ELKO – Ian Tyson’s influence on multiple generations of singers and songwriters was felt during a late-night concert Saturday that paid tribute to his catalog of work and the friendships he has made within his 60-plus year career.
“Ian’s music really changed the world for Western music,” said singer-songwriter Michael Beck. “It’s so beautiful, so literate. He did us a big favor – he set the bar so high.”
Songs such as “Four Strong Winds,” “I Outgrew the Wagon,” “La Primera,” “M.C. Horses,” “What Does She See” and “Will James” were performed by artists who had a connection with Tyson at some point in his career.
Some, like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, recalled meeting Tyson and his then-wife Sylvia in Greenwich Village when he returned from Europe in 1961.
“He and Sylvia were playing in the Village, I was playing in the Village,” Elliott said. “We were all having those great times.”
Others, like Michael Martin Murphy, saw Tyson on tour when he was just starting out.
“Ian, the first time I heard you sing, was Ian and Sylvia and I was a freshman in college,” Murphy said to Tyson, who was watching the show from the wings. “One of the great vocalists, and even way back in the early ‘60s; he was keeping the cowboy music tradition alive….”
Artists such as Brenn Hill and Shandee Layne, accompanied by Summerland for the song “Some Day Soon,” also had memories of listening to Tyson’s songs during their childhood and wanted to thank Tyson for his music.
“I’m a fan of Ian Tyson since I was 12-years old, and it’s a pretty special thing to be a friend with your hero and mentor,” Hill said, who performed “Barrel Racing Angel.”
Contemporaries remembered being inspired, and even in awe, of Tyson’s songwriting skills.
“Here’s a man in his 70s at the time, and he’s coming out with not just good songs, he’s coming out with great songs,” said singer-songwriter Dave Stamley before performing “Bob Fudge.”
The song, “Love Without End,” is a personal favorite of Denise Withnell’s because it showcases Tyson’s ability to bring people “to their knees.”
“I think it shows the real diversity of this incredible songwriter,” Withnell said. She and her husband Dave chose that song to play for Tyson that night. Dave remembered it was Tyson who suggested the Withnells attend the first cowboy poetry gathering in 1985.
After Paul Zarzyski met Tyson in 1987, “he instantly became my cowboy singer-songwriter hero. Thirty-three years later, it only gets stronger and stronger. “
The duo collaborated on three songs, and Zarzyski read the backstory on the song and poem, “Jerry Ambler.”
“I think it speaks to the power of music,” Zarzyski said.
R.W. and Danner Calvin Hampton, Corb Lund and Gary McMahan also performed that night in the Elko Convention Center auditorium on Feb. 1 to an audience that included fans and other National Cowboy Poetry Gathering performers in attendance during the week.
Tyson himself stepped on stage to cheers and applause between songs, and then was joined by all 18 performers for his best-known hit, “Four Strong Winds.”
Although Tyson did not speak during his tribute, Stamely said he hoped his friend would feel the love from everyone who performed that night.
“He has won a lot of awards,” Stamely said, “but I hope he knows that some of his greatest awards are the gratitude and admiration of all of us.”