What's in the Case?
Guitar: Featured in the case is a 4-string Harmony, Gordon Lightfoot's first-ever childhood guitar, gifted to him at age 12 and a treasured item of his ever since.
Document - Original Copyright Registration: Also on display is the original registration document for the hit song "If You Could Read My Mind" by Gordon Lightfoot. This song is one of the most well-known in his repertoire. It has been performed at Massey Hall countless times and has been covered by stars such as Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, Liza Minnelli, Johnny Cash, and many more.
Handwritten setlist: The exhibited setlist from Canada Day 2018, handwritten by Mr. Lightfoot, marks a significant moment in Massey Hall's history; the final concert that occurred before the venue's temporary 3-year closure for construction and restoration.
Massey Hall has often been referred to as the House of Gord, and for a good reason. Gordon Lightfoot has played Massey Hall more than any other artist in its 128-year history- more than 170 times and counting.
In 1969, as his professional career took off, he released a live album captured at Massey Hall titled Sunday Concert. Additionally, another live album was released featuring more performances at Massey Hall recorded between 1998 and 2001 for an album titled All Live.
The inaugural recipient of the Massey Hall Honours Award, presented on stage in 2014, was the last artist to grace the Allan Slaight Stage at Massey Hall before the temporary closure for the Revitalization in 2018 and the first to play when the Hall reopened in 2021 to wide acclaim. The reopening was extra special for Lightfoot. Appropriately, Toronto Mayor John Tory not only proclaimed November 25, 2021, "Gordon Lightfoot Day" in the City of Toronto, but he presented Lightfoot with the highest civic honour, offering him the Key To The City while on stage at Massey Hall.
Gordon Lightfoot and Massey Hall
Lightfoot's courtship with Massey Hall began when he was a child. Growing up in Orillia, Ontario, he showed early on that he had a gift for music, singing at weddings and at ladies' auxiliary meetings from the time he was twelve. He was destined to one day not only play the country's most famed venue, but become as legendary as the hall is to the cultural fabric of Canada.
Flash back to 1951. That's when, as a young teen, Lightfoot first set foot on this storied stage. The young lad had travelled down the highway from his hometown to perform in a singing competition as part of the ninth annual Stars of the Festival Kiwanis concert, which showcased all of the winners in various age categories. “Massey Hall was a big one for me," says Lightfoot. "To get in there at thirteen and stand up on that stage at that age, it never left me.” Lightfoot was a soprano. He had won his class competition so earned the opportunity to compete as part of this two-night showcase. "You had to get really good at the tune you were doing," Lightfoot recalls, speaking one evening from his Rosedale home. “I would practise for weeks going into the competition. My song was called "Who Is Sylvia?" The place was packed with mothers, teachers, people from the Royal Conservatory and various Kiwanis clubs. I got out there and did my tune. One thing I remember the most from the whole experience was a kid on that show who played the clarinet; he was about sixteen or seventeen years old and I had never heard anybody play the clarinet like that - before or since. It never left me. It was the highlight of the whole thing. After that, my dad took us to one of the big fancy Chinese restaurants downtown."
Lightfoot returned to Massey Hall four years later as a member of a barbershop quartet. They were part of an extravaganza that also featured the Buffalo Bills - one of the great barbershop groups. "We got on the front end of one of their shows; the song writer recalls. A brief appearance in the early sixties as part of a hootenanny show produced by musicologist Oscar Brand followed, but the songwriter would not return again for nearly a decade. Instead, he would first hone his songs and his craft in the coffee houses of Yorkville, north of Massey Hall. Before he earned a place in the Yorkville scene, Lightfoot built a following at the Steeles Tavern, an iconic venue on Yonge Street located between Sam the Record Man and A&A Records, just north of Massey Hall. It's here that the young songwriter first bonded with local singer Ronnie Hawkins; the pair discovered they shared a love of music and women.
Once Lightfoot tested out his original song and gained more confidence, he moved on from the Steeles Tavern to regular gigs in the coffee houses of Yorkville, playing for ten times the money.
In 1967, Lightfoot's promoter Bernie Fiedler knew the time was right for the legendary performer to have his first solo show at Massey Hall. The performer’s debut album (Lightfoot) had come out in the United States on Warner Bros. Records the previous year and was doing well on the strength of some of his best-loved compositions: "For Lovin' Me,” "Early Morning Rain, “Steel Rail Blues, and “Ribbon of Darkness." The twenty-eight-year-old Lightfoot earned approximately five thousand dollars for his first solo appearance at Massey Hall.
It's apropos that Canadas most treasured songwriter would make his solo Massey Hall debut during the country’s centennial. A critic for the Globe and Mail at the time described the show as a “country-and-Lightfoot parade of Canadiana. From this debut, Lightfoot started tradition of playing a run of shows at the hall every year. In 1978, he broke his own record, playing ten sold-out shows in nine days.
– Excerpt from Massey Hall by David McPherson, published by permission of Dundurn Press
As a singer/songwriter, Lightfoot has sold millions of albums and singles as well as earning numerous gold and platinum records. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour. In addition to his 13 JUNO Awards, Lightfoot has received four Grammy nominations, has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was the first recipient of the Massey Hall Honours Award, was given the Key to the City of Toronto, and he was also immortalized on a limited edition postage stamp issued by Canada Post in 2007.
His songs have been covered by artists including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, Eric Clapton, Paul Weller and Glen Campbell.
More from Gordon Lightfoot
Watch: If You Could Read My Mind Documentary trailer
Watch: Gordon Lightfoot interview from Massey Hall in 2015 with CBC The National with Peter Mansbridge