Ian Tyson Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories
By Don Graham
I have been listening to Ian Tyson since the mid sixties. The steel guitar player in my band, Graham County, the late Ron Dann, played with him in the seventies. He had one of those instantly recognizable voices; a pure, rich tenor that wrapped itself around his well crafted, descriptive lyrics. Songs like Four Strong Winds, Someday Soon, Summer Wages and The Navajo Rug all showcased his vocal ability.
So when I received my copy of “Yellowhead to Yellowstone ..and Other Love Stories” I put it in my CD player and sat back, eagerly anticipating hearing that beautiful voice singing ten new Ian Tyson songs. From the first line of the opening song, Yellowhead to Yellowstone, I was surprised, probably an understatement, to hear a gravelly, gritty, and emotion filled Ian Tyson sounding unlike what I was expecting. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I really liked this “new” sound. There was something in the emotion of the vocal that was so real, so believable, that it drew me into the story in the lyric and made me feel a part of the song.
It seems the “new voice” of Tyson’s was brought on by a combination of circumstances. In Tyson’s words he was “at the Havelock Jamboree and fought the sound system and lost!”. This caused some throat problems, then a stubborn virus set in, and his voice had changed. For this collection of songs, it’s a great fit the new voice and ten wonderful new tunes. As usual Tyson combines heartfelt lyrics and crafty melodies that tell of pain, sorrow, joy and life in the great outdoors. “The Fiddler Must Be Paid” is a classic country song of ‘faded love’ and the pain of losing. Estrangement is another insight into a man’s commitment to a love that’s lost but still hoped for. My favourite track is ‘My Cherry Coloured Rose’, ironically the only non Tyson composition on the album. Written by Toronto songwriter Jay Amar, it is a beautiful and poignant love song dedicated to Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster and legend, Don Cherry and the passing of the love of his life, Rose Cherry. “ Come on Don, put your game face on, you can do it!” Beautifully sung from the heart.
Tyson has long been one of Canada’s most respected singer-songwriters. A pioneer who began his career in the early days of the first folk boom in the ’60s, he was one of the first Canadians to break into the American popular music market. In the years that followed he hosted his own TV show, recorded some of the best “folk” albums ever made, quit the music business and became — after years of backbreaking work — a rodeo rider and a successful rancher.
And then, in the mid-’80s, he returned to music with a vengeance, combining his two separate lives in songs that explained the reality of “western culture” and the mindset of a cowboy in a sometimes-alien world.
Tyson’s list of honours — from the Order of Canada to platinum records, Juno Awards and Canadian Country Music Awards — is too lengthy to repeat. He tours constantly across Canada, and through the western states in the US.
At seventy five years young, Ian Tyson is a remarkable example of the strength of the human spirit and our ability to persevere in the face of great obstacles. Kudos to Stony Plain Records for recognizing the need for this great Canadian treasure to be heard and following through to make sure it got done.
Go buy this disc!! If Ian Tyson can put forth the effort to make sure these songs get recorded, we need to honour him by listening. Thanks Ian for all the years of great music and many more to come!!