Corb Lund and Ian Tyson team up for what may be the final run of “Cowboy Songs and Stories”
Corb Lund, our local “Hurtin’ Albertan,” can’t remember exactly when he first heard the tunes of 84-year-old country-folk icon Ian Tyson, but he sure remembers the profound influence it had on him.
“He’s the patriarch cowboy-singer for sure,” Lund says on the way to rehearsal with Tyson. “It’s really easy to put Chicago in a song, or Dallas in a song, ‘cause it’s so much a part of the meta-culture that you can drop those geographical references and it already has premade resonance. It’s a lot harder to put Calgary or Medicine Hat, especially with international audiences, ‘cause people don’t know what it is. Ian was one of the first guys that kind of clued me into how to connect it.”
Tyson’s influential career is staggering. He quickly rose to notoriety in the early ‘60s with his folk duo Ian & Sylvia, when songs like “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon” were written. Sometime after, he began releasing cowboy records from ‘73 up until his 2015 release Carnero Vaquero.
This weekend, for the first time in Edmonton, Lund and Tyson will present “Cowboy Songs and Stories,” a duo project they started back in 2012.
“We play songs and bullshit a little bit on stage here and there,” Lund says. “This could be the last run.”
The idea for the project started after Tyson released his book The Long Trail: My Life in the West, a narrative that follows his life, horse riding, living the cowboy dream, competing in rodeos and being a part of the folk-revival era with his then-wife Sylvia.
Lund, already being a friend of Tyson’s, was asked to conduct interviews with him during the book tour.
“The whole time I thought, ‘wow, this is kinda fun, but it would be super great if he had guitars.’ I, kind of, talked him into that, or maybe it was his idea,” Lund laughs. “I guess ‘we’ put it together.”
The initial idea for the show was sparked during the centennial Calgary Stampede.
“We kind of felt that nobody was addressing the historical side of things, so we put together a show that told a loose history of Alberta and cowboy and cattle culture that leads into the present,” Lund says.
Lund can’t place when he first became friends with Tyson, but he remembers they met at a show in Calgary.
“I asked him to sing on my Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer record. So he sang a song on there and we spent a lot of time together,” Lund remembers. “Now, we play shows together, drink beers, and he gives me sage advice about the music business sometimes, and I’ll explain social media to him.”
Outside of their professional music careers, Lund and Tyson usually hang out on Tyson’s ranch out in Longview, AB.
“We go out riding and move his cows around,” Lund says. “He’s out on the ranch most times and he doesn’t have much internet out there, but he reads The New Yorker a bunch. So he’ll read about startups and social media, so he’ll have a list for me about tweeting and Instagram.”
Any fan of Tyson knows that his voice has gone through some dramatic changes over the years. This is due to many health problems the weathered 84-year-old has conquered.
“He’s always been a great singer,” Lund says. “About six or eight years ago, he had some kind of a virus problem and his voice went from about a 10 to like a two and a half, and he couldn’t do anything about it. Then he got surgery and it went to an eight or nine. After his heart surgery, it screwed up again. So it’s not where it was and it’s a little bit hard for him, but personally, I kinda like it. He’s about a seven now.”
Either way, people want to hear the classic songs and experience Tyson’s presence in the room. This far into his career, his voice is almost an afterthought.
“It catches you once in awhile, the influence he’s had and the stature of his life,” Lund says. “There’s this movie called The Festival Express about this train trip that went across Canada with a bunch of bands on it in the ‘70s. It was intense, with bands like Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, and Ian and Sylvia. And there’s this shot in the movie where Ian’s hanging out with, like, royalty. He’s hanging out and there’s a jam with like Rick Danko from The Band and Jerry Garcia from the Dead and Janis Joplin and he’s jamming with them. It’s like, ‘holy fuck dude.’ He knows and knew some serious people.”
He also apparently turned Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, onto pot.
“It’s funny cause when I ask him about that period he kinda brushes it off,” Lund laughs. “He seems more interested in horses.”
Sat., Jan. 13 (8 pm)
Corb Lund & Ian Tyson
Northern Alberta Jubilee