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Back Story: “Early Morning Rain”


In 1964, Gordon Lightfoot wrote one of his most memorable songs: Early Morning Rain. Lightfoot, a Canadian singer-songwriter, has become a folk legend. Along with his crystal clear singing voice and accomplished guitar playing, Lightfoot has written a library of outstanding folk songs depicting historical events and all manner of love relationships. To single out a smattering of Lightfoot’s top hits is to do the man an injustice. “Early Morning Rain” appears on his 1966 debut album Lightfoot! Before he released the song, another Canadian duo, Ian and Sylvia, recorded it in 1964. Many other folk singing notables (Peter, Paul, and Mary) also adopted the song.

The genesis of “Early Morning Rain” can be traced to Gordon’s 1960 stay in Westlake, Los Angeles. At the time, Lightfoot became homesick for his Canadian roots. He remembers going to the Los Angeles International Airport on rainy days to watch the aircraft take off and land. The memories of the flights launching into the overcast skies stayed with him. In 1964, while caring for his 5-month-old son, Lightfoot remembers thinking, “I’ll put him over here in his crib, and I’ll write myself a tune.” In that moment, “Early Morning Rain” was born.

The lyrics refer to someone down on his luck who stands at an airport fence to watch the thunderous take-off of a Boeing 707 airliner. The theme of the song suggests a jet-age musical allegory to a hobo of bygone days loitering at a railroad yard to steal a train ride home. Lightfoot credits the popularity of the song to his steady improvement as a songwriter.

I’ve always loved this song. Lightfoot strums it. When I heard Eva Cassidy perform the song using a picking technique, I had to learn it her way. Unfortunately, there were no guitar tutorials available. Since Eva plays “Early Morning Rain” close to her version of “Kathy’s Song,” I was able to figure out how to play EMR three-quarters of the way she does.

Why do I bother to learn how to play these songs the way these great artists do? It’s simple. I become a better guitarist with each song I learn. Here’s my cover of the song. Enjoy!

Thought for the Day

Am I doing the world a favor if I add one more sad voice to the wailing, no matter how artfully I express it?