Cowboy life isn’t for wimps — and neither is old age.
Legendary Canadian singer Ian Tyson, who performs on May 3, at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre, is used to dealing with the rigours of traditional ranching. At age 82, he finds himself facing significant health hurdles as well.
“I’m lucky to be walking around,” said Tyson.
He recalled going to see his doctor after feeling “a little strange” last fall. “I thought I was having a heart attack — and for once in my life, I was right.”
Tyson had to undergo open-heart surgery in October.
The operation went well, and “I’m happy to be vertical,” he added.
But all the machinery that was inserted down his throat to keep him alive on the operating table did a number on his vocal chords.
This is a disappointment to Tyson, since it was only a few years ago that restorative surgery on his vocal chords had brought back his old range and smoothness. Now his more gravelly voice has returned.
“I’m singing right in tune — I won’t compromise that at all,” he said, “but I don’t have the range. I sing in the mid-range.”
Fortunately, Tyson has his multitude of celebrated songs to draw from when he performs in Red Deer.
His first live show since having heart surgery will take fans back through six decades of music.
The multiple Juno- and Canadian Country Music Award-winning singer is planning to sing selections from Cowboyography — possibly favourites such as Springtime, Navajo Rug, The Gift or Old Cheyenne. “I’ll go even further back, to Summer Wages — which is my favourite song,” said Tyson.
“And of course, Four Strong Winds — because if I wasn’t to do that one, I’d be put in jail,” he joked. The tune is routinely voted the favourite Canadian song of all time.
Cottonwood Canyon might be among a trio of tunes he performs from his latest critically acclaimed Carnero Vaquero album, his 13th for Stony Plain Records. The 2015 CD also contains a new version of Darcy Farrow — a song he first recorded as part of the Ian & Sylvia duo 40 years ago.
Tyson, who was presented with an Order of Canada in 1995, searches his memory for why he decided to re-do that particular song. “It goes back years to the old California days of the early ’60s … the beaches of California …” he recalled.
“I think I chose it because I had a wonderful keyboard and bass player (on Carnero Vaquero) and I thought she would do some great stuff with it — and it came out good.”
Tyson has never dwelt much on the past, but couldn’t help reflecting on life when faced with his own mortality.
“Old age sucks!” he concluded.
When it’s suggested that aging is supposed to be better than the alternative, Tyson responded, with a chuckle, “We’ll see about that!
“I’ll get back to you on that…!”
The past decade has brought a lot of changes to Alberta. During the last economic boom, Tyson observed many cowboys going into the oilpatch to make a buck. Now that the economy has done a reversal, and oilfield jobs are drying up, he hasn’t noticed too many of them returning to the range.
“I think we’re too far down the road for that now … The cowboy chapter in Alberta is just about finished. And it saddens me to say that, but I’m being honest,” said Tyson. “There aren’t a lot of cowboys left. There’s still some pockets of it in Alberta, but not a lot.”
One pocket is his Longview horse ranch, which still operates in the old-school way — or at least did until Tyson had to cope with heart surgery. “It’s been tough, with all the medical stuff, but we’re still planning on running yearlings in another month of so — if it rains …” he said. “It’s been extremely dry …”
Tyson has no doubt global warming is wreaking havoc with weather norms. He said, “I’m a believer in climate change, I’m not a believer in (former U.S. president and climate change denier) George Bush …”
If all goes well, we’ll soon get those spring showers — and Tyson’s current good health will hold up so he can keep performing for fans for a while longer.
“I take it from day to day,” he said.
Then Tyson added, with a rush of enthusiasm, “We’ll see if we can do a really good show!”
Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. concert with Jake Peters are $62 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.