Ian & Sylvia’s Ian Tyson, Canadian Folk & Country Great, Dies at 89

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Ian and Sylvia Tyson in 1968 (from Wikipedia)

Canadian country/folk singer-songwriter Ian Tyson died from ongoing health complications today,  Dec. 29, 2022, at his ranch in southern Alberta, Canada, at age 89. His death was confirmed by Stony Plains Records publicist Mark Pucci.

Tyson, who was half of the acclaimed folk music duo Ian and Sylvia from 1959-75, was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, with his former wife and singing partner, Sylvia Tyson, in 1992. Tyson became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1994 and in 2003, he received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2006.

Tyson was born Sept. 25, 1933, to British immigrants in Victoria, British Columbia, and grew up in Duncan, B.C. A rough stock rider in his late teens and early twenties, he took up the guitar while recovering from an injury he sustained in a bad fall in the rodeo.

He upped stakes from Vancouver Island and hitchhiked to Toronto, where he met a young singer from small-town Ontario named Sylvia Fricker. As Ian and Sylvia, they were the Canadian stars of the early ’60s folk boom.

Related: Musicians we lost in 2022

Married in 1964, the pair made almost a dozen albums and wrote some of Canada’s best-loved songs, including Ian’s “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon,” and Sylvia’s “You Were on My Mind.” Their songs that have been covered by such artists as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Judy Collins and a young Canadian singer the couple mentored in his early days, Gordon Lightfoot.

During the British Invasion, Ian and Sylvia evolved into pioneers of country-rock. Their band, Great Speckled Bird, helped create the modern country movement.

After hosting a national Canadian television music show from 1970 to 1975, Tyson realized his dream of returning to the Canadian West. The music and marriage of Ian and Sylvia had ended. Disillusioned with the Canadian country music scene, Tyson decided the time had come to return to his first love – training horses in the ranch country of southern Alberta.

After three idyllic years cowboying in the Rockies at Pincher Creek, Tyson recorded the album Old Corrals & Sagebrush, consisting of cowboy songs, both traditional and new. Unbeknownst to Tyson and his friends, the cowboy renaissance was about to find expression at the inaugural Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1983; a small coterie of saddle makers, rawhide braiders, cowboy poets and pickers discovered one another in a small cow town in northern Nevada. Tyson was invited to perform his “new western music”— and he missed only one or two gatherings in the 30-plus years since.

Dylan and the Band recorded his song “One Single River” in Woodstock, New York, in 1967. Judy Collins recorded a version of his song “Someday Soon” in 1968. In 2005, CBC Radio One listeners chose “Four Strong Winds” as the greatest Canadian song of all time on the series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version. He was a strong influence on many Canadian artists, including Neil Young, who recorded “Four Strong Winds” for Comes a Time (1978). Johnny Cash would also record the same song for American V: A Hundred Highways (2006).

In 2006, Tyson seriously damaged his voice after a particularly tough performance at an outdoor country music festival. To his surprise, audiences paid rapt attention as he half-spoke, half-sung familiar words, which seemed to reveal new depths for his listeners.

Tyson released his most recent single “You Should Have Known” in September 2017 on Stony Plain Records, the label on which The released 15 albums since the ’80s. The song unapologetically celebrated the hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-loving cowboy life .

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  1. Batchman
    #1 Batchman 29 December, 2022, 20:35

    Several years ago when I was living in Massachusetts, walking along Concord Ave. in Cambridge, I came across a box on the street which had a sign on it inviting people to take for free what was in the box, which turned out to be CD’s of Ian & Sylvia’s “Northern Journey” album. I took one and loved the music (which contained songs from other folk performers as well – all superb). Thank you, whoever had the generosity to share this music with whoever had ears to listen.

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  2. Pete
    #2 Pete 30 December, 2022, 00:13

    One of my favorite singers ever, he played at one of Jerry Jeff’s b-day bashes in Austin and I had the honor of buying him a wine cooler at the Broken Spoke because that’s what he wanted, Lone Star be damned.

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  3. captainraff
    #3 captainraff 30 December, 2022, 11:06

    his solo folk version of of Summer Wages is my favorite Ian Tyson song. David Bromberg covered it nicely…

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