Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot

Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot celebrated his 80th birthday onstage in his Canadian hometown of Orillia, Ontario, playing his 80th show of 2018 as part of a seven-night run he says he'd agreed to do months in advance. There was just one caveat.

"A long time ago, they asked me if I would do it," Lightfoot says. "I said, 'Well if I'm still walking around, I will be there.' And of course, I was."

In a call from his home in Toronto, the folk-rock icon jokes more than once about shuffling off this carefree highway. But he has already stared down a few life-threatening medical crises in the past 15 years and finds himself today feeling healthy, happy and ready to head out on a tour titled "80 Years Strong." The tour hits Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, N.H., on Saturday, May 18, at 8 p.m., and The Wilbur Theatre on Sunday, May 19, at 8 p.m.

And that, Lightfoot says, is still what he loves more than almost anything other than his wife, Kim, who travels with him and the band, and his six kids and five grandchildren.

"When I get out on the road, I really love it, getting out and doing the shows," he says. "It becomes your central focus, doing the shows and doing them well.


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Every night you're like a team -- you want to go out and win, just to make sure that everything is in perfect tune and be loose about it, too."

The creator of songs such as "Sundown," "If You Could Read My Mind" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," Lightfoot says he and his band, many of whom have been with him for years, still get to each theater early to tune their instruments, do their sound check and try their hardest to make sure the show goes off without a hitch.

"Tuning and intonation -- when you get that right, that's what really makes it fun," Lightfoot says. "I'm really careful about tuning because I know how much it can add. It can add volume. It can add energy."

Lightfoot's last studio album, "Harmony," goes back to 2004, and while in recent years he has said he wasn't all that interested in writing and recording new material, this year he's close to finishing a new record.

Or at least a new record with a lineage that stretches back to 2001, before an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2002 knocked him down and nearly out for good, he says.

"I found some stuff, actually, some very good stuff that got, should we say, misplaced," he says. "It was right back before I had the aneurysm, back about 2001. A lot of stuff that's going to be on there was recorded a long time ago, like 18, 19 years ago. But it's really good."

Lightfoot said he's currently writing the band arrangements, though he says some of the songs he laid down years ago with just his voice and guitar are so good he might leave them as solo numbers on the album.

"You recall Bruce Springsteen when he did his 'Nebraska' album, he just played everything solo," Lightfoot says. "He's capable of that, but I have enough here to have half an album (solo). I know that there's enough material there, plus whatever I have produced on my own in the meantime. A few other tunes and I've got a dozen songs, half of it solo, and half will have my band."

That aneurysm put him in a coma for six weeks, and while he wasn't released from the hospital for more than three months, he still oversaw the completion of the sessions for "Harmony" from his hospital bed.

"Once I became cognizant again, the first thing I started thinking about was, 'OK, let's start,'" Lightfoot says. "But the thing is, they missed a few of them. I'm glad they missed them because there's some really good stuff there."

Around that same time in 2002, feeling his own mortality a bit, he decided to grant Canadian music journalist Nick Jennings the rights to do his biography posthumously. When he got better, and stayed better, the project went on hold for years, finally arriving in 2017 to critical acclaim.

"I don't even know if I'd be capable of doing a memoir," he says of why he decided to let Jennings do the book. "I don't know how to type. It's one of the things I always admired about Bob Dylan -- he was a real fast typer. He had an old Underwood and he'd go on that thing, I'll tell you."

Dylan, like Lightfoot, still tours steadily, though increasingly peers and friends, such as Paul Simon, have started to announce farewell tours. Lightfoot says he plans to be more like a different friend, John Prine, who is still playing concerts after a serious bout of cancer.

"I had one that almost killed me, and when I got better, I said, 'Well, I'm not going to stop,'" Lightfoot says. "And I'm not going to even say anything if I feel like stopping. I'm just going to keep going and keep up my routine.

"I'm going to go until, well, I guess until I fall down. Whatever it takes."

Gordon Lightfoot plays Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, N.H., on May 18 ($70-$85), and The Wilbur in Boston on May 19 ($50-$75).