MIDWEST RECORD – CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 15, 2013
IAN TYSON/All the Good ‘Uns V. 2
Covering his last five albums, which have taken 14 years to get here, this fatly tracked set can only serve to whet the whistle for digging deeper into these albums if you missed them the first time around. One of the last of the great folkies that’s never given up the ghost, the old cowboy’s take on cowboy culture has a keen contemporary eye leaving no dust on him as he approaches 80. If he wasn’t Canadian, we could claim his as a national treasure. This is real stuff from the true vine. – Chris Spector
April 16, 2013
Well, to quote a friend's text during the show , "Holy crap, his voice is SO much better."
Yes it was terrific. Just like it's supposed to be.
Thanks for the show. It was great that we all could hear him again. And I'm happy for Ian that he can be proud of his show again. I gather this past couple years has been hard for him. He's in the pantheon of all time musical greats and to have his shows be A+ material again is just as it should be.
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CD Review in UK's Maverick Magazine
Ian Tyson -
Stony Plain Records
with recollection of
his travels on his latest song collection.
In the opening number seventy-eight
year old Tyson re-examines the life of that
already lauded western legend, Texas
Ranger, scout and pioneer cattle rancher
Charlie Goodnight. Goodnight and his
partner Oliver Loving’s legendary cattle
drives are mentioned in the lyric, as is
Charles Goodnight’s Grave which can be
found on the Texas Llano Estacado east of
Amarillo. Tyson’s EIGHTEEN INCHES OF RAIN
featured a duet with Suzy Bogguss, and
almost two decades later RAVEN SINGER
embraces a solo reprise of The Circle
Rio Colorado finds Tyson portray a
revelatory springtime adventure he
undertook with Mike DeNoyer’s Grand
Canyon Expeditions to ‘ride the white
water’ in the ‘canyon of dreams.’ Ian’s
cinematic lyric additionally alludes to
the ‘cathedral of the Condor,’ rapids on
the river, and ‘sleeping on the sand bar,
playing my guitar.’ Continuing with the
theme of travelogue, a hypnotic sounding
eastern rhythm propels Under African
Skies, and finds the Canadian in the steep
and perilous mountains of Morocco.
Whether ‘the memory of a love that will
not die’ relates to a person or a place is
open to interpretation, the line: ‘The heart
is a lonely hunter’ paraphrases Carson
McCullers’ 1940 debut novel, while Paul
Simon also penned a composition titled
Under African Skies. Toward the close of
this collection Tyson revisits Mexico in
Back To Baja.
Blueberry Susan is Tyson’s tribute to musician buddies who have passed during
the last five years: guitarists Laurice Milton ‘Red’ Shea, and former Tyson sidemen
Monte Dunn and David Rea. Ian intimates
how, decades ago, his ‘hair stood on end’ on first hearing bagpiper Hamish McKenzie,
while Hamish’s sister Susan ‘made his hair
stand on end in a whole other way.’ The
song closes with Gord Taylor playing the
bagpipes. A rancher narrates Winterkill, a
seasonal reflection upon love, hardship
and survival. There’s mention of a woman
riding a bay mare in ‘that yellow dress.’ Like
Charles Goodnight’s Grave and Winterkill,
Saddle Bronc Girl is an honest observation
of the real West. An acoustic guitar and
piano share the lead on the tastefully
melodic closing selection and instrumental,
The Yellow Dress.
Calgary teacher/artist Paul Rasporich
is responsible for the colourful, westernthemed,
almost surreal, gatefold liner
artwork, including the raven’s skull located
front and centre. The reason it features
prominently? During a sweat lodge
ceremony at the Nakoda First Nation near
Banff, Alberta, Tyson was given the name — ‘Ka-ree-a-hiatha’ which translates as ‘Raven
that Sings’—hence this collection’s title.
On his previous album YELLOWHEAD TO
YELLOWSTONE AND OTHER LOVE STORIES (2008)
I noted in my review that Tyson’s voice was ‘hoary and ragged sounding, furnishing
ample proof that we humans are mortal.’ It transpires that circa 2006 Ian scarred his
vocal chords. RAVEN SINGER features more of
Tyson’s ‘new’ gruff timbre.
The heart is a lonely hunter for Ian Tyson
Brad Wheeler From Wednesday's Globe and Mail Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011
Ian Tyson at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Monday
For the first of his two nights at a Roncesvalles folk-and-supper club, Ian Tyson sang cowboy songs.
Of course he did.
His bedroll baritone now only a husk of its former low croon, the plainsman poet won on guile, narrative and warm presentation. He sang often on themes of mortality, doing so at nearly 78 years of age. He wore a white hat; his forearms were taut and tan – pulling on horse reins might do that.
Four Strong Winds did not figure, nor did anything else from the saddlebag of Ian & Sylvia.
Country music didn’t figure either. A man of his landscape, Tyson does Western music; when he writes, his watch is set to Mountain Standard. But not always: The balmy strum and forlorn sentiment of Under African Skies, a new one, came to Tyson in Morocco, his audience was told. “Still running from the memory, of the love that will never die,” he sang, in a voice hushed, dry and high, “the heart’s a lonely hunter, under African skies.”
In John Einarson’s new book, Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia, the male half of that former partnership told the author “I never should have left that woman.” On Monday, he didn’t say what relationship inspired the wistful Love Without End, but he did talk about how Lioness (from 2008’s strong Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Stories) was inspired by an African mother animal and “another lioness, that I also know.”
A touching lament however, was directed to Tyson’s daughter – “Now I’m waiting out the flight delays, waiting for the storm to pass / waiting for the sky to clear, and I see your face.” Since the release of Estrangement, also on the Yellowhead album, the rift has passed.
Flanking Tyson were Gord Maxwell and Lee Warden. They played electric bass and acoustic guitar, respectively, but their priority was as harmonists, feathering Tyson’s arid vocals just like the coat of the birds the headliner likes to metaphorically exploit.
Early in the first set, the Albertan rancher warned us in advance that the second set would have in it fresh material. He said the new stuff – from the EP Songs from the Stone House – was “pretty good” and that the quality had surprised him. Rio Colorado was folk rock, about getting older but still with time left for rides on wild waters – “the river of life, canyon of dreams.”
Earlier, on Brahmas and Mustangs, a cowboy wondered “Did I stay too long, did I play too long.” It’s a question to consider, though it doesn’t seem that the trail is done quite yet. Tyson has lost his some of his vocals, but none of his voice.
Ian Tyson plays Hugh’s Room again on Tuesday; Picton, Ont. on Thursday; and Edmonton, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Sept. 4.
Tyson a hit at London's Aeolian Hall
By James Reaney The London Free Press, August 22, 2011
The good guy was definitely in the white hat at Aeolian Hall on Friday.
Canadian folk icon Ian Tyson was in full cowboy-songster mode for most of the night on the first visit of his 50-year career to the historic London hall.
“Playing in the East, I’m never sure folks will get it,” Tyson said late in the show of cowboy-themed material. “You obviously get it.”
Backed by an excellent duo, the singer and songwriter opened with a song about the hawks on his Alberta ranch and finished off a three-song encore with Magpie, another bird song.
“I am you, you are me,” Tyson sang about the magpie, symbolic of the spirit of the West. Tyson offered more than 90 minutes of narrative songs, informative and witty stage chat and an art-and-life resilience to match Leonard Cohen’s London concert a few years ago.
The main set closed with a strong performance of The Gift, his song about the 19th-century American cowboy artist Charlie Russell, who once visited the Alberta valley where Tyson has his ranch.
“He’s my patron saint,” Tyson said of Russell.
That led to the first of two standing ovations for the second set as hundreds of fans celebrated their hero’s return for a rare London gig. At least some fans in the crowd had seen Tyson as one of half of the famed Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia at UWO in the early 1960s.
The encore opened with The Fiddler Must Be Paid, a song about the end of things and lost love. Then it was time for Four Strong Winds, his classic from the Ian and Sylvia era. In a moving alliance of fans and performer, the audience sang along, following Tyson’s lead.
On Friday, Tyson had long-time bassist and vocalist Gord Maxwell and lead guitarist and vocalist Lee Warden backing him up. They looked to be excellent instrumentalists and also did fine work sweetening the harmonies around Tyson’s vocals. The man turns 78 next month, so a little rasp is to be expected. Tyson’s voice was strong, if rough-edged. It seems fair to add, he grew stronger as the night continued.
At the concert’s start, there had been two songs about the Alberta sky, followed by a “cowboy rap,” Jerry Ambler. It’s Tyson’s setting of a poem by a friend, Paul Zarzyski, about a Canadian who was the world saddle-bronco champion in 1946. Ambler was later killed in a crash on a Utah highway.
“Boys, there’s no rodeoin’ beyond,” Tyson and Maxwell spoke and sang, one of the night’s first references to eternity and death.
Ambler is as much a part of Tyson’s world as the opening song about the hawks who seem to scream “This is my sky” — also the song’s title — at the man as he walks along the fences of his southern Alberta ranch.
Among other peaks were Tyson’s visit to Someday Soon, a rodeo love song and a hit for other artists, which he said had brought him “many horses.” So, too, was the epic Yellowhead to Yellowstone, a song from the point of view of Canadian wolves brought to the American park.
Clearly a wolf man himself, Tyson sounded amused as he recounted the fear some of his Montana friends have for the wolves. Apparently, they are taking some old Russian folk songs as gospel. They’d be better off heeding Tyson.
Guitar maker teams with Tyson -
Dragons' Den appearance leads to deal
By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald August 5, 2010
Having passed the intense scrutiny of both Ian Tyson and a group of "Dragons" from the Dragons' Den, a small guitar-making company will be rolling out the Ian Tyson Limited Edition Guitar as a tribute to the iconic Albertan.
The Ian Tyson Limited Edition Guitar was given the thumbs up by the man himself. So MacKenzie & Marr Guitars, which sells hand-crafted guitars through website macmarr. com, will produce 250 of the instruments.
Co-owners John Marr and Jonathan MacKenzie initially approached the Alberta-based singer to ask permission to call another series of guitars they were manufacturing -- Summer Wages -- after one of Tyson's most beloved songs.
When Tyson said not only would he give the series his blessing, but also wanted to purchase one himself, a light went off in Marr's head.
"We thought, 'Let's try and make a guitar that would really suit his style,' " says Marr, who lives in Montreal. "We sent it out to him and said, 'What would you think about endorsing this guitar?' He played it and sent it to his lead guitarist. The feedback that came back was that they loved it."
Marr and MacKenzie worked out a "very comfortable" arrangement with Tyson's management and the brand was born.
With Tyson's blessing, the pair then won a spot in front of the scowling "Dragons" of CBC's venture capitalist reality show The Dragons' Den. In an episode that aired Jan. 13, the idea won support and first-round financing by panellists Kevin O'Leary, Jim Treliving and Calgary's Brett Wilson.
"I tripped down the stairs and just about took Jonathan out and dropped both guitars," says Marr about his TV appearance. "I barely recovered. But once we got rolling, it became, not calm because we were still nervous, more and more fun."
firstname.lastname@example.org - © Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Lyrical love-in -
Towering talents play friendly at folk fest that featured everything from traditional to indie
By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald July 25, 2010
It took some divine intervention for the Calgary Folk Music Festival to turn the corner on Saturday evening.
No, we’re not talking about the festival’s unfortunate tradition of having to battle bursts of ill-tempered weather. The sky stayed blue. But it was the tent-revival, God-hollering strains of Naomi Shelton and her fabulous Gospel Queens on the main stage that finally got the sun-fatigued audience up and dancing Saturday.
"I’m talking about the man above," thundered Shelton, behind some of the most joyous music to ring through the park on Saturday.
Performing since the late 1960s, when she was a member of Daptone records stable of artists, Shelton’s deep, dark voice is a revelation and she offered a classy, energetic set of inspirational music that could’ve moved even the most devout of atheists.
She was nearly matched by her three queens, who all took turns on lead vocals.
An impressive run through Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is was among the highlights, as was the charge through devotional songs I’ll Take the Long Road and the finger-wagging What Have You Done?
Shelton and the Queens worked their magic and set the tone for the rest of the evening.
According to band lore, certain members of follow-up act Hill Country Revue actually met in church. Nevertheless, they offered a distinctly different vibe with a set of dirty blues and hard rock. A side project of sorts North Mississippi Allstars electric washboard player Cody Dickinson, Hill Country Revue is at its best when Dickinson and fleet-fingered fellow guitarist Kirk Smithhart duel their way into jam-band marathons.
The flashy guitar parts, not to mention an explosive cover of R.L. Burnside’s Georgia Women, kept the band from slipping too far into generic bar-band boogie. Tattooed Singer Daniel Coburn, while not the liveliest of frontmen, certainly belts out the southern rock and blues with confidence, but the band’s best quality is the interplay between the musicians as they catch some heady grooves.
Australia’s the Cat Empire, while a polar opposite in most ways, were also reliant on grooves. But unlike Hill Country Revue, the Cat Empire employ an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to their sound: Madness-like ska, bright blasts of horns, turntable scratches, jazzy piano flourishes and -- good Lord! -- an actual drum solo. All of this might be a touch disorienting on record, but on stage there’s no denying Cat Empire’s power when they lock onto a groove. At their best, this act can also recall the more eccentric experiments from pop-scientists Peter Gabriel or David Byrne.
Needless to say, by this point there was a large group on their feet.
This is not to say that there was anything wrong with the earlier main stage acts Ian Tyson and Greg Brown, but they rarely gave the audience reason to get out of their chairs (Except, of course, to give Tyson a standing ovation.)
Tyson hit a nice laid-back vibe as the opener of the main stage Saturday evening. Backed only by a bassist and second guitarist, the 76-year-old held back on the nostalgia until the very end. Four Strong Winds, which Tyson dedicated to Neil Young, had the crowd swaying in a dreamy state of bliss after demanding the cowboy return for an encore, a rare occurrence for the main stage’s opening act.
Tyson’s set -- with story-songs about his father, his daughter, travelling saddle salesmen, timber wolves and big Alberta skies -- may have come off as creaky Canadiana if the tunes weren’t so well-crafted and performed with such sympathetic, heart-tugging harmonies.
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Ian Tyson: songs of the Rocky Mountain West
Posted on the Perceptive Travel Blog on June 26th, 2010 by Kerry Dexter
Yellowhead to Yellowstone a song about change, loss, what to keep and what to let go, and handling all that, told in the voice of a wolf who is relocated from western Canada to Montana. It is the title track of Ian Tyson’s most recent album and opens the door to a group of songs about personal confrontations with change, and reflections of the changing landscapes and ways of life in the Rocky Mountain west.
That’s a landscape and a way of day to day living Tyson knows well. “Music and horses, they’ve been my two loves all my life,” he said.
For the last three decades, Ian Tyson has lived on the eastern slope of the Canadian Rockies, in Alberta. It’s ranch country, mountain and prairie, and although it is changing, still a place where those who live there both wrest their livings out of the land and know they have to work with land and weather to survive. “It’s just a mosaic of western values and emblems, ” Tyson said.
He should know. He has been a force in re inventing the image of the west and rewriting the history of cowboy music. It began when he was invited to come to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, in the early 1980s. “Back then, that was really the beginning of a whole renaissance of the cowboy movement, from silversmithing to saddle making, to poetry, to music,” he said.
“When I went down there, those people just said hey, there’s this Canadian guy, he’s a cowboy, he sings good and we’re gonna go hear him. They didn’t know anything about Four Strong Winds, they didn’t know anything about Ian and Sylvia, they just knew this guy’s a cowboy and he sings good. Which was fantastic. And I slowly came to the realization that I could change this music.”
Tyson was the man to do that. In addition to being a working cowboy and knowing and loving the way life goes in the mountain west, he had, through the folk revival of the 1960s and early 1970s, been half of the duo Ian & Sylvia, one of the top acts of the era. The combination of Ian’s strong tenor and Sylvia’s edgy alto gave them a distinctive sound. They each had a fine ear for song, as well, creating arrangements of traditional music such as Jesus Met the Woman at the Well and V’La L’Bon Vent which foreshadowed both country rock and Americana. They recorded songs by then little known musicians Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot. They each wrote songs, too: Ian’s Four Strong Winds and Sylvia’s You Were On My Mind are but two which remain enduring classics which have been recorded by artists around the world.
When the couple came to a parting of the ways in the 1970s, Ian had returned to western Canada, and while keeping his hand in music by gigging around the region, focused on raising horses. Then came Elko.
“Here I was in my forties, “ he said, “and I realized that I could take the old Saturday afternoon Western movie music and leave that behind, and make a new music. Forge a new music out of my writing — and I did. It changed my life, basically, and gave me a whole new career.”
Tyson’s songs include character pieces about people who have shaped the west, clearly drawn descriptions of what it’s like to ride the range, to be out in the weather, to make a life in an often unforgiving land, stories of the beauty of that land, and stories of working out the joys and sorrows of love, framed in that life and those western landscapes. The album titles give an idea of the direction of the songs within them: Cowboyography, Eighteen Inches of Rain, Old Corrals and Sagebrush.
Yellowhead to Yellowstone is a bit darker than some of those. “You write about what you have,” Tyson said. Loss and change, connection and disconnection, regret and pondering what’s next make their way through ten songs, which end on a note of hope, in a song called Love Never Comes at All. “That’s a declaration of continuance, you know,” he said. “Love will continue.”
Now in his mid seventies, Tyson is pondering what’s next in his own path. “There are a lot of things I’d like to do before I tip over,” he said. “More songs, more cowboy stuff? It might be something else, a novel, a biography, maybe some short stories.” Later in the day of this conversation, he planned to go down to the small stone building on his ranch where he often works on his music. “I’ll play for a few hours,” he said, “just to keep the chops choppin.’”
Travelling the road with Ian Tyson - Documentary offers intimate look at legend
By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald January 16, 2010
The scene seems vintage Ian Tyson. Partway through Songs From the Gravel Road, a documentary filmmaker who has been following the iconic singersongwriter appears with camera in hand prior to a Calgary performance. Tyson addresses the camera with good-natured crotchetiness, letting it be known that he is not all that comfortable in the media glare.
"There he is, the ubiquitous cameraman," he says. "No wonder Dylan turned into such a nasty little son-of-a-bitch. Because he had these guys sticking those things up his ass all through the '60s. You would be too."
It should be said that director Matt Embry had permission to be there and was slowly gaining Tyson's trust as he spent weeks "embedded" with the singer. But it also shows that Tyson -- the iconic writer of Four Strong Winds, former TV star and semi-reclusive rancher -- maintains a decidedly prickly relationship with fame.
"I think it was a process," says Embry, the 33-year-old Calgarian who directed the documentary. "When we first had the camera in his face, it's challenging for anyone. Even for someone who has been performing his whole life and he had been on television for a long time. Initially it was a challenge. But once we were there all the time, it became second nature."
Airing Sunday on Bravo, Songs From the Gravel Road gives viewers rare intimate access to Tyson as it traces his 50-year run in the music industry. Mixing interviews with a fly-on-the-wall cinema verite approach, we see Tyson working his ranch, jamming with friends, singing with ex-wife Sylvia and even reminiscing with the mysterious woman who inspired the classic melancholy of his most famous song.
"Our goal was to not be on the outside looking in, we wanted to be on the inside with Ian," Embry says. "We wanted it to really feel like we were having a ride-along with him and that we have access to his life."
And Tyson certainly delivers during the hour-long documentary. He speaks eloquently about his music, his upbringing, his career, his shortcomings as a husband and the likelihood of riding out the rest of his life as a bachelor.
But the documentary, produced by Calgary's Pyramid Productions, also scores some coups with the other voices that are brought into the mix.
Tyson jams with fellow Albertan Corb Lund and guitarist David Wilcox, who played in Ian and Sylvia's backup band The Great Speckled Bird, American songwriter John Hiatt pontificates about Tyson's abilities as a songwriter and we see Tyson harmonizing with his ex-wife Sylvia. Most impressively, the producers got access to the often press-shy icons Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young.
It took more than a year to orchestrate the brief interview with Young, who is captured backstage after a show at the Saddledome.
"Neil Young was a long chase," Embry said. "We had a great stroke of luck in that he was performing in Calgary and we told him what we were doing, working with Ian Tyson, and he was open to it."
Embry, who admits he wasn't all that familiar with Tyson's music prior to filming, said he spent countless hours with the singersongwriter without the cameras to build up trust.
Embry says he hopes the hour-long profile reminds Canadians of Tyson's long reach as a musical influence, both on icons like Lightfoot, Bob Dylan and Young, as well as new performers.
"We were hoping to show that Ian Tyson was an incredibly influential musician," Embry says. "He's touched many peoples' lives and influenced other musicians. Not only did we want to show an accurate portrayal of who he is as a human being, but we wanted to show how long and wide his influence has gone."
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif
Home of Folk Roots/Folk Branches features on CKUT in Montreal and reviews, commentaries and suggestions from veteran music journalist and broadcaster Mike Regenstreif.
Monday, May 18, 2009 -
Ian Tyson concert review - Concert at Canadian Tulip Festival (Ottawa)
May 16, 2009
In my not so humble opinion, Ian Tyson has been one of the all-time great Canadian singer-songwriters since Ian and Sylvia burst on the scene in the early-1960s. I still love most of the Ian and Sylvia albums from back in the day as well as his solo work since the 1970s. I saw Ian in concert on Saturday for the first time since he started singing with what he calls his “new voice.” A couple of years ago a combination of vocal scarring and a bad virus took away the familiar smoothness and much of the range from the great tenor we’d known for 45 or so years. My last Ian Tyson concert was at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on November 27, 2006 before the change in his voice (and the night before Ian and I sat down for the long, career-spanning interview that ran on Folk Roots/Folk Branches on December 14, 2006).
Actually, I was surprised at how strong Ian’s singing seemed to be. While it was certainly not what it was back in 2006, Ian’s voice seemed to be considerably stronger than it was on Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories, his album released late last year. Ian’s unique timbre and vocal inflections were there. There was no mistaking the singer and he still knows how to communicate the essence of a song to his audience.
There was also no mistaking the quality of his songs. Much of the set was devoted to sad songs of lost love and of the quickly disappearing west of the modern-day cowboys and included a lot of the material from Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories and other relatively recent albums. He also occasionally reached back for a classic like “Navajo Rug,” co-written with Tom Russell, or way back to the Ian and Sylvia days for “Someday Soon” and “Four Strong Winds.”
After a well-deserved standing ovation, Ian encored with a poignant version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the only song of the night that he didn’t write or co-write.
Ian Tyson Takes the Gravel Road Less Travelled
San Diego Troubadour May 2009
Ian Tyson is the real deal. What others have imagined, Ian has lived. From a rodeo-riding youth to a broken-hearted gentleman and a prairie poet. He is a cowboy historian, a northern-sky storyteller and although he was born and raised in Canada, he's as American as a buffalo. He's a romantic and a realist, a rancher and a true singing cowboy, riding out on a what he calls a fenceless plain; he's the one Gene Autry only wished he could have been. Tyson's songs are strewn with story, lore, and legends. In some ways he personifies the quietly disappearing prarie wind-song. Still, he takes daily walks along his own personal gravel road to his cabin at the end of a box canyon. There he continues to write his songs about lovers, wolf packs, wild horses, rodeo children, adventures on a Navajo rug, and the joys of Canadian whiskey.
As we talked in a recent phone interview, a significant word kept coming into our conversation: space. In 1909, his Welsh immigrant father first stepped on to Canadian soil and experienced the reality of that western prairie wide-open space. It's easy to forget that there was a time when the untamed frontier was considered another planet to the uninitiated city-dweller. Tyson's father was this kind of person. But he stayed and the blood and yearning for the wilderness was passed on to him. He described it as the unfenced West, the place where wild horses roam free - the now disappearing wild land where man and beast dwelled in harmony. These are the topics of Tyson's finest songs.
Tyson is among the finest and underrated rated of North American singer-songwriters. After years in the rodeo circuit, beginning when he was 18, he left it behind due to an injury. It was then that he began his musical career at age 24. With his partner and eventual wife, Sylvia Fricker, they would become known as Ian and Sylvia. They were innovators in the urban folk renewal of the early '60s as well as country-rock pioneers with their band, Great Speckled Bird. With songs like "You Were on My Mind," recorded by We Five; "Four Strong Winds," made popular by Bobby Bare; and the ever classic "Someday Soon," memorably recorded by Judy Collins; they were able to influence the direction of popular music during the '60s.
In the early '70s, after Ian and Sylvia split, professionally and personally. Tyson left the music scene to pursue the real life of a cowboy on a ranch in a small town south of Alberta. He fulfilled his dream of raising horses and even took part in trail drives. He also returned to the rodeo. In the mid-'80s, he was re-discovered by way of the Elko Cowboy Poetry Festival, which met once a year in Elko, Nevada. This inspired the forming of a new country-rock band and renewed interest in writing, recording, and performing. The result is a body of work that is as good and influential as any in the history of North American music.
When Tyson began recording again, he inspired the New Traditionalist movement in mainstream country radio, launching the careers of Randy Travis, George Straight, and Garth Brooks. With these and other country music superstars, it's easy to hear echos of Ian Tyson. However, going directly to the source is the most satisfying. This has proved true with a long list of now-classic albums, including Cowboyography, 18 Inches of Rain, Songs Along a Gravel Road, and last year's Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories.
Today Tyson remains a country renaissance cowboy singer-songwriter who spends his time writing songs, recording, and occasionally touring. He has recently released a beautifully illustrated children's book, La Primera: The Story of the Mustangs. His collaborations with songwriter Tom Russell have yielded two widely acknowledged classic songs, "Navajo Rug" and "Canadian Whiskey." San Diego's Acoustic Music Series will have the honor of hosting a rare concert on May 22; his affection for the venue is clear in the song, "Blaino's Song" (from Yellowhead to Yellowstone):
The tall palms of San Diego
Silhouetted in the rain
In a church almost celestial
We sang the old songs once again
Read also the interview with Ian in the San Diego Troubadur
Ian Tyson - Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories
CD review up on Soundstage, released: 2009
Ian Tyson’s latest modern-cowboy-oriented CD opens with cantering drums, bass, piano, and acoustic guitar -- "galloping" would sound too frantic, but they do haul ass. Electric steel guitar glides and occasionally swoops, evoking the album’s wide-open landscapes -- the mountains of the American/Canadian Northwest. There are some very catchy tunes here. And Tyson (long ago of Ian & Sylvia), whose "Four Strong Winds" "Someday Soon," and "Navajo Rug" are classics and who’s been honored by the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, doesn’t disappoint in the lyrics department.
"Far away I hear the others callin’ / The voice I hear in answer is my own / The first of winter snows will soon be fallin’ / And I’m a long, long way from the Yellowhead / Here in Yellowstone" -- the opener’s refrain. From the point of view of a wolf in a pack transferred from Canada’s Yellowhead Pass to America’s Yellowstone National Park. A shattering tour de empathie that avoids ever-tempting maudlin sentimentality and is up to date in its understanding of nonhuman animals. Co-written with Stewart McDougall.
Tyson wrote eight of the ten tracks, and there’s a sameness to the songs’ sound. But why not? This is an artist who long ago found his voice and knows it well. Tyson’s singing voice today differs from its former smoother, deeper quality due to an excessive strain event followed by a virus. The art of singing is his second nature, though, or maybe his first -- he delivers his well-crafted songs compellingly.
It is important to hear this and Tyson’s half-century of work. His influence is greater than is widely known.
~ David J. Cantor
Ian Tyson's 75th birthday celebration
Edmonton Journal, Thrusday, November 6, 2008
As a celebration it might be a little late, but Ian Tyson’s 75th birthday concert at the Winspear Centre on Wednesday night was still a blast.
A near-capacity crowd came out in honour of the acclaimed singer-songwriter, who actually marked his threequarters of a century on the planet back on Sept. 25 at his ranch.
The concert had the intimate, even loose, feel of a gathering of friends, with many in the audience quite obviously fans from way back — cowboy hats were as much in evidence as suits. After conductor Claude LaPalme’s excellent orchestral arrangement of Four Strong Winds, Tyson made his way out with bassist Gord Maxwell and guitarist Gord Matthews, launching immediately into his classic M.C. Horses.
The ESO held back, just as they did for most of the first half of the concert, riding in occasionally en masse near the end of a verse, or as a lone horn buzzing Miles Davis-style, as on Land of the Shining Mountains.
LaPalme’s arrangements were sensitive to the material, the use of symphony musicians tasteful. At times Tyson and his two sidemen would carry the song with only slight embellishments; other times a dramatic sweep of strings would underscore a bittersweet lyric. Aching and reflective, Summer’s Gone — performed with just orchestra — had the feel of Sinatra crooning a prairie September of My Years, while the epic cowboy ballad Bob Fudge wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Townes Van Zandt’s Our Mother the Mountain.
Tyson was in a good mood throughout, obviously thrilled at the reverent treatment of his music. He was chatty and even somewhat sentimental — This is My Sky occasioned brief remarks from the singer about his happiness at the recent American election, Estrangement hinted at deeper currents of hurt in his family life. Navajo Rug had the wry feel of a man rediscovering in the moment why he wrote a song — and what it once meant.
As with another ’60s folk icon who recently passed through town, the way he now sings seems even truer to the man’s soul.
A recent illness has turned Tyson’s voice into a wistful, high and throaty rasp — somewhat at times like Dylan circa Blood on the Tracks, or maybe more accurately that of the Brooklyn cowboy, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.
It serves him well, especially on his later songs, where the weathered tone fits the words perfectly.
~ Tom Murray
Ian Tyson - Still singing at 74, the Canadian legend has become a fixture at the Gathering
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 ELKO DAILY FREE PRESS
Throughout most of its 24 years of success and growth, two things have
held true at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko: The winds will blow cold and Ian Tyson will play.
"He is someone we always want to have involved (in the gathering) because he is a true poet," said Meg Glaser, the Western Folklife Center's artistic director. "I think he speaks for the cowboy community very well. ... It is hard to think of a gathering without Ian."
The "cowboy crowd" and music lovers in general have three opportunities this year to catch Tyson, one of the gatherings most popular mainstays.
One of Canada's most respected singer-song- writers, Tyson began his career in music during the folk boom of the 1960s, after working in logging and rodeos in British Columbia. He formed the singing duo of Ian and Sylvia with Sylvia Fricker, recording more than a dozen albums and producing hits like "Four Strong Winds" and 'Someday Soon."
After becoming disillusioned with the Canadian country music scene, Tyson left the business and returned to his first love of ranching in southern Alberta. He came back to music in the early 1980s, influenced heavily by his experiences cowboying and training cutting horses, to produce the album "Old Corrals and Sagebrush."
Shortly thereafter, Tyson participated in Elko's inaugural Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985. His danceable cowboy music was introduced to overwhelming response at Stockmen's Casino - where he found a new audience. "It basically gave me a whole new career," Tyson said. 'Elko has been very good to me." In an essay about the early poetry gatherings in Elko, co-founder Hal Cannon said he knows several young men on ranches whose folks named them Ian after finding romance at the first gatherings dancing to Tyson's band.
"When Ian played the dance at the Stockmen's that was the greatest. It has never been duplicated," said Ross Knox, a southeast Arizona cowboy, poet and friend of Tyson's. 'They were backed up into the streets of the casino. ... It will stick in my memory forever."
Through the years, Tyson participated in every gathering save one - when he sang in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada. While he no longer plays Elko with a dance band, he is still a crowd favorite. His style of songwriting has always remained true to the ranching way of life. 'Ian is to cowboy music what Mozart was to classical music," Knox said. "He knows what he is writing about... It is one of the shows cowboys don't want to miss." Like many traditional ranching communities, Elko is a much different place than it was in 1985. Tyson said the changing West and loss of ranching is everywhere. In Canada, he said traditional ranching is being lost to the oil boom that has inflated the price of land.
"People call it progress but I don't," Tyson said. "It is just Change".
Every year, Tyson said, the faces he sees at cowboy poetry gatherings across the country are getting older. Still, he said if the quality of cowboy music is maintained, the audience will always be there. The theme of the changing West is often a key component in his music. "I think that's everybody's theme now," Tyson said. "If you are a writer in this genre, you can't escape it.'
Approaching his 75th birthday in September, Tyson is still active on his ranch in Alberta, Canada, and he is still producing music. His most recent album, 'Songs From the Gravel Road," was released in 2005. He is planning a new album, which he said will be more pared down and raw than "Gravel Road," which had a jazzy sound.
Tyson promised to bring some new material to Elko this year, including his first live performance of a song about longtime Spanish Ranch cow boss Bill Kane. A legendary bronc rider, Kane was well respected in the ranching community - and had a reputation of being a bit hard to work for. Tyson said he has written a couple of new love songs and has some other new work to showcase at the gathering.
Ian Tyson: High Plains Balladeer by Lee Gunderson
Alberta Beef magazine October, 2007
The Ian Tyson the public knows and loves gave us back our Country Music along with a sense of cowboy pride and identity. Off stage, Tyson is an intensely private, literate and philosophical man. In the little stone house where he writes his music (80% of the music is written on the path to the stone house), Ian displays a plaque given to him by the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2006 inscribed with "his songs have become favorites for his fellow Albertans and his fans around the world. He has been credited with recreating and reviving traditional country music in Canada."
Alberta ranchers knew this 20 years ago, his phrases form part of our daily lexicon and his songs form a significant part of our contemporary Western heritage. "Cowboyography" his break through 1986 album is a household word in the Americas, not just Canada. Though he is an intensely private person, perhaps out of necessity, Tyson remains loyal to his fans. Ian keeps a low profile but puts everything into his music knowing that it will do the talking for him. And it does. He is a master of innuendo and metaphor. He melds country, folk and rock music as no other artist can. How many Canadian country artists have been reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine?
Looking back at Canadian Country Music's history there was Wilf Carter, Hank Snow, Ian Tyson in the sixties along with Tommy Hunter and the likes of Stompin' Tom Connors. Now a whole host of country performers have been spawned by Ian's success over the past 25 years and they make up the revival and resurgence of Canada's country music scene: Corb Lund; Terri Clark; Paul Brandt, George Fox and hundreds of others continue Tyson's legacy. But it was Tyson's trail breaking "Old Corrals and Sagebrush" album in 1983 that was instrumental for the Renaissance of Ian's career and of Canadian Country Music. Ian calls what happened "Serendipity," it's much like finding a $20 bill in an old sweater pocket. For Ian it was unexpected, unanticipated and right out of the blue, though much welcomed. Here's what happened.
It was the late '60's. Ian had left his Hereford farm in Ontario where he raised a few horses. "I was tired of the music business, the TV show (Nashville North) and the stresses that success can bring. I wanted to go back out west to my roots. Sylvia and I amicably parted trails (the Ian Tyson Show followed). So I came back to Alberta in 1975 and happened to meet Alan Young at a horse show at Irvine. In those days he was managing Pincher Creek Ranches, one of the largest ranches in the British Empire at the time. I moved into the 'Puff' n Blow' cabin on the ranch for three of the best years of my life and I trained cutting horses. I also met George Brooks through Alan and we later partnered up on some cattle, at one time we ran 2000 steers together."
"My success over the past 24 years (since 1983) all came as a result of having 'Old Corrals and Sagebrush' just released and I received an invitation to the 1984 Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Nevada had a state hired folklorist who organized the event. Even though I was a pro they invited me to be involved. The festival was for amateur cowboy poets: so they had me perform outside the venue. They had about 50 chairs put out for the event and were worried they would be embarrassed by having set too many chairs out; anyway it turned into a crowd of over 400 real 'honest to God cowboys' who travelled from all over North America to be part of this one of a kind event. I performed at the Stockmen's Casino to an endless full house night after night. And things just kinda took off on their own after that. It was Serendipity at its best. I was not expecting a career resurgence on such a scale. But it turned out to be the beginning of the second part my career on a wonderful scale and in the directions I most wanted it to go: the roots of real country music as I felt it. I write the music and lyrics that come from my heart, that come from really living the life of the cowboy." Success came to Ian again, but on his terms, not those of a fickle public.
To say the least, Ian Tyson becomes the center of attraction at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Festival. For a few days each year he's been called the "King of Elko, Nevada." Ian recently came back from playing a private concert for 40 in Colorado. As well, he performed another private concert for Wilbur Stewart and guests this summer at Stettler, Alberta, this writer attended the event. Concerts like these are just a small part of Ian's yearly performing agenda.
When Alan Young died in 1987 Ian sang at his funeral. Young was also featured on one of Ian's song tracks as one of the backup singers on 'The Coyote and The Cowboy'. It was friend and neighbor John Scott (he worked on 4 Academy Award movies) that found a quarter section of land he felt was right for Ian not far from Longview in the winter of '79-80. Ian bought it and then acquired the Sylvester Hogg quarter later (plus other property) with the old stone house on it. Ian has since expanded the place and runs cattle and raises cutting horses. He works cattle extensively with neighbor Peter Wambeke (Richard's son), Ian says "we see eye to eye." Every morning Ian feeds his horses and takes a walk down to the little stone house where he writes his songs. Either Ian's there to do his writing or sometimes he drives down to Einar Brasso's cabin at Chain Lakes. Ian keeps to himself except for his close friends. It is safe to say that a very large group of extremely loyal fans follow his every movement. Call it a cult if you will, but the group even includes Canadian artist Neil Young, who believes "Four Strong Winds" is one of the greatest and most beautiful songs ever written.
This year Ian is planning a four night concert series at the East Longview Hall, Ian adds, "These concerts have an indefinable aura about them, the audience for some reason becomes one with me. There are some incredible crowd dynamics that happen at that concert." The four night concert series usually sells out in about one hour (this writer could only obtain 2 tickets with 4 months advance notice). Ian's voice is still bothering him a bit after he caught a virus on an air flight in 2006 but he's getting stronger vocally, "Corb Lund says not to worry about it, he feels it gives my voice another dimension," Tyson adds.
Ian is asked if he is upset over music file sharing on the internet, he adds "Napster is now transferring funds and royalties and the whole thing doesn't bother me." When asked what his own favorite songs are that he wrote Ian quickly says, "Summer Wages and MC Horses. At dinner one night Ian added, "My third most favorite song is Somewhere in The Rubies." I told him his music has entered the vocabulary of feedlot operators and cow/calf men across Canada, oft being quoted in stories and everyday conversation. Ian was unaware as to what level this had taken place. It's hard for him to be everywhere and realize the impact he's had on just about everyone in agriculture. Ian's writing, ranch chores and performances exact a toll in time and health. Then Ian had a crash with a bull a few years back while on horseback and a recent bout of illness and the days have been full. But his song writing continues unabated. I watched Ian sitting at his desk in the little stone house at the end of the gravel road down by the river; a guitar sits on a sofa and watching over Ian while he writes is a portrait of Charlie Russell. It is safe to say that Ian's song writing gift shines as bright as Charlie Russell's gift to the world of western art.
When asked what his favorite memories are, Ian thinks for only a moment and observes, "I've been able to ride some of the greatest ranches in the US. There was the Singleton Ranch in New Mexico, Singleton died in 2001. He beat Ted Turner out for sheer size of his operation. They're keeping the ranch together. And I rode with Alex Carrone, that man is absolutely admired by everyone, that man has it all together, he's definitely the real deal. Nor can I forget my friends Jean and John Brittenham at Anton Chico. Just talking about it makes me want to load up Pokey and Bud in the trailer and head south." While writing this story, Ian's song about the wild Owyhee Range plays in the background.... he sings of 'wild horse heaven' and the endless seas of sagebrush, may those horses out on the Wild Owyhee Range always run forever free.
Tom Russell has collaborated with Ian writing many of his hits. Tom is getting married this coming spring in Elko: Ian will be his best man. The talk with Ian drifts easily and endlessly. His interests are extremely varied, but the conversation keeps him returning to his massive library on the early cowboys, the history of the horse and the history of the big cattle spreads. He speaks of Bert Sheppard, pulls out a photo of his father as a buckaroo, a 'Gunsel' as Ian calls him (aka Greenhorn) and Ian digs out a photo of the great Bob Fudge of Texas. Ian's music awards are numerous and listed on his web site. He has been honored by the governments of Alberta and Canada in many ways, but Ian is reserved about these awards, he observes, "I wish Sylvia had received more recognition for her music than she has."
The talk turns to the early music years in Toronto. There's meeting all the famous names in music at the Mariposa folk festival; the guests on his own TV show with Sylvia; "Waylon Jennings and I were friends and we got in lots of trouble. We were both playing Toronto clubs and after we closed we got together and jammed at the Matador. You could say that Hank Snow, Roy Acuff and Johnny Cash were considerable influences on me. When I was a boy in Vancouver my father took me to see the original Sons of The Pioneers with Tex Ritter as a guest along with his horse White Flash; that left quite an impression on me. Today I listen to Dylan's "Modern Times" and Mark Knoppfler as well. But I have to hand it to Corb Lund, I'm his biggest fan, he writes great horse songs."
Ian's library is one of the most impressive collections of cowboy and horse history I have ever seen amassed outside of the Stockmen's Memorial Foundation. His books are rare and eclectic: when he tours in the US he often stops by used book shops to pick up titles being sold by estates, as the great herds and ranches are being lost. Ian is picking up what literary gems are left over from this era each time he takes a trip south. The southern US plains, the big herds and the legends are like a magnet to his psyche.
From a drawer Ian pulls out his newest album cover photos taken by Kurt Markus. They are beautiful portraits in black and white by one of the most celebrated cowboy photographers in America. I signal my approval and admiration for the work. Ian took me over to the original plywood wall in his barn where the cover photo for Cowboyography was taken by Markus. All the original marks are still there after 21 years.
Ian loves to tell real stories through his ballads. His poems (lyrics) set to music dwell on loving, losing and living life under the big sky. His extensive research, his ability to put his own experiences and those he's read to music makes him celebrated as a western folklorist and cultural anthropologist though Tyson does have an aversion to what he calls the 'romance of the cowboy'. "I write what comes from my heart. I don't write about the American movie concept of the West or of cowboys often romantically portrayed, it is all mostly phony. What I write comes from real living. That I have done. American country artists tend to romanticize too much, it's almost as if they haven't lived the life and think it up and put it to music. Sure I'm singing 'Riding Down The Canyon' on the Gene Autrey tribute album, but my own work takes the listener to the real world of the cowboy and his life. Summer Wages and MC Horses best illustrate that."
Just imagine Banjo of the MC Ranch, being sold in a ring and loaded for the first and last time into a trailer after a stressful sale, and the great horse rips the trailer to shreds knowing that he's facing the end of his working life at the MC remuda. Ian paints a picture in his song of Banjo that would make old horsemen cry. I remember the day we loaded our six Percheron work horses onto a truck in 1956 and sent them for dog food at 5 cents a pound. I'll never forget the look of panic in their eyes as they were forced (I helped) onto the truck. They had Banjo's horse sense, they knew, they knew.
The talk with Ian moves to the disappearing cowboy and the big spreads being broken up. He adds, "Those big ranches seldom exist unless it's from outside money that allows them the luxury of land and big herds." We agree things don't look good for your average Canadian producer what with BSE, drought, increasing costs, shrinking calf prices and the fact that "Canada doesn't have the tax advantages Americans do. The Yanks subsidize their corn and agriculture but Canada sure doesn't help their producers. I think we've got to subsidize our agriculture or it's not going to survive. The little guy, if he doesn't work the oil patch or drive a bus or have off farm employment, unless he has 500 cows, he can't afford to continue any more. Rising costs, a short growing season with 12 months of frost some years and big droughts take their toll. But the little guy in Canada needs more help from government or our way of life is going to come crashing to an end. And with the incursions of oil and gas into prime ag land and with urban sprawl there's not much room left for agriculture these days. Just look at what's happening 50 miles north of me west of Calgary." I agree with Ian, it's like Joni Mitchell said "they're gonna pave paradise, put up a parking lot." We both agree we're losing the big spreads, it's getting harder every day to make a buck and keep it. There are storm clouds on the horizon for those in agriculture. We both agree we need political leaders with vision and who can act; much needs doing, Canada's cheap food policy is destroying its agriculture.
There are real, not imagined problems, when as Wilbur Stewart points out, a pound of fresh ground beef is the same price as a pound of ripe tomatoes.
Tyson points out that he and Gordon Lightfoot once united against the CRTC Canadian Content rules in the 1960's. Ian recalls, "It turned out Gordon and I were wrong. The 33% content rules turned out good for music and Canadian artists. Like our music culture our agriculture needs help: subsidies. We can be haughty and proud and say we are independent and free and don't need a handout, but I think agriculture is at the crossroads. It's time we acknowledge the massive changes and our government must intervene to save our agriculture and way of life with a plan to make agriculture more financially rewarding. I have given this thought for years."
Ian has become a western cultural icon. His music is loved. It goes deeper than that. He has helped us forge our identity as one culture and one people who love the land, cattle, horses and the lifestyle. Ian's music spans the 49th parallel and breaks the US-Canada political barrier; Ian's music celebrates and unites the cowboy culture of the Americas (including Mexico). He teaches us all so much more about our relationship with the land and other cattlemen and horsemen and yet the music allows us to celebrate the present and keep our dreams of the future alive. Ian knows of the places where great herds of horses still run wild and free.
"Yep," Ian continues, "I always wanted to be a cowboy, not a writer or a singer. I just got lucky." Ian writes that "Life gets harder every day and sometimes it seems the dreams almost die." But his music makes us feel we're not alone, that there is hope for renewal and that love and tomorrow and starting over will see everything come together as it should be. In 'Alberta's Child,' his anthem for Wilf Carter, Tyson writes "All our questions will be answered further down that muddy road." Ian's music embodies the vicissitudes and vagaries of living. Perhaps 'Land of Shining Mountains' (1991) really is Alberta's provincial anthem. I watched Ian unsaddle Pokey and Bud one day and brush and feed them. I turned to Ian and said, "Hey Mr. Vaquero, put a handle on the pony for me, teach me the mystery." Ian turned and smiled under that big blue Alberta sky. He turned and said, "Pokey you are just so beautiful, if you were a woman I would marry you." Neil McKinnon, Charlie Russell, Bert Sheppard, Happy Campbell, Jimmy Armstrong and Jim Arthur and all our lost friends were smiling over in Smokey Ridge Country when they heard Ian say that.
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Ian Tyson concert was economic boon to Wickenburg
By Art Pulis, Sun Business Advocate in the Wickenburg Sun
Well-known recording artist Ian Tyson drew people from across the country to see his concert at the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts last week.
Last week's Ian Tyson concert at the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts drew over 300 people from out of town including 87 who came from out of state specifically for the performance.
According to Webb Center Program Services Manager Ivan Schustak Ian Tyson is a nationally known western artist from Canada who has a limited performance schedule in the United States. Consequently his loyal fans were willing to travel hundreds and even thousands of miles for the opportunity to see him live.
The Webb Center tracks its patrons and was able to determine that 87 people from a total of 15 states plus Canada purchased tickets and traveled to Wickenburg for the event. Some of the states represented are on the East Coast with two coming from New York and 10 from Ohio. These patrons do not include people who might be regular Wickenburg winter visitors, but rather are people who only came for the show.
“One person from Oklahoma called us near the end of January for a ticket but unfortunately we had just sold out,” said Schustak. “We put him on the waiting list, and he made the 1600 mile trip on faith that he would be able to get a ticket. He showed up and fortunately we were able to get him a seat.”
The effect of the out of town visitors for the performance has been felt in restaurants that have been filling up on performance nights. Other popular Wickenburg locations have been busier too. A recent e-mail from Desert Caballeros Western Museum Director Royce Kardinal to the Webb Center Director Cathy Weiss said, “Just visited with a museum visitor that came all of the way from Shreveport, La., for your show tonight! She and her husband planned their whole trip around attending your performance! Good job of national outreach! Royce.”
While the Webb Center has been reaching out within Arizona and nationally to attract patrons, it still books its talent and caters primarily to Wickenburg residents.
“Our objective is to bring high-quality art to Wickenburg for our residents and winter visitors,” said Weiss. “But we also welcome those from the Valley and out of state when they help us fill our auditorium. Filling seats enables us to afford the best talent. To make sure we give preference to our locals, we have special discounted programs offering tickets as early as the summer for the following year's performances.”
Arthritis and "gamekeeper's thumb" make it difficult for Ian Tyson to play long sets, but he still kept the faithful enthralled at the 22nd Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko Nevada, last week
Cowboys paying homage to Tyson
'Legend and icon' at poetry gathering Canuck a hero, Philip Marchand finds
He now refers to himself as an "old man," but give Ian Tyson credit. The battered and bruised 71-year-old Alberta rancher and singer-songwriter, sometimes cranky, sometimes mellow - "I'm king of the mood swings," he sings in "Gravel Road" - has never given up. He's in there pitching.
Nowhere is the meaning of his work more evident and more cherished than at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., a festival drawing about 8,000 spectators. Of the 50 or so performers at the gathering last week - cowboy poets and cowboy musicians alike - no one is cheered like Tyson. For the seven days of the event, he owns Elko.
"He's a legend and an icon," says Charlie Seemann, executive director of the Western Folklife Center in Elko, which hosts the gathering. "He has a huge cult following in the ranching world."
Curly Musgrave, a California singer-songwriter who enjoys a huge eminence in cowboy music, is equally emphatic. "If there's a cowboy singer who is appreciated in the United States, it's Ian Tyson. He set the stage for the rest of us to come on. He certainly has been an influence for me, particularly in songwriting, in capturing the style and essence of what a cowboy is, and really speaking to the heart of the cowboy."
(Fellow Canadian Neil Young is also among his fans. A poignant moment in the new movie Neil Young Heart of Gold, which opens Friday, comes when the singer introduces Tyson's "Four Strong Winds." He calls the song "the most beautiful record I ever heard in my life.")
Tyson reciprocates the gathering's love affair. "This place, more than any other, kind of gave me a whole new career ... because I was interested in western music that is contemporary and pushes the envelope out there, and there wasn't any discernible market for that before Elko," Tyson says.
Of the 22 annual Cowboy Poetry Gatherings, he has missed only two.
"I soon discovered there was an audience for my songs that were more, shall we say, adventurous, more in the jazz sense of extemporaneous playing. Had it not been for Elko I probably would be playing weekends. It's more than a venue, it's a whole cultural, sub- cultural phenomenon."
Of course, Tyson's music never gets too far out. "It always comes around to the original," he comments. "It comes around to the traditional structure of the Scots-Irish melodic thing, with a lot of blues mixed in. It's cyclical."
To keep the cycle going is hard work. Fortunately, there's nothing wrong with Tyson's work ethic. "I haven't written much in the last few months," he remarks on an ominous note. "I'm hoping to deal with that in some way."
One way is venturing into different genres he's been experimenting with short prose pieces. Another way is to keep up a certain regimen. "I live alone so my life is pretty structured," he says.
"It doesn't work if you don't get out of bed in the morning and do all the things that are required of you, like washing the kitchen floor. I'm in the midst of a divorce right now (from his second wife, Twylla Dvorkin), which I hope to resolve soon. In the meantime, I like to go on the road, because at home I'm pretty isolated. A lot of it I enjoy, but one can overdo that sort of thing."
(His first marriage, to Sylvia Fricker, created the singing duo of Ian and Sylvia.)
There's something else Tyson has to contend with in his career, aside from writer's block and divorces and isolation his body.
He has always been a working rancher and the marks of that persist. A few years ago he experienced a devastating "bull wreck," a collision between a bull and a horse he was riding.
These days he is fighting degenerative arthritis. A doctor recently told him he suffered from "gamekeeper's thumb." Tyson details the doctor's explanation "The gamekeeper had the job of wringing, you know, the neck of the pheasant - or maybe the neck of the peasant. I don't know. It's f ed, that's for sure. But I can still play."
He can play, but not for a long time. At the end of a concert Thursday night at the Elko Convention Center, he looked like a wreck. Tyson walked stiffly off the stage and clutched his shoulder, his face in a grimace of pain.
"Ian just keeps going," Seemann says in wonderment. "It's great. People love him."
Feb 6, 2006
CD of The Week
It's a no-brainer to go with a new Tyson album as the CD of the Week. The release of a new Tyson effort is an event quite unlike another in the Alberta music scene. In the Canadian music scene in fact. The term 'legend' doesn't legitimately sit well on the shoulders of many. It does on 'Ole Ian'. And yet from the git-go of Songs from the Gravel Road, there doesn't seem to be antything 'Ole' about Ian. Sure, there's his familiar pattern of story telling, of grounding his lyrics in the Alberta landscape, weather, history and people, and even politics. God, may that never change. But with this new release Ian's sound seems fresh in more ways than one. More than the fact that he's come up with a dozen dandy new songs. Perhaps it's the work of producer Danny Greenspoon, the phase of the moon or the price of cattle, whatever, but Ian is making some new sounds and embracing others. From his voice, come high cowboy tones to highlight the 3 minute jewel called 'The Ambler Saddle'. The muted trumpet of Guido Basso takes the philosophical 'Love Without End' to a rich, warm place. Cindy Church's tones add a delicate counterpoint to a soft reggae tune.
Yet, I keep coming back to the heart of Ian's music as the reason I'm a big Tyson fan: his unabashed comfort with being who he is: an Albertan cowboy - albeit one who doesn't have to sell his cattle to survive. And he sings of the things that connect with me, a big city guy with his heart in the Alberta countryside. This new album not only deepens the connection, it widens the admiration for Ian's stories and his undiminished genius for real country music.
Tyson remains a master storyteller
Songs from the Gravel Road
**** 1/2 out of five
Proving age is only a state of mind, one-time cutting horse champ Ian Tyson continues to create some of his most poignant and sturdy work five decades after he first put pen to paper and picks to strings.
Stirring up the rhythms, incorporating instruments that slipped out of a late-night jazz bistro, and singing, at times, with an unsettling emotional edge, Tyson remains both a master storyteller and the enigmatic loner.
Tyson starts by kicking up the dust is he looks both skyward and into the horizon on This Is My Sky before slowing the pace considerably on Land of Shining Mountains, a beautiful piece that is trademark Tyson when it comes to melding imagery with sentimentality.
Two numbers that deserve a nod from commercial country radio are Range Delivery and the closer of the studio material Always Saying Goodbye. Both are hung on superior melodies and absorbing hooks, and the former is given a sweet and sassy focal treatment by Cindy Church.
Through it all, Tyson's voice remains the focal point. Like the winds that cut through the valleys of the eastern slopes of the Rockies and into the foothills, it is sometimes warm, sometimes biting, but always the dominant, force among the elements.
February 8, 05
Ian Tyson laments cultural losses
Three years ago, Canadian music icon Ian Tyson pointed his truck up a Nevada gravel road leading to a small box canyon. At the end of it was a secluded cabin cosy and quiet.
Surrounded by the austere, expansive landscape that is as central as his silky baritone to his long string of critically acclaimed albums, Tyson, then 67, had come to write songs.
If I can't write 'em here, he thought, I can't write 'em any more.
Turns out be can write 'em just fine.
Tyson's newly released Songs From the Gravel Road, his first studio album in six years, offers 12 songs from both the heart of the West and the heart of a man disillusioned by the failure of love and the souring of western culture.
"The songs started coming to the surface," says Tyson, whose songbook includes 1960s classics such as Four Strong Winds and Summer Wages.
THE CANADIAN PRESS
February 8, 05
Ian Tyson Ageless in humble simplicity
Alberta's favourite cowboy touches the Winspear
Even with a cold, and a little wheeze, Ian Tyson gave1,800 country fans and maybe some orchestra fans, as well, a show that felt ageless in its simplicity and unpretentious artfulness.
Wearing a white cowboy hat, the 71-year-old Canadian icon sang songs like Summer's Gone, that draws on his own personal story as a father watching his daughter grow up too quickly, and he tied his songwriting gift to the stories of other folks, like Bob Fudge, who lost members of his family and the herd of horses he was driving toward a new life in and Indian raid back in the 19th century. In Primera Tyson even gave voice to a little mare he imagined surviving her passage to the New World in 1493 against great odds. Much of what he sings about is sad, but he gives the characters dignity through his attention.
Tyson is well known as a real cowboy and authentic country voice, and his performance Tuesday evening reinforced those qualities even though his yodeling was cautious and his inhalations sounded a little laboured at times.
The cold could've been a blessing in disguise, though, for some of the lower notes in many tunes, especially the touching lost-love song Navajo Rug, which the woman beside me enjoyed singing bits of when the refrain came around. She probably wasn't alone.
Tyson reminded the crowd the even though they were in the fine concert hall, some possibly for the first time, they shouldn't feel "intimidated" and the orchestra did all it could to second that opinion. Lead ESO fiddler Martin Riseley made some convincing country sound himself on Horsethief Moon. Tyson invited the audience to sing the chorus to his classic Four Strong Winds toward the end, and guest conductor Stephane Laforest offered them an opening to hum along to Shenandoah, which ESO strings played beautifully and received a standing ovation for. The standing O was genuine, but Laforest had joked earlier about expecting three standing ovations before the night was over.
Strangely, throughout the evening the French Canadian conductor persisted in pronouncing Tyson's first name as "Yan". Considering the fine ear Laforest must have, he could have practised an Ee-an in advance of a concert in which an Ian figured so prominently.
A mighty good start to the ESO's three-show country series all 'round.
- Bill Rankin
October 6, 2004
TYSON AND AUDIENCE ESTABLISH CLOSE BOND
There are those who say the limited audience for cowboy poetry in these parts reflects the lack of shared experience.
Then there are those who point to the limited pool of authentic cowboys who become poets, and the resulting overexposure of a handful of individuals, as the primary contributing factor.
One sensed, however, a fundamental difference in the bond between Ian Tyson, a Canadian legend who revived and reinvented his career 20 years ago by starting to record cowboy songs, and an audience that, while it may have shared the rural roots of his experience and the subject matter of his recent songs, does not share the specifically cowboy nature of that experience.
And yet, it seemed Tyson was not only singing to the full house of young and old at Horizon Stage in Spruce Grove last Friday night, he was singing about them - perhaps in a previous life, but nonetheless connecting with their experience of growing up close to the land, being close to the forces of nature, and interacting with the birds and animals around them.
It was Tyson, after all, who, together with then-partner Sylvia, penned and performed the quintessential Alberta anthem Four Strong Winds.
When Tyson sang that song January 19, and invited the audience to join in, there was none of the standard, "C'mon, you can do better then that." The moment was almost like being in church, in that congregation/audience members passionately re-affirmed a deeply felt mythology binding them together and defining who they are.
What's more, Tyson brought a freshness to the song that made it seem he'd just written it, rather than that he was performing it for probably the 6,000th time or more.
Tyson began his career as a folk singer, and some would see his move into country music as a switch. In the case of Tyson's brand of country music, however, there really isn't a dividing line.
He incorporates elements of the blues, reggae, and Mexican music into his songs, telling stories about the Old West as well as the new.
When he talked about a roan mare breaking his bones and breaking his heart, no one thought he was joking.
He even sang a song from the point of view of a horse, and it ended up telling the story of the origins of the North American mustang.
Tyson is a master story-teller, packing a lot of information, emotion, and experience into three or four minute segments.
A personal favourite was a song close to the end of the show about Kid Russell, who grew up to be Charlie Russell, in Tyson's estimation the greatest of the Western painters.
Even the semmingly incongruous Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song Judy Garland did for a movie way back when, was moving as interpreted by Tyson.
Tyson's voice wasn't in tip top shape throughout the show, and he made reference to trying to fight off a cold or fatigue, but it seemed to grow stronger as the evening progressed, before fading out again toward the end.
The musicianship of Tyson, Gord Matthews on guitar, and Gord Maxwell on bass, was understated but top notch.
Tyson made mention several times of how much they enjoy playing Horizon Stage because the top notch accoustics make them sound so good, and the sound quality seemed to bring out the best in their playing.
They particularly seemed to "get into it" on songs such as the reggaefied Magpie, which brought smiles to their faces during the instrumental breaks.
All in all, it's no surprise why Tyson keeps coming back to the Spruce Grove performing arts centre, nor why the theatre keeps selling out show after show.
- Rich Gossen, The Reporter & The Grove Examiner, January 26, 2001. -
"(Tyson) put the Western back into Country Music"
- Dirty Linen
"...he evokes the innocent excitement of cowboy music's pre amplified days"
- CD Review
"He is an authentic, lyrical chronicler of Cowboy life with a voice that becomes richer and more mesmerizing with his 60 years"
- Durango Herald
"(America's) disappearing West has no better spokesman than Ian Tyson"
- LA Times
"Tyson's depth as a songwriter and his expertise as a performer allow him to transcend the implicit boundaries of the cowboy music genre with an approach that is universal in its appeal."
- Pulse Magazine
"Ian Tyson has produced some of the most lyrical western-style music ever recorded!"
- Stereo Review
"Hopefully, Nashville has risen to Tyson's high standards of quality"
- Sing Out Magazine
"Tyson is hands-down the premier writer and performer of music of and about the people of the West"
- Western Horseman
"Tyson's music will surely stand beside the works of his heroes as enduring documents of the West"
- LA Times
"Arguably his finest recording since his seminal Cowboyograpy in the early 80's, Lost Herd aches beautifully with images of a western lifestyle that is being covered by the winds of time and change..."
- James Muretieh
Calgary Herald Entertainment Guide
February 18-24, 1999
"...Tyson is amazingly at the top of his game. The images from Indian Paint Brush of a raptor sky, seabirds wheeling and days as warm as a lover's kiss are as rich and relaxed as Tyson's voice... Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a perfect finish to one of Tyson's finest albums."
-John P. McLaughlin
February 23, 1999
"And the lyrics are pure poetry: Summer's gone--goin' gone/pale moon in a raptor sky/days as warm as a love's kiss/just before she says goodbye..." "There's not enough room here for all the praise I'd like to give Tyson and Lost Herd."
March 25, 1999
"...Lost Herd, a wonderful collection of original songs about horses and the men who work with them."
March 25, 1999
"...mostly what happens here is that Tyson has his lick back. Although some might recall days when his voice was stronger, his feel for the West and his ability to put it into music is better than ever."
"...the senior statesman of Canadian singer/songwriters has just released a superb new album."
"...a soft cello and gently piano notes bring tremendous atmosphere to this cowboy song. Mesmerizing and how."
March 23, 1999