Ian Tyson, the widely respected composer of folk and country standards, was a pioneer of the singer-songwriter movement -- a genre firmly established today because of his leadership. The award-winning Tyson earned his place in music history as the composer of the beloved song Four Strong Winds, which was voted the greatest Canadian song of the twentieth century.
Victoria native Ian Tyson met a real cowboy at age six, and after seeing Bob Nolan and his Sons of the Pioneers perform, became hooked on the lure of the West. Tyson rode in rodeos in his youth, and a 1956 rodeo accident led to him learning to play guitar while in hospital. He played his first solo coffeehouse gig in 1957, while studying at the Vancouver School of Art and breaking broncs part-time. He then moved to Toronto to design bottles for a glass factory.
There Tyson played Yorkville coffeehouses and met fellow singer Sylvia Fricker, with whom he formed the folk duo Ian & Sylvia. Together in 1961 they took the Greenwich Village folk scene by storm, and then colleges and concert halls across the continent and abroad.
In 1964, Tyson emerged as a leading songwriter with his quintessential classic Four Strong Winds. He followed up his breakthrough song with his ASCAP-award winning Someday Soon (a major hit for Judy Collins and later Suzy Bogguss), and his The Lovin’ Sound, a No. 1 Canadian hit in 1967.
Ian & Sylvia broke ground again by introducing the cross-over country-rock sound; their “Great Speckled Bird” album is still considered a landmark achievement. Together the duo released 13 acclaimed albums of original and folk material.
Tyson released his first solo album, “Ol’ Eon,” in 1973, and in 1978 (following his own advice, “Think I’ll go out to Alberta”) Tyson purchased his Alberta ranch.
The move West led Tyson to revive the cowboy music genre with his “Old Corrals and Sagebrush” album, with songs about horses, ranches, and the open range.
Tyson’s songs positively bleed the authenticity of first-hand experience. As he explains, “My songs allow people from all walks of life to enjoy the West vicariously.”
Then in 1987 came the biggest album of Tyson’s career, the multiple-award-winning “Cowboyography.” Tyson wrote most of its songs alone in an Alberta log cabin, saying in his memoir, “The songs just came to me in that cabin nestled against the front face of the Rockies….I was definitely infused with a creative energy.”
The platinum “Cowboyography,” produced by the visionary Adrian Chornowol and recorded in Calgary, yielded the hits Navajo Rug, Fifty Years Ago, Claude Dallas, and Cowboy Pride. Tyson earned the Juno for country male vocalist as well as Canadian Country Music Awards for top album, top male vocalist, and top single — not to mention three Big Country awards.
Since the seminal “Cowboyography,” Tyson has been hailed as “the best that western music has to offer” and the “lyrical biographer of Western culture.” In his solo career he has recorded over 20 charting singles.
Tyson’s 1991 album “And Stood There Amazed” yielded Jaquima to Freno, and subsequent albums like “Lost Herd” (winner of several Alberta Recording Industry Association Awards), the Juno-nominated “Songs from the Gravel Road,” and “Yellowhead to Yellowstone,” showcased the mature singer-songwriter at the top of his craft.
Tyson is still writing songs, recently releasing “Carnero Vaquero,” including the conservationist Cottonwood Canyon. Said Tyson in his memoir The Long Trail, “The fact that I can still move people with my stories – I live for that.”
Many of Tyson’s most memorable songs are autobiographical (Nobody Thought It Would; Own Heart’s Delight; and the yearningly beautiful Estrangement). He also shines as a chronicler of the personages and tales of the West: bronc-rider champion Casey Tibbs; Western novelist Will James; Idaho trapper Claude Dallas; landscape painter Charlie Russell (The Gift); and a famous Oregon ranch (MC Horses).
Tyson is in the Canadian Country Music and Juno halls of fame, is a Governor General’s Performing Arts laureate, and holds the Order of Canada. He has been the Canadian Country Music Association’s top male vocalist three times.
Ian Tyson’s songs are now revered folk and country standards.