AN OFF-THE-CUFF QUICKIE INTERVIEW WITH RICK McGRATH AND MIKE QUIGLEY
From the Georgia Straight, Oct. 21-28, 1970
Mike and I made it to the Bayshore on time for the interview, but soon found out that things were running a little late. Lightfoot was still with a man from CBC Radio so we had to wait. Waiting in the Bayshore lobby is a strange experience in itself, but this time the whole thing seemed even more absurd. Stereo Muzak can do weird things to your mind.
Finally our turn came, and we were ushered into Lightfoot's presence. The singer was wearing his TV togs: a jean suit with the jacket bespeckled with flying birds and symbolic sunsets. He wasn't too happy to talk to the Straight, presumably because we had half-panned his last album. The whole conversation was a bit strained at first, but he opened up after a while. The man talks deceptively like John Wayne; I suspect their egos are much the same.
GORDON LIGHTFOOT: OK, what are we going to start off with?
MIKE QUIGLEY: You switched from BMI to ASCAP recently, didn't you?
GL: I switched from ASCAP to CAPAC.
RICK McGRATH: Oh, and what were the reasons for that?
GL: No reason at all. It was a gesture of Canadianism...
RM: Speaking of Canadianism...
GL: Actually, they've chased me around for quite some time to see if I would join the Canadian Songwriters' Society, and I was a member of the American one, and so finally after about two years I said OK, so give me the goddamn papers and I'll join CAPAC. I don't know why I did it, I have no reason whatsoever.
MQ: There's no difference in the way they handle your royalties and things like that?
GL: I don't know a thing about it, I'm not into finances.
GL: I'm not even interested in money. As a matter of fact probably my income tax supports a lot of people in this country.
RM: What are your political views about what happens in this country?
GL: I find it totally unpredictable. I know that we're being inexorably taken over by the Americans. Without a doubt. I don't mean invaded or anything like that, just taken over. By degrees.
RM: On that happy note...
GL: Wait till I get some cheese. (Stands and walks over to tray filled with goodies)
Bruce Bissell (Warner Promo Man): You guys sure have rhythm.
MQ: You sit down in the Bayshore lobby for half an hour...
GL: Did we keep you waiting?
RM: Sitting down there eating a hamburger and listening to stereo Muzak is not my idea of paradise.
GL: I know what you mean, I've lived in hotels for years.
MQ: How many interviews have you had today?
GL: Two straight and one freak-out.
MQ: Which one was that?
GL: The guy from CBC Radio (laughs).
RM: How do you like doing all of them in a row.
GL: Well, my throat hurts. I should be in bed. I've been boogyin' all night long. And I had to get up to get down here and I want to be back in bed by three.
RM: So what have you got next in the way of records? (laughs) How many times have you been asked that question? (FM voice) Gordon, what's your next record going to be?
(Lightfoot turns slightly and farts loudly into the microphone. Much laughter, etc.)
RM: Is that a critical opinion?
GL: That's a political opinion.
MQ: What's this 25 verse song that you're doing now. They mentioned it in "Canadian Composer". Will it be on the next album?
GL: No. I'd never record that song. (pause).
MQ: (Laughs) Just to fill the listeners in on what's not happening, Gordon Lightfoot, could you perhaps tell us what the song is about?
GL: Do I have to? I mean, after all, it is 25 verses long. I could be here all day.
RM: In ten words or less what is the general theme of the composition, perhaps? Is it Canadian nationalism stuff like the Great Train Robbery trilogy? Pollution? Ecology?
GL: No, it's not one of those. The Great Train Robbery trilogy? No.
RM: Do you still think of yourself in anyway as a Canadian writer?
GL: Yes, I think so. I am a Canadian.
RM: Do you get your material from Canadian situations?
GL: No, I get them from life in general. I believe. I mean I consider myself to be a part of the overall music scene. I don't have any hangups about Canadians being oppressed and talent being held down. The only problem we have here is an enormous influence from the USA on all sides. And how can you fight against that kind of strength. I mean, well let me be more explicit: you have a 4500 mile border and it goes alongside the most powerful country on earth. They're putting out this mass of product, which also includes the music bag. So they're beaming in across the border with their radio stations and everything, so how are you going to fight that. So it gives Canadians a complex to have that happening, not only in the music business, but all business in Canada. We're very heavily influenced.
MQ: What do you think about the new 30/70 Canadian content regulations? Someone said it was going to bring out a lot of junk.
GL: I don't think they should regulate the music field. I don't see how they can regulate the arts.
RM: They're doing it.
GL: I don't know, I just don't know what to make of it. It happened, I don't know anything about it, all I know it's a new rule for 30% Canadian product I guess it's good. It's definitely going to influence the music industry. There'll probably be some new studios built...
MQ: There's lots of opportunities. We'd like to see a distinctive Canadian thing happen, and get away from this "join the American industry to make money" trip. It seems like if you want to make money and fame, etc., you have to go to the States.
GL: Not necessarily.
RM: Well, who of any artistic repute hasn't?
GL: Not me.
RM: But you're on an American label.
GL: Yeah, but..
MQ: Did you do your recording on your earlier albums in Canada, or was it done in the States?
GL: Some of it was done in the States -- some in New York, some in Nashville, some in LA.
RM: Did you do that because there were no good studios in Canada?
GL: No, it was a matter of convenience. In other words a producer has to drive through forty minutes of downtown New York traffic and I have to put four guys on a plane and fly 500 miles. I guess he figured it was more convenient for us. It's a matter of wherever it's right for everyone to get together and get it done. I did one session while I was in Nashville doing the Johnny Cash show.
MQ: Have you done any more TV shows?
GL: CTV, Nashville North, David Frost, oh, that was a bummer.
MQ: Are you pretold what the questions are, or is it really spontaneous?
GL: Not only was I not told what the questions were going to be, I was lucky to get on. They cut me off in the middle of my second song with the end of the show. I'll never go near the bugger again. Well, I guess it's his producer that's to blame. And then there was Carol Channing yapping away and George Jessel and you can't shut them up. I was hoping to get on and get rolling and they'd let me keep going, like he did some of the other guys. And we were sitting around all day, we had a list of songs all ready to go in rapid fire -- we were really going to get rolling and he'd love every song and he'd say sing another one and sing another...
RM: Clap your hands...
GL: And all of a sudden it came up to the last five minutes of the show and we were starting to wonder if we were going to get on and then all of a sudden this silly-ass producer comes running out and says you gotta change your last song, have you got something shorter for your second song. So there we were in a complete dither. And we went on and I launched into "Early Mornin' Rain" and he came running over and said "Did you write that?" and I felt like saying "Of course I wrote it" and he said "Do you write all your own songs" and then he said "Well, give us another quickie", so I launched into "Saturday Clothes" and they cut me off right in the middle of it. All of a sudden everyone started yelling and I was still singing and the show was over. And the applause sign was flashing on and off and it was a nightmare. So we went out and in order to make the thing I had to hire a private plane to get us up to Toronto and it cost something like $680 to fly up in a Grand Commander from New York to Toronto at one o'clock in the morning and there were no peanuts left because Sly and the Family Stone cleaned the cat out the night before, so we didn't have any peanuts. All we had was a bottle of whiskey and some pretzels.
RM: Sounds like great lyrics for a song.