“A great lyric is a marriage between the lyric and the melody. And that’s always stayed with me. I learned that the very first time I sat down with the music publisher.”
Gordon Lightfoot on songwriting
Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and The Kingston Trio were big influences on your career, correct?
Kingston Trio. Good, good. The Kingston Trio opened up a lot of doors. When Peter, Paul, & Mary came along, there was another trio that was completely different. A totally different approach than the Kingston Trio had.
I mean The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Phil Oakes, Rambling Jack Elliott, and Ian Tyson; I mean that was a whole lot of influences right there.
And I listened to a lot of singers too when I was coming up. I would listen to Sinatra and Nat King Cole and that whole bunch of guys. When I was going to music school, I’d go to see the big bands when they played in the Toronto area. I’d go to see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, even saw one of the Dorsey Brothers at one point.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”
Music: Gordon Lightfoot
Lyrics: Lenny Waronker & Gordon Lightfoot
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” commemorates the sinking of the bulk carrier, SS Edmund Fitzgerald, in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. The single version hit #1 in Canada on November 20, 1976, barely a year after the disaster. In the U.S., it reached #1 in Cashbox and #2 for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was about the tragic event that you saw on the news and then read a little clip about it in Newsweek. You wrote an unbelievable song.
Well, I got to meet all those people. All those guys that went down with that boat that night. I got to meet all the families. They’re all over North America. They’re in England. There is always somebody that is related somewhere along the line.
I’m glad I wrote the song the way I did, and when I was writing it, I said, ‘My God, I hope I don’t offend anyone with this,’ and I only saw it as an album cut. Nobody saw it as becoming a popular song at the time. And all of a sudden, there it was!
Your drummer, Barry Keane said that when you recorded it, it was the first time they had heard it. Then you did it in one take?
I mean, I started working it three or four weeks before we first went into the studio. I worked on it the day before and spent the whole night rewriting it. And then we tried it for the first time the next day. I broke a string on my 12-string. I had just finished the rewrite, but I wasn’t prepared to break the string on my guitar. So, I had to stop to tune the guitar without changing the string, and that took me about 5-10 minutes. Then, the next time we got it—after I got the guitar back in tune.