Red Shea Passes Away

Red Shea, 70
Musician was Gordon Lightfoot's 'ultimate extra guitar'
Globe and Mail
June 12, 2008 at 12:37 AM EDT

TORONTO — Musician Red Shea, who played lead guitar with Gordon Lightfoot and later with Ian and Sylvia Tyson, has died of pancreatic cancer in Aurora, Ont. Mr. Shea, whose real name was Laurice Milton Shea, was 70.

With his brother Les Shea and bassist Bill Gibbs, Mr. Shea formed the Red and Les Trio in the late 1950s. They played on Country Hoedown, a popular musical variety show that launched in 1956 and ran for nine years on CBC.

It was on Country Hoedown, in 1960, that Mr. Shea met Gordon Lightfoot, who was a member of the Singin' Swingin' Eight. Mr. Shea began playing lead guitar in The Lightfoot Band in 1965 and “was a pivotal figure” in Mr. Lightfoot's early career, according to music journalist Larry Leblanc. He appeared on many albums including, The Way I Feel, Did She Mention My Name, Sit Down Young Stranger, Summer Side of Life, Sundown, Cold on the Shoulder and Gord's Gold.

Dedicated Lightfoot fans still talk about Mr. Shea's “breathtaking” guitar solo in The Canadian Railroad Trilogy, a performance that was recorded live at Massey Hall in 1969 and released on the album, Sunday Concert.

Mr. Shea left the band in 1971, and was replaced by Terry Clements, although he returned briefly for a time in 1975.

“Red Shea was the ultimate extra guitar on Gordon Lightfoot's records and stage performances,” guitarist Randy Bachman, formerly of The Guess Who and The Bachman Turner Overdrive, said in an e-mail Wednesday. “He augmented every song with some sparkle and magic and made Gordon sound and look good.”

It was Mr. Shea, he said, who inspired him to try his hand at songwriting. “He is mentioned in the song Lightfoot which Burton Cummings and I wrote after seeing Gordon, Red and John Stockfish at a night club in Montreal back in the sixties. It was an evening of magical, all-original Canadian music and it inspired Burton and I to write our own music” he said. “Red will be missed, but remembered every time one of those songs is played on the radio,” said Mr. Bachman, who hosts Vinyl Tap on CBC Radio.

In 1972, Mr. Shea replaced guitarist David Wilcox in Great Speckled Bird, the country rock band that Ian and Sylvia Tyson had formed in 1969. The band played on the weekly show that Mr. Tyson hosted on CTV in the early 1970s and also toured with the Tysons until they broke up as a couple and an act in 1977. “He was a dear friend and I will miss him very much,” Mr. Tyson said through his manager Wednesday. “We always had a lot of laughter together in our friendship.”

His former wife, Sylvia Tyson, echoed those sentiments. “Aside from being a great player, which he certainly was, he was just great to be around,” she said. “Red always had a joke or a story or a pun or something that he would come up that would just keep things on an up level.”

Mr. Shea also played with The Good Brothers and did a long gig in the band on The Tommy Hunter Show, which had replaced Country Hoedown in 1965 and ran until 1992. “ The Tommy Hunter Show was good for him,” said Ms. Tyson. “He had found it increasingly hard to be on the road. It wore him down too much. He was basically a home guy.”

In more recent years, Mr. Shea taught guitar.

He is survived by his wife, Lynn (née Claremont), three children and four grandchildren. A Memorial Service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, Aurora.