Ian & Sylvia Biography

Ian Dawson Tyson, 25 September 1933, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Ian Tyson’s father went to Canada in 1906 with dreams of being a cowboy and passed on his aspirations to his son, who worked on a farm, entered amateur rodeos and worked as a lumberjack. He says, ‘I’m always grateful for my logging and rodeo days because that’s where the songs come from.’ While recovering from a rodeo injury, Tyson taught himself guitar and then played ‘rockabilly in the chop-suey bars of Vancouver’. He says, ‘I couldn’t play very well as I only knew A, D and E. That’s when I wrote ‘Summer Wages’.’ In 1959, he met Sylvia Fricker (b. 19 September 1940, Chatham, Ontario, Canada) at the Village Corner, a Toronto club. They formed a folk duo, Ian And Sylvia, and were married in 1964. They moved to Greenwich Village and were signed by Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman.

Their debut album, Ian And Sylvia, showed a debt to traditional stylings, but a second collection, Four Strong Winds, saw them embrace a more contemporary direction. This release contained an early reading of Dylan’s ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time’. Northern Journey, released in 1964, opened with ‘You Were On My Mind’, a much-covered Fricker song that became a hit for We Five (US number 3, 1965) and Crispian St. Peters (UK number 2, 1966). Ian wrote about migrant workers in ‘Four Strong Winds’, later recorded by Neil Young. The album also included Ian’s ‘Someday Soon’. This song was beautifully recorded in 1968 by Judy Collins and it provided Suzy Bogguss with a country Top 20 hit in 1991. Ian And Sylvia’s folk-based albums also popularized the songs of fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot, including ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘For Lovin’ Me’. The duo, meanwhile, began using session musicians on their recordings. Rick Turner, later of Autosalvage, and bass player Felix Pappalardi helped to define the duo’s new direction, while a trip to Nashville in 1968 resulted in their embracing country music.

By the end of the 60s, they went electric and formed a folk rock group, the Great Speckled Bird, and the album of the same name was produced by Todd Rundgren. They then veered towards country music, and Sylvia wrote Crystal Gayle’s US country hit, ‘River Road’. They split up professionally in 1974 and a year later were divorced. Sylvia Tyson continued with her music career and in 1985 was featured on the Canadian Band Aid/Live Aid single, ‘Tears Are Not Enough’ by Northern Lights. Ian bought a 160-acre ranch in Longview, Alberta, Canada, and reared cutting horses with his second wife, Twylla, while also embarking on a solo career.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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