Ian Tyson began making a living as a rodeo rider. After breaking an ankle in a spill, Tyson began playing the guitar. As things turned out, rodeo riding was not to be his destiny. Tyson went on to become a famous Canadian folksinger and songwriter. After spending an evening with Bob Dylan, Ian wrote his first song, namely “Four Strong Winds.” It is widely recognized as one of the best folk songs ever written.
While singing in clubs and on college campuses, Tyson met Sylvia Fricker. The duo began singing together and eventually became known throughout North America as Ian & Sylvia. After some time on the road, the duo decided to go to New York to seek a manager and a record label. They succeeded. Vanguard records released their first album titled “Ian and Silvia” in 1962. The couple married three years later. Ian & Silvia, along with Gordon Lightfoot, are the most popular folk and pop recording artists to emerge from Canada.
“Four Strong Winds” is another song about lost love, but I find great beauty in the words and the melody. I hope you can too. The song is usually strummed, but I’m using a finger-picking method. Here’s my cover.
I’m watching an interesting film titled “If You Could Read My Mind.” The Canadian documentary is about the life and career of Gordon Lightfoot.
Lightfoot arrived in downtown Toronto as a young man after growing up in Oridella, a small rural Canadian town. Since there were no clubs to play in at the time, Gordon landed a job in a bank to earn a living. Lightfoot was about to earn a promotion when he told his manager that he had decided to leave the bank to accept a role as an extra on a square dancing Canadian TV show. Lightfoot’s manager found it hard to believe that the young man was leaving a good job with a future to go square dancing.
As folk music became commercially viable in the late sixties, clubs began to spring up featuring promising musicians. Gordon landed a spot in one of them. He stood apart from the crowd because he performed many of his own songs in a characteristically pure voice. After he developed a following, a club owner invited Lightfoot to perform at his club across the street at twice the salary. Lightfoot gratefully accepted the invitation to perform at the Riverboat, Toronto’s premier folk music club.
With his beautiful voice and prolific outpouring of quality music, it was only a matter of time before Warner/Reprise records rewarded Lightfoot with a one million dollar recording contract, an unheard-of number for a Canadian singer. His first album with the new label was released in 1970 when Gordon was forty-two. Lightfoot had left United Artists after five albums because he felt they did not represent him adequately. “Sit Down Young Stranger” shipped 80,000 copies before sales stopped dead. The album “had no legs” in the industry’s parlance. Warner changed the name of the album and picked a new single to lead it off. “If You Could Read My Mind” became a runaway hit when an announcer on an important local radio station kept playing it. Sales of the album ballooned to 650,000 copies. The rest is history.
Here’s my cover of the song.
Gordon Lightfoot is not a “legend in his own mind” as Dirty Harry said about the perp he was about to blow away. Lightfoot is a genuine “legend in his own time.” He has been performing live well into his seventies and beyond. It is said that time waits for no man. Time may have made an exception in Mr. Lighfoot’s case.