among them, Mara Tremblay, Catherine Durand, Marie-Pierre Arthur, and Martin Deschamps joined their voices to pay tribute to Plume Latraverse, performing a selection of his most well-remembered songs. Ines Talbi, Marie-Denise Pelletier, and Lunou Zucchini embraced the task, with respect and humility, of reminding us how Ginette Reno has impacted Québec with her greatest songs. The excellent “chameleon band” Qualité Motel performed a daring medley where they adapted, to their unique sound, a selection of award-winning works from the various categories dedicated to screen music. Pierre Kwenders, Ingrid St-Pierre, and Stéphanie St-Jean paid tribute to Paul Piché, who was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame during the Gala – much to the delight of the artist himself, and everyone in attendance. The extremely talented Chloé Lacasse was the Gala’s musical director.

This year’s event also marked the return of the SOCAN Classic Awards. Trophies were presented to “Toune d’automne” by Cowboys Fringants; Corneille’s “Parce qu’on vient de loin”; Daniel Boucher’s “La Désise”; Ariane Moffatt’s “Point de mire”; Jean Leloup’s “Balade à Toronto”; Daniel Bélanger’s “Rêver mieux”; “Amalgame” by The Respectables; and Noir Silence’s “On jase de toi.”

Special Awards

In the specialized music categories,  global music was honoured with the Hagood Hardy Award, given to Pierre Kwenders; the Jan V. Matejcek Award for New Classical Music went to Linda Bouchard; the Country Music Award went to the energetic Sara Dufour; the intriguing Ouri won the Electronic Music Award; veteran Souldia won the Hip-Hop Music Award; and the Viral Music Award, presented by Gowling WLG, went to Patrick Watson – for his song “Je te laisserai des mots,” which has accumulated more than 4.8 billion views worldwide on TikTok. The Breakthrough Award went to dance sensation Rêve and rising star Jay Scøtt; and the first-ever Breakthrough Female Screen Composer Award went to the talented Anaïs Larocque.

Popular Music and Screen Composition  

A total of eleven Popular Music Awards were presented during the evening, to the songwriters and publishers of the most popular French-language songs of 2021 and 2022: “À ma manière,” “Si jamais on me cherche,” “Guérir nos mémoires,” “Copilote,” “Tokébakicitte,” “L’écho,” “T’es belle,” “Où sera le monde…”, “Je suis comme toi,” “Elle n’entend plus battre son cœur,” and “Vous êtes ici.” Two Anglophone Popular Music Awards were given to “Flowers Need Rain,” sung and played by Preston Pablo and Banx & Ranx, as well as “Lost” by Jonathan Roy. The International Song Award went to “Tu t’en iras,” co-written by La Zarra, Zacharie “Soke” Raymond, Yannick “Kny Factory” Rastogi, and Benny Adam.

The Gala also saluted the precious talent of screen composers and publishers. Among the evening’s winners, Michel Cusson walked away with two awards: one for his collaboration with Miklos Simpson on District 31 in the category Fiction or Dramatic Series, the other for Unité 9 in the category Television Music – International. Composers Jason Sharp (The Decline), Tim Rideout (L’échappée), Luc Pronovost (Destination Ski), Nicolas Savard-L’Herbier (Cochon Dingue), and Raphael Reed (Crisis) all won trophies recognizing their invaluable contributions to these productions.

The Post-Synchronization Award, given for the first time at the Gala – to the SOCAN reproduction rights client whose work has been reproduced in the greatest number of post-synchronizations on digital or traditional audio-visual platforms in 2021 – went to composer Philippe Leduc.

Partner In Music Award 

Finally, the essential contribution of SOCAN-licensed companies or organizations for the fair use of music was recognized with this year’s Partner in Music Award, given to Télé-Québec and Sphère Média for the long-running TV show Belle et Bum, and its ongoing commitment to showcasing a diverse roster of up-and-coming musicians. The show celebrated its 20th season this year.

For all the details on the 33rd annual SOCAN Gala, visit galasocan.com.

SOCAN welcomes the passage of Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, by the Senate.  

Streaming has grown significantly in recent years, but Canadian songwriters and composers have not received their fair share of this growth. Foreign streaming giants have enjoyed unfettered access to Canadian audiences and now, thanks to C-11, they will have to help support our cultural community and our Canadian songwriters.  

The Online Streaming Act sets the stage for the promotion and support of Canadian songwriters and composers, said SOCAN CEO Jennifer Brown. We all benefit when our cultural policies reflect and encourage the Canadian experience and the creation and dissemination of Canadian stories and songs. 

This law is of crucial importance to the success of Québec music culture,” says Alexandre Alonso, SOCAN Executive Director of Québec Affairs. “Our data shows that Québec music creators are having difficulty reaching audiences on digital media, and Bill C-11 will encourage the promotion of their incredible work. 

Bill C-11 delivers on the promise of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, to regulate online streaming services while excluding its application to individual content creators.  

On behalf of its more than 185,000 members, SOCAN warmly thanks Minister Rodriguez for his leadership, and assures him of its continued support on any project that will support the growth of Canadian cultural industries. SOCAN also thanks NDP and Bloc Québécois Members of Parliament for their support on this very important issue.