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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Canadian Folk Legend, Ian Tyson, Known For 'Four Strong Winds' As Part Of Ian & Sylvia, Dies Aged 89

Ian Tyson was born to British immigrants in Victoria, and grew up in Duncan, British Columbia, Canada.. A rodeo rider in his late teens and early twenties, he took up the guitar while recovering from an injury he sustained in a fall. He has named fellow Canadian country artist Wilf Carter as a musical influence. He made his singing debut at the Heidelberg Café in Vancouver in 1956 and played with a rock and roll band, The Sensational Stripes. He graduated from the Vancouver School of Art in 1958.

After graduation, Tyson moved to Toronto where he began a job as a commercial artist. There he performed in local clubs and in 1959 began to sing on occasion with Sylvia Fricker. By early 1959 Tyson and Fricker were performing part-time at the Village Corner as Ian & Sylvia. The pair became a full-time musical act in 1961 and married three years later. In 1969, they formed and fronted the group The Great Speckled Bird. Residing in southern Alberta, the Tysons toured all over the world. During their years together, the pair released 13 albums of folk and country music.

From 1970 to 1975, Tyson hosted a national television program, The Ian Tyson Show, on CTV, known as Nashville North in its first season. Sylvia Tyson and the Great Speckled Bird appeared often on the series.

In 1980, Tyson became associated with Calgary music manager and producer Neil MacGonigill. Tyson decided to concentrate on country and cowboy music, resulting in the well-received 1983 album Old Corrals and Sagebrush, released on Columbia Records.

In 1989, Tyson was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 2005, CBC Radio One listeners chose his song "Four Strong Winds" as the greatest Canadian song of all time on the series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version. There was strong momentum for him to be nominated the Greatest Canadian, but he fell short. He has been 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). Judy Collins recorded a version of his song "Someday Soon" in 1968.

Bob Dylan and the Band recorded his song "One Single River" in Woodstock, New York, in 1967. The recording can be found on the unreleased Genuine Basement Tapes, vol. I.

In 2006, Tyson sustained irreversible scarring to his vocal cords as a result of a concert at the Havelock Country Jamboree followed a year later by a virus contracted during a flight to Denver. This resulted in a notable loss of the remarkable quality and range he was known for; he has self-described his new sound as "gravelly". Notwithstanding, he released the album From Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories in 2008 to high critical praise. He was nominated for a 2009 Canadian Folk Music Awards for Solo Artist of the Year. The album includes a song about Canadian hockey broadcasting icon Don Cherry and the passing of his wife, Rose, a rare Tyson cover written by Toronto songwriter Jay Aymar.

Sylvia joined Ian to sing their signature song, Four Strong Winds, at the 50th anniversary of the Mariposa Folk Festival on July 11, 2010, in Orillia, Ontario.

Tyson has also written a book of young adult fiction about his song "La Primera", called La Primera: The Story of Wild Mustangs.

Tyson was married twice. Both marriages ended in divorce.

His first marriage, to his musical partner Sylvia Fricker Tyson, ended in an amicable divorce in 1975. Their son Clay (Clayton Dawson Tyson, born 1966 was also a musical performer and has since moved to a career modifying racing bikes.

After the marriage to Sylvia ended in 1975, Ian returned to Southern Alberta to farm and train horses but also continued his musical career on a limited basis. In 1979, Neil Young recorded Four Strong Winds, and Tyson used the royalties for a down payment on his own cattle and horse ranch; he started playing regularly at Calgary's Ranchman's Club. His next albums were cowboy music: I Outgrew the Wagon (1989), And Stood There Amazed (1991), and Eighteen Inches of Rain (1994).

Tyson's autobiography, The Long Trail: My Life in the West, was published in 2010. Co-written with Calgary journalist Jeremy Klaszus, the book "alternates between autobiography and a broader study of Tyson's relationship to the 'West' – both as a fading reality and a cultural ideal." CBC's Michael Enright said the book is like Tyson himself – "straightforward, unglazed and honest."

Ian Tyson married Twylla Dvorkin in 1986. Their daughter Adelita Rose was born c. 1987. Tyson's second marriage ended in divorce in early 2008, several years after he and Dvorkin had separated.

A book by John Einarson, Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia, was published in 2012. A few years later, Ian said that Evinia Pulos (Bruce) was his "soulmate"; since she lived in Kelowna, a city in south central British Columbia, he said that he was unable to see her often. "We’ve been lovers for 55 years.... How many people can say that?" Tyson said.

In 2015, he had open heart surgery to replace a blocked aortic valve. In 2018, Tyson made concert appearances in British Columbia and Alberta.

Tyson became a Member of the Order of Canada in October 1994 and was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2006. In 2003, Tyson received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award.

He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, with Sylvia, in 1992. an Tyson was inducted into the Mariposa Hall of Fame, with Sylvia, in 2006 He was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. (Sylvia Tyson was inducted in 2003.) The song Four Strong Winds, written by Ian Tyson, was named as the greatest Canadian song of all time by the CBC-Radio program 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version in 2005.

An announcement in July 2019 stated that Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson would be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, individually, not as a duo. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article stated that "the duo's 1964's hit, Four Strong Winds, has been deemed one of the most influential songs in Canadian history". The report also referenced the song You Were on My Mind, written by Sylvia Tyson, as well as her four albums (1975–1980).

Tyson died in Alberta on December 29, 2022, at the age of 89.


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