Four Strong Winds

Ian and Sylvia:  Four Strong Winds

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

 artists:  Ian and Sylvia

songwriter:  Ian Tyson

date released:  1963 by the Brothers Four; re-released by Ian & Sylvia in 1964; re-released by Neil Young in 1978

Country music legend, Ian Tyson, was born in 1933 in Victoria, B.C.  In his teens, Tyson was an itinerant logger and rodeo rider until a dangerous fall ended his career.  While still recovering, Tyson began to write songs and sing.  He got his start in Vancouver at the popular Robson Street eatery, the Heidelberg Cafe, singing while diners were enjoying their meals.

 In 1958, Tyson graduated from the Vancouver School of Art and moved to Toronto to work as a commercial artist.  There he met Sylvia Fricker and together, they formed a musical act called Ian & Sylvia and began performing in the club scene in Yorkville.  

Fame, fortune and four years later, Ian and Sylvia married and moved to the big skies of Alberta.  As a partnership, they wrote and recorded hit songs such as "Four Strong Winds" and "Someday Soon."  Influenced by  Bob Dylan in a song about the wind [Blowin' in the Wind], Tyson wrote "Four Strong Winds" about a character he knew well from Canada: the migrant worker.  There was one unifying thread to these workers:  they moved around like the four winds.  In the book, "100 Top Canadian Singles, Tyson tells author Bob Mersereau: 

"Canada has many seasonal workers, and when the weather turns harsh, they must move on and find a different kind of work.  Many of these people cross the country every year---from the tobacco harvest in Ontario to the wheat harvest on the prairies to apple picking in British Columbia.  With the advent of fall, they move on, perhaps to return in the spring."  

Ian Tyson was a maverick even then.  In his lyrics, he retained "Alberta" in an industry where Canadian artists were advised to leave out local references if they wanted to break into the music scene in the U.S.  Tyson's journeyman story set a standard for other songwriters of true patriot North such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.  

Between the years of 1971 and 1975, the charismatic Ian Tyson had a television show eponymously called "The Ian Tyson Show."  While he was enjoying great commercial success, his marriage to Sylvia was failing.  It ended in divorce in 1975, and Tyson retreated to reconnect with his first love, the training of horses in the ranch country of southern Alberta.

After a three-year hiatus, Tyson began recording again and enjoyed the flush of a second musical career on his own.

Twelve albums, two Juno Awards, six Canadian Country Music Awards and many other honours later, Ian Tyson was invested into the Order of Canada in 1994.  In 2006, "Four Strong Winds" was voted by CBC music fans as the greatest Canadian song of all time.