First aired on Q (8/9/11)
Ian and Sylvia Tyson are Canadian music icons, and their success helped put Canadian folk music on the international map. While they split up in 1975, their influences are still felt on the Canadian music scene today. Their journey from modest shows in Toronto clubs in 1959 to having Ian's song Four Strong Winds named the greatest Canadian song of all time (in a poll of CBC listeners) is comprehensively covered in Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia, penned by music journalist John Einarson.
Ian Tyson was a cowboy who moved to Toronto from British Columbia after graduating art school. He turned to folk for a very simple reason: "I started singing folk, basically, because I could get a job doing it," he admitted to Q host Jian Ghomeshi. But it soon became obvious that Ian knew more about folk music than he realized, and he fell in love with the genre.
Growing up in a musical family in Chatham, Ontario, Sylvia was exposed to all kinds of music — country, gospel and R&B, thanks to radio stations in Detroit — but fell in love with folk through traditional English poetry. "I started researching English ballads and I love the story aspect of those songs and that was a big influence for me," she said. "Even now, there's always a story in my songs."
When the twosome met in Toronto in 1959, the chemistry was powerful and the connection was instantaneous. However, they are modest about their beginnings and chalk their success up to simply being musically compatible. "My being a harmony singer had a lot to do with it," Sylvia explained. "Ian's voice was of a kind and in a range that that blend and those possibilities were immediately there."
It wasn't long before they began to look south for greater success and ended up in Greenwich Village in New York City, poised on the edge of an exploding folk scene. Their manager also worked for Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan. The couple played as many shows as they could and thanks to frequent appearances at American colleges, they were soon Canada's most popular export. "It was like being on a runaway train," Ian said.
In the 50 years since, Sylvia and Ian have each had rich lives, musically and personally. They both are still successful musicians with many engaging side projects. but it will always be the early years that they will look back on most fondly.
After all, "It was a time of making it up as you went along," Ian said. "That's really what we did."
Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia
by John EinarsonBuy this book at:
"In Four Strong Winds
, John Einarson takes us back to Ian & Sylvia's early days in Toronto coffeehouses, to their experiences at the heart of the vibrant 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, and beyond, as their personal and musical partnership continued to change and evolve. Based on Ian and Sylvia Tyson's own personal reflections as well as on the recollections of contemporaries, associates, and admirers, Four Strong Winds
is the definitive account of this iconic musical duo and a window on a fascinating period in music history."
Read more at McClelland & Stewart