Folk legend Ian Tyson, known for ‘Four Strong Winds’ as part of Ian & Sylvia, dies

Folk legend Ian Tyson, known for 'Four Strong Winds' as part of Ian & Sylvia, dies
Country music singer Ian Tyson performs while being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.

Ian Tyson, the Canadian folk legend turned cowboy storyteller who penned “Four Strong Winds” as one half of Ian & Sylvia, has died at age 89.

The Victoria native died Thursday at his ranch near Longview, Alta., following a series of ongoing health complications, according to his manager Paul Mascioli.

The singer-songwriter was a part of the influential folk movement in Toronto with his first wife, Sylvia Tyson. But he divided much of his life and career between two passions largely unrelated to his folkie past: living on his southern Alberta ranch and pursuing songs about the cowboy life.

Sylvia Tyson remembered her ex-husband as a “versatile” and “very serious songwriter.”

“He put a lot of time and energy into his songwriting and felt his material very strongly, especially the whole cowboy lifestyle,” she told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

Tyson was born Sept. 25, 1933, to parents who emigrated from England. Once he graduated from the Vancouver School of Art in 1958, Tyson hitchhiked to Toronto where he was swept up in the city’s burgeoning folk movement alongside Canuck legends including Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

Tyson soon met a kindred spirit named Sylvia Fricker and they began a relationship — onstage and off — in 1959.

They moved to New York together where they met manager Albert Grossman — who steered Peter, Paul and Mary and would soon count Bob Dylan as a client. He signed Ian & Sylvia to Vanguard Records.

Their self-titled debut was released in 1962, a collection of mostly traditional songs. Their second album, 1964’s “Four Strong Winds,” was the duo’s breakthrough, thanks in large part to its wistful title track, one of the only original compositions on the album.

The pair married in 1964 and continued releasing new records with regularity (their ’65 album “Early Morning Rain” included a composition by Lightfoot, who was then far from a household name). But as the popularity of folk waned, the duo moved to Nashville and began integrating strains of country and rock into their sound.

In 1969, the Tysons explored that new fusion by forming the country-rock outfit Great Speckled Bird, whose influential self-titled debut dropped in 1970.

They had a child, Clay, in 1968, but the couple grew apart as their career began to stall in the ’70s, and they divorced in 1975.

Ian Tyson subsequently moved back West and returned to ranch life, training horses and cowboying in Pincher Creek, Alta., experiences that filtered through his songwriting, particularly on 1983’s “Old Corrals and Sagebrush.”

Tyson’s self-released 1987 album, “Cowboyography,” became a surprising word-of-mouth hit and rejuvenated Tyson’s touring career in Canada and the U.S.

Things were going well in Tyson’s personal life, too. In 1978, he met a waitress named Twylla Dvorkin. She was only 17 at the time, but Tyson — then in his mid-40s — pursued a relationship with her. The couple married in 1986 and had a daughter, Adelita, a year later. They divorced in 2008.

Tyson picked up numerous awards for his music, including an induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.

In 1987, he won a Juno Award for country male vocalist of the year and five years later he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame alongside Sylvia Tyson. He won a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 2003 and was named to the Order of Canada and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

Tyson continued to release music late into his career, including the 2015 album “Carnero Vaquero” and the 2017 single “You Should Have Known.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2022.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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