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Gordon Lighftoot knows when to stay and when to go

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Singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot still loves to travel. He just does it in smaller doses these days.
WANT TO GO?Gordon LightfootWHERE: Clay CenterWHEN: 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17TICKETS: $40, $50 and $70INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Canadian folk icon Gordon Lightfoot said when fans come to see him Monday night at the Clay Center they can plan on a little over two hours of entertainment with about a 20-minute break in between sets.The 73-year-old singer/songwriter said, "I know how long to stay and when it's time to go."Otherwise, with his catalog of songs that includes "Care Free Highway," "Sundown," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and about a dozen others, Lightfoot could be on stage half night."People could bring their pillows," he joked.The temptation to go longer is always there, but he thinks two hours is enough for everyone. It gives people what they came to hear, his standards like "Ribbon of Darkness" or "Early Morning Rain" and a few others, without wearing out his welcome. After more than 50 years on the road, Lightfoot said he still enjoys going out and doing shows, but how he approaches touring has changed. "It's a little different now," he acknowledged. "We go out for 15 shows at a time, then take six weeks off."During the height of his career 30 and 40 years ago, Lightfoot said he and his band would go out on tour whether or not they had a record to promote. Now, he takes it easy on himself and everyone around him. They travel by bus, truck and an airplame."The airplane carries the band, the bus carries the crew, and the truck carries the equipment."And he doesn't like being gone too long from Toronto, his home for much of his career. Toronto was the heart of the Canadian music in the 1960s when he started. "That's where I wrote and learned a lot of songs."
Toronto is also where many of his children and grandchildren also live."I like to spend as much time with my kids and grandkids as I can," he said. "There were a lot of rocky roads in the past. I had a couple of marriages go awry, you know?"Lightfoot married twice. His first marriage collapsed in the early 1970s partly because of  his touring, but also because of a tumultuous affair he had with Cathy Smith, a groupie, occasional backup singer and drug dealer connected to The Band's Levon Helm.Smith, who inspired one of Lightfoot's best known hits, "Sundown," would later go to jail for injecting actor/comedian John Belushi with a fatal dose of cocaine and heroin.Lightfoot said of his children and grandchildren, "I owe them a lot so I pay a great deal of attention to them now."Lightfoot gets lots of rest, eats right and he exercises almost every day.
"You have to work out if you do this," he said. "I go to a health club wherever I go. I've got a routine."He and his band also keep up with rehearsals both on and off the road, which isn't unheard of, but not every band does that. Often, on tour, performers consider doing the show as practice enough.Lightfoot doesn't."Being a perfectionist, I try to do better than the night before," Lightfoot said, explaining that he and his band are always digging through the old material, trying to "mine gold veins from the repertoire."He hasn't lost his taste for new material either. Lightfoot said at any given time, usually two or three new songs are underway."But my recording obligations are completed. I just write for the fun of it. The main thing is staying prepared for the shows. I'm not really thinking about doing any more recording. I enjoy the shows too much so there's a lot of preparation, a lot of focus on that."Lightfoot acknowledged his voice isn't quite as strong as it used to be."You lose a little bit off the high end," he said, "but that doesn't matter. I get to choose material that's a good range for me."Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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