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Ian and Sylvia

Ian & Sylvia
Background information
Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genres Folk, country, country rock
Years active 1959–1975
Labels Vanguard, MGM, Columbia
Associated acts Great Speckled Bird
Past members Ian Tyson
Sylvia Tyson

Ian & Sylvia were a Canadian folk and country music duo which consisted of Ian and Sylvia Tyson, née Fricker. They began performing together in 1959, married in 1964, and divorced and stopped performing together in 1975.[1][2][3]


Early lives

Ian Tyson, CM, AOE was born in Victoria, 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 to a career as a commercial artist. He also started playing clubs and coffeehouses in Toronto.[4] By 1959 he was performing music as a full-time occupation.

Sylvia Tyson, née Fricker, CM, was born in Chatham, Ontario, in 1940. While still in her teens, she started frequenting the folk clubs of Toronto.


Folk duo

Ian & Sylvia started performing together in Toronto in 1959. By 1962, they were living in New York City where they caught the attention of manager Albert Grossman, who managed Peter, Paul and Mary and would soon become Bob Dylan's manager. Grossman secured them a contract with Vanguard Records and they released their first album late in the year.

Ian & Sylvia's first and self-titled album on Vanguard Records consisted mainly of traditional songs.[5] There were British and Canadian folk songs, spiritual music, and a few blues songs thrown into the mix. The album was moderately successful and they made the list of performers for the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

Four Strong Winds, their second album, was similar to the first, with the exception of the inclusion of the early Dylan composition, "Tomorrow is a Long Time", and the title song "Four Strong Winds", which was written by Ian. "Four Strong Winds" was a major hit in Canada and ensured their stardom.[6][7]

Ian and Sylvia married in June 1964. They also released their third album, Northern Journey, that year. The album included a blues song written by Sylvia, "You Were On My Mind", which was subsequently recorded by both the California group We Five (a 1965 #1 on the Cashbox chart, #3 on the Billboard Hot 100) and British folk-rock singer Crispian St. Peters (#36 in 1967).[8] A recording of "Four Strong Winds" by Bobby Bare made it to #3 on the country charts around that time.

On the Northern Journey album was the song "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 and "For Loving Me". They also covered "Darcy Farrow" by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell, 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 dynamic presentations. At this time they were doing a weekly TV program for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Country-rock pioneers

They relocated to 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.

In 1969, Ian & Sylvia formed the country-rock group Great Speckled Bird. In addition to participating in the cross-Canada rock-and-roll rail tour Festival Express, they recorded a self-titled album for the short-lived Ampex label. Produced by Todd Rundgren, the record failed when Ampex was unable establish widespread distribution. Thousands of copies never left the warehouse, and it has become a much sought-after collector's item. Initially, the album artist was given as Great Speckled Bird but later copies had a sticker saying that it featured the duo.

Ian & Sylvia's last two albums were recorded on Columbia Records. The first, 1971's Ian and Sylvia, not to be confused with their 1962 release titled Ian & Sylvia, consists largely of mainstream country-flavored compositions. This album was released on CD, with bonus tracks, as The Beginning of the End in 1996.[9] Their second Columbia record, 1972's You Were On My Mind, featured a later incarnation of Great Speckled Bird. The songs range from hard country-rock to middle-of-the-road country material. Neither of the Columbia albums sold well. They were eventually combined and released as 1974's The Best of Ian and Sylvia.

By 1975, Ian & Syvlia had stopped performing together and soon afterwards were divorced.


Ian retreated to western Canada, returned to ranching, and focused on his solo career.

Sylvia wrote, performed, and involved herself in various projects. In recent years, she has been recording new material, working as a member of the group Quartette, and performing a one-woman show entitled River Road and Other Stories.

The duo's son, Clay Tyson (Clayton Dawson Tyson,[10] born 1966),[11] is also a musician and recording artist.

Ian & Sylvia sang their signature song, "Four Strong Winds", at the 50th anniversary of the Mariposa Folk Festival on July 11, 2010, in Orillia, Ontario.


In 1992 they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during the Juno Awards ceremony.

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

In 2005 an extensive Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) poll determined their song "Four Strong Winds" to be the "most essential" piece of Canadian music.

In 2006 they were both inducted into the Mariposa Hall of Fame. It was in 1961 that Ian and Sylvia headlined at Canada's legendary Mariposa Folk Festival. The induction featured a rare live performance by the duo (accompanied by David Celia on guitar) in Toronto to an enthusiastic audience including Gordon Lightfoot, The Good Brothers, Greg Keelor, and David Wilcox.



Year Album[12] Chart Positions Label
1962 Ian & Sylvia Vanguard
1964 Four Strong Winds 115
Northern Journey 70
1965 Early Morning Rain 77
1966 Play One More 142
1967 So Much for Dreaming 130
Lovin' Sound 148 MGM
Nashville Vanguard
1968 Full Circle 48 MGM
1970 Great Speckled Bird 54 Ampex
1971 Ian and Sylvia 60 201 Columbia
1972 You Were on My Mind
1996 Live at Newport Vanguard


Year Single Chart Positions Album
1965 "Early Morning Rain" 1 Early Morning Rain
1967 "Lovin' Sound" [14] 101 Lovin' Sound
1971 "Creators of Rain" 73 Ian & Sylvia
"More Often Than Not" 22
1972 "You Were on My Mind" 4 You Were on My Mind

See also


External links

  • The Canadian Encyclopedia
  • Musician Guide bio

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