IAN TYSON still walks and talks with COWBOY PRIDE
by Norman Warwick
plus Jazz news
When reviewing Ian Tyson´s most recent album for No Depression (left) a few years ago, Jeff Berger started by telling us three important points. He told us that Ian Tyson at the time was 82, that this was his thirteenth album and that ii is a winner !
Like his other recent work, Mr. Berger said, this latest effort displays a dramatically different voice from the silky one we heard on his 1960s duets with then wife Sylvia. He has reportedly recovered from a 2007 accident that severely affected his vocals, but he still sounds sandpapery and weathered—and far more emotive than he once did.
photo 1 Tyson, who continues to manage a ranch south of Calgary,in Canada, hasn’t changed his lyrical preoccupations. The man who gave us such unforgettable classics as Four Strong Winds, Someday Soon and (the wonderful) Summer Wages still writes about love and loss, the life of the cowboy and the fading of his beloved Old West. And he still does so compellingly.
Carnero Vaquero, which mixes ballads and folk rockers, showcases five new originals, among them the poignant Chantell and the midtempo Cottonwood Canyon, the latter about a place where “there ain’t no cellphone towers [but] maybe some coyote will give you a call.” Other highlights include a cover of the traditional Doney Gal; Wolves No Longer Sing, which Tyson co-wrote with the great Tom Russell; and Will Dudley’s well-hooked Colorado Horses.
Tyson has said he thinks of his work as “music for grownups who live in the country.” That’s a reasonable description, but I suspect a lot of city dwellers will like this album just as much.
Jeff Berger (right) edited Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters, both published by Chicago Review Press. He is working on a third book for the same publisher. His website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary.
Ian Tyson, now 88, remains a favourite artist of the organisers and fans of the Calagary Folk Festival and there are strong rumours that, now aged 88, Ian will make an appearance in some capacity, perhaps even singing playing later this year when the folk festival returns from its covid closures.. Tyson’s long tenure in the neighbouring area of Pincher Creek means that he’s often found at events and concerts around the city. These days Tyson is still going strong. reaching ever-deeper into cowboy lore, local history, broken love, and life as a prairie rancher, further endearing him to not only his wider intyrnational audience but also to the regional community familiar with the landscape.
Tyson’s early compositions emerged from the bustling Toronto Yorkville streets in the 1960s, long before it was ruled by rich ladies in leopard-print fur toting teacup yorkies. It was there he met his partner-to-be in Sylvia Fricker, (shown together, left) fresh from small-town Ontario, while both were touring local folk joints like the Purple Onion.
The two recorded traditional Canadian ballads and newly composed folksongs, quickly finding a welcome audience in the burgeoning Yorkville scene. They were also the sweethearts of Greenwich Village, partnering with Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. Contemporaries like Dylan and Joan Baez not only celebrated the duo’s song-writing skills by recording covers of their songs, but inspired the two to keep these skills sharp. Upon hearing Dylan’s Blowin’ In the Wind, Ian thought “I can do better,” penning the unofficial Canadian anthem Four Strong Winds in 1964.
When I began playing folk clubs in the UK with Colin Lever in Lendanear in the late seventies that song, and of course, Someday Soon, was ubiquitous and we were pretty much guaranteed to hear them three or four times a week. In fact, it was our best mate Pete Benbow (right) , a mailman not a cowboy, who most often played them, and who always captured the spirit of the songs.
Married by this point and at the height of their career, Ian and Sylvia switched gears to slot themselves among the pioneers of the country-rock movement. Their supergroup, Great Speckled Bird, which also featured drummer N.D. Smart and fellow Calgary Folk Fest performer Amos Garrett, only released one album in 1970, but reigns superior as a fine example of early country and rock crossover. And while country music had always been a part of their vocabulary, for Tyson it became the foundation for the rest of his career.
Making his way back to Alberta towards the end of the decade, Tyson realized his long-time dream of owning a ranch, by living and working in Pincher Creek. His newfound lifestyle became inspiration for his first solo release, Ol’Eon, in 1973, and the album that anchored him in a western tradition, Old Corrals and Sagebrush in 1983. Tyson found an entirely new audience with songs that celebrated the region’s roots and the lifestyle unique to modern cowboys living both north and south of the CP line, as later alluded to in song by Bill Morrissey. (Headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, CP (Canadian Pacific Railroads) owns approximately 20,100 kilometres (12,500 mi) of track in seven provinces of Canada and into the United States, stretching from Montreal to Vancouver, and as far north as Edmonton).
Lyric lines on the album that combined the environmental with the personal, such as
Just like springtime in Alberta
warm sunny days and skies of blue,
then without a warning
another winter storm comes raging through
And the mercury’s falling,
I’m left all alone
Springtime in Alberta
Chills me to the bone
or that comically detailed small-town life in rural Alberta, resonated deeply with the area’s inhabitants. Like the characters of his narrative cowboy songs, Tyson has become a hero among the locals. Couched in the romantic setting where the Rocky Mountains meet the Canadian prairies, Tyson tells it like it is.
He can describe a sunrise or a sunset in three simple words, such as in Rockies Turn Rose, the title of one of my own favourite Tyson tracks. The track appeared on Cowboyography (left) , my favourite Tyson album, that also included Navajo Rug co-written with Tom Russell, the aforementioned Summer Wages, and The Gift, a sublime song about landscape artist Charlie ¨Kid´ Russell as well as Cowboy Pride and the magical, mystical, mythology that is The Cowboy And The Coyote.
As I subsequently employed a well known search engine to confirm details in the above piece, I wandered down sidetracks & detours to a piece by Kerry Dexter (right) on a perceptivetravel.com blog
Yellowhead to Yellowstone is a song about change, loss, what to keep and what to let go, and handling all that, told in the voice of a wolf who is relocated from western Canada to Montana. It is the title track of Ian Tyson’s most recent album and opens the door to a group of songs about personal confrontations with change, and reflections of the changing landscapes and ways of life in the Rocky Mountain west.
That’s a landscape and a way of day to day living Tyson knows well. “Music and horses, they’ve been my two loves all my life,” he said.
For the last three decades, Ian Tyson has lived on the eastern slope of the Canadian Rockies, in Alberta. It’s ranch country, mountain and prairie, and although it is changing, still a place where those who live there both wrest their livings out of the land and know they have to work with land and weather to survive. “It’s just a mosaic of western values and emblems, ” Tyson said.
He should know. He has been a force in re-inventing the image of the west and rewriting the history of cowboy music. It began when he was invited to come to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, in the early 1980s. “Back then, that was really the beginning of a whole renaissance of the cowboy movement, from silver-smithing to saddle making, to poetry, to music,” he said.
“When I went down there, those people just said hey, there’s this Canadian guy, he’s a cowboy, he sings good and we’re gonna go hear him. They didn’t know anything about Four Strong Winds, they didn’t know anything about Ian and Sylvia, they just knew this guy’s a cowboy and he sings good. Which was fantastic. And I slowly came to the realization that I could change this music.”
Tyson was the man to do that. In addition to being a working cowboy and knowing and loving the way life goes in the mountain west, he had, through the folk revival of the 1960s and early 1970s, been half of the duo Ian & Sylvia, one of the top acts of the era. The combination of Ian’s strong tenor and Sylvia’s edgy alto gave them a distinctive sound. They each had a fine ear for song, as well, creating arrangements of traditional music such as Jesus Met the Woman at the Well and V’La L’Bon Vent which foreshadowed both country rock and Americana.
They recorded songs by then little known musicians Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot (left). They each wrote songs, too: Ian’s Four Strong Winds and Sylvia’s You Were On My Mind are but two which remain enduring classics which have been recorded by artists around the world.
When the couple came to a parting of the ways in the 1970s, Ian had returned to western Canada, and while keeping his hand in music by gigging around the region, focused on raising horses. Then came Elko.
“Here I was in my forties, “ he said, “and I realized that I could take the old Saturday afternoon Western movie music and leave that behind, and make a new music. Forge a new music out of my writing — and I did. It changed my life, basically, and gave me a whole new career.”
Tyson’s songs include character pieces about people who have shaped the west, clearly drawn descriptions of what it’s like to ride the range, to be out in the weather, to make a life in an often unforgiving land, stories of the beauty of that land, and stories of working out the joys and sorrows of love, framed in that life and those western landscapes. The album titles give an idea of the direction of the songs within them: Cowboyography, Eighteen Inches of Rain, Old Corrals and Sagebrush.
Yellowhead to Yellowstone is a bit darker than some of those. “You write about what you have,” Tyson said. Loss and change, connection and disconnection, regret and pondering what’s next make their way through ten songs, which end on a note of hope, in a song called Love Never Comes at All. “That’s a declaration of continuance, you know,” he said. “Love will continue.”
Now in his mid seventies, Tyson is pondering what’s next in his own path. “There are a lot of things I’d like to do before I tip over,” he said. “More songs, more cowboy stuff? It might be something else, a novel, a biography, maybe some short stories.” Later in the day of this conversation, he planned to go down to the small stone building on his ranch where he often works on his music. “I’ll play for a few hours,” he said, “just to keep the chops.´
Kerry describes far better than I how Ian Tyson brings to life his surrounding landscapes and inhabitants. Great writer and interpreter that he is, however, Ian has the confidence to cover the songs of others to make a point. His version of Paul Simon´s Under African Skies is sublime and shows there are nomads and homeless under all skies.
Even friends who have seen Tyson play live many times speak of how exciting it must have been to see Ramblin’ Jack Elliott appear (left) , at 70 years old, to play in the tribute to Tyson staged at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary in 2001. the tribute saw several generations of country and folk musicians pay homage to their musical hero before Tyson joined in for the finale. I imagine some of his biggest fans will likely be at this year’s Festival to see him.
The annual Festival is a four-day family-friendly cultural and musical extravaganza. Some 70 artists from Alberta, Canada, and the world perform on six daytime and two evening stages in concerts and sessions — unpredictable mash-ups where artists collaborate in unique and unexpected ways, sharing songs and stories. It’s a destination event and essential community gathering for 53,000 Calgarians and tourists, run by 2,000 community volunteers.
With thousands of fans, Calgary’s Folk Festival is also expected to return with great music, good food and sunshine. Though a line-up has yet to be released, it’ll only be a matter of time until we’re swaying in the grass once again. The Festival is scheduled Thursday, July 21 – 24 698 Eau Claire Ave SW, Calgary
Do you have an Ian Tyson tales to tell? If so, why not drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you´d like to include your name and a photo we would be happy to publish your story, fully attributed.
If the excitement of Calgary is beyond the reach of music fans in the UK, they can nevertheless look forward to an exciting summer of festivals and gigs in all sorts of genres. In fact throughout Easter week UK fans, and others around the world, can hear jazz music on the radio via Hot Biscuits before The Ribble Valley Jazz and Blues Festival takes place shortly.
The series of regular jazz gigs that take place further South in the Crowmarsh area of Oxford also contionue into the summer-
Crowmarsh Village Hall
Benson Lane | Crowmarsh Gifford | OX10 8ED
Doors 6:45pm | Music 7:30pm
£15, reduced to £5 for anyone living or working in adult social care and anyone in receipt of benefits from DWP
Plenty of free parking
Bar available provided by local pub The Queens Head
|Saturday 7th May 2022
A tribute to the Gerry Mulligan / Chet Baker Quartet
Featuring Ben Cummings and Amy Roberts
One of the UK’s finest trumpeters (and excellent vocalist) Ben Cummings (right) joins multi-award-winning musician and rising star Amy Roberts (baritone saxophone) to present a captivating programme of music based upon the recordings of the incredible 1950’s pianoless Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker Quartet.
Ben and Amy will be joined on the bandstand by virtuosic bass player Paul Jefferies and extraordinary drummer Charlie Stratford. An exciting lineup infusing every performance with humour and driving energy.
Saturday 11 June 2022
Multi award winning pianist/vocalist Liane Carroll with her impeccable jazz trio
|Hastings based Liane Carroll has been a pillar of the British jazz and soul scene for over thirty-five years, and has dedicated her career to creating a deep and abiding connection with audiences all over the world through her exceptional talent, versatility and ability to truly interpret a song.
Liane is an award-winning jazz singer/pianist described by Jamie Cullum as “one of the greatest singers we have in this country”. Awards include ‘Best British Vocalist’ (BBC Jazz Awards), ‘Best Female Jazz Vocalist’ (Ronnie Scott’s Awards) and ‘Best Jazz Album of the Year’ (Parliamentary Jazz Awards)
As a recording artist Liane has gained much critical acclaim. Her four most recent albums (Slow Down, Up and Down, Ballads, Seaside) all earned a four star review in The Guardian newspaper. Her latest release Seaside (Linn Records), homage to her life by the coast, is her third with Grammy nominated producer James McMillan of QuietMoney Studios and holds a coveted British Jazz Award for Best New CD (2015).
|We look forward to welcoming you soon, and together helping to KEEP MUSIC aLIVE!
Keep up to date with our programme: www.crowmarshjazz.co.uk/what-s-on
Contact: email@example.com / 07795 974 223
Crowmarsh Jazz pays all musicians properly and supports the campaign for fair pay for musicians.
Meanwhile, your 2022 celebration year of the return of live music is aided by the continuation of support from some excellent radio broadcasts. So we hope you are enjoying the Easter period, however it is celebrated in your company. And remember, too, that wherever in the world you live the chances are that you will be able to pick up this week´s radio presentation of Hot Biscuits. In fact Hot Biscuits presenters Steve Bewick and Gary Heywood Everett have put together an Easter jazz broadcast. They will deliver the sounds of spring time with their very own Easter Parade. A personal selection of bonnets, eggs and general foolery will include music from Ella and Louis Armstrong, The Easy Rollers and Stan Getz. Share the word and tune in 24/07 at www.mixcloud.com/stevebewick/
Primary sources for this article include work by Jeff Berger, published in No Depression magazine and an article by Kerry Dexter published on the perceptivetravel.com blog.
In our occasional re-postings Sidetracks And Detours are confident that we are not only sharing with our readers excellent articles written by experts but are also pointing to informed and informative sites readers will re-visit time and again. Of course, we feel sure our readers will also return to our daily not-for-profit blog knowing that we seek to provide core original material whilst sometimes spotlighting the best pieces from elsewhere, as we engage with genres and practitioners along all the sidetracks & detours we take.
This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.
Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve Bewick, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Four.
As a published author and poet Norman (right) was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (for which he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.
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correspondents Michael Higgins
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Hot Biscuits Jazz Radio www.fc-radio.co.uk
Jazz In Reading https://www.jazzinreading.com
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