Folk legend Ian Tyson, known for ‘Four Strong Winds’ as part of Ian & Sylvia, dies
TORONTO — Ian Tyson, the Canadian folk legend turned cowboy storyteller who wrote “Four Strong Winds” as one half of Ian & Sylvia, has died at 89.
The Victoria native died Thursday at his ranch near Longview, Alta., following a series of lingering health complications, according to his manager Paul Mascioli.
The singer-songwriter was part of Toronto’s influential folk movement with his first wife, Sylvia Tyson. But he’s divided much of his life and career between two passions largely unrelated to his folk background: living on his ranch in southern Alberta and pursuing songs about cowboy life.
Sylvia Tyson remembered her ex-husband as a « versatile songwriter » and « very serious ».
“He put a lot of time and energy into writing his songs and felt very strongly about his material, especially the whole cowboy lifestyle,” she told The Canadian Press on Thursday. .
Ian Tyson has always found himself drawn to the border. In fact, he began honing his guitar skills when he was forced to recover from injuries sustained at the rodeo.
« The injury I suffered back then may have been traumatic, but it gave me a lot of material in the years to come, » Tyson said in a 2019 interview with The Canadian Press.
« A lot of really good songs came out of that phase. »
Born September 25, 1933 to parents who emigrated from England, Tyson does not appear to have had a difficult upbringing. He attended a private school and learned to play polo before discovering rodeo.
After graduating from the Vancouver School of Art in 1958, Tyson hitchhiked to Toronto. He was swept away by the city’s burgeoning folk movement, where Canuck legends such as Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell would eventually ply their talents in smoky hippie cafes in bohemian Yorkville.
Tyson soon met a kindred spirit named Sylvia Fricker and they began a relationship – on and off stage – in 1959. They moved together to New York where they met manager Albert Grossman – who managed Peter, Paul and Mary and would soon count Bob Dylan as a client. He signed Ian & Sylvia to Vanguard Records.
Their self-titled debut album was released in 1962, a collection of mostly traditional songs. Their second album, 1964’s « Four Strong Winds, » was the duo’s breakthrough, thanks in large part to its soulful title track, one of the album’s only original compositions.
The couple married in 1964 and continued to release new records with regularity (their 1965 album « Early Morning Rain » included a composition by Lightfoot, then far from a household name). But as folk’s popularity waned, the duo moved to Nashville and began incorporating strains of country and rock into their sound.
In 1969, the Tysons explored this new fusion, forming the country-rock band Great Speckled Bird, whose influential self-titled debut dropped in 1970.
They had a child, Clay, in 1968, but the couple separated as their careers began to stall in the 1970s, and they divorced in 1975.
In his 2010 memoir, ‘The Long Trail’, Ian Tyson admitted he pursued a relationship with another woman during his marriage, and even openly had fun with his mistress in front of their son, who was a toddler. era.
« I wasn’t very sensitive to any of that, that’s for sure, » he wrote.
After their marriage dissolved, Ian Tyson decided to move back west and return to ranch life, training horses and cowboying in Pincher Creek, Alberta. These experiences increasingly filtered through his writing, particularly on 1983’s « Old Corrals and Sagebrush. »
Although the album was his third solo release, it was his first devoted entirely to Western material. Tyson had modest expectations for the album, but it was clear he was discovering his voice: he was singing lucid yet idyllic tunes about life on the ranch.
Tyson’s move into mainstream Western music came at an opportune time: 1983 also marked the first Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada, evidence of the burgeoning interest in cowboy culture.
Tyson’s 1987 self-released album « Cowboyography » became a surprising word-of-mouth success and rejuvenated Tyson’s touring career in Canada and the United States.
Things were going well in Tyson’s personal life, too. In 1978, he met a waitress named Twylla Dvorkin. She was just 17 at the time, but Tyson – then in his 40s – pursued a relationship with her despite locals gossiping outraged at the couple’s age difference.
The couple married in 1986 and had a daughter, Adelita, a year later. Their relationship proved more enduring than Tyson’s first marriage, but the couple eventually divorced in 2008. Tyson wrote candidly about the relationship — and the still-fresh wounds created by its breakup — in his book.
« I wanted to be honest about it and fair, » he said in an interview the year his book came out. « But it was a difficult and quite acrimonious divorce. »
Tyson has long had a reputation for being prickly in the industry, which he actually mentioned several times in his book (using the adjective « irascible ».) But he could also be unapologetically honest. flaw, and his memoir found him delving into his infidelity, his drug arrest for marijuana possession and his long-running feuds with other Canadian icons, including Lightfoot and Stompin’ Tom Connors.
Tyson admitted he struggled following his second divorce and was set back by health issues including arthritis. He also overcame a vocal problem that forced Tyson to change his singing style. In the latter part of his career, his voice had a grittier, grittier quality to it.
« During the tough times…I handled it inside the music, » he said in 2010. « Music has really helped me and my horses. But the horse thing, it’s It’s more abstract stuff. The music really helped a lot. The music got louder, you know.
« Hank Williams said a broken heart doesn’t hurt your songwriting, and he was definitely right about that. »
He has also won numerous awards for his music, including an induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.
In 1987, he won a Juno Award for Male Country Singer of the Year and five years later was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame alongside Sylvia Tyson. He won a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2003 and was named a Member of the Order of Canada and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tyson continued to release music late into his career, including the 2015 album « Carnero Vaquero » and the 2017 single « You Should Have Known. »
But doctors’ exams related to a heart attack and subsequent open-heart surgery in 2015 left permanent damage to her voice. It didn’t necessarily slow him down.
Tyson continued to perform live gigs, including a series of shows with country artist Corb Lund in 2018 that marked a celebration of cowboy songs and stories. His heart problems returned and forced him to cancel an appearance in August that year.
Despite the setbacks, he continued to play his guitar at home.
« I think that’s the key to me hanging on because you have to use it or lose it, » he said a year after the cancellation.
“When you get to a certain age in life, which I’ve reached and probably passed, it’s hard to stay sharp enough with the instrument. But I made a commitment to do it. It pays off, I play pretty well despite all the broken bones and so on over the years.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 29, 2022.
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