Singer-pianist Stewart MacDougall lived and breathed the music of Ian Tyson while playing in his band, the Chinook Arch Ryders in the late 1980s.
All those iconic Tyson songs about cowboys, loneliness and the Western way of life got under his skin because they “are romantic in the true sense of the word,” said MacDougall, who compares cattle drives to sea-faring voyages.
“They are about the romance of adventure.”
Now MacDougall is set to perform classic Tyson tunes such as Alberta Child, and Land of Shining Mountains in The Gift — A Tribute to Ian Tyson, at the Century 21 Theatre in Innisfail on Sunday, June 13.
As well as being the show’s main singer, MacDougall will be part of a five-member band along with two other former Tyson musicians. Drummer Thom Moon played in the Alberta songwriter’s band for 17 years and fiddler Myran Szott, backed Tyson in the late 1970s and also worked on his TV series.
Blues bassist Ron Rault, and rock guitarist Bobby Cameron make up the balance of the group — and the show’s special guest is Hines Creek singer Tracy Millar, whose pure country voice can be heard on her second CD, I’m Not That Girl Anymore.
“We’ll be doing stuff that covers his whole career,” promised MacDougall, who admittedly found it hard to whittle a half-century of Tyson material to a mere 24 tunes.
But the final set list contains the ubiquitous Four Strong Winds and Someday Soon, and well as many less familiar tunes, such as Elko Blues, and La Primera, which traces the roots of North American wild horses to the Spanish Mustangs brought over by Christopher Columbus.
Yellowhead to Yellowstone, which MacDougall co-wrote with Tyson, is also on the program, as is You’re Not Alone Anymore.
MacDougall believes Tyson’s songs will always be relevant because of the human stories they tell of hardship and perseverance. “It seems to resonate with people” — and not just Westerners.
When a larger-scale version of this same tribute show was performed in Ottawa along with such special guests as Cindy Church and The Good Brothers, the audience was as receptive as when it was performed at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary. “It’s just good music,” said MacDougall, who’s more than happy to honour the songsmith.
He considers Tyson to be a true perfectionist, who sets a higher artistic standard for himself than for anyone else.
“He has never rested on his laurels — never,” said the show’s producer, Peter North, who added that at age 76, Tyson is still writing new material.
North believes the Innisfail audience will particularly appreciate hearing some early Great Speckled Bird songs, as Tyson doesn’t perform them much himself anymore.
And because the musicians’ backgrounds encompass blues and country rock, he believes the band will take the songs “to a bunch of different places” — maybe even some unexpected ones.
The Gift — A Tribute to Ian Tyson was launched as a live stage show some eight years ago, and has since launched a 15-song spin-off recording, featuring Blue Rodeo, Jennifer Warnes, and other artists.
Tickets to the 2 p.m. concert are $20 from Jackson’s Pharmacy, or Sears at the Eastgate Mall.