Ontario’s Country Music Pioneers: Sylvia Tyson

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Ontario’s Country Music Pioneers: Sylvia Tyson

// by Larry Delaney //

(born: September 19, 1940 – Chatham, Ontario)

(#53 in the Ontario Pioneers Series)

Sylvia Fricker was born September 19, 1940, in Chatham, Ontario. While still a teenager, she moved to Toronto to pursue her interests in singing and soon crossedpaths with Ian Tyson. Shortly after they met in 1959, they began collaborating vocally and as songwriters, composing songs together and individually. Within the year, they launched the duo Ian & Sylvia, attracting attention to their folk/country music throughout North America, highlighted by what would become a Canadian classic: Four Strong Winds. Sylvia and Ian were married June 26, 1964. They recorded a dozen albums and by the late 1960s, were fronting the country/rock band Great Speckled Bird. During this time, while Ian Tyson was writing his own memorable songs, Sylvia was becoming a prolific songwriter, penning such notable songs as You Were On My Mind, Smiling Wine, and Trucker’s Café.

Ian and Sylvia’s musical partnership and marriage ended in 1975, at which time Sylvia Tyson began to pursue a solo recording career, releasing the debut album Woman’s World on Capitol Records, followed by the 1976 album, Cool Wind From The North. Ironically, both albums were produced by Ian Tyson. The albums were filled with Sylvia’s original songs, including such nuggets as Bluebird Café, Sleep On My Shoulder and River Road.

In 1978, Sylvia Tyson launched her own independent label Salt Records, releasing the albums Satin On Stone and Sugar For Sugar, Salt For Salt. It would be a decade later before Sylvia would return to the recording studios, releasing two albums on the Stony Plain Records label: Big Spotlight, and You Were On My Mind. The latter package featured the duet, Pepere’s Mill, written and performed with Canadian country legend Lucille Starr.

Interestingly, while heading-up her Salt Records label, Sylvia co-produced the album Inside Out, a collection of songs written and performed by inmates of the Edmonton Institution, a maximum-security prison.

Sylvia Tyson charted 12 singles on the RPM Charts with only two of them breaking the Top 20 – Denim Blue Eyes and Too Short A Ride, from her Stony Plain recordings.

Sylvia arguably gained the most success as a songwriter. Her classic, You Were On My Mind, has been recorded by Pop and Country artists, most notably a chart-topper for Crispian St. Peters, and by We Five, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Bobby Penn, The Lettermen, Billy Strange, Marti Shannon, Kitty Wells, Nanci Griffith and Serena Ryder. Nashville’s Crystal Gayle had a Billboard Country Chart hit with the Sylvia Tyson song, River Road.

The range of artists recording a Sylvia Tyson song crosses all genres – Nana Mouskouri, Gene Clark, Rosalie Sorrels, Barrence Whitfield, Katy Moffatt, Tom Russell and bluesman Big Joe Williams are but a few. Canadian artists have long dipped into the Sylvia Tyson song catalog, including Catherine McKinnon, Shirley Eikhard, Marg Osburne, Colleen Peterson, Cindy Church, Ginny Mitchell, Lindsay Thomas Morgan, Joyce Seamone, John P. Allen, and… Quartette.

In 1994, Sylvia joined forces with Colleen Peterson, Cindy Church and Caitlin Hanford, to form the country group Quartette, releasing a series of albums, each featuring new songs penned by Sylvia Tyson.

In 2011, Sylvia Tyson added “author” to her long list of career achievements with the release of the novel Joyner’s Dream, a 400-page trip through eight generations of a family tree; fictitious, but relatable in part to her own musical journey.

Sylvia Tyson has numerous Juno Award nominations, winning Country Female Vocalist of The Year in 1987. She was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1992 (as “Ian & Sylvia”) and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1994. In 2003, Sylvia Tyson was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.

Trivia Notes:
• Kitty Wells recorded the Sylvia Tyson song Trucker’s Café under the title, Midnight Till Dawn.
• In 1963 Pop star Bobby Darin recorded the song Long Time Man, co-written by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson.