Mar 28, 2010

Ian Tyson, Songwriter

Ian Tyson was part of my 1960s and '70s Canadian childhood. He sang folk songs on the radio and hosted a television show. Later, when I embraced pop music as a teenager, he faded into the distance.

In our working class home, my parents listened to the country music radio station as soon as that became an option. By the time I left to attend university in the big city, I never wanted to hear country music again.

It's funny, though, how we become more or less receptive to ideas and influences depending on which stage of our lives we happen to be in. In early 2000, nearly 20 years after I'd departed my parents' hearth, I found myself in an airport giftshop in Colorado, searching for a souvenir to take back to Toronto. A smooth, warm baritone was singing over the PA system and when I asked the store clerk about it, she handed me Ian Tyson's All the Good 'Uns CD.

I brought it home, played it a lot, and turned my definitely-not-into-country-music husband on to Tyson. And then something truly remarkable happened. That CD became my bridge back to country music. Tyson's writing was so good that I was reminded that not everything in that genre is schlocky and banal.

Soon I was discovering the work of Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams (yeah, they've both got issues - but they're often brilliant), and reaquainting myself with Johnny Cash. Fast forward a couple more years and me and my hubby were attending a bluegrass festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana and visiting Nashville, Tennessee.

It's been a fun time since then, and Tyson was an essential stepping stone for both of us. Last September he played Hugh's Room - a great Toronto venue for those who lean toward roots music.

I took a ton of pictures, but the conditions in these situations aren't kind. The light's bad and the performer is always in motion. So the vast majority of shots are a blurry disaster that go straight into the trash. I never use a flash in these situations because I think it's distracting and disrespectful to both the performer and the audience. If any of the photos turn out, therefore, I'm pleased as punch.

My gallery this week is from that shoot. It took place on September 22 - three days before Tyson turned 76.


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