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Gordon Lightfoot returns to the ‘Carefree Highway’

GordLightfoot performs Genesee Theatre June 21.

Gordon Lightfoot performs at the Genesee Theatre June 21.

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Gordon Lightfoot

8 p.m. June 21

Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan

Tickets, $45/$55/$75

(800) 982-2787;

Updated: June 19, 2013 5:16AM

Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t always an international music legend, but he’s had star capacity since the fourth grade when the school principal played Lightfoot singing over the intercom.

“The song was ‘Irish Lullaby,’ ” said Lightfoot, speaking by phone from his home in Toronto. “The principal had a really ahead-of-its-time recording machine, a lathe, that could cut a record right into the plastic. We made one of those with Mrs. Murphy playing the piano. They broadcast it and it was really quite thrilling.”

Lightfoot began singing at weddings at age 10, and at age 12 won a vocal competition and performed for the first time at Massey Hall in Toronto. His musical evolution would continue with stints on local radio, as the soloist in church choir and as part of barbershop quartets, dance bands and in skits. He took lessons on piano and taught himself to play drums and percussion.

As he neared the end of high school, Lightfoot decided to study jazz and composition.

“In high school [jazz] gained a resistant few of us,” said Lightfoot, “and so I decided to go to a jazz school, Westlake College, in Los Angeles. I went to take a theory course at this music school, and everyone in my little town thought I was going out to the deep end,” he said, chuckling. “And they wondered that for a few years afterward.”

Lightfoot returned to Canada and became involved in various collaborative musical acts, including the Two Tones duet, did some recording, did more songwriting, and the rest, as they say, is history, with Lightfoot achieving international fame as a songwriter, performer and recording artist. He has had five Grammy nominations, won multiple Junos, received the highest civilian awards in Canada, has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City, is on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and in 2012 received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. His iconic hits include “Sundown,” “Early Morning Rain,” “Carefree Highway,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

“I think [‘Edmund Fitzgerald’ is based on] a traditional old Irish dirge I heard when I was a baby,” he said. “I had an Irishman remind me of that when I was singing one night in Dublin. Then all of a sudden there was a news story on TV saying that the Edmund Fitzgerald had sunk. And so I had the tune and it kind of came together. I wrote it as a folk song over the next couple of months. I no idea it would be a popular song; it was recorded in one afternoon.”

Lightfoot, 74, performs June 21 at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan as part of his “50 Years on the Carefree Highway” tour.

“For the tour, we have a plane, a bus and an 18-wheeler, 12 people traveling,” Lightfoot said. “It’ll be a five-piece band, and many moments of interesting things going on at the shows. In Waukegan, I’ll do a solo of ‘Pony Man.’ ”

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