Thursday, October 26, 2006

Greenwich Village North: Ian & Sylvia

Of all the people that have influenced my musical interests there are four that I credit (blame?) more than all others. Those four are my Uncle Bill, my childhood friend Tom, and Ian and Sylvia.

I'm sure I have mentioned before that my sister and I were raised by our grandmother. As youngsters, my sister and I were sent to spend our summers with our cousins while school was out. My Uncle Bill always had interesting music playing on his big Magnavox high fidelity stereo cabinet. The Weavers, Dubliners, and Kingston Trio were in regular rotation on his playlist. After all of us kids had been sent off to bed and the house got quiet, Uncle Bill would put on his favorite records. More often then not I drifted off to sleep with the beautiful harmonies of Ian & Sylvia drifting through the wall.

I believe my uncle drove this impressionable young teen to folk music through some sort of subliminal sleep learning techniques he learned while in the Marine Corps.

Music critic Gene Wilburn once said that "Photographs of Sylvia playing autoharp while Ian plays guitar are among the most romantic evocations of the coffeehouse era."

Ian Tyson of Vancouver, B.C. moved to Toronto in 1958 while recuperating from a rodeo injury. While looking for a career in commercial art he started playing music at clubs and coffeehouses. Within a year he was playing music full time. It was while they were both playing the Toronto coffeehouse circuit that Tyson met and formed a duet with Sylvia Fricker. In 1962 they moved to New York where they got the attention of Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman (who also managed Peter, Paul and Mary at the time). They released their first album for Vanguard that year. Their second album "Four Strong Winds" was released a year later. The title song, written by Ian Tyson in 1961, was covered by the Searchers and later recorded by Neil Young, Bobby Bare, Phish, Sarah McLachlan, and dozens of others. Ian & Sylvia were married in 1964 and released their third album entitled "Northern Journey". On this album were songs penned by Ian & Sylvia, "You Were On My Mind" and "Some Day Soon", that rivaled "Four Strong Winds" in the number of artists that covered them. The Kingston trio and many others have covered "Some Day Soon". Most recently Suzy Bogguss included the song on her 1991 "Aces" CD. "You Were On My Mind" was covered by the We Five, who took the song high on the charts.

Ian & Sylvia returned to Canada where they had a popular weekly TV program on the CBC called "Nashville North". Over the years nine more albums were recorded by Ian & Sylvia and the band, The Great Speckled Bird, that they assembled for their TV show. Like many other folk musicians of the period Ian & Sylvia moved toward a more country and country-rock sound. The Great Speckled Bird changed personnel a few times and included an impressive roster including; Amos Garrett, N.D. Smart, Buddy Cage (who later joined The New Riders of the Purple Sage), Ken Kalmusky, David Wilcox, Jeff Gutcheon, Billy Mundi (former Mothers of Invention drummer), Red Shea ( former guitarist with Gordon Lightfoot), Pee Wee Charles, Roly Salley (later of Chris Isaak's band), and Jim Colegrove.

By 1974 Ian & Sylvia had stopped performing and were divorced shortly thereafter. Ian Tyson moved back to western Canada and returned to ranching. He began producing records in Canada’s country music scene and has enjoyed a long solo career. Sylvia Tyson has recorded occasionally, written a book about songwriting, and performs a one woman show entitled "River Road and other Stories"

Kat, over at Keep The Coffee Coming has pointed out that it was other performers that had the most success with Ian & Sylvia songs. I'm not sure of the reason for this but I do know that Ian & Sylvia had a strong influence on the music of North America beyond their songwriting. They introduced the work of fellow Canadian songwriters and performers Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell through recording their songs "Early Morning Rain", "For Loving Me" and "The Circle Game". Ian & Sylvia's beautiful male/lead female/harmony vocal blend were an influence on other early folk-rockers such as the Jefferson Airplane, the We Five, the Mamas and the Papas, and Fairport Convention.

Ian & Sylvia were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 1994 were made members of the Order of Canada (Canada's highest civilian honor). "Four Strong Winds has been sung to close the Edmonton Folk Music Festival every year since its inception in 1980 and was determined through extensive polling by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to be “the most essential" piece of Canadian music.

Ian & Sylvia - Four Rode By.mp3

Ian & Sylvia - Some Day Soon.mp3

Ian & Sylvia - You Were On My Mind.mp3

Ian & Sylvia - Four Strong Winds

Thanks, Uncle Bill.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great choice's today Ed. I will have to say that Ian & Sylvia have become a favorite of mine since I been riding the bus. And also from


October 27, 2006 6:47 AM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

And yet another job very well done, Ed. You introduced me to Ian & Sylvis a while back and I love their blend. I'm right fond of "You Were On My Mind". My thanks to Uncle Bill, too!

October 27, 2006 9:47 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

It was Four Strong Winds which gave Ian enough money to quit music for a long bit and buy that ranch he always wanted. I don't appreciate the irony of that.

That is probably my favorite of their songs because it was the first I heard and it started a love of their music I share with you.

October 27, 2006 11:31 AM  
Blogger Larry Gibson said...

Hi Ed:

I enjoyed your information about Ian and Sylvia. Ian Tyson is one of my favorite Western Music performers and has enjoyed a lot of popularity in that genre in the last few years. As a matter of fact, his continued popularity growth helps the rest of us by directly promoting the Western Music genre throughout the country. He's still a big influence in "our world".

October 27, 2006 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had forgotten Tyson was a Vancouver boy. So many people move here we forget we lose people too.

"Four Strong Winds" is a very pretty song that speaks to the wandering nature of men new to our great fat land and the original dispossessed inhabitants seeking a place in it. I like the Neil Young version best.

If the CBC had extensively polled me I would have hung up on them. I would have voted for DOA's "2 + 2". It is a brand new age we Canadians are living in Ian and Sylvia could have only imagined if they read Orwell 45 years ago.

October 27, 2006 3:55 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

I am glad to see that there are a lot more of us Ian & Sylvia fans still around.

I am also glad that I could help introduce them to a few that were unfamiliar. Joey and Lucy, welcome to the fold.

Kat, Larry, and Beer - Ian & Sylvia had an influence on many listeners as well as other musicians. Larry is right about Ian Tyson still being a moving force in music. Along with his own recordings, he is a promoter of Western music and mentor to up-and-coming artists. Ian has worked with a talented young woman originally from Nova Scotia, Cindy Church, who moved to Alberta and has sung background vocals on three of Ian’s Western CDs. Ian returned the favor when he recorded a duet on one of Church’s Cds.

October 27, 2006 8:14 PM  

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