Gordon Lightfoot Takes A Look Back in New Documentary 'If You Could Read My Mind'

Gordon Lightfoot
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Mark Horton/Getty Images

This week on the Rhino Podcast, host Rich Mahan welcomes legendary singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot as well as producers Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe to discuss the new documentary If You Could Read My Mind, which spans across the Canadian folk-pop icon's masterful rise to stardom during his over six-decade career. Tune in below as the trio reflect on how the documentary came to life. 

ON WHEN THE FILMMAKERS FIRST PITCHED THE DOCUMENTARY: 

LIGHTFOOT: "They had been wanting to do one - it was suggested that I should do one, about 10 years ago. You know, I had to think about stuff and there it was finally - it came down to the point where we said, 'Well, we're still all walking around. It looks like we're still all walking around, so let's do it.'"

"And so it was done over a period of about a year. I got involved - I didn't see it until it was finished."

MAHAN: "And what was your big takeaway after you saw it? What did you come away thinking."

LIGHTFOOT: "Of course, I thought, you know, I would have done it differently until I had seen it three or four times and seen it all in context. Because the way it was done, it was done the right way. You know, I had faith in the people that were doing it and the two ladies who did it and I knew I was going to like it."

ON LIGHTFOOT'S AFFINITY FOR A GIBSON 12-STRING GUITAR:

MAHAN: "What is it about the Gibson 12-strings and 12-strings in general that you play so much?"

LIGHTFOOT: "Well, you know, they have a long neck and it's a long neck guitar. It has two extra frets on it. I play capo music still. I don't know very many people who do. There was Joni [Mitchell.] There was Steve Earl. There was John Prine. tHaving that extra length on the guitar, you know, it made sense and I always liked the sound of that instrument as a rhythm instrument, so I had incorporated it into my performances and my recording, you know, where it went right back to the start."

MAHAN: "Well, somebody in the documentary said, 'You know, he played 12-strings a lot and damned if I never heard it out of tune,' which is quite a feat! Tuning those things can be a bear."

LIGHTFOOT: "Well, it took a long time for me to learn how to do that. Also I've been learning how to deal with the intonation for the last 50 years. I've been trying to get it up to a 100%. It's like the Simon and Garfunkel tune that I -  they had this immaculate tuning on the instruments to "Scarborough Fair." 

"I've never heard two acoustic guitars that in tune, and I always was striving for that. And about 10 years ago, I started getting it. And, ever since that time, it's become another hobby as my tuning has improved a lot in the last 10 years. It's gotta be paying right on."

ON LIGHTFOOT'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO CANADIAN CULTURE:

MAHAN: "I think a lot of people realize and recognize Gordon's great talent as a songwriter. But I think this documentary really serves to remind everyone what a huge part of the musical community he is and how extensive and deep reaching his music has been and continues to be."

KEHOE: "Well, thank you. That's, that's very nice of you to say, Rich and, and obviously Joanie and I kind of feel the same way. You know, growing up in Canada, being our age, Gordon Lightfoot, just permeated the whole country. No one could even believe he existed, you know? He was just so good and he spoke to Canadians in such a very organic way. It's just who Gord was."

"Sometimes when your idols are, so there, they become part of the wallpaper and Joanie and I just really felt he hadn't been given his due in a way and that it was time to sort of remind people he's not just like, 'Oh yeah, I'm Gordon Lightfoot.' Like this guy is really a great songwriter, artist, cultural communicator, you know, we love it. We love the music."

TOSONI: "One of the things that Martha has always said is that when people ask us, 'What do you hope people come away from the film with?' And she said, 'Well, I hope it makes them go back to his songbook.' 

"And we've almost universally found that people say, 'Holy... I've been listening to him for days now. And I didn't know he did that song,' all kinds of things like that. So it has sparked a renewed interest in Gordon's music, which we're very happy about."

Listen to the rest of the podcast here. 

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