Celebrating Seniors – Ian Tyson Turns 83

Ian Tyson‘s story and some of his best songs: Four Strong Winds, Someday Soon, Early Morning Rain, You Were on My Mind, Cowboy Pride, Fifty Years Ago, Lights of Laramie. 

ian tyson 2010, canadian singer songwriter, older, senior citizen, septuagenarianOctogenarian Canadian country-folk-rock singer-songwriter and rancher Ian Tyson was born on September 25 1933 in Victoria, British Columbia. In his autobiography The Long Trail: My Life in the West (2010) written with Jeremy Klaszus, Ian Tyson recounts stories about growing up on Vancouver Island, seeing his first rodeo when he was six years old,and learning to ride horses bareback as a child. Tyson was fascinated by the Will James cowboy books his father gave him, complete with stories and illustrations.

(Ian Tyson 2010 Photo: Dean Jarvey | Flickr Some Rights reserved)

Early musical influences for Ian Tyson were Roy Acuff, singing on the radio from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. As a teenager, Tyson and his father had arguments and both he and his sister Jean were anxious to get off Vancouver Island. 15-year-old Ian Tyson got a summer job near Banff, Alberta as a rider on a pack string of horses, catering to adventurous tourists. An unhappy stint at boarding school followed, and a job for the forest services beginning in 1952 at age 19; at the same time, Ian Tyson began competing as a rodeo rider. 

Inspired by his love for the Will James cowboy and horse illustrations, Ian Tyson enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art in 1954. In the fall of 1955, 22-year-old Ian Tyson met 18-year-old new student Evinia Pulos, a Greek-Canadian from Vernon, B.C. Evinia Pulos described the trajectory of her relationship with Ian Tyson for Macleans as an immediate kinship, followed by an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy and subsequent abortion. Pulos said Tyson bought a ring and they got a marriage license in the event she could not get an abortion. Evinia was able to obtain an abortion and after a few days recovery, returned home and waited for Tyson. “I remember him coming in, taking three and four stairs at a time…When he saw me, he just threw himself on the bed and cried.” 

The couple began to grow distant from each other; Ian Tyson was a heavy drinker, was handsome with a roving eye, and was beginning to hang out in the local music scene. While recovering in hospital from a broken ankle that was shattered after a horse bucked him off and then stepped on it, Tyson had taught himself to play the guitar to the tune of Johnny Cash.

Ian Tyson made his singing debut performance with the rock and roll band The Sensational Stripes at the Heidelberg Café in Vancouver, British Columbia. By the fall of 1956, Evinia Pulos had dropped out of school and taken off for California, devastated when she discovered that Ian was having an affair with another student. 

Ian Tyson graduated from Vancouver School of Art in 1958, and now 25 years old, hitchhiked to Los Angeles that spring to meet up with Evinia Pulos, in what she has said was an unsuccessful attempt to win her back. Tyson returned to Canada and settled in Toronto, beginning a career as a graphic artist and playing in coffee houses and clubs.

ian tyson 1968, sylvia fricker, 1960s music, ian and sylvia tysonIn their biography Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia Tyson (2011) by John Einarson with Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson, they described their initial meeting at a club in Toronto where Ian was singing.

Free-spirited hippie Sylvia Fricker, who lived in Chatham, had come to Toronto in late 1959 at Tyson’s request and at their first meeting they performed together.

Ian’s girlfriend at the time was threatened by their professional relationship, although at first that was all it was.  

(Sylvia Fricker (Tyson) and Ian Tyson 1968 Photo: ITA / Albert Grossman | Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Sylvia Fricker moved to Toronto and they began to perform together as Ian & Sylvia. Pulos recalled meeting Ian Tyson at a Vancouver hotel in 1960 at his behest, but by September of 1960, Tyson wrote Evinia to come to Toronto, because he wasn’t coming back (to Vancouver). 

By the end of 1962, Sylvia Fricker and Ian Tyson had moved to New York City and released their first album Ian & Sylvia (1962), and Sylvia wrote her first and what has become her trademark song, You Were on My Mind (1962).

Ian had also written his first song, and what has become known as his trademark song – Four Strong Winds (1962), inspired when another Greenwich Village singer-songwriter called Bob Dylan played him his new song Blowin’ in the Wind, and by the distance between himself in New York and Evinia in California.

Ian wrote Evinia and told her that Four Strong Winds was about them; he’s said he wrote the song in 20 minutes while thinking about her. Despite both Ian Tyson and Evinia Pulos being in relationships and marriages (3 for her, 2 for him) with other people over the next 50+ years, they have never stopped writing and calling each other.

Four Strong Winds sung by Ian & Sylvia made the Top Ten singles charts in Canada in October 1963, and has been covered by many artists since then including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, John Denver, The Tragically Hip, Joan Baez; it became a staple on Neil Young’s concert set list after Young released it as a single in 1978. CBC Radio One listeners voted Four Strong Winds as the greatest Canadian Song of All Time in 2005. 

Below, Sylvia and Ian Tyson sing Four Strong Winds live on their television reunion special in 1986. 

Evinia Pulos married Jack Bruce, a Calgary roommate of Ian Tyson’s, in 1963; according to Evinia, on the day of her wedding Tyson begged her not to marry Bruce, saying he was the wrong man for her. It was the first of what would be three marriages for Evinia Pulos.

Ian & Sylvia moved to New York City and frequented the same Greenwich Village Cafe’s as Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and Peter, Paul and Mary and other contemporaries. 24-year-old Sylvia Fricker married 31-year-old Ian Tyson in June 1964, and their son Clay (Clayton) Dawson Tyson was born in 1966

Ian Tyson wrote the song Someday Soon (1964), and Ian & Sylvia recorded it for their Northern Journey (1964) album. Although Ian & Sylvia didn’t release the song as a single, Someday Soon is one of their signature tunes. Someday Soon has been covered by numerous other mainstream and country music artists such as Judy Collins, Moe Bandy, Crystal Gayle, and Suzy Bogguss, who scored a #12 US Country Music chart hit with it in 1991. 

The Western Writers of American chose Someday Soon as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time. Below, Ian & Sylvia Tyson sing Someday Soon with Judy Collins on their 1986 reunion special.

Meanwhile, Ian & Sylvia had released more albums and had some Adult Contemporary chart success in Canada on with their version of Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot‘s Early Morning Rain (1965). Below, Ian & Sylvia Tyson in 1986, singing their 1965 #1 AC hit single Early Morning Rain; Gordon Lightfoot joins in.

Ian Tyson invited Evinia Pulos to visit him and Sylvia in New York in 1966, and their affair resumed. The album So Much for Dreaming (1967) included the single Summer Wages written by Ian Tyson, and the lyrics once again hearkened to Evinia Pulos: “And we’ll keep rollin’ on till we get to Vancouver and the lady that I love she’s living there. It’s been six long months and more since I’ve seen her maybe she’s gambled and gone like summer wages.”

Together, Ian & Sylvia were lead singers for the Canadian group Great Speckled Bird from 1969-1976. Trucker’s Cafe (1970) was a #9 Canadian Country Music chart hit for Great Speckled Bird in 1970. That same year, Great Speckled Bird became the house band for the TV series Nashville North on CTV; after the first season, Nashville North was renamed to the Ian Tyson Show (1971-1975).  

The single You Were on My Mind (1965) was written by Sylvia Fricker in 1962. Ian & Sylvia recorded You Were on My Mind in 1964 and included on their album Northern Journey (1964). They re-recorded it in 1972, backed by Great Speckled Bird, and included You Were on My Mind on their 1972 album of the same name. In 1972, You Were on My Mind became a #4 AC chart hit for Ian & Sylvia Tyson. Below, Sylvia and Ian Tyson singing You Were on My Mind live on stage in 1986. 

Evinia Pulos told Macleans that in the late 1960’s, she and Ian Tyson had resumed their long-distance affair, grabbing moments together whenever and wherever they could meet – and despite their respective marriages. Sylvia Tyson described Pulos as “The third person in our marriage.” By  the time their CTV television series The Ian Tyson Show came to an end in 1975, so to had the marriage of Sylvia and Ian Tyson; they divorced that year. At the same time, folk music had also been dying, thanks to the Beatles and the British invasion. Over time, Ian & Sylvia maintained a friendship (although they have not recorded together again since their 1975 breakup), but Ian was at loose ends.

Ian Tyson told the Globe and Mail that he moved to Alberta in 1976, and ended up buying his T-Bar-Y ranch outside of Longview, Alberta. He’d gotten into raising cutting horses, and has had success with them at competitions in Canada and the U.S. in the years since then. Tyson was still seeing Pulos when he could, on trips to Texas and the like. When he played songs at bars, traditional country and cowboy music began to take over his repertoire. While playing at the now-famous Ranchman‘s bar in Calgary, Alberta, 45-year-old Ian Tyson met 17-year-old waitress Twylla Dvorkin in 1978. They became a couple and married in 1986; daughter Adelita Tyson was born in 1987. Tyson has said it was Twylla that encouraged him to begin recording the cowboy music he loved.

In 1983, a now 50+ Ian Tyson began recording cowboy/country music, beginning with the album Old Corrals and Sagebrush. By the late 1980’s, his albums were hitting the Canadian Country Music charts. The Ian Tyson album Cowboyography (1987) went platinum and spawned 3 Top 20 Canadian Country Music singles, including Cowboy Pride (1987) which peaked at #9. Cowboy Pride‘s lyrics may have drawn on Ian Tyson’s own experiences: “Now you’re running with that waitress and she’s underage and wild.” Below, audio of Ian Tyson singing his hit song Cowboy Pride set to a video montage.

Ian Tyson’s single Fifty Years Ago (1988) also from Cowboyography  made it to #8. Below, audio of Ian Tyson singing Fifty Years Ago, accompanied by illustrations in a video montage.

The next year, Ian Tyson was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (1989). His albums I Outgrew the Wagon (1989), and And Stood There Amazed (1991), produced 12 Top 45 singles. Springtime in Alberta (1991) from the And Stood There Amazed album went to #9 in Canada on the Country Music charts.; the next year, Lights of Laramie (1992) did the same. Below Ian Tyson sings Lights of Laramie set to a video montage.

Recognition for Ian Tyson’s contributions to the Canadian music scene have included becoming a member of the Order of Canada in 1994, and as a septuagenarian senior citizen, induction into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2006. His marriage to Twylla ended in 2005, but the couple didn’t finalize their divorce until 2008. 

As a senior citizen, Ian Tyson has continued to live and work his Tyson Ranch in Alberta, write songs, sing and record music. He  has owned the Ian Tyson’s Navajo Mug coffee and gift shop in Longview since the early 2000’s, and wrote a young-adult fiction book La Primera: The Story of Wild Mustangs (2009).

Tyson has had his share of health issues as a senior as well, some more serious than others. His singing voice was affected for about 6 years beginning around 2005 after polyps developed in his throat, until surgery successfully removed them and his old voice was gradually restored with therapy. He has said he practices guitar daily in an attempt to keep the degenerative arthritis in his hand and thumb – which has bothered him since the early 1990’s, at bay.  

Ian Tyson told American Cowboy that he finally gave up wild young horses as a septuagenarian at age 78 in 2012, in order to focus on his music, after an incident that could have ended his life:

I got in an argument with a young horse that I raised—a four year- old—and I lost, big time…He really socked it to me. He slammed me down on the horn and I kept trying to get loose of him and he finally ripped my shirt off…He made me take a position. For years, I tried to do both all the time. I really believe that you can’t. If you want to be really good—I’m not talking about Mickey Mouse stuff—you have to choose. There aren’t enough hours in the day and when you get to a certain age you have to face up.

ian tyson 2011, canadian singer songwriter, tyson ranch longview, alberta canada, charles m russell heritage awardOctogenarian senior citizen Ian Tyson has dinner with his good friend and ex-wife Sylvia when he visits Toronto. And of course, he and Evinia Pulos are still talk on the phone and see each other when they can, although months might pass; she lives in Kelowna, B.C. and he on his ranch outside Longview, Alberta. Pulos has said she could never live out in the middle of nowhere, and Tyson has said he couldn’t live in the city. Biographer John Einarson, who wrote Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia (2012) says Ian described Evinia as his soulmate and told him “We’ve been lovers for 55 years…How many people can say that?

Right, Ian Tyson hold the Charles M. Russell Heritage Award on his Alberta Ranch. (2011 Photo: Lee Gunderson | Wikimedia CC 3.0)

Tyson’s now grown son Clay (who lives in Toronto) and daughter Adelita (living in Texas) have not yet made him a grandfather. Most recently, Ian Tyson has been recovering from open heart surgery in October 2015 to have a blocked aortic valve replaced. His website IanTyson.com lists the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada in February 2017 as his next concert date.  

Happy 83rd Birthday, Ian Tyson!

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