Ian and Sylvia's musical journeyhttp://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/ian-and-sylvias-musical-journey-129577513.html
Four Strong Winds
Ian & Sylvia
By John Einarson, with Ian and Sylvia Tyson
McClelland & Stewart, 336 pages, $33
Many people will have sat around campfires this summer in the Canadian tradition, and during the singalong, odds are good that the wind was blowing lonely through seven seas that run high.
Four Strong Winds, along with such other classics as You Were on My Mind and Someday Soon, has been on everyone's lips since it stormed the radio waves in the '60s.
The folk duo of Ian and Sylvia headed down the road on an interesting journey to get to the point where those songs became a part of the North American musical landscape. This first full-length biography of the pair, by Winnipeg pop music historian John Einarson, charts that course.
For those who lived through those times, it will take you back to the days of Toronto's Riverboat coffee house, Gerde's Folk City in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, even the Ting on Broadway in Winnipeg.
For the rest of us, it opens a small window into that time and Ian and Sylvia's impact on the music to come.
The folk scene of the '60s was interesting politically and musically, and these two Canadians played an important part in it all.
This is not a book you will read for its elegant turn of phrase or literary merit. It's sometimes slow going and loaded down with detail, as pop music biographies often are.
But you will read it for Ian and Sylvia's story and the way they remember those early days. For example, here is Ian on writing Four Strong Winds: "That was before Dylan was making the big dough. I had heard his Blowin' in the Wind or one of his other early songs and just thought, "sh--, how hard can this be? If that little sh-- can do it."
But this book is really about their rise to prominence in the U.S. and Canada and their long careers. There's lots of name dropping here. Einarson, whose impressive credits include bios of Neil Young, Randy Bachman and Buffalo Springfield, has done his legwork, getting quotes from the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and the late Suze Rotolo, Dylan's first girlfriend in New York.
Michelle Phillips, of the Mamas & the Papas, tells him: "When I was a teenager in southern California, all the girls wanted to look like Sylvia Tyson."
Ian and Sylvia were an influential part of the Greenwich Village folk scene with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, all the way to the cross-Canada Festival Express in 1970.
"The Grateful Dead ran out of other substances around Winnipeg and started drinking, and it was not a pretty sight," Sylvia tells Einarson.
Oddly enough, all the celebrity checking is less interesting than the parts about how the pair kept the music going amid changes in taste, ranches, touring, divorce, life and television.
"They interviewed me for that recent Bravo TV special on Ian," Einarson quotes Sylvia as saying.
"They interviewed us together and then separately. When I came back after my interview Ian said to me, I hope you didn't say anything bad about me. And I replied, Well, it can't all be sunshine and roses, can it?"
Aspiring musicians should give this book a read. It has information about managers, writing, record companies, love, fame and the roller-coaster of public taste. It is a blow-by-blow account of an international career.
What it lacks, however, is perspective and depth about who Ian and Sylvia really are and what makes them tick. Not just who they met and what they did, but why and how they managed to create and continue to do so. Ian, of course, has written a couple of memoirs himself, and Sylvia recently released her first novel.
The good thing is, it will remind you of two legendary artists, their music and their important place in popular culture. Oh, it will also tell you how long it took Ian to write Four Strong Winds.
Connie Kaldor is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter, an Order of Canada member and a former Winnipegger.