Artist: Ian And Sylvia
Release: Ian And Sylvia
Sylvia is from Chatham. Born Sylvia Fricker.
Ian Sylvia’s debut album is their most standard affair, and indeed a fairly typical contemporary folk recording, with such traditional warhorses as “Rocks and Gravel” (also recorded, but not released, by Dylan during the same time), “C.C. Rider,” and “Handsome Molly.” What made the pair immediately distinctive was their superb vocal dueting, which was definitely a case of the sum being greater than its parts. Blended together, they canceled each other’s weaknesses and gave the material great freshness and vigor. Ian’s guitar and Sylvia’s autoharp are backed by stellar playing from guitarist John Herald and string bassists Bill Lee (director Spike Lee’s father) and Art Davis. ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
Ian & Sylvia were Canada’s first folk act to command a large international following from their humble beginnings in the 1950′s. After a hospital stay from his career in professional rodeos, Ian had time to learn guitar. He became a regular performer at the Heidelberg Cafe in Vancouver, British Columbia starting in 1956. He would later move on as guitarist for Jerry Fyander And The Seasonal Stripes before relocating to Toronto in 1959 and hooking up with actor/singer Don Francks, and later, future wife Sylvia Fricker.
Sylvia had grown up in Chatham, Ontario and eventually headed to Toronto to pursue her life ambition as a folk singer. By late 1959 Ian & Sylvia had teamed up as musical collaborators/performers and played at the Mariposa Folk Festival for the first time in 1961.
From there they would go on to folk clubs in New York where they met Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan’s manager) who would send them through the Catskills Circuit, Chicago and Detroit. He eventually became their manager and landed them a with US based Vanguard Records. Their debut album from 1962, ‘Ian & Sylvia’, did nothing if not make them a fixture of the early 60′s folk boom.
The duo continued their remarkable rise in popularity and were inspired by the success of Dylan. Ian managed to write what would become one of the most famous of all folk songs, “Four Strong Winds”, after hearing Dylan do “Blowin’ In The Wind” in 1964. The duo were married the same year and continued working the college circuit.
Though not hits for the duo, both “Four Strong Winds” and Sylvia’s first composition ever, “You Were On My Mind”, were successes for Bobby Bare (1964) and the We Five (1965)/Crispen St. Peter (1966) respectively. The duo returned to Canada in 1964 and they had a son, Clay. Later, Sylvia would develop some throat problems leaving Ian to perform solo to make ends meet.
‘Play One More’, from early 1966, seemed like a cookie cutter collection of songs to fill the need for the public to consume more folk. That same year they released a second, ‘So Much For Dreaming’, which was a turn towards the pop mainstream with a few folk tunes thrown in.
Moving to MGM Records in 1967 they put out ‘The Lovin’ Sound’ before being informed by Vanguard that they owed that label one more album. Contractually obligated, Ian & Sylvia delivered 1969′s ‘Full Circle’ to Vanguard before resuming their new relationship with MGM for the ‘Nashville’ album.
By then their folk approach had almost completely been buried and a distinct country style had taken its place. As a means to explore this and other musical genres, the duo formed a free-form country-jazz instrumental experiment called The Great Speckled Bird which featured some of the hottest session players in the business – David Wilcox (guitar); Ben Keith (steel guitar), Jeff Gutcheon (piano), Jim Colegrove (bass) and N.D. Smart (drums).
The public reaction was scornful but high profile live events like the Atlanta Pop Festival and Festival Express 1970 received better response and so they were inspired to release an album. ‘The Great Speckled Bird’ was produced by Todd Rundgren and released on Ampex. Immediately, the public showed their dislike with their pocket books and the band had to come off tour due to lack of album sales and eventually the album’s unavailability due to Ampex folding.
Ian would soon be asked to host CTV-TV’s ‘Nashville North’ television show which would frequently feature appearances by Sylvia over the course of five years. Sylvia took on the position of hosting CBC Radio’s ‘Touch The Earth’ and in 1973 was signed to a solo record deal with Capitol.
Ian would be signed to A & M and eventually Stony Plain and pursued the on-again off-again Great Speckled Bird project. The duo played their final public performance in 1975 and The Great Speckled Bird disbanded a year later.
The duo eventually were divorced and have maintained a friendship ever since. They reunited for a CBC-TV special and live performance at Kingswood Music Theatre in 1986.
with notes from James M. Castro.