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I was born in 1950, so I remember all the Gordon Lightfoot hits of the 70's, but though I liked his music, I never thought of him as a guitar player, and I certainly never associated him with bluegrass or country.

So why did Tony Rice record a whole tribute album to Gordon Lightfoot?  And why do I see Lightfoot songs popping up so often on country and bluegrass albums?

I went out to the All Music Guide website to research Lightfoot's discography, and I'm still not sure what the connection is.  He seems like a quintessential folkie singer-songwriter guy, not the kind of musician that would attract so much attention in the country and bluegrass world.

Can anyone out there enlighten me?

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William,

Listen to his lyrics....few write that great. His best stuff never made the radio. See you tomorrow. Steve
William. Tony Rice didn't "record a whole tribute album to Gordon Lightfoot," that CD was a compilation of various Lightfoot songs that Tony had recorded and played over the decades going right back to the time when he was playing with JD Crowe back in the mids 70s to early 80s. BG musicians were forever picking great tunes and songs from different genres and eras and putting the BG twist on them. I think of Earl Scruggs playing "Farewell Blues" or Clarence White playing "Sheik of Araby" or "When You're Smiling." Like you I was a teenager when Gordon Lightfoot was setting Canada on fire, and as much as I like Red Shea as a guitar player, I have pretty much worn out that Tony Rice CD....It's my go-to choice for Gordon's songs, rather than the electric-backed original versions. As far as tribute CDs, there is a great one by an Eastern Canadian JP Cormier, who is a monster player on banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin and who knows what else.....it's called "The Long River" JP has a wonderful voice and plays ALL the instruments on the CD. By the way, do you play the Norman Blake tune..."Billy Gray" :)
Thanks for the clarification. Still, the fact that Tony accumulated an entire album's worth of Gordon Lightfoot material shows how much he must have appreciated his songs.

I'm learning that there's more "crossover" in bluegrass than I initially realized. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that good musicians recognize a good song regardless of the genre in which it originated. I'm reminded of what Duke Ellington said when asked to define "jazz." To paraphrase, he said that, to his mind, there were only two kinds of music: good music and bad music.

I appreciate the tip about the JP Cormier tribute CD. I'll try to check that out. And I guess I'm going to have to learn Billy Gray. Perhaps that should become my signature tune. : )
Greg Y., you're a JP fan too, eh. The guy is unreal. He's been a huge inspiration to me; just listening to him makes me want to grab whatever strings are near. I got the chance to see JP at the Normaway Inn when I was on my yearly trek back to Cape Breton. He regularly does shows there during the summer Cape Breton circuit. It was a real small, intimate setting in an old horse barn. Hilda (his wife that accompanies him on piano) and JP played for about 3hrs. It was amazing, and I got to sit about 6 feet away.
That is a darn good question.A lot of other music is coming into bluegrass,Fletwood Mac comes to mind off hand,and I am not complaining it is fresh and a new approach to bringing in new fans which can only be good.I think the acoustic sound lends itself to all music,how about some acid rock.Just joking!
As long as nobody tries to arrange Stairway to Heaven for bluegrass, I'm cool with it.
I get that Gordon was a great songwriter, but I don't think he stands alone in that category. I would suggest that John Hiatt, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Bob Dylan, just to name a few, have written a lot of songs which would hold up well against anything Gordon has done. I don't think that demeans Gordon in any way. There is a broad and rich tradition of singer/songwriters all of whom deserve our attention and our respect.

I'm definitely gonna get some Gordon Lightfoot on my CD player, though, and I thank everybody for the comments and suggestions. There's so much great music that I don't really know about, and finding out about it is a real thrill.
I was born in 52 so I, too, grew up listening to "Four Chord Gord". He never seemed to fit into one genre that could get him air play but I bought all his records and song books and play quite a few of his tunes to this day. One thing I never understood was that "Four Chord Gord" name. Most of his songs have more than 4 chords and a lot of Jazz style chords too. I'll play say, "Lazy Morning" , "Your Love's Return" or even "Saturday Clothes" and ask the audience if they have heard them before. Almost no one. Then I ask who they thought might have wrote them and they answer with a few Jazz artists or think I wrote them. When I tell them they are Gordon Lightfoot works they all look puzzled. I think people have judged him without listening to him. The guy is an amazing song writer!
Just to clarify, I understand and appreciate that bluegrass artists often incorporate tunes from other genres. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't. When it works well, it enriches the bluegrass repertoire and perhaps attracts new listeners to the fold which is great.

My original question wasn't about why a bluegrass artist might happen to cover a Gordon Lightfoot song. That doesn't surprise me. My question was why Gordon Lightfoot, seems to be covered so often by so many, and why Tony Rice, the pinnacle of BG guitarists in my opinion, recorded an entire album's worth of Lightfoot material.

I've gotten a lot of good answers which I think can be summed up by saying that "Gordon Lightfoot is a great songwriter." I've also gotten a number of recommendations for specific Lightfoot songs beyond the hits with which I'm familiar. So I'm very happy I asked the question. Now I have a reason to explore Lightfoot's music in more depth. And I look forward to that.
I am fairly new to this site, but so far I like it a lot. I've joined a number of other guitar-centric sites (I won't mention which ones) and while there's a lot more chatter on them, some of the discussions get pretty wonky---you know where you see 50 posts from people who upgraded their bridge pins with various materials and how life-changing the results were.

I don't mean to disparage people who want to discuss their gear. I myself started a thread on this website asking about "heavy picks" because I was curious what people thought were the best picks for bluegrass playing. I just don't like to get too caught up in gear fetishism.

So I appreciate the fact that posts on this website come at a slower pace and tend to be more insightful and thoughtful. The one thing I have seen on this site that isn't appealing to me is that there seem to be certain products which people are consistently plugging to the point of being marketeers. But overall, I've enjoyed the responses I've gotten to my posts and I hope I can become an equally good contributor to the posts that others make.

There are definitely some knowledgeable people on this site.
A bit late adding to this but, here's a slightly different slat on it. There are many good novelists.. but some see their work appear as movies time and time again; Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, for example, while others (who may be just as good, or even better - don't). Why? Basically because some works translates better into other formats. In this context, you find songs by Gordon Lightfoot translate into bluegrass very easily. Townes van Zandt would not translate half as well (in my opinion!). Musically, it has a lot to do with the changes, the timing, and the words, of course.

Andy
I'd just about forgotten about this post of mine, and tonight as I was searching Amazon for Mac Wiseman albums, I found, ta da....."Mac Wiseman Sings Gordon Lightfoot." Recorded in '77 and re-released on CD in '02, this is an interesting recording. To be honest, I didn't care for it based on the samples, but others may disagree. Feel free to tell me I'm all wet, but I just don't think Mac's covers of these songs ring true.

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