Ian & Sylvia: You Were on My Mind(with Great Speckled Bird #2)
One of the most popular acts of the early-'60s folk revival, Canadian
duo Ian Tyson (b. 1933) and Sylvia Tyson (b. 1940) made several fine albums that spotlighted
their stirring harmonies on a mixture of traditional and contemporary material. While these
recordings can seem a tad earnest and dated today, they were overlooked influences upon
early folk-rockers such as the Jefferson Airplane, the We Five, the Mamas and the Papas, and
Fairport Convention, all of whom utilized similar blends of male/female lead/harmony vocals.
They were also inspirations to fellow Canadian singer-songwriters such as Neil Young, Joni
Mitchell, and Gordon Lightfoot. Like most acoustic folkies, after the mid-'60s they moved into
folk-rock and country-rock, though the results were less impressive than their early work.
Tyson took up folk music in his 20s while convalescing from a rodeo injury, and teamed up
with Fricker after moving to Toronto in the late '50s. In 1960, they moved to New York,
where they were signed by Albert Grossman, famous for managing Bob Dylan and Peter,
Paul, and Mary. Their self-titled debut (1962) began a successful series of recordings for
Vanguard, on which they helped expand the range of folk by adding bass (sometimes played
by Spike Lee's father Bill) and mandolin to Ian's guitar and Sylvia's autoharp. Just as crucially,
they ranged far afield for their repertoire, which encompassed not just traditional folk ballads,
but bluegrass, country, spirituals, blues, hillbilly, gospel, and French-Canadian songs.
Ian & Sylvia were among the first to cover songs by Dylan, Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and Phil
Ochs, and also began writing material of their own. Although original compositions were
never at the forefront of their early LPs, a couple of them would become very influential
indeed. Tyson's "Four Strong Winds" would be covered by the Searchers and (in the '70s)
Neil Young, and Fricker's "You Were On My Mind," given a far poppier treatment by the We
Five, became one of the first big folk-rock hits.
By 1966, Ian & Sylvia had started to rely primarily on original material, and begun to use
electric instruments. While some of these tracks were outstanding, generally their folk-rock
lacked the focus and consistency of their acoustic recordings. In the late 1960s, they would
take stabs at country-rock and straight country music, even hooking up with young producer
Todd Rundgren for the 1970 album Great Speckled Bird. The quality of their records, and the
size of their audience, declined steadily after they ended their association with Vanguard in
1967. In the '70s, they split up, professionally and personally (they had married in 1964). Both
have since pursued solo careers: Tyson's was far more successful, as he moved into country
music, recording albums of songs with cowboy and rodeo themes that received much popular
and critical acclaim in Canada.
The 1972 album You Were on My Mind (a title Sylvia Tyson would use again in 1987 for one of her solo albums), recorded together with members of Great Speckled Bird and later Hungry Chuck, has a cover version of The Band's "Get Up Jake".
Ian & Sylvia - You Were on My Mind - 1972 - CBS 31337