Sylvia Tyson and her Great Speckled Bird hit Chilliwack for a three-night stand at Huggy’s Cabaret


By Steve Newton

Famous Canadian singer-songwriter Sylvia Tyson visited Chilliwack last Thursday for the first of three nightly performances at Huggy’s nightclub.

Five years ago Tyson stepped out of ex-husband Ian’s considerable shadow, and since then has earned the reputation as a crowd-pleasing performer in her own right.

The friendly and unpretentious singer invited the small audience in attendance for Thursday’s show to move their chairs onto the dance floor, and closer to the stage, and in doing so lent a casual and easy air to the beginning of her performance.

Backed by her band, The Great Speckled Bird, Tyson started the set with an uptempo trucking song called “Trucker’s Cafe”.

The young five-person band provided a lively background for Tyson’s impressively smooth and powerful vocals on the fast tune. On the second song, “Love is a Flower”, the flowing pedal steel of guitarist Al Cates was featured.

The music Tyson plays is mostly original and, she says, a mixture of folk, country, blues, rock, “and a bit of classical”. She obtained her musical influences “not from specific people, but from different genders of music”, and says bluntly, “I have never been a copier”.

Tyson says, “I write my songs because I have ideas I want people to know about”, and adds that “communication” is a big part of her music. When she sang the beautiful ballad “Regine” she was telling the personal story of a woman who “walks like a queen, (and) loves like a child”, and her vibrant vocals were full of emotion.

Several of the audience clapped and sang along on “Chicken Hawk Charlie”, a song about a man she knew when she was growing up in the small town of Chatham, Ont.

As well as original tunes, Tyson’s repertoire includes “two or three traditional songs, and a couple of country standards,” she says.

When the band played “Okie from Muskogee”, Tyson’s bass player, known only as “Rockin’ Randy”, sang the lead. For the next tune, a bluesy number titled “Little Girl”, her lead guitarist Dan Greenspoon sang. The other members of what Tyson says “may just be the tightest country band in Canada” are pianist Joan Besen and drummer Bohdan.

According to Tyson, “all the band members have different interests in music”, which makes for excitement and tension on stage. What she calls “a combination of freedom and discipline” gives her band its own sound, which was tight and original sounding when she performed her very first country single, “Sleep On My Shoulder”.

After another trucker’s song, Tyson finished the set with a rollicking version of the gospel song “Jesus on the Mainline”, and the mixed crowd of young and old was won over. Tyson says that most of her audiences are in their late 20s and 30s, but that “some are in their 50s”. She does not like musical “segregation” by age, and says “I like to feel my music is universal.”

Tyson has a very determined attitude. “I’m never satisfied with where I am,” she says, adding “I intend to be the best at what I do.”

Of her previous collaborations with ex-husband lan, Tyson says she has “no regrets” and “no apologies”, and that they are still very good friends. “We just don’t do the same thing anymore”, she says.

CBC Radio’s Touch the Earth, in which Tyson starred for five years, has been discontinued, and future plans for the talented singer-songwriter are “pretty much to go on making music” and records.

After Chilliwack, Tyson headed for Powell River, and from there she will travel to Edmonton where she will work on the production of a country album made from original songs, written and sung by inmates of the Edmonton institution.

With five albums out already, and lots more material ‘in the can’, Tyson’s determination seems to be paying off. It could be some time before Chilliwack hosts another recording artist of the stature of Ms. Sylvia Tyson.

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