‘The Older Brother I Never Had’: Gordon Lightfoot remembers Ian Tyson


TORONTO — Gordon Lightfoot says late country-folk singer Ian Tyson was the “older brother” he never had and one of the reasons he found early success in the music business.

Lightfoot says Tyson — who died Thursday at 89 after a series of health issues — wasn’t only his friend, but also a “great teacher” in the ways of music, particularly guitar playing.

The two were contemporaries in Toronto’s burgeoning 1960s folk scene, and since Lightfoot was five years Tyson’s junior, he looked up to him as an artist.

He says he first saw Tyson playing at Yorkville’s First Floor Club, around 1963, and was struck by his “brilliant” guitar-playing abilities.

They would become close friends, with Tyson helping Lightfoot sign to management at 26 years old and recording Lightfoot’s song “Early Morning Rain” as part of Ian & Sylvia.

Lightfoot says their friendship endured through the years as they attended each other’s weddings, performed one another’s songs and ran in Toronto social circles together with Ronnie Hawkins.

“He was just remarkable, generous, fun,” Lightfoot says. “He had his ups and downs. He rode life’s roller-coaster, like some of the rest of us.”

Tyson died Thursday at his ranch near Longview, Alta., leaving a legacy as one of Canada’s foremost singer-songwriters.

His early work included penning “Four Strong Winds” as part of Ian & Sylvia, a song that in 2005 was voted the most essential Canadian song of all time in a CBC Radio listener poll.

After the dissolution of Ian & Sylvia, Tyson turned to writing traditional country music, building his name as a chronicler of western Canadian cowboy culture through his songwriting.

David Friend, The Canadian Press