Ian Tyson was born in 1933 in Victoria, BC. In his early twenties he worked as a rodeo rider, but after an injury, he trained as a commercial artist in Vancouver, took up guitar, and flirted with rockabilly. He moved to Toronto and became part of the burgeoning folksong revival of the 1960s, playing clubs in Canada and the United States. He appeared at the first Mariposa Folk Festival in 1961.
By then, he had teamed up with Sylvia Fricker, originally of Chatham, Ontario. As Ian and Sylvia, the pair became one of the pillars of the revival. They had a vocal sound that influenced a generation, distinguished by Sylvia’s reedy, hard-edged alto locked into Ian’s high, soft-edged baritone. Their repertoire was based in the traditional music of Canada and — reflecting Ian’s ongoing attraction to cowboy life — the American southwest. They were consummate musical storytellers, shining in songs that Ian, influenced by Bob Dylan, started writing. Two became international classics: “Some Day Soon” and “Four Strong Winds”, covered by dozens of artists and sung in living rooms and around campfires to this very day. (In 2005, CBC listeners voted “Four Strong Winds” the greatest Canadian song of the twentieth century.)
By the 1980s, Ian had moved to Alberta to become a rancher, raising cutting horses and living the cowboy life he’d always wanted. He stayed with music, but on his own terms: like a rider on one of his horses with a heifer, he cut out a genre from the musical herd and put his brand on it. The genre was the cowboy or “western” song — not fancy-movie-cowboy like Roy Rogers, but real-life-cowboy raising stock on the open range in too much cold or not enough rain, troubled by relationships with hardened youngsters, the bottle, and fed-up women. His first CD, Cowboyography, went platinum. Ian’s lived-in sounding songs like “Navajo Rug” and “Cowboy Pride” started a style that would become a musical mainstay of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where he is considered a patron saint. At 77, Ian is the embodiment of the cowboy way of life — and song.
Ian Tyson is a Member of the Order of Canada and the Alberta Order of Excellence, and has been inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and the Juno Hall of Fame. He is the second recipient of the RESONANCE Award, presented by the Canadian Museum of Civilization for an outstanding lifetime achievement in promoting, preserving or performing music in Canada.