TORONTO, ONT – Ian Tyson, the Canadian folk singer who wrote the modern standard “Four Strong Winds” as one half of Ian & Sylvia and helped influence such future superstars as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, died Thursday at age 89.
The native of Victoria, British Columbia, died at his ranch in southern Alberta following a series of health complications, his manager, Paul Mascioli, said.
Tyson was a part of the influential folk movement in Toronto with his first wife, Sylvia Tyson. But he was also seen as a throwback to more rustic times and devoted much of his life to living on his ranch and pursuing songs about the cowboy life.
“He put a lot of time and energy into his songwriting and felt his material very strongly, especially the whole cowboy lifestyle,″ Sylvia Tyson said of her former husband.
He was best known for the troubadour’s lament “Four Strong Winds” and its classic refrain about the life of a wanderer: “If the good times are all gone/Then I’m bound for movin’ on/I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way.”
Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings and Judy Collins were among the many performers who covered the song. Young included “Four Strong Winds” on his acclaimed “Comes a Time” album, released in 1978, and two years earlier performed the song at “The Last Waltz” concert staged by the Band to mark its farewell to live shows.
Tyson was born Sept. 25, 1933, to parents who emigrated from England. He attended private school and learned to play polo, then he discovered the rodeo.
After graduating from the Vancouver School of Art in 1958, he hitchhiked to Toronto. He was swept up in the city’s burgeoning folk movement, where Canadians including Young, Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot played in hippie coffee houses in the bohemian Yorkville neighborhood.
Tyson soon met Sylvia Fricker and they began a relationship — onstage and off, moving to New York. Their debut album, “Ian & Sylvia,” in 1962 was 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 title track, one of the record’s only original compositions.
Married in 1964, the pair continued releasing new records with regularity. But as the popularity of folk waned, they moved to Nashville and began integrating country and rock into their music. In 1969, the Tysons formed the country-rock band Great Speckled Bird, which appeared with Janis Joplin, the Band and the Grateful Dead among others on the “Festival Express” tour across Canada in 1970, later the basis for a documentary released in 2004.
They had a child, Clay, in 1968 but the couple grew apart as their career began to stall in the ’70s. They divorced in 1975.
Tyson moved back to western Canada and returned to ranch life, training horses and cowboying in Pincher Creek, Alberta, 135 miles south of Calgary. These experiences increasingly filtered through his songwriting, particularly on 1983′s “Old Corrals and Sagebrush.″
In 1987, Tyson 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 was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.
Despite damage to his voice resulting from a heart attack and surgery in 2015, Tyson continued to perform live concerts. But the heart problems returned and forced Tyson to cancel appearances in 2018.
He continued to play his guitar at home, though. “I think that’s the key to my hanging in there because you’ve gotta use it or lose it,″ he said in 2019.
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