All this talk about about Gordon Lightfoot being one of the legends of popular music? As far as he’s concerned, you can toss it out the window of a tour bus.
“This whole thing of legendary status, I don’t look at it that way,” Lightfoot said on the phone from his Toronto home. “Basically, all I want to do is make sure my guitar is tuned before I get on stage.”
That’s typical Canadian modesty from Lightfoot. But the testimonials from younger artists who cite him as a major influence, not to mention endorsements from the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, speak volumes about his status as a legend.
Lightfoot, 75, is on the road this year, criss-crossing Canada and the U.S. on a concert tour that brings him to Rochester on Sunday for a show at Mayo Civic Center.
Audiences can expect to hear a good sampling of Lightfoot’s best-known songs, which include “Beautiful,” “Sundown,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Carefree Highway,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Early Morning Rain.”
And that just scratches the surface of his incredibly deep catalog of great songs.
“We don’t miss any of the standards,” Lightfoot said of his concert repertoire. “About half the show is standards. The other half is in a constant state of rotation. I’ve boiled it all down to about 40 songs that have really stood the test of time.”
After years of playing these songs, Lightfoot doesn’t mess with the successful arrangements. “I might vary the phrasing a little bit,” he said, and added with a chuckle, “I wrote this stuff like it was supposed to stay written.”
But “this stuff,” his life’s work, continues to draw out memories of times and places in the past. “Do I get tired of singing them? No,” he said.
Lightfoot’s songs often tell of romance and heartbreak.
“Some of what you write about, you hope it doesn’t happen to you, but still it does,” said Lightfoot, who has been married and divorced twice. “I draw from personal experience in an unconscious way. It’s all there, and it comes forth and attaches itself to the songs.”
Those songs, with their gentle melodies and insightful lyrics, continue to exert a strong pull on audiences and fellow artists. Neil Young has been playing Lightfoot songs in recent concerts and recorded two of them — “Early Morning Rain” and “If You Could Read My Mind” — on his most recent album. Other artists cite Lightfoot as a major influence.
“I don’t quite see it that way,” Lightfoot said. “I look at Dylan. Now, he would be a huge influence. My influence would be just a small part. Neil Young, I see him as a giant of the industry. I’m honored by it, absolutely.”
As for his own influences, near the top of Lightfoot’s list is Dylan. The two shared the same manager, Albert Grossman, in the late ’60s.
“When I would listen to Bob Dylan songs, I would say, ‘If he can write a song like that…’ So I sat down a couple of weeks later and wrote ‘Early Morning Rain,’ and I knew it came from listening to him.”
After a couple of major health scares in the past 12 years, Lightfoot said he’s feeling fine these days. “I’m even thinking about getting married again,” he said.
If you go
What: Gordon Lightfoot
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mayo Civic Center, 30 Civic Center Drive S.E., Rochester
Tickets: $54.50, $44.50, at the civic center box office (no service fees) and through Ticketmaster online, by phone at 800-745-3000 and at Rochester Walmart shows