Ian Tyson Interview
Ian Tyson has long been
recognized as one of Canada's most respected singer / songwriters. His songs
have been covered by everyone from Neil Young to Judy Collins, to Suzy Bogguss
to Gordon Lightfoot, to Ramblin' Jack Elliot. His awards include the Order Of
Canada to a Juno Award. Ian Tyson's entry into the international music scene
began in the 1960s as half of the Folk / Country duo, Ian and Sylvia. They recorded
thirteen albums before they split in 1975 as both an act and a couple. The duo
is perhaps best known for the songs "Four Strong Winds" and "You Were On My Mind".
These days you'll find Ian Tyson on his ranch in southern Alberta's Rocky Mountains,
where he takes care of business...that is, when he's not touring and recording.
Q - Ian, according to
Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, you were seriously injured at
nineteen years of age. What happened to you, a car accident?
A - I don't know what they're referring to, probably
a rodeo accident, a rodeo wreck I guess. Are they saying that's what got me
started on guitar?
Q - They didn't say.
A - Well, that's not accurate at all.
Q - Your father left
Liverpool, England for Victoria British Columbia, Canada?
A - That's incorrect. He came to Alberta in 1906. The
open range. It wasn't fenced until 1908. I don't know if you know the significance
Q - I'm sorry, I don't.
A - Well, if you're a Westerner, there's
a lot of significance there. But, let's see what else Rolling Stone is full
of shit about.
Q - You played a show
with Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, LaVern Baker and Paul Anka in 1957.
A - True. No, I would say '56.
Q - Where was that show?
A - Vancouver, B.C. They had big touring
package shows back then. There was no reason for a local band to be on the
show other than I think it was a local AF of M (American Federation of Musicians)
stipulation, restriction. You had to have a band from the local musicians local
on that show. I think that's the way it worked, but, I can't be sure.
Q - It wasn't a Dick
Clark Show was it?
A - No.
Q - Did you get a chance to talk
to Buddy Holly?
A - No, but I heard him. I saw their equipment.
I heard what they were doing. There is no brown Fender amps, you know. They
blew me away...totally blew me away.
Q - At one point, Albert Grossman
A - Well, yeah. He managed Sylvia and I for
Q - What kind of a manager
did you find him to be? Was he an easy-going guy? Was he overbearing? What
exactly did he do for your career?
A - He was a genius in his own way. He had a radar for
talent. He could spot talent. The talent wasn't always something the general
public would embrace. He was ahead of his time, but he was a genius I think.
I liked him a lot. He didn't suffer fools, but I've been accused of that too,
so what the heck. At the time of his death, which is twenty years ago now or
more, I'm not sure, he died in a plane in a mid-Atlantic, crossing. At the
time of his death, he was not managing us, Sylvia and I had split up. It wasn't
working. He had Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan. Eventually Dylan took over
all of his time, his availability. But, he was great. I remember him very fondly.
A very clever, a very intuitive guy. A very visceral guy. A real Chicago Jew,
you know. A neat guy. I miss him. I hope since he's passed on, he's seen the
success I've had because I know it would be very meaningful for him...success
as a writer.
Q - You've said "That
dumb television show Hootenanny made us ever bigger stars." Why was Hootenanny
A - Well, it was dumb. It was incredibly
dumb. It's like television. It was phony. It was forced. It was imitation.
It was very uncomfortable for everybody. Technically, very inferior. It was
just at that period of time where tech was finally gonna get good. The rock
groups had blown out all the terrible systems and it was starting to get good. Hootenanny was
a dreadful show. Appalling.
Q - It was the only show of its
type on TV at the time, as I recall.
A - Well, in the U.S. There were several
of 'em in Canada.
Q - You were a member
of a group called "The Sensational Stripes"?
A - Uh-Huh.
Q - What kind of a group was that?
A Rockabilly group?
A - Yeah. Rockabilly knock-off stuff. We
did Gene Vincent's style. It wasn't a huge thing. That's why we happened to
be on that show with Buddy Holly. It was a beginning. I was very young. I played
rhythm guitar in it. I eventually got fired because the girls liked me better
than the front guy. So...I was a good looking kid.
Q - According to an interview with
Sylvia, you never thought of writing your own material until Bob Dylan came
A - That's correct.
Q - You wanted to have a Pop sound,
which Sylvia thought you weren't good at?
A - I didn't know what I wanted. We had a
sound that was pretty unique. It was pretty vibrant for a couple of years,
then it just kind of fell apart. It was based on our vocal blend. It wasn't
like anybody. It was pretty unique. We made a couple of great albums. Then
the albums got un-focused and the direction got strange and then pressure from
the record companies to get a radio hit and pressure from ourselves. We wanted
it too. Everybody was getting hits. We almost got one. You know, just couldn't
stand the stress.
Q - You actually had Felix Pappalardi
(Mountain) in the band?
A - Yes, for about a year.
Q - Have you had other
musicians play in your band that went on to greater fame?
A - Gee, I don't know. I don't know where you're coming
from with "famous". Certainly not in the Rolling Stone magazine point of view.
I had a lot of musicians play for me. A lot of outstanding ones. Amos Garrett,
a guitar player. David Wilcox, a guitar player. Pee Wee Charles, the steel
player. It just goes on and on. There's dozens of 'em over thirty years. There's
some great players and some not great players.
Q - "For a couple of years we were
going good. We had all the college concerts we could handle. We were making
a lot of money." What was considered good money for a college concert in those
A - $1,800.
Q - And out of that,
you had to pay an agent, road manager, musicians, hotel and on and on.
A - Yeah.
Q - You were traveling by bus or
plane in those days?
A - There was a strange airline in those
days called Allegheny Airlines. They broke many of our instruments over those
two or three years. They just wore us out. But, it was good. We were young
and able to handle it.
Q - Do you share Sylvia's
belief that had Vanguard Records promoted you more aggressively, you would've
been even more popular?
A - I don't really know. I don't know what
they did or didn't do. Who knows? It's a long time ago. I couldn't comment.
I'm with Vanguard now and they're just doing an absolutely terrible job on
my new album. And, you can certainly quote me on that. It's such a weird business,
Q - I guess the internet has destroyed
the record business as we once knew it.
A - What us cowboys do is, we sell our CDs
right at the show. They sell like hotcakes. Everybody at the show buys a CD.
That's how we do it. The record company does nothing. Absolutely nothing. Basically,
if they've shipped you the boxes of CDs to Livingston, Montana on or before
the date, they feel they're absolute heroes and should be given the Legion
Of Honor or something. And that's what they do. I mean they do nothing. But,
that's the reality of today. You sell 'em off the stage. It's a very good business
and very profitable. My generation, my demographics aren't down loaders. They
don't steal off the internet. They buy CDs.
Q - Did The Beatles
and the British Invasion end the career of Ian and Sylvia?
A - It killed the Folk movement. I would say the California
rock scene killed it just as potently. Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and
the Fish...all that San Francisco stuff. That shut down the Folk thing. Totally
shut it down.
Q - Would Barry McGuire's "Eve
Of Destruction" have been the last stand of the Folk era then?
A - I wouldn't over exaggerate that, but,
yeah. Folk came back stronger than ever. And it is stronger. It has out-lasted
San Francisco Rock, Acid Rock and all that shit. Folk will always be around.
In those days we thought it was the Apocalypse. People didn't want to listen
to what they thought was Folk. Who the hell knows what Folk is? But, they didn't
want to listen to that stuff. That's fine. We all had to find something else
Q - What is Sylvia doing
A - She's in a group called Quartet. They're
quite good. They're very good actually. They do what you would loosely call
Folk. They tour a little bit. They're not as busy as I am. This is the busiest
year (2005) I've ever had.
Q - How many dates?
A - Over seventy. When you're seventy-two years old,
it's a little too much. But, I've got a lot of bills to pay and a divorce to
go through, so I'm doing it. I'm enjoying it. People buy tickets. It's wonderful.
You can't make people buy tickets. They either want to see you or they don't.
I'm just very grateful. I'm very honored and flattered. So, it's great. But,
I don't do nostalgia. I'm a writer and I keep writing. Some people get frustrated,
they want to hear nothing but the old stuff, but I have never given them just
the old stuff. Never. They gotta listen to new stuff at least half of the evening.
If they don't want to listen to it, they don't have to come back again, but
they do come back again. So, I guess in the final analysis, the approach I've
taken has given me longevity.
Official Website: IanTyson.com
© Gary James All Rights Reserved