Fabulous Flip Sides of Gordon Lightfoot with Carla Olson’s “Ladies Sing Lightfoot” and Colleen Rae

The Textones’ Carla Olson discusses her new compilation “Ladies Sing Lightfoot” and Colleen Rae reflects on her beginnings in Canada singing a Gordon Lightfoot song and discusses her new album “Holding On To Life”
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Photo by Sherry Rayn Barnett, 1971

Photo by Sherry Rayn Barnett, 1971

PART ONE – CARLA OLSON

GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Ladies Sing Lightfoot dedicated to Robert Carl Olson.

CARLA OLSON: He was my brother who passed away last July, who turned me on to Gordon Lightfoot’s music. He would go to films that had some kind of message and I was his tag-along sister. We would jump into my mom and dad’s Oldsmobile. He would throw me in the trunk, and we would go to the drive-in and only had to pay for one ticket, provided his little sister didn’t suffocate. He was three years older than me. He was my white knight. He told me, “You’ve got to hear this song. It is about a guy breaking up with a girl and it talks about movies and paperbacks.” He had all the Ian Fleming paperbacks, and we would go to all the James Bond movies together. His favorite song was Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”

GM: What a wonderful song that is, a family favorite. It is also the first Gordon Lightfoot song that I heard and that is probably true for most American radio listeners, not hearing his prior Canadian hits. Susan Cowsill sings this song so emotionally on the new album. She told me, “This was recorded during the early months of the pandemic and was one of the only things that I stepped outside of the house to do. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. My dear friend Alex McMurray is an amazing guitarist and he joined me. Rick G. Nelson did a nice job of adding his violin and cello parts. Having them made me feel comfortable to record the song. I was emotionally paralyzed by everything that was going on in 2020. The song at that time was my vehicle to express great sadness for our state of affairs. The song also made me think of my brother Barry, who lived here in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and didn’t survive. I was missing him terribly that week. I think the pandemic reminded me of the atmosphere here during Katrina, impacting my delivery of ‘If You Could Read My Mind.’”

CO: The last show that I did professionally before the lockdown was a tribute to The Lovin’ Spoonful, with The Wild Honey Orchestra, and Susan was there. The whole group of us sang “Do You Believe in Magic.” I sang “The Stories We Could Tell” with John Sebastian. Susan sang “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.” I said to my husband and co-producer Saul Davis, “Susan is the one we should have sing ‘If You Could Read My Mind.’” Every time I listen to that song now, I tear up because I know what she was going through, losing multiple family members in recent years.

GM: The original flip side of “If You Could Read My Mind” was the equally melodic and gentle “Poor Little Allison.”

CO: It has a familiar melody. Every once in a while, Gordon does revisit melodies. In Austin, Texas, where I lived, the A side of the single got so much airplay that you weren’t aware of the flip side, which was the case for many singles, not like a Beatles flip side where that would generally receive airplay, too. Listening to the poetry of “Poor Little Allison,” it seems to be from an observer’s viewpoint versus a personal viewpoint like so many of his songs.

Lightfoot flip side

Gordon Lightfoot

Flip side: Poor Little Allison

A side: If You Could Read My Mind

Top 100 debut: December 26, 1970

Peak position: No. 5

Reprise 0974

GM: On Cleveland radio I heard “Summer Side of Life” in the summer of 1971, and I am shocked that nationally it peaked so low at No. 98. I have always loved that song.

CO: Saul and I both love that song. I think we have only heard him perform it live once. Shawn Barton Vach sings the song on our new album. She is a singer who Saul discovered around a decade ago. She had a band called Hazeldine. They have a song called “Stronger,” which has a beautiful melody and lyrics. She has a lovely voice and plays a wonderful guitar. It is just her on the track, singing and playing.

GM: Let’s go from summer to winter with one of the few I didn’t know, “A Song for a Winter’s Night” by Kristi Callan.

CO: Kristi is from Los Angeles, the daughter of actress K Callan. She is married to one of the guys from the band The Last, who were managed by the late Gary Stewart. Gary was a big fan of Kristi’s band called Wednesday Week, which included Kristi and her sister Kelly. Now Kristi and Kelly have another band called Dime Box and they were also at the tribute to The Lovin’ Spoonful covering the song “Six O’Clock.” Kristi has a gorgeous voice. She also sang at a reunion show for The Textones that we did in Hollywood in 2018 for charity. The story of the song is interesting. Gordon was in Cleveland in a sweltering hotel room during a summer visit to your hometown. In the biography Lightfoot that Nicholas Jennings wrote, which is fabulous, not only gives the chronology of Gordon’s life but also covers the songs and why they were written. It states that Gordon was imagining how wonderful it would be to have snow and sleighbells outside instead of the summer heat. The song showcases his romantic side.

Gordon Lightfoot and Carla Olson photo by Lee Davis 2019

Gordon Lightfoot and Carla Olson photo by Lee Davis 2019

GM: Now from Cleveland let’s go across Lake Erie to Canada, where every hour in the summer of 1974 it seemed like “Sundown” was on the radio. The musical opening on the new version from the duo Darling West reminds me of It’s A Beautiful Day’s “White Bird,” a big favorite of mine.

CO: In 1968 Canned Heat and It’s A Beautiful Day toured together. I drove down from Austin to San Antonio with a friend to see them in a small 3000 seater where I saw The Jimi Hendrix Experience twice. “White Bird” was on the radio in Austin all the time. Then around 1992 I was shopping at a mall in the San Fernando Valley, and I was at a makeup counter talking to the sales clerk there. I said that I was trying to find a concealer to cover up the circles under my eyes because I perform on stage and I perspire a lot. She said, “I used to perform.” I asked her what group she was in and she said, “I was in It’s A Beautiful Day.” I asked, “Are you Linda Laflamme?” She said, “Yes.” I talked with her about the San Antonio show, and she remembered that night and the runner in her stocking that I observed. In L.A. this kind of encounter can happen, and it is quite wonderful. Now back to Darling West, they are a husband and wife team from Norway, just like David and Linda Laflamme in the early It’s A Beautiful Day years. I was turned on to this young couple by a German fan of The Textones. Their instrumentation is very sparse. Tor Krekan plays banjo, and his wife Maris Kreken plays acoustic guitar and they both sing. The blend at the beginning is her acoustic guitar and his banjo.

GM: I learned “Cotton Jenny” as the flip side of a reissue 45 of Anne Murray’s “Danny Song” as back-to-back hits on Capitol, an Anne Murray hit I missed. It’s a peppy song that The Kennedys do a nice job on.

CO: Both Maura and Pete played in Nanci Griffith’s band. When I was playing in my acoustic duo with Todd Wolfe in the summer of 2019, we ended up playing in Syracuse with them. I had met them before in L.A. and I fell in love with their sound and their recordings. Maura is a great producer. Pete has played with a lot of people. They are another remarkable married couple.

GM: I learned “Early Morning Rain” from sheet music. During my college days there were a lot of sheet music stores near where I went to school in Downtown Cleveland. I hadn’t heard the song before, so I used my own tempo on my organ, which was a bit quick. When I heard your version with The Textones on the new album, I was pleased to hear you capture that same brisk tempo in your adaptation. Tom Jr. Morgan’s piano is a nice, unexpected touch on this track which also reminds me a bit of The Pretenders.

CO: That was one of the last sessions that we did before the lockdown. Joe Reed, The Textones’ bassist, was in town coincidentally to visit a friend. Rick Hemmert, The Textones’ drummer, was in town as his daughter was just starting college, and I asked them to come to the studio to join me on “Early Morning Rain.” I was a fan of the song when I was younger because I heard Elvis Presley perform it. There is a guy who puts on an annual Elvis birthday bash tribute show and I always play that song with the house band. I love playing that one because a lot of people don’t recall that Elvis recorded it. He would also sing it live as one of his favorite songs. Ten years ago, I started playing it for the Elvis bashes. On this recording I asked Tom for a big sweeping piano part. The Steinway piano he played on originally belonged to Richard Manuel from The Band, so there is a Canadian connection with that. I added harmony to the song to give it an extra lift. George Callins played his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar part long distance because we were in lockdown, and he couldn’t travel.

GM: You mentioned Rick’s daughter starting college in L.A. Your compilation is filled with musical daughters. Peter Noone’s daughter Natalie sings “Steel Rail Blues.” Then we move from Herman’s Hermits to Moby Grape with Peter Lewis’ daughter Arwen singing “River of Light.” Both Natalie and Arwen also play guitar on the tracks. Then there is Ilsey Juber, the daughter of Wings’ guitarist Laurence Juber. Wings' song “Getting Closer” debuted in the Top 40 the week in 1979 that I proposed to my wife Donna. Ilsey’s grandfather is Sherwood Schwartz, who is known as the producer of television’s The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. In 1992, my daughter Brianna, who was nine at the time, and I attended the Chicago premiere of Gilligan’s Island: The Musical. The music was written by Laurence Juber and his wife Hope, who is Sherwood Schwartz’s daughter. It was a fun show. We learned from the stage that Sherwood Schwartz was in the back of the audience. Brianna and I went to the back of the auditorium after the show, thanked him for his work, and we had a nice conversation. Sherwood told us what made his shows successful is that there wasn’t anything controversial about them, and that they were filled with good, clean fun that an entire family could enjoy. When we got home, Brianna ran up to Donna and told her the big news, “We met Sherwood Schwartz!” Ilsey’s delivery of “The Way I Feel” is tending and haunting. This is another song I didn’t know that I am enjoying on the new collection.

CO: Laurence lives in my neighborhood and I have been in the studio that belonged to his father-in-law. That is where Laurence’s recording studio now is. Laurence is so lovely. He played guitar in his studio and sent it to Ilsey who sang in her studio, as we were all in lockdown. They sent the recording to us to mix. Laurence and Ilsey’s creation became a memorable father and daughter activity like the day you and Brianna met Sherwood Schwartz. Ilsey is very accomplished as a songwriter, a background singer and has done some solo things as well. Her vocal on the song is absolutely stunning.

GM: Another vocal I enjoy is that of Sarah Kramer on “Cold on the Shoulder.” I enjoy Gary Myrick’s guitar playing as well, and we’ll talk more about him when your Americana Railroad collection is released.

CO: “Cold on the Shoulder” was the last recording we did before the lockdown in L.A. and it was pouring down rain, which is very unusual in Southern California! Everyone was hanging out in the small studio. Sarah is a great singer-songwriter. She is also a very in demand trumpet player here in L.A. She has applied her talents by working with so many people over the years. Gary is also great. I had a band with him for a little while. When we grew up together in Texas, he was sixteen and I was seventeen. He was into T. Rex and the British glam-rock sound. He didn’t know much about blues. I was a blues guitarist. I was brought up playing John Mayall and B.B. King songs. We traded knowledge and became good friends. He came out to L.A. in 1970, put a band together, and eventually was on his way as Gary Myrick and The Figures with their song “She Talks in Stereo.” His track on Americana Railroad is just smoking.

GM: “Carefree Highway” is nicely sung by Shayna Adler with Kaitlin Wolfberg on violin, who I first heard with Louise Goffin.

CO: Shayna did a great job, and I met Kaitlin in the Wild Honey Orchestra. We do fundraisers for autism research and treatment. On “Carefree Highway,” and on most of the songs, we tried to strip down the instruments so that you can hear the voices paying tribute to Gordon’s compositions.

GM: You do a nice stripped-down version of “Ringneck Loon” as the finale. The cover photo and two inside the CD were taken by Sherry Rayn Barnett of Gordon at The Fillmore East in 1971, his U.S. Top 10 debut year. I highlighted Sherry’s work this year in an article on her photography book Eye of the Music.

CO: Yes, that takes the listener back fifty years ago, when we first heard him in America. The compilation covers many years of Gordon’s work. Saul and I thank you and Goldmine for your continued support of our projects.

CD back cover photo by Lee Davis 2019

CD back cover photo by Lee Davis 2019

PART TWO – COLLEEN RAE

Lightfoot Colleen cover

GM: Congratulations on Holding On To Life with many songs we will discuss in a moment, but first let’s begin with Connie Smith, who is the first female I heard perform a Gordon Lightfoot composition. Her version of “Ribbon of Darkness” rolls along like the John Hartford composition “Gentle on My Mind,” the Glen Campbell hit. The flip side, “A Lonely Woman,” reminds me of a Jack Scott oldie from 1960 called “What in the World’s Come Over You.”

COLLEEN RAE: Definitely. There is a cry in the sound of her voice when she opens up that first line. I grew up in a Canadian household where country music was heard and played a lot. I give a lot of credit to my parents. Old classic Connie Smith records were played over and over again, and my mom would sing along. Connie’s music not only spoke to her, but it spoke to me, too. One of our local DJs wanted to pay a tribute to the legends of country music when I was graduating high school at seventeen, and I put together a whole set of my favorite Connie Smith songs for the show. They weren’t just the hits but also included some of her flip sides. I researched all I could on her and before each song that I would perform, I would share a tidbit of information, including how Marty Stuart went from being her fan to being her husband. I did a tour of shows of her music for the remainder of my teenage years. It was a joy that people knew the songs including “Ribbon of Darkness” which Gordon Lightfoot wrote, and Connie’s version is my favorite. She packed a lot of sadness and torture in the bridge. I was pleased to share her music with old fans and hopefully make some new fans of her music. Years later I saw her perform at the Grand Ole Opry and shouted out my love for her from the fourth row.

Lightfoot Colleen flip side

Connie Smith

Flip side: A Lonely Woman

A side: Ribbon of Darkness

Top 100 country debut: March 1, 1969

Peak position: No. 13

RCA Victor 74-0101

Lightfoot Connie Smith

GM: Now let’s jump ahead decades from the album Connie’s Country to your new album Holding on To Life. On your song “Live,” which reminds me of one of your contemporary favorites, Trisha Yearwood, you encourage the listeners to live life with importance

CR: I feel it is meant to be an anthem. It was written by Jason Matthews and Whitney Duncan. When I first heard it, I knew the time was right for this song, with a message that you can achieve success, which ended up also ringing true during the pandemic. A lot of people took time to learn something new which would be helpful in their life.

GM: The guitar and harmonies on “Why Not” stand out and this one reminds me of another of your heroes, Crystal Gayle.

CR: A real cool connection on all three of my albums is the producer Louis Sedmak and the guitarist Jeff King, who is Reba McEntire’s guitarist. The message of the song is to overcome the naysayers including self-doubt. It is another uplifting and up-tempo song of encouragement.

GM: “Fix” comes next on the album, and is my favorite, reminding me of Rosanne Cash, and one that our friend Stewart has played on his Mountain Mix show on CFUZ with his DJ name of Boogie with Stew.

CR: I am so glad to hear your comparison to Rosanne Cash. I am being asked for songs for theater, so we may be hearing this one used in a musical production. “Fix” is an emotional song that I enjoyed writing with my friend Derek Stremel, who, like me, is based in Edmonton. It has an eerie melancholy mood.

GM: “Unlove Me” took me back, at least in title, to Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart,” with a clever theme.

CR: It does have an older sound, like a 1990s country era recording. I selected this one for my audience, something they would enjoy dancing to.

GM: “Where Did I Go” is another song about overcoming emotions.

CR: When I was co-writing this song, I explained that I missed my dad, who passed away at age 55, and was my best friend in the world. It took me a long time to write anything about him because anytime I would put pen to paper I would just cry. It is about feeling lost and coming out of that darkness and finding yourself again. As hard as this was, I thought I needed to put this out because there are a lot of people losing loved ones and they need to know they can get through it. I lost twelve friends and family members in 2020 and didn’t get to say goodbye properly, including my 98-year-old grandpa, who was musical and has passed that gene down through all the generations, including to my two boys, Jack and Tommy.

GM: Speaking about motherhood, there is “Young Mother.”

CR: I co-wrote this song with Chloe Albert and Lisa Nicole Grace, who are quite younger than me. I wasn’t young when I had my boys. It took me a long time. I was watching Lisa with her young pair of children and the lyrics just unfolded right in front of me. It is about the early stages of motherhood.

GM: For our last song, let’s go with “The Last Word.”

CR: That song was originally recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter, who wrote it. She is another powerhouse. I was thirteen years old when I first heard this song. Now, as someone who has been married for fifteen years, I have a different perspective about the lyrics, and wanting to have the last word. I have learned that sometimes the person having the last word is left alone, which is not good. People live through the ups and downs of life. I want each song on all my albums to mean something, so I appreciate you discussing every song on my new album with me and for your support. Thank you so much.

Courtesy of Colleen Rae, Facebook

Courtesy of Colleen Rae, Facebook

Related links:

https://www.carlaolson.com/

https://www.colleen-rae.com/

http://www.lightfoot.ca/

http://www.gordonlightfoot.com/