Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Gordon Lightfoot - Did She Mention My Name? / Back Here On Earth (1968 canada, brilliant protest folk rock)

Within about a minute of the start of “Wherefore & Why,” the opening track on Gordon Lightfoot’s Did She Mention My Name?, you knew something was a little different. This third album, released in April 1968, featured the fast-rising Canadian troubadour’s first use of strings, to elegant effect. But the essence was the same: Lightfoot, 29 at the time of the LP’s release, seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of top-drawer compositions to call upon. By the time it emerged, he had already written more than 200 songs.

The new batch was arranged by John Simon, who took over as Lightfoot’s producer, for this album only, at a time when he was becoming one of America’s hottest studio properties. He had just overseen the Songs of Leonard Cohen album, released a few weeks earlier, and as 1968 went on, Simon would also produce the equally hallowed Music From Big Pink by The Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears‘ Child Is Father To The Man, and Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills.

Lightfoot’s new set contained some of the most memorable songs of his early years, including the intense “Black Day In July,” written about the Detroit riots (“pulsating rhythm item with compelling lyric content,” said Billboard) and the gorgeous, heartbreaking “The Last Time I Saw Her,” which would attract a hit country cover by Glen Campbell. Its words eloquently described the end of an affair: “The last time I saw her face/Her eyes were bathed in starlight/And her hair hung long/The last time she spoke to me/Her lips were like the scented flowers/Inside a rain-drenched forest.”

“It’s about the breakup of a marriage,” wrote Lightfoot in the liner notes to 1999’s Songbook. “In a way, you’re predicting what’s going to take place, and then it happens. In some sense you play the scene out in your mind, and after the fact, it hits you how close you were to the mark. It makes it a little tough to perform sometimes, but not tough enough to keep a great song down. In a way, it covers the same ground as ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ did years later.”

The album also featured the whimsical “May I,” the much-played “Pussywillows, Cat-Tails,” the unusually brassy “I Want To Hear It From You,” and the more folk-based title track, of which Lightfoot said: “It goes back to your high school sweetheart. You know you’re never going to date her again, but you meet up with a friend from the home town and you ask after her, and about all the other things you’ve missed since you moved away. You want to reconnect with your roots.”

Like its predecessor The Way I Feel, released 12 months earlier, the new LP featured lead acoustic guitar by Red Shea and bass by John Stockfish. Joining the team were widely-traveled drummer Herbie Lovelle and another hugely in-demand studio man, lead guitarist Hugh McCracken.

Lightfoot’s achievements in his home country were recognized at the MIDEM music industry fair in Cannes. He was given the MIDEM International Trophy Award as “bestselling Canadian male singer” in the year between July 1966 and June 1967. Did She Mention My Name? achieved a Canadian chart position, at No.21, and his live engagements included folk festivals in San Diego and San Francisco – the latter his West Coast debut – and a residency at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in April.

In March, he was also the subject of a Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) Show of the Week TV special called Wherefore & Why, after the LP’s opening song, in which he featured with Toronto scenester “Rompin’” Ronnie Hawkins and folk singer Bonnie Dobson, all signing Gordon’s songs. Hawkins had recently released a single of his countryman’s “Home From The Forest,” a track from The Way I Feel.

Covers of Lightfoot’s expanding catalog were coming from all angles: his friend George Hamilton IV recorded another track from that set, “Song For A Winter’s Night,” while 20th Century Fox signings the Raftsmen cut “Hands I Love,” as had Harry Belafonte a few months earlier. The singer-songwriter’s success was spreading to the big screen, too: he wrote and sang the theme tune for the 1968 movie Fade In, starring Burt Reynolds.

Canadian trade magazine RPM was sounding justifiably proud of the artist’s ever greater profile in a January 1968 report, just before he won Top Male Vocalist in the publication’s annual music poll. “The Lightfoot explosion is just about the most exciting thing that has happened to the Canadian music scene,” they wrote. “He has an over-abundance of talent as a composer and artist and the world is just beginning to realise it.”

As 1968 came to an end, Gordon Lightfoot would celebrate his 30th birthday with a great sense of satisfaction. His busy year, and an intense period of creative and commercial growth, culminated in a fourth studio album, Back Here On Earth, that would prove to be his last studio set for United Artists. The name of the gifted singer-songwriter was now on lips far beyond just his native Canada.

Another album meant another change of producer, as Lightfoot, again recording in Nashville, now worked with New Yorker Elliot Mazer. Like John Simon, who oversaw Did She Mention My Name?, released at the beginning of the year, Mazer would count The Band among his credits, as well as Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Neil Young. As earlier, the new set included songs that the artist would revisit when his profile was even higher, notably the sorrowful and elegant “The Circle Is Small,” which he revived for Endless Wire almost a decade later.

The LP had a more simple, acoustic feel, with support only from guitarist Red Shea and bassist John Stockfish, but given extra depth by Lightfoot’s own accompaniment on both six and 12-string guitars. Another track, the haunting “Affair On 8th Avenue,” drew on his frequent visits to the US, where he was now playing clubs such as the Bitter End in New York and the Cellar Door in Washington.

“Cold Hands From New York” was another diary entry by a stranger in Manhattan. “I came down through Albany to New York to find what I’d been missin’,” he wrote, in a travelog with references to such landmarks as the Lincoln Tunnel and Central Park. “I came down to live alone in New York, the city of the living/There were fortunes at my feet but most of men were taking, none were giving, or forgiving.”

No fewer than eight of the LP’s 11 tracks attracted covers, including one the following year by Waylon Jennings, who gave it an attractive, slowed down country ballad treatment with vocal accompaniment from the Kimberleys. Another cut from Back Here On Earth, “Gypsy,” gained a 1974 rendition by Petula Clark.

Lightfoot’s touring in support of the album included a show at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles, where Robert Hilburn of the L.A. Times wrote: “He weaves folk, country and mainstream pop influences into a distinctly contemporary style of his own. His lyrics, melodies and delivery share a common honesty and intensity.” Time magazine afforded Lightfoot prestigious coverage as the record emerged, and early in 1969, his preeminence was underlined as he won RPM’s Best Folk Singer title, keeping Joni Mitchell in second place and Leonard Cohen in third.
by Paul Sexton, January 1, 2024 and November 1, 2023
1. Wherefore And Why - 2:54
2. The Last Time I Saw Her - 5:11
3. Black Day In July - 4:13
4. May I - 2:17
5. Magnificent Outpouring - 2:28
6. Does Your Mother Know - 3:36
7. The Mountains And Maryann - 3:35
8. Pussywillows Cat Tails - 2:49
9. I Want To Hear It From You - 2:21
10. Something Very Special - 3:17
11. Boss Man - 2:05
12. Did She Mention My Name - 2:26
13. Long Way Back Home - 3:05
14. Unsettled Ways - 1:52
15. Long Thin Dawn - 2:59
16. Bitter Green - 2:43
17. The Circle Is Small - 3:26
18. Marie Christine - 2:52
19. Cold Hands From New York - 4:17
20. Affair On 8th Avenue - 3:26
21. Don't Beat Me Down - 3:14
22. The Gypsy - 2:46
23. If I Could - 4:11
All Music and Lyrics by Gordon Lightfoot
Tracks 1-12 from 1968 LP "Did She Mention My Name?"
Tracks 13-23 from 1968 LP "Back Here On Earth"

*Gordon Lightfoot - Vocals, Acoustic, Rhythm Guitars
*John Arthur Stockfish - Bass
*Laurice Milton Shea - Lead Guitar
*Herb Lovelle - Drums (Tracks 1-12)
*Huey McCracken - Guitar (Tracks 1-12)
*John Simon - String Arrangements (Tracks 1-12)

1976  Summertime Dream