On the Lightfoot

Ron Sexsmith follows in the unfashionable path of his Canadian idol, and makes an art of understatement

"They were just sitting around having breakfast, so they invited us over. That was one of the most nerve-wracking car rides. And pulling up at his house, he was already at the door waving. I said, 'Oh, my God, that's McCartney waving at us!'

"We had breakfast, he played me some tracks from Flaming Pie, which wasn't out yet. And the most amazing thing was after that we went to the kitchen table, and he pulled out his acoustic guitar and started playing. He played songs from Flaming Pie, 'Calico Skies' and 'Little Willow.' And then at that point, he asked his son James to go fetch me a guitar. And I was like, 'Wow, what do I play [for] this guy? He's written everything.' So the only thing I could think of was to play one of his songs. So I played him 'Listen To What the Man Said,' and he sort of jammed along, and we were singing the harmonies, and it was great."

Even with respected icons in his corner (Sexsmith also toured with Dylan last year), Ron seems to recognize that his type of low-key storytelling may never be considered commercially viable. The recent Universal-Polygram merger, which has caused a shakeup at his label, only makes his situation more precarious. But Sexsmith's a pragmatist about such things, and that's why he held onto his courier job until his musical career wouldn't allow it. Oddly enough, the job actually benefited his songwriting output.

"I worked for a bike courier company, and I was one of the few walkers they had. I'd just be there with my walkie-talkie, and they would say, 'Go pick up this thing at this law firm, and take it over to this bank,' or whatever it was. Half the time, I didn't know exactly what I was delivering. I didn't really want to know. It all seemed very important--documents and checks and everything. And I just did that every day for six years, and I wrote hundreds of songs on the job.

"In fact, if I sit in a room with an instrument, I'll never get anything done. I have to be doing something mundane--walking around, cutting the grass, doing the dishes or something. That's when I start to hum to myself. And also, walking around outside, I was seeing things and things. So I was really productive at that point.

"I held onto that job as long as possible, because I was really worried. I'm still afraid this whole thing is gonna fall through. I always feel I'm on thin ice with every record."

Ron Sexsmith is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, June 22, at the Cajun House in Scottsdale. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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