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After three marriages, six children, alcoholism, Gordon Lightfoot is happy to still be performing

Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot.
Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot. - Peter J Thompson/Postmedia

'I’m still doing it, and I’m so happy I’m still doing it'

Gordon Lightfoot may be 80 years old (five years older than Mick Jagger!), but he’s got a new album in the works and 40 tour dates in Canada and the U.S. this year. He has to keep moving; his fans have been following him for decades.

“They’re about 10 years behind,” he says, relaxing in his home in Toronto’s ritzy Bridle Path neighbourhood, and temporarily out of the limelight. “It’s always been that way; when I was 28, they were 18.”

He does the math. “I cover about 60 years; a couple of generations, I suppose.”

What keeps him at it? “I love the work,” he says simply. “I’m still doing it, and I’m so happy I’m still doing it. Everybody’s got that mindset. I like to stay hot.”

Lightfoot is flanked by Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe, co-directors of the documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind , which premiered at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto this year, and starts its regular theatrical rollout on May 24.

Their history with the singer-songwriter goes back to the ’90s, when they did a segment on him for a doc called Country Gold. They later worked with him on the Junos – he’s won 16 in his career, and also performed at various ceremonies. So when the notion of making a feature-length doc about him came up, so did they.

“Joannie and I just kept hanging around,” Kehoe explains with a grin. Lightfoot is more direct: “I have faith in their ability.”

The doc covers the ups and downs of Lightfoot’s life, including his three marriages, six children, alcoholism and sobriety, and the aneurysm in 2002 that almost took his life, leaving him in a coma.

“I woke up from that hearing ‘Minstrel of the Dawn,’” he says, referring to one of his 1970 hits. ”For six weeks, I was unconscious, and my sister was getting them to play stuff to see if it would jog my brain enough to wake me up.” Turns out Lightfoot can raise Lightfoot.

The documentary also reminds viewers just how many musicians have covered his songs. A partial list includes Neil Young, Liza Minelli, Herb Albert, Olivia Newton John, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yokum, Don McLean, Petula Clark, Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, Judy Collins, Elvis Presley, Diana Krall, Sarah McLachlan and Peter Paul & Mary. But not Frank Sinatra.

“Sinatra tried ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ and ended up throwing the music on the floor,” he recalls. “He said, ‘I can’t do this.’ ”

The new album — he’s still tinkering with the format, but says it might just be him and a guitar, akin to Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska — will include some new songs as well as some older material that has never been released

“I have stuff that I wrote a long time ago that I’m getting ready to use right now,” he says happily. “It was lost and I found it. I found it when I was cleaning out my office one day. As strange as it may sound.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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