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Gordon Lightfoot music sees popularity surge following folk music legend's death

TORONTO — John Stinson had been listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s 1975 song, “Now and Then” on Monday shortly before it was announced that the Canadian folk music icon had died at 84.
Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot strums his guitar in his Toronto home on April 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

TORONTO — John Stinson had been listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s 1975 song, “Now and Then” on Monday shortly before it was announced that the Canadian folk music icon had died at 84.

Ironically, it’s one of the few songs that Stinson doesn’t perform as the lead singer of his Gordon Lightfoot Tribute band, which has seven shows planned this summer across Ontario.

The 68-year-old from Aurora said he's always felt the significance of Lightfoot's music when performing the songs in bars throughout the province and hearing audience's admiration of the lyrics.

"I've always known the influence of it, obviously, from the position I'm sitting in," he said of Lightfoot's legacy.

"But what does it mean to everyone else as it filters across the country? What of his many songs are going to be the most lasting? Is it going to be 'If you Could Read My Mind?' Or is it going to be 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?'"

Lightfoot, one of the most renowned voices to emerge from Toronto's Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, died at Sunnybrook Hospital on Monday evening after suffering numerous health issues in recent decades.

As fans mourn the Orillia-born legendary singer-songwriter, Toronto record stores said they are already seeing more customers trying to get their hands on his most popular hits.

"I've sold more Gordon Lightfoot today than I have probably since January," said Piers Charnley, associate manager at Kops Records on Queen Street West.

"A couple of them were like, they've always wanted them, but they never got around to it and so now's a good time as any so they can actually listen to it again."

Orders have come through for many of Lightfoot's 20 studio albums, including "Don Quixote," "Sundown" and "Summertime Dream."

He said vintage copies of Lightfoot's work can be hard to find, with few modern re-presses available.

Over at Sonic Boom Music on Spadina Avenue, staff said they expect the Lightfoot records on hand will be sold out within days.

"I'm sure every last used record that we've got out there by (Lightfoot) is going to fly off the shelves," said manager Chris Evers.

"We're certainly celebrating his life today for sure. I got in at 9 a.m. and then we started blasting it." 

Evers called Lightfoot's music "timeless" and said he was "Canadian musical royalty."

"A lot of younger folks kind of take for granted that his records are always around because he has been so popular, especially in Canada. I imagine they're probably going to become a bit more scarce now."

Celebrations of Lightfoot's legacy have also been front and centre on digital platforms since his death was announced.

"Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind," a 2019 feature documentary exploring his life and career, had more views on streaming service CBC Gem in the past day than it had in the previous five months, the public broadcaster said in an email.

Spokeswoman Tanya Koivusalo said CBC also planned to re-air the documentary Wednesday on television.

Music streaming services Apple Music and Amazon Music also both said they were spotlighting Lightfoot’s music on their apps on Tuesday. An Amazon Music spokesperson said the music streaming service has seen a more than 750 per cent increase in streams of Lightfoot's music globally since the artist's passing. 

Stinson said Lightfoot's work resonated so deeply with audiences, especially in his home country, because his words helped people feel connections "to the history of Canada."

"They're moved by them quite naturally," Stinson said.

"The music really means so much to the people."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.

Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press