Turns out Lightfoot’s touring crew has been a tight-knit outfit for decades. For instance, Lightfoot’s bass player has been with him for 44 years, his drummer 37, and even the production crew, tour manager and bus driver have been around for at least 20 years.
And celebrating 50 years of music takes a lot of touring: expect Lightfoot to be on the road through the year.
There have been a lot of tours. Anything special this time around?
Well, it’s “50 Years Of Carefree Highway,” 50 years of hit records. His first one was “Remember Me” in 1962. It was the same month as “Love Me Do” by The Beatles. He’s rotating some deeper album cuts into the set and he has a lot of nice stories and banter during the show that kind of takes you into the journey. He still plays all the hits.
We’re doing a lot of national press. His newest album, a live record called All Live, was released last year in April. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2012.
I was told he was extraordinarily busy – his only interview time available was, like, 10:30 p.m. on a Friday.
(laughs) Yeah. That’s his nature. He does a lot of press but between the family and professional obligations, he’s real busy with his time. He’s a real perfectionist. This is a 50 year anniversary tour but he’s been doing this for even longer. The band still rehearses every Friday at his house as the schedule permits – once a month, three times a month depending on the schedule. And after all this time he’s still trying to nail down the intonations. He’s always working on the songs – old ones, songs he’s bringing back into the rotation. He goes to the gym six to seven days a week. One of his greatest personal pastimes is managing his time.
He’ll arrive at the venue at 1:30 p.m., and start tuning his guitar. He rehearses at 2:30, sound checks at 3:30. Chow is at 5 p.m., then tunes the guitar some more. And the show’s not until 8, so it’s a real ritual. A band together this long normally does not have two-hour soundcheck rehearsals every show, but he’s a real stickler for accuracy and dialing those songs in. It’s pretty remarkable.
There probably won’t be another record of new songs so all of his focus goes into the live shows – getting there, getting back. It’s two 45-minute halves with a 20-minute intermission and no opening act so you’re talking 100 minutes of singing, 50-60 times a year at age 74.
To get everything there, I have to put together a bus and a truck. We bring our own sound and lights, our own soundman, light man. He only flies on a private jet so there’s quite a bit of attention needed to get the show on the road in a way that he wants it done.
What are the audience demographics?
It’s 30 years old to 70. His catalog is so deep that younger people stumble upon him. And you can spend months digging into this catalog – lyrics are like poems. So we see new faces coming out of the woodwork every year. There always seems to be a 30-year-old base at all of the shows.
I may see the show five or 10 times a year and I’ll see the same people from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. People will take work off for four or five days and go see four or five Lightfoot shows. So he has a fan base that moves around with him. But we put him in the trades in the right way and he gets rediscovered.
How long is the tour?
We’re going through the end of the year. He’ll do two or three weeks, with time off. We have a June run that gears up on the 15th. We have a July-August run. We’ve got a run in September going into October, and another starting in late October going into the middle part of November.
Does he do meet and greets?
Not as a rule but on occasion he’ll do them. It depends on the mood and the schedule and if we don’t have to be out of there right away. But he signs every autograph and I’ve seen him in the alley behind the Paramount in Denver signing autographs in the rain.
Any talk of him retiring?
Never. I don’t think he’ll ever retire. This is what he does and all he can do. It’s what he must do. He’s a true purist. He’s 100 percent on the clock, putting music into the shows. He’ll do it as long as the fans keep showing up and the warmth from the crowd is getting warmer as time goes on.
I guess there are only a few people with this large of a catalog who are still alive, and he shows up in person!