By John Swartz
Sometimes you get to decide. Sometimes decisions are made for you.
May 1, 2023 Rick Haynes, Barry Keane, Mike Heffernan and Carter Lancaster faced the prospect of being unemployed upon Gordon Lightfoot’s death. They were Gordon Lightfoot’s band. They are now The Lightfoot Band.
“Through the summer, we were kind of in shock. I was in shock, I still am. None of us were ready for it,” said Haynes, Lightfoot’s bassist for 55 years.
“It sort of evolved. People started saying, “I guess you guys are all retired now.” That’s probably when the wheels started turning and I started thinking, “old musicians can’t retire, they have to look for work.” For me personally, I needed to find work.”
Haynes and the band would normally play 50 to 75 or more concerts a year. In the last year they had just one gig, at the Mariposa Folk Festival in July. While they communicated with each other, they didn’t have a formal get together to determine their future. But, it turns out they were all thinking about it.
“I had people saying, you guys are in the perfect position to keep the songs of Gordon Lightfoot going. That was rolling around in my head,” said Haynes. In early fall Haynes suggested it was time to meet.
“I said, “listen guys, let’s meet and sit down and have lunch. That’s kind of when the conversation started about this getting this thing up and running. Nobody else had anything blazing on the horizon,” said Haynes.
“Everybody wants to play and everybody thinks the songs of Gordon Lightfoot are gold standards and they need to be played properly.”
There was just one problem, who would sing the songs?
“At first it went a couple different directions. We could have the core band and travel around maybe and have guest singers. We decided early on that would be problematic.”
“Then we drifted into, we have to find one guy.”
Enter Andy Mauck. Mauck has a story to tell. It’s a long one because he has a history with the band members. Originally from Worthington, Ohio, Mauck retired to the Virgin Islands, but only stayed a couple years before moving to Punta Gorda, Florida.
In his youth, he and some friends started what he calls a musician’s club, organizing their own gigs. He put that down to be a businessman, but you never really put down your instrument.
“It was always a side thing, but over the last couple years I started playing bar gigs,” said Mauck.
In the Virgin Islands he played solo gigs in small clubs, and continued to do so in Florida where he had two long standing engagements.
He developed a following, playing Lightfoot tunes.
“You’re not going to be a real popular guy at every bar if all you do is Gordon Lightfoot; I would have happily have done that, but you have to know other songs. I love other musicians. Gord is my favourite songwriter of all time, I love John Prine and people like that,” said Mauck.
His repertoire includes 150 Lightfoot songs and 60 written by others. He found he could get away with playing a lot of Lightfoot.
“It made me realize how many fans Gordon Lightfoot has in Florida,” Mauck said.
Going back in time to 1976, Mauck went to a Lightfoot concert.
“A year later I saw them again and I hit off with Terry (Clements) in particular. We exchanged phone numbers and he’d invite me to gigs. Then I got to know Rick,” said Mauck. “I got very close with the band pretty quickly. It took many years before Gord would invite me over.”
“I’ve known Andy for more than 40 years. He was a fan, a very enthusiastic fan.” said Haynes. “He showed up a lot with a couple of friends. They were charming, happy guys that were always fun to be around. They weren’t pests, really good guys. It was a friendship that developed over the years as it happens when you get to know people in various places that you go to. We have probably dozens like that we’ve gotten to know over the years.”
Mauck has been to a lot of Lightfoot concerts, including every Massey Hall concert since the 1970s. He became such a familiar face someone one would invite him to join the band after concerts, but he didn’t let them know he could play.
“I consciously didn’t play in front of the guys, especially not Gord. One time in ’78 at some hotel on the road somewhere, we went into Gord’s room and there’s a little party going on. I’m there and the new person in the group (of friends). Some young guy, younger than me, came in with a guitar and proceeds to play If You Could Read My Mind – really badly – in front of Gord. I said right then I’m never going to be that guy,” said Mauck. That would change.
“Everybody just goes home after the (Massey Hall) shows,” Haynes said. They weren’t a partying band. “I can’t have couple of beers and drive home. It’s part of my culture. I won’t drink when I’m playing music and I won’t drink and drive.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t like a cold beer now and then, or to celebrate with friends after something like the string of successful Massey Hall concerts. It became a habit after the Massey Hall shows the band would book some rooms at the Pantages Hotel on the last night of the run so no one would have to drive home at the end of the night. It was at the Pantages Haynes first heard Mauck sing one of Lightfoot’s tunes in the hotel lounge.
“You know the song 10 Degrees & Getting Colder – that’s my all time favourite – I noticed Rick was talking to people; he quit talking to people and was walking around. He was just paying attention to me and by the time I got done with the song he was right next to me and he whispered, “you don’t know how good that was.” That made me really feel good, so I got a little more open about playing.”
And he did play in front of Gord.
“I got one chance to play with him in his house, a year and a half ago when the premiere of the Lightheaded movie (Lightheaded: A Gordon Lightfoot State of Mind) was in Toronto,” said Mauck.
This is all back story to recent events. The band has decided to continue on, but they need a singer. While hashing out who to find to make the band complete again a light bulb went off. The end of the band’s search was closer at hand than they thought it would be.
“Rick called me two months ago,” said Mauck. “How soon can you come up?”” Mauck was about to board an airplane at that moment. “I was up there two weeks later and had that first session with the guys.”
“I’d heard him sing more than the other guys,” said Haynes. “He found himself in a situation where he had far less to do and he started singing in local bars. I’d said, “I think you’re really good and if you keep doing it you’re going to develop your craft and you’re going to get somewhere.””
Somewhere was Toronto for a series of auditions. Mauck didn’t think he did well with the first one.
“I’m thinking I’m dead in the water, I can’t get the timing,” said Mauck. “I’m nervous as hell. We start playing. It was pretty good; except, they kept stopping and saying, “Andy, slow down, and you don’t have to sing so loud.” “OK, got it.” This went on for quite some time. I’m thinking, OK, I blew this audition.”
“They said, “Andy, this is exactly what we expected. You’ve been playing solo bar gigs, this is what happens. In a bar you have to play loud, you play faster, you’re trying to fill the space. We get it.””
“He was very nervous. It was an audition. The other guys didn’t know him as well. The band needed to shake him down,” said Haynes. “I was nervous too, working with a new singer.”
“You can find a better singer I’m sure, I’m all for you if you want to do that,” said Mauck. “They said, “Andy, there’s a lot more to this, you’re fine.””
They asked him to come back for another session two weeks later.
“We wanted to do a couple more (sessions) just to see if he could change a few things, improve a few things. We’re a bugger for detail,” said Haynes. They learned that from the boss. Lightfoot was very much into details and is known to call other performers he’s heard sing his songs, offering tips how to perform the songs better – some might say, and have, correctly.
There’s a limit to the notion of being sticklers for detail. The band members knew there would never be another Gordon Lightfoot.
“We’re not looking for a clone of Gord. We don’t want anybody to behave like a clone of Gord or impersonate Gord in anyway shape or form,” said Haynes.
Along the way there were a number of online video sessions Mauck had with Carter Lancaster about the guitar parts. He wasn’t just a fan all those years, he was a student too, and as mentioned, he was covering everything in his bar gigs.
“I paid deep attention for 50 years of going to shows; Gord’s right hand, his left hand technique, all that stuff,” said Mauck. “Playing with a band is completely different, if you care to pay attention to it, as opposed to as a solo, it’s night and day difference how you play. (With a band) you don’t have to do that anymore (cover all the parts). (You) have to leave space for the other instruments. It’s really cool to get into the nuances playing with any band, but when it’s those guys, it’s pretty cool.”
The Second Session
Back in Toronto for round two one month ago, things went much better.
“Two weeks later I was back up there and I’m proud and pleased to say they figured, OK, you’re listening, you’re getting it, that’s fine,” said Mauck. “Sunday we had a session, took a break, I left the room, and (Barry) Keane came out a few minutes later and said, “So do you want to come in for your verdict Mr. Mauck?” I walked back in and said, “let me guess, we’re going to commercial break like they do on those TV shows to drag this out.” They said, ‘You’re in, welcome to the band.””
And so starts a new chapter for the Lightfoot Band, as they will be known. Four guys facing retirement they didn’t want averted, and one who was comfortably retired about to find out there’s room below that gas pedal..
“That’s certainly dawning on me, what did I commit to here? Doesn’t everybody go into a major league, high intensity, high time commitment, travelling lifestyle at age 67? Sure,” said Mauck.
“A smarter guy would have joined a band in his own town.”
It’s a heavy weight to carry. While people in Punta Gorda, and those who heard him play in the neighbourhood pub near Massey Hall every year where he’d bring his guitar to the only Lightfoot music open mic and the members of the band know he can respectably sing the songs, there is a legion of diehard fans to win over.
One thing he’s got going for him is his personality. In one short phone conversation, its apparent Mauck has an engaging personality, a sense of friendliness like Gordon Lightfoot had with those he let into his small circle of friends. Lightfoot was friendly with his fans too. This writer never saw him turn down a fan’s request for an autograph or photo. It’s an extension of his kindness and trust of those closest, and it’s possible fans will see that in Mauck as well.
“I’ve known Gord since before I met my wife,” said Mauck. “I’m the new guy on the block. I’m here to help keep that music alive out there in performances. I’m going to do my best because I love it.”
“He loved to work. He truly did,” he said of Lightfoot. Still, “it’s still painful to think of why I have this opportunity.”
For Haynes, the task at hand is to prepare for the band’s debut performance of the world’s first Original Member Cover Band at the El Macombo in Toronto January 27, and then lining up concert dates for 2024.
“We don’t claim to be a tribute band at all,” said Haynes. “You’re going to see in our promotional stuff and our graphics on stage, we’re not going to use any images of Gord. There’s not going to be pictures of album covers floating around on the back wall (stage screen).”
That’s fair. Gord’s not there. But, it’s not like the band didn’t have their input and influence on how the songs turned out. This is a new chapter and it’s now their gig, but the sense of duty to remain faithful to the work and vision of the ghost you can’t see will be present in the music.
“I felt like the only way we could get started would be to do a showcase (at the El Mo) where people can find out what we’re going to do and what we can do,” said Haynes. Go big or go home? “That’s it, exactly right. That’s my philosophy of everything.”
At the moment only standing room tickets are available for the El Macombo show. Days after announcing that one last week, it was announced there would be a Massey Hall concert May 23, with a long list of performers scheduled to appear, including the Lightfoot Band.
One place he hopes to play on stage again is right here in Orillia at next summer’s Mariposa Folk Festival.
“They were so kind to us last summer I was hoping we were good enough, or interesting enough, or whatever enough that they might ask us to come back. I’m hoping we might have a shot at it. I’d be thrilled to come back to Mariposa with the band.”
In the end, musicians have to play. There are no options when it’s been your life. Haynes and the rest of the band just want to carry on.
“We want to do the songs of Gordon Lightfoot just as good as we can do them and hopefully sounding even better, stronger. That’s our mission is to make the songs sound great and make people smile.”
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: The Lightfoot Band, Barry Keane, Rick Haynes, Mike Heffernan and Carter Lancaster (Photo by Carl Dunn).