This is starting off to be a bad winter for musicians. Granted, Jeff Beck and Ian Tyson were both high mileage as well as mature, but still. Sheesh! I grew up listening to Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Odetta, the New Christy Minstrels, and others, along with classical and some old country and bluegrass. Then somehow, years later, MomRed discovered that Ian Tyson was still recording, now western music.
His father wanted him to have a career at sea, or to do normal, respectable jobs. Ian devoured westerns, books by Will James, and turned his back on the sea. Worse. He became a musician (among other things.)
It was love at first hear. I could sing along with Tyson’s music, since he was a baritone. His songs, love ’em or not love ’em, were melodic and made sense. He told stories, songs about horses and ranches, about love and revenge, about places and the people in them. I have my favorites, but there’s no Ian Tyson song that makes me go, “Ugh!” and race for the shower, ear-bleach, or yes.
So, one of his oldest, and a favorite of many Of a Certain Age: Four Strong Winds.
I also liked this one, a canoing song done at at least four times the original tempo:
“Summer Wages” is the fan favorite among SmallDeadAnimals blog readers. It’s not one that I like as much, but I can see why people (especially guys) appreciate it:
Some days, “Timberline (Fifty Years Ago)” strikes a very strong chord: “Did I hold Juanita yesterday, or was it fifty years ago?” Since the late 1980s seem like yesterday . . .
“Claude Dallas,” “Old House on the Hill,” “Banks of the Mussel Shell” are all ballads or half-ballads, eerie and atmospheric. I can never hear “Claude Dallas” without remembering a day out in Utah when my family and I were looking out over Cathedral Valley in Capital Reef National Park and feeling cold chills from the music. It had nothing to do with the beautiful, empty, landscape below us, and everything to do with the solitude.
“Jaquima to Freno” is about a vaquero, and refers to the tack used in training horses in the old Spanish style. “La Primera, and “Steel Dust Line” are also horse songs*, one about mustangs and one about cutting horses and driving from Canada to Las Vegas in winter. Ian Tyson ranched, and it showed in his music.
He badly damaged his voice in 2006 while trying to finish a concert after the sound equipment failed, and his last three albums reflect that. He was still a heck of writer and poet, and a good singer. He died December 29, 2022, on his ranch in Alberta at age 89.
(I am amused that The Guardian needed to explain that cutting horses “are like sheepdogs” in how they separate cattle from the herd. But then I’m a westerner, and have watched cutting horse contests.)
*Steel Dust is one of the foundation sires of cutting horses. Other lineages are mentioned in the song.
People 100 years from now are going to look back at the 1960s, 70s, and 80s as a golden age of popular music. Songs that actually tell a story and tell it well should be treasured.
The twentieth century was a golden age for music of all kinds, though the fish were beginning to rot near the end. But when jazzmen quote Bach and musical theater develops from the music hall into an art that can respectably stand in the shadow of grand opera … we’ve lived in amazing times. The chorus singing =The Ballad of Sweeney Todd= took us right back to the very roots of Western drama … but with the twist that bystanders and supporting characters broke the fourth wall to sing it.
Sitting in one of my usuals haunts this past Christmas season, I pointed out to the young waitstaff, as often as I could, the voices of Jimmy Durante and Louis Armstrong, and others I don’t recall right now.
We’re blessed beyond the imaginings of history, to be able to hear those voices, the gravel, the silk, the velvet fog, likewise the spectacular performances of Abado and Furtwangler and Galway and Ma.
So sad, and yes, one heck of a musician and singer! May he rest in peace.