Search This Blog

Monday, December 7, 2020



I’m proud to say that Canada has produced an amazing plethora of singers, some  famous world-wide—Paul Anka, Anne Murray, Justin Bieber, Sarah McLachlan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Brian Adams, Avril Lavigne, Drake, Alanis Morissette, Michael Buble—and some of them even recognized by one name: Celine, and Shania. And that’s just some of the singers that immediately come to mind. But there’s one Canadian I’d like to talk about because there is so much beauty, romance and poetry in Ian Tyson’s songs…“guided by stars that dance the polka to the horsethief moon…and by tomorrow night she’ll be shining gold and bright like a Spanish doubloon.”  Ian Tyson’s rollicking polka melody and description of an Alberta full moon in Horsethiefmoon captured my imagination and inspired part of the title for the first book of my trilogy. I didn’t begin to write it  until after I heard Garth Brooks sing about That Summer, inspiring me to think, “what if he comes back?” And thus, Beneath A Horse Thief Moon, the first book of my trilogy, was born over twenty years ago.

Ian Tyson is a singer, a songwriter, and one heck of a cowboy. He was born in Victoria, British Columbia on September 25, 1933, and grew up on a farm where his love of horses began, influenced by his fascination with stories and illustrations of cowboys, horses and the wild west by Canadian artist,Will James. He was six when he saw his first rodeo and that no doubt spurred him toward a cowboy life years later.

When he was fifteen, his skill with handling and riding horses got him a summer job of guided trail rides for tourists near Banff, Alberta. No doubt, that’s when the beauty of Alberta and the Rocky Mountains truly seeped into his soul.

He wasn’t happy at boarding school, nor later working in the forest services. It’s not surprising that his expertise with horses lured the 19 year-old to become a rodeo competitor for a few years. Unfortunately, one bronc bucked him off and stepped on Ian’s ankle, shattering the bone. While recovering in the hospital, he entertained himself with learning to play the guitar by listening to Johnny Cash. And somewhere in that process, he realized his true calling was to write and sing about the cowboy way of life. Country singer, Wilf Carter, also greatly influenced him in those early days while listening to The Grand Ole Oprey on the radio.

Inspired by his childhood love of Will James’ cowboy illustrations, Ian returned to British Columbia in 1954 to attend the Vancouver School of Art to become a graphic artist. There, the next year, he met Evinia Pulos, a young art student, and a life-long relationship began. At the same time, he made his first musical appearance at the Heidelberg Café in 1956.

   Two years later he graduated and hitchhiked to Los Angeles to try to win Elvinia back. He failed because she felt he was a heavy-drinking charmer with a roving eye who had broken her heart and thus she’d fled to California. Ian never returned to Vancouver and instead headed to Toronto to work as a commercial artist during the day and sing in clubs at night…and write songs.

In the late 50s, Toronto was the heart of Canadian folk music, where Ian met folk singer, Sylvia Fricker. They both performed in local clubs and by 1959 began singing together as Ian and Sylvia. By 1961, they sang full-time and began touring both in Canada and south of the border. They moved to New York in 1962 where they signed their first record deal and their first album, titled, Ian and Sylvia, was released.  They married in 1965 and their son, Clay was born the next year. A highlight of their successful career was a sold-out performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

In 1969 they formed the country rock group, The Great Speckled Bird. A career break came in 1970 when Ian was asked to host a Canadian music show, Nashville North. The show was so successful that it was renamed The Ian Tyson Show and aired until 1975, with Sylvia a frequent guest. Sadly, their marriage as well as singing together ended in 1975, although they remained friends. Sylvia was quoted saying their marriage failed because there was a third person in their marriage: Ian never could get over his first love, Elvinia Pulos.

Ian was a prolific songwriter. He wrote Four Strong Winds in 1962, which was an instant success, became his signature song, and remains his biggest hit ever since. In a later interview, Elvinia revealed that he had told her the song was inspired by his memory of her and that he wrote it in 20 minutes. Incredibly, Ian invited Evinia to visit him and Sylvia in New York in 1966 and they resumed a long-distance affair, despite them both being married.

When Ian released another album in 1967, it included a single he’d written called Summer Wages and again Evinia was the inspiration: And we’ll keep rollin’ on till we get to Vancouver and the lady that I love she’s living there. It’s been six long months and more since I’ve seen her maybe she’s gambled and gone like summer wages.”

In the first five years of its release, Four Strong Winds was recorded by 50 other singers, including John Denver. Someday Soon, was also a smash hit. During their time together, Ian and Sylvia released 13 albums, the latter of which were described as country rock.

            Disillusioned by his divorce and the shift away from folk music because of the “British Invasion”, Ian headed back to his true roots, the beautiful foothills of Alberta, to raise and train cutting horses. When Neil Young recorded Four Strong Winds in 1979, Ian joked that the royalties provided him with sufficient funds to plunk a down-payment on his beloved mountain-view ranch in southern Alberta (where he has remained ever since).

            He gradually became involved in the music scene in Calgary, performing traditional country and cowboy music in local clubs, particularly at the Ranchman’s bar where he met Twylla, a seventeen-year-old waitress twenty years his junior. They began dating and married six years later. A daughter was born the following year. Twylla encouraged Ian to record his new-found love of country songs and by the late 1980s his ballads were climbing the Canadian country music charts. I believe this new contentment inspired some of his best songwriting, which beautifully reflects his love of ranch life and the cowboy way.

Sadly, this marriage also ended in divorce, finalyzed in 2008. Ian never remarried, although he stayed in contact with his ex-wives…and Elvinia Pulos, his soul mate.

Over his 60+ years in the music industry, Ian Tyson has accumulated a lengthy list of awards too numerous to mention them all here except being inducted in 1989 into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2005 CBC Radio One listeners poll chose Four Strong Winds as the greatest Canadian song of all time on the series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version. Ian Tyson is also the recipient of The Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and in 2019 it was announced he and Sylvia would separately be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Ian Tyson is now 87 and his age shows in the lines in his face.  Around 2005, polyps developed in his throat. Therapy over the next six years helped him gradually restore his unique voice. Then in 2017 he had open-heart surgery. The tubes necessarily forced down his throat this time permanently affected his voice. He said he “misses his falsetto but can fake yodeling and hopes he can make it up with his storytelling.”

Regardless, fans still love to come to his three-man concert. I saw him in my town for the second time just a few years ago before his open-heart surgery. He sang all my favorites, especially Horsethief Moon. I’m smiling as I remember that night, a simple man wearing his traditional white Stetson, strumming his guitar and sharing his love of Alberta, horses and the cowboy way of life.

I could not describe this gifted octogenarian as well as this perfect quote of him: “Canadian Country Music Singer Pioneer Ian Tyson walks with a stiff-legged cowboy gait to the centre of the stage. A preamble to his performance. The walk is an illustration of what being a cowboy is all about. Falls off horses, bruises, broken bones as well as a reminder that the cowboy life is not the glamour of the old western movies. Just listen to some of the great recordings performed by Ian Tyson. An artist who has become a pioneer icon—a timeless singer with a bruised voice who tells stories with the unvarnished luster of truth.”

            The melody of a song can linger in my  mind all day, but it’s the poetry in Ian’s vivid descriptions of Alberta, horses, the Rockies, and a way of life that has me hitting the replay button to let the words paint pictures in my mind and add wings to my spirits. In that regard, Ian Tyson, Marty Robbins, and John Denver had to have been musical soulmates and I’m sure all three are singing and strumming together up in heaven. Thank God we have their albums to listen to and uplift.

            For me, Ian isn’t just a gifted songwriter with a warm, unique voice—he’s also a storyteller, so eloquent in Four Strong Winds, Navaho Rug, MC Horses, Horsethief Moon and his  incredible tribute, The Gift, in honor of the famous painter, Charlie Russel.

I love this photo of him which illustrates his love of horses. The photo is credited to (Ian Tyson and Friend Photo: © Lee Gunderson /

In 2008 he wrote a song. La Primera, about horses, and in 2009 published a beautifully illustrated young adult novel, La Primera: The Story of Wild Mustangs.  
 His song La Primera spawned a young-adult fiction book – La Primera: The Story of Wild Mustangs (2009).

His song La Primera spawned a young-adult fiction book – 
La Primera: The Story of Wild Mustangs (2009). An ode to Tyson’s own love of horses, the book features illustrations by gifted equine artist Adeline Halvorson and traces the introduction of Spanish horses to North America, through the evolution of wild mustangs (La

(Ian Tyson and Photo: © Lee Gunderson /

Biographer John Einarson, who wrote Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia (2012), says Ian described Evinia as his soulmate and told him: We’ve been lovers for 55 years…How many people can say that?

Video for The Gift

Video for Horsethief Moon

Excerpt Beneath A Horse Thief Moon


They emerged from a stand of pines. Moonlight whitewashed the coulees, etching in stark relief every bush and tree. The only sound in the night was the shuffling of their horses and the crickets in the bushes.

A horse thief moon, Sara had called it. In his mind’s eye he relived her unbuttoning his shirt, pulling it from his body. Smoothing her callused palms over his heated skin before pressing her breasts against him.

Lovely, lonely Sara.

Damn it, forget her. She's dead and buried.

Anger at his thoughts made him speak. “Where the hell are we going?”

“Yuh'll see.”

Silence fell, broken only by the soft thud of hooves and the dog padding inches from his right stirrup. An owl's hoot drifted through the darkness. Occasionally, he heard a small creature scuttle in the dry grass.

Abruptly, the prairie plunged into another ravine. Through the trees below, the dark shapes of outbuildings huddled like orphans in the moonlight. The unmistakable odor of a barnyard drifted on the breeze. Horses nickered. A calf bawled. Water murmured and gleamed in a silver path around the curve of the coulee while the moon played hide and seek in the rustling leaves of a giant cottonwood.

Surprise kicked him in the gut. “Where are we?” But he already knew.

“Never mind.”

The old Cranston place. Coincidence that an outlaw had brought him to his quarry, a train robber's hideout? Not by a long shot. But why? Was Billy smarter than I’ve given him credit for?

Chase gritted his teeth. I’m gonna get you, Billy. You’ll pay for the grief you’ve caused Big Jake. His eyes narrowed when a low-roofed log cabin loomed in the moonlight. I'll outwit you and take you in. Maybe even tonight.

“Hold up,” the outlaw snarled. His rifle never wavered from Chase. “Git down. Slow-like.”

Chase frowned, staring through the deep shadows cast by a huge cottonwood. Why were they stopping here by the outbuildings instead of the cabin? And where were the lookouts? The fine hairs on his neck and arms prickled. This isn’t a gathering of outlaws. It’s an execution. But why here instead of back at my camp?




Beneath A Horse Thief Moon:

Link for Diamond Jack’s Angel/Hot Western Nights Anthology


  1. I know you must be proud of your country, Elizabeth; it's is every word you wrote in this article. In the handful of times I've been there, I have found the people there so friendly, happy, and polite. Much like the United States, the country is breathtakingly beautiful.
    There is so much talent coming out of Canada in every creative field and Canada has a huge filming operation as well. The first TV series I saw out of Vancouver was "Forever Knight" about a detective who was a vampire and drove a vintage car because it had a deep trunk--good for when daylight caught him unawares so he had a place to hideout until dark. I loved that series. LOL
    I didn't know your inspiration for A Horse Thief Moon until now. You may be shocked to learn I did not know Ian Tyson until I read your post. He was certainly a man of many talents. Shoot. Was there an creative endeavor he didn't try?
    Thank you so much for such an excellent post. I wish you a very Merry Christmas1

    1. I love your reply, Sarah. Yes, I'm proud of Canada and especially Alberta. That's one thing I've always admired about Americans--their patriotism, their flags flying at so many residences. I so enjoyed learning more about Ian as I researched his life. He is such an amazing talent and I truly wanted to shine a light on him because of his wonderful songwriting and love of the cowboy life. So many movies have been made in the Calgary area because of the mountain view and beautiful foothills that attract settings for movies There is a long-running series called Heartland that is filmed just outside of Calgary. It been aired for fourteen seasons. Hubby watches it faithfully. I wish you a lovely Christmas, Sarah, and thank you for always stopping to read my blogs and leave a comment.

  2. Elizabeth, growing up during the folk music heyday, I loved Ian and Sylvia--their Four Strong Winds was a song that stayed with me into my own performing days, and I've sung that many times on stage. I love this post because I definitely have learned a lot. I never really knew anything much about Ian so this was an eye-opener. He certainly has written some beautiful songs that do stay with you. I can see why you were inspired!

    1. I love Four Strong Winds, too, Cheryl, and am so happy that it's a big favorite of yours, with happy memories performing it. I didn't know a whole of Ian's life until the 90's, when I truly discovered her western music and fell in love with his songs, especially Horsethief Moon. I had trouble even getting the blog and was so frustrated, but I persevered because I had spent too much time on writing it to give up. When I pasted a picture, I lost the entire link and another frustrating time getting in again. And obviously my password still isn't working because when I replied to Sarah, I'm shown as Unknown....grrrr. When my server migrated to Google, it sure created a lot of headaches for me. But, I'm not a quitter, but still waiting to hear from Google re my password. I'll probably be Unknown replying to you as well. Thank you for stopping by and for your continuous support. I am so grateful to you and Prairie Rose Publications for publishing my trilogy. I think I'll have to ask Kaye to help me with inserting links into my blogs. Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl, and have a lovely Christmas season.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to this talented man. He was new to me. Merry Christmas!

    1. It was my pleasure to "introduce" you to Ian Tyson. If you click on the video link you can watch beyond The Gift or Horsethief Moon by clicking on the arrow and you'll find loads of his songs with videos that give you glimpses of Alberta, many I think taken on his ranch. I listened for the first time to Amelia Rose, which he wrote for his daughter that he had with his second wife, Twylla. Thank you for stopping by, Christie, and have a lovely Christmas.

  4. Music is the poems of the soul. When you find a singer/songwriter who embodies that, how can you not love them? You picked a good one. Doris

    1. You are so right, Doris. His songs are poetry put to music, love songs of the heart.

  5. What an impressive bloke, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing. Happy Holidays!

    1. Yes he sure is, Lindsay. If you need some quiet moments of feel-good music that flies you away to another plane, he's your ticket. If you click on the video link for Horsethief Moon, after it finishes click the forward arrow and you can listen to a variety of his songs, all videos, and mostly of the land he loves and the cowboy way of life. I think a lot of the photos are taken on his ranch with its mountain view. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Ian and Sylvia Tyson are my favorite Canadian singer/artists. Their blended folk-country music so satisfying.

    1. I so agree, Kaye. Ian Sylvia sang beautifully. They did a reunion concert with several guests such as Judy Collins, Gordon Lightfoot and Murray MacLaughlan that was truly enjoyable., His voice and the images Ian creates in my mind when he sings can enthrall me for hours. That's the benefit of YouTube, an endless stream of his songs.

  7. Very cool. I'll have to check into the Tyson's music.