Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Feature/ProfileOn the Road with Mike MurchisonOpinion/ColumnTrucking

Growing up Canadian, to Ian Tyson’s music

Canadian singer/songwriter was an icon who knew “The Land of Shining Mountains” intimately. Photo: Mike Murchison

I bought the boots at the UFA when I came out to Alberta. I was going to be a cowboy, learn to rope and ride.

Never could figure out how to keep a hat on my head with the wind blowing the way it always did. It blew from the north; the south; the east and the west. Yup. Four strong winds. Now I understood what the song meant.

Doney Gal: “Surely the most descriptive trucking song ever written,” says Mike Murchison.

Damn, the skies were big. The mountains; the foothills; the farms and the ranches. I was right in the heart of the cowboy capital of Canada.

It was an eye-opening experience for an 18 year old boy from the big city of Toronto, to say the least.

So naturally, I embraced the music of Ian Tyson. I’d heard a few of his songs playing on the radio living in Toronto. And when you’re learning to play the guitar, well, learning “Four Strong Winds” is a must.

“Half A Mile of Hell”

“Four Strong Winds”

“Someday Soon”

“Summer Wages”

“The Great Canadian Tour”

About the the time I was settling in Alberta, reinventing myself, Tyson was doing the same. Neil Young was having success with his remake of “Four Strong Winds” and Tyson was earning some royalties.

Bought himself a little spread out by Longview (southwest of Calgary). Nose-dived hard into the cowboy way of life and started ranching and working with cutting horses.

He recorded an album of mostly original songs entitled “Cowboyography.”

Bang! He was front and centre again, and away he went. More albums. More strong songs and a new bigger audience.

I never met him; I saw him in concert once, at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary when it first opened. I went alone; I couldn’t find anyone to go with with me. Their loss.

A simple, five-piece band standing on the stage. They were tight. Fantastic sound. His voice was great. Rich.

The stage had a few Navaho rugs tossed here and there. It made you feel like you were in somebody’s living room.

Ah! But the songs and the stories: some transported you back to a time when there weren’t so many highways or barbed wire fences. Some made you realize that there are still cowboys and their way of life is alive and well. You just don’t see them. They’re there, just a few miles down the gravel road, far from the Walmart, the collector lanes and that “new” country music that floods the airwaves.

There’s a big difference between “Country Music”’ and “Western Music.” Kind of like fresh ground coffee and something from a Drive-thru.

You get the point.

Ian Tyson was 89 when he passed away December 29th. He will be missed by those who knew him, loved him and those who absorbed his music. Ian Tyson was a phenomenal songwriter and a great singer up until a medical issue took his voice. But even then, he kept singing, playing and recording.

What did he do for me? His music and his words helped a young kid from a big city settle his nerves and showed him, little by little, that he could make a new home. A fresh start in this “Land of Shining Mountains” under that big Alberta sky.

I put a lot of miles under me, tapping my foot to his music. For many years, and sometimes I found myself in a bit of a tug of war.

  You see, I was born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Right there by the sea. How I ended up in Alberta is another story for a bigger pot of coffee.

But just as those big endless skies and wind caressed ocean waves get imprinted into your heart, so too do those big skies and wind caressed fields of wheat and barley grown under the shadows of the eastern slope. I blame Tyson for that.

I recorded one of his songs, which hopefully will make my CD project “Highway. “It has nothing to do with Alberta; its about loneliness, regret, hope, weather and possible maybes. It’s entitled “Blue Mountains of Mexico.”

  “Highway” is just one example of Tyson’s ability to inspire, to write, to paint a picture with words and music.

“Navaho Rug”

“Land of Shining Mountains”

“Alberta’s  Child”

“I Outgrew The Wagon”

“Lost Herd”

….we’re just touching the iceberg of the many songs Tyson wrote in his time. So many songs that most people have never heard.

I suggest you give his music a good listen. You may find yourself taking a turn off the asphalt and heading down some gravel road out towards the back of beyond . Out there, far past where the new, wanna-be cowboys and cowgirls who are fans of “Yellowstone” reside.

But drive a little further along, where barbed wire fences will cut your fingers, and the wind will slap you when it feels like it. Go to where weather, money, drought, firearm regulations and urbanization all help grey your hair, put lines on your face, and make you wonder “What’s the use?”

   That’s what Tyson wrote and sang about, what he lived and what he knew. For that, he has my respect.

Surely, we lost a good ‘un.

Ride easy

Be blessed


You can purchase Mike Murchison’s music on the RWN “Shop” page.