Ian and Sylvia

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Ian and Sylvia Tyson

Ian and Sylvia Tyson CM were a Canadian folk music duo who performed and recorded from the early 1960s through the early 1970s.

Ian Tyson was born in British Columbia in 1933. In his teens he decided upon a career as a rodeo rider. Recovering from injuries sustained from a fall during the mid 1950s, he started learning guitar. In the late 1950s, he relocated to Toronto, aspiring for a career as a commercial artist. He also started playing clubs in Toronto. By 1959 he was performing music as a full time occupation.

Sylvia Tyson was born in Chatham, Ontario in 1939. While still in her teens she started frequenting the folk clubs of Toronto. She met Ian in 1959, and then started performing together shortly thereafter. By 1962 they were living in New York City, where they caught the attention of Albert Grossman, who was managing Bob Dylan. He secured them a contract with Vanguard Records, and they released their first album late in the year.

The first album was comprised mainly of traditional songs. There were British and Canadian folk songs, spiritual music, and a few blues thrown into the mix. The album was moderately successful; they made the list of performers for the 1963 Newport folk festival. Their second album was similar to the first, with the exception of the inclusion of an early Dylan composition, "Tomorrow is a Long Time", and the title song "Four Strong Winds", which was written by Ian.

They married in June of 1964,and released their third album, "Northern Journey" during that year. This included a blues song written by Sylvia "You Were On My Mind", which was subsequently recorded (in a somewhat altered form) by both the California group The We Five and British folk-rock singer Crispan St. Peters. A recording of "Four String Winds" by Bobby Bare made the country music charts around that time.

Also on the Northern Journey album was "Someday Soon", a composition by Ian that would rival "Four Strong Winds" in its popularity. Both songs would eventually be covered by dozens of artists.

Their fourth album, "Early Morning Rain" consisted in large part of contemporary compositions. They introduced the work of fellow Canadian songwriter and performer Gordon Lightfoot through the title song as well a cover version of "For Loving Me" They also covered "Darcy Farrow" by Steve Gillette, being the first artists to cover these three songs. Additionally, they recorded a number of their own compositions.

"Play One More" their offering of 1965, showed a move toward the electrified folk-like music that was becoming popular with groups like the Byrds and The Lovin' Spoonful. The title tune used horns for a mariachi effect.

In 1967, they released two albums, one recorded for Vanguard, the other for MGM. These two efforts "So Much For Dreaming", and "Lovin' Sound" were far less kinetic presentations. At this time they were doing a weekly TV program for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This phase too seemed to be short-lived.

Their next incarnation found them in Nashville, Tennessee, where they recorded two albums; one to fulfill the terms of their Vanguard contract, the other to supply MGM with a second (and last) album for that label. The albums can be defined as early country-rock music. Three of Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes" compositions are covered on these albums, most of the rest were written by Ian or Sylvia.

1970 found Ian and Sylvia as part of a country rock mega-group called Great Speckled Bird. The group, which started as studio musicians for their weekly CBC program, recorded an album of the same name for the short-lived Ampex label. Produced by Todd Rundgren, the record failed when Ampex failed to establish widespread distribution. Thousands of copies never left the warehouse, and it has become a much sought-after collector's item. Early copies do not give Ian and Sylvia credit on the cover. Some later copies had a sticker attached with their names.

Ian and Sylvia's last two albums were recorded on Columbia Records. The first, titled "Ian and Sylvia" (not to be confused with the earlier Vanguard release) consists largely of mainstream country flavored compositions. The second, "You Were On My Mind", features a new incarnation of the Great Speckled Bird band. The songs range from hard country-rock to middle-of-the-road country material. Neither album sold especially well; Columbia eventually put both albums together and called the combined collection "The Best of Ian and Sylvia". That album cover was a variant of the first Columbia cover, with the inside liner notes in the "book" printed over pictures of their backs.

By 1974 they had stopped performing together and soon afterwards were divorced. Ian retreated to western Canada, returning to ranching, while Sylvia wrote, performed, and involved herself in various projects. Eventually Ian started producing records again, and has had a solo career that continues to the present (2004). Sylvia in recent years has been occasionally recording new material, working with Quartette, an aggregate she has performed with since 1993, performing a one woman show entitled "River Road and other Stories", and has written a book about songwriting with Tom Russell.

In 1994 they were both made Members of the Order of Canada.

The duo's son, Clay Tyson, is also a musician.


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