Greenwich Village North: Ian & 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.
Thanks, Uncle Bill.