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The Beautiful Soul of Ian & Sylvia

Updated on November 3, 2015

Country Rock-Blues at its Best

Ian & Sylvia combined to produce mainly ballads with a consistent theme in the setting of the desolate countryside contrasted with the deep emotions of love and sorrow. The lyrics of their music always told a story but left a greater tale to tell between the lines, with details filled in by common experiences of everyone who's known love.

Early recognition--Ian Tyson and his wife Sylvia were and are folk singers from Canada who migrated south into America until they joined in New York with the wave of folk singers who began in the 1960's.

They would perform at coffee houses in Greenwich Village along with other musicians and singers of the time including Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez.

In the early Sixties these performers developed a new strain of country music that approached the level of blues from the jazz era of the 1930's both in melody and lyrics. But the setting of the songs often was out in the rural countryside rather than the city.

This type of country, or folk-rock blues music escaped classification either as rock and roll or strictly jazz blues. It borrowed a beat from jazz and dixieland music, but contained lyrics that were vivid and clear, like the songs made famous by Big Band singers in the 1940's.

Unique musical style--As time goes on and the 20th Century becomes a long-passed era, the songs of Ian & Sylvia will be remembered for the story-line and pathos that the lyrics gave to the bluesy melodies carried by the singing and guitars.

Now, Ian Tyson, 81 years old in 2015, remembers and still sings the songs he wrote years ago. Those songs were about deep love, separation, and the many roadblocks that life places in the way of young lovers.

The themes of the songs often depicted the sorrows that could be faced by couples living in the rural areas of western Canada and America.

“Four Strong Winds” was such a song. Serious issues were suggested in lyrics about a loved one's moving on after “all the the good times have all gone,” or going out to Alberta where there's “friends to go to workin' for.”

In the song “Someday Soon,” a daughter thinks of someday leaving with “a young man...who comes from down in southern Colorado.” But her “father cannot stand him because he rides the rodeo.” Regardless, she “would follow him right down the toughest road I know.”

Ian & Sylvia's songs romanticized the wide expanses of western territory in America and Canada. These were the blues and folk lyrics they sang in the 1960's and 70's.

Source of song lyrics--Ian Tyson himself was a rodeo rider in his younger day. Some of the lyrics he wrote may have been biographical.

Distances are great and hard to travel to cross the vast western provinces and states like Alberta, Canada, and Colorado USA. Separation from a loved one would be a common obstacle to many spouses and families in those areas.

Zeroing in on that pathos was the genius of the music produced by Ian & Sylvia.

Sadness takes a toll on a person who waits for someone special to return. The music evoking these times of longing and expectation suggests situations that remind people of their own lives.

“He's driving in tonight from California,” or, “I'll look for you if I'm down this way again.” These are wistful words, full of conditions and uncertainties that bring sorrow when families and loved ones are apart.

The expanse of the countryside full of vast plains and fenced-off ranches, and the lonesome pathos of travelers along the endless country roads, evoked images appropriate to the sad minor chords of the bluesy music in the background.

The music and lyrics of Ian & Sylvia's songs could be felt by audiences imagining themselves in the circumstances of the lyrical story being told.

Exceptional talent--By the time they reached fame in both America and Canada, Ian & Sylvia had come a long way from the original country-blues singers they were when they began singing folk ballads in clubs in Toronto.

Both Ian and his wife Sylvia were songwriters in addition to being singers and guitar players. Ian wrote most of the songs, but Sylvia wrote a hit song “You Were on My Mind,” which was recorded in a variety of different styles by herself and several other performers. The song was performed not only as jazz or rock-and-roll, but also as blues or folk music.

Sylvia and Ian Tyson wrote and recorded many songs, but they also allowed other singers to perform their musical compositions as well. This resulted in a variety of arrangements.

During their careers, Ian & Silvia lived in many places, not only New York and Toronto, but also the music-capitol city, Nashville. They ultimately returned to Canada where they were honored officially for their the contribution to music in Canada and the USA.


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