One of my heroes has died. On Dec. 29, 2022, Canadian folk singer Ian Tyson, as Canadian cowboys say, crossed the great divide.
Tyson grew up in Duncan, British Columbia. He learned to ride horses on the family farm, and became a rodeo rider in his late teens and early 20s. He learned to play the guitar while in the hospital waiting for a leg injury to heal.
Apparently, he decided there must be a better way to make a living. He attended and graduated from the Vancouver School of Arts. He then headed east to Toronto to work as a commercial artist.
Nights and weekends, Tyson performed in local clubs with Sylvia Fricker as Ian & Sylvia. They became a full-time act in 1961, and married a few years later. The pair released 13 albums of folk and country music.
My first connection with Ian & Sylvia was in the mid-1960s when I was attending the University of Kentucky. We always had several musical concerts for the students, and the duo was scheduled for a winter show. Odetta was the opening act.
Unfortunately, after Odetta performed, an announcer came out and said because of the snow, Ian & Sylvia had not been able to reach Lexington. Darn the luck.
I didn’t hear much about the duo after that. And, after about 10 years being married and being a musical act, both legal connections were dissolved.
Luckily for Ian, other musicians recorded Four Strong Winds to keep it going. Some of the others were Johnny Cash and Neil Young. I think now it has been covered by 98 artists. Many years later, Canadian Radio One listeners selected Four Strong Winds as the greatest Canadian song of all time.
After his divorce, Ian took money he had made from his first big song and used it for the down payment on a horse ranch near Longview, Alberta. And, his music became almost all cowboy songs.
That is when I heard his music again and started buying his CDs to play while driving. It was my way of “playing cowboys” without all the work. And, I learned about horses and rodeos.
Since about 1980, Tyson’s songs have been about hard life on the ranches, horses, mountains, wind and lack of rain. Woven in to those were western history, famous rodeo performers, love and lost love. They are about all lives, but with a western setting.
The Tyson song those of us south of the Canadian border may be most familiar with is Someday Soon. Judy Collins had a hit with it back in 1969. More recently, Suzy Bogguss brought it back to life on the country charts. Moe Bandy had it out sometime.
About 20 years ago, I saw that Bogguss was performing at one of the wineries near Carbondale. So, I went up hear her in person and shoot some pictures. Following the show, I was able to talk with her about growing up in Mercer County, Illinois. I learned that one of her first jobs was at the weekly newspaper there.
And, she also told me how pleased she was to have recorded Someday Soon, and what a great guy Ian was to work with.
So, for almost 60 years, I longed to hear Ian Tyson in person. It never happened. But, I have spent many hours listening to his voice, and imagining being in the places and at the times he was singing about.
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