Remembering Ian Tyson

Ian and Sylvia Tyson, circa 1970

Born September 25, 1933 in Victoria B.C. and died December 29, 2022 in Longview, Alberta.

This is a name few will know or perhaps remember, even in his homeland it is only those of a ‘certain age’ that know of his songs or the folk duo of Ian & Sylvia. However what they produced, in particular three major hits in the early 1960’s are legitimately iconic. Born in Canada Tyson was a Rodeo Cowboy and following a serious injury, he ‘naturally’ turned into a singer-songwriter. You all know there are a lot of voices that sing about it, Tyson is one of the few that actually was a Cowboy. For more on his (& Sylvia’s) most well known song, a post will appear on A Sound Day later this month.

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You Were on My Mind” was written by his singing partner and wife, Sylvia Tyson and they released it in 1964. This is one of several songs originally performed by Ian & Sylvia that you may recognize by other artists. We Five hit #3 on the Hot 100 in September of 1965 and #1 for five weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart.

This was the only top ten hit for this California based group that was one of the earliest West Coast Folk bands to reach the charts. Lead singer of We Five Beverly Bivens would be an influence on artists to follow, including Spanky McFarland, Grace Slick and Cass Elliot.

As a writer, Tyson’s songs have been covered (collectively) close to 200 times, this one below “Someday Soon” was very popular on the Folk circuit in the 1960’s. Besides Collins this song has been recorded 40 times by names such as The Kingston Trio, Lynn Anderson, Glen Campbell and in 2015 Judy again with Jimmy Buffett.

Judy Collins was responsible for bringing exposure to many Canadian Singer Songwriters besides Ian Tyson and “Someday Soon”. She recorded songs by Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Bruce Cockburn, Stan Rogers and her first charted hit was “Both Sides Now” written by the then little known Joni Mitchell.

Nanci Griffith covered two of Ian & Sylvia’s songs on her Other Voices album in 1998, “Someday Soon” and the Tyson penned “Summer Wages” with Tom Russell. This song and “Navajo Rug” are on the list of 100 Greatest Western Songs of all time from The Western Writers of America.

Ian & Sylvia would form a Country/Folk Rock group called The Great Speckled Bird, so named after the Roy Acuff song. They performed a version of Ray Prices big hit, “Crazy Arms” in French on The Johnny Cash show in 1970.

Ian would go into semi retirement from music and return to ranching and training horses. He would occasionally perform and he still wrote songs and played the guitar. He died at his ranch at the age of 89.

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