He formed a folk duo, the Two Tones, with a fellow “Hoedown” performer, Terry Whelan. The duo recorded a live album in 1962, “Two Tones at the Village Corner.” The next year, while traveling in Europe, he served as the host of “The Country and Western Show” on BBC television.
As a songwriter, Mr. Lightfoot had advanced beyond the Hula Hoop, but not by a great deal. His work “didn’t have any kind of identity,” he told the authors of “The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music,” published in 1969. When the Greenwich Village folk boom brought Mr. Dylan and other dynamic songwriters to the fore, he said, “I started to get a point of view, and that’s when I started to improve.”
In 1965, he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and made his debut in the United States at Town Hall in New York. “Mr. Lightfoot has a rich, warm voice and a dexterous guitar technique,” Robert Shelton wrote in The New York Times. “With a little more attention to stage personality, he should become quite popular.”
A year later, after signing with Albert Grossman, the manager of Mr. Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, Mr. Lightfoot recorded his first solo album, “Lightfoot!” With performances of “Early Morning Rain,” “For Lovin’ Me,” “Ribbon of Darkness” and “I’m Not Sayin’,” a hit record in Canada in 1963, the album was warmly received by the critics.
Real commercial success came when he switched to Warner Brothers, initially recording for the company’s Reprise label. “By the time I changed over to Warner Brothers, round about 1970, I was reinventing myself,” he told the newspaper Savannah Connect in 2010. “Let’s say I was probably just advancing away from the folk era, and trying to find some direction whereby I might have some music that people would want to listen to.”
Mr. Lightfoot, accompanying himself on an acoustic 12-string guitar, in a voice that often trembled with emotion, gave spare, direct accounts of his material. He sang of loneliness, troubled relationships, the itch to roam and the majesty of the Canadian landscape. He was, as the Canadian writer Jack Batten put it, “journalist, poet, historian, humorist, short-story teller and folksy recollector of bygone days.”