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Great Speckled Bird
Great Speckled Bird, 1969
Great Speckled Bird, 1969
Left-Right: Amos Garrett, N.D. Smart, Ian Tyson, Sylvia Tyson, Buddy Cage, Ken Kalmusky
Great Speckled Bird, 1970
Great Speckled Bird, 1970
Left-Right: N.D. Smart, Buddy Cage, Ian Tyson, Sylvia Tyson, David Wilcox, Jim Colegrove

It is with heavy heart I report that Ian Tyson passed away the afternoon of December 29, 2022 at age 89.

Great Speckled Bird was a pioneering country-rock band that originated in Canada in 1969. Ian and Sylvia (Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson), a well-known folk duo who rose to popularity in the early sixties, began making records in Nashville around 1968. Ian and Sylvia wanted to form their own band that played in a progressive country style. They formed Great Speckled Bird (there was no "the" in front of it), a group that was part of the country-rock movement that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Original members of the band were: Amos Garrett, guitar; Bill Keith, steel guitar; Ken Kalmusky, bass and Ricky Marcus, drums. Ian and Sylvia were the lead vocalists and Ian played guitar. Sylvia sometimes played piano. One of the most interesting aspects of the group was that it was rarely recognized by the media by its correct name. Ian and Sylvia Tyson were so well-known as a duo that it seemed to be impossible to merge their identity into a country-rock band. All you have to do is take a look at the LP on Ampex and you will see their intentions for the group's name. It seemed the media was determined to reject the idea. This trend continues today in much of the reviews of the film Festival Express. If mentioned at all, the group is either referred to as "Ian and Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird" or just as "Ian and Sylvia." Of course, Ian and Sylvia finally gave up on the idea with their Columbia LP You Were On My Mind when the recording artists were listed as Ian and Sylvia with Great Speckled Bird.
In 1969 Bill Keith was replaced on steel guitar by Buddy Cage and Ricky Marcus was replaced on drums by N.D. Smart. They recorded their first LP, Great Speckled Bird, in Nashville that year. It was issued on the new Ampex label (Ampex A10103) produced by Todd Rundgren, and engineered by Charlie Tallent. On those sessions, David Briggs played piano and Norbert Putnam played bass. Great Speckled Bird had their own logo designed by Walt Kelly, the cartoonist who created the comic strip Pogo. An extremely limited edition of 25 prints of the character was made, each signed by the artist.
Great Speckled Bird logo by Walt Kelly
In January, 1970, Ian replaced Ken Kalmusky on bass with Jim Colegrove, reuniting him with N.D. Smart. This band toured the United States and Canada, playing concerts, clubs that included The Troubador in L.A., The Village Gate in New York, The Cellar Door in D.C., Mr. Kelly's in Chicago and various rock festivals. They appeared on The Johnny Cash Show (the show was episode 40, aired on November 11, 1970), played Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan and performed on the legendary Festival Express tour across Canada that summer. On returning to Toronto from Festival Express the band opened the four-year run of the CTV weekly television series, Nashville North, which became The Ian Tyson Show. The first season of the series was aired in various markets in the United States in 1970 under the title Nashville Now.
Great Speckled Bird cover art In the fall of 1970, Jeff Gutcheon joined Great Speckled Bird to play piano on the television show. Amos Garrett left the group to join Geoff and Maria Muldaur's new band in Woodstock. Amos was replaced by Toronto guitarist, David Wilcox. The next member to leave was Buddy Cage, who left to perform and record with Hog Heaven, Anne Murray, and The New Riders of the Purple Sage. Buddy was replaced on steel by Ben Keith. This group performed on The Ian Tyson Show for the next two years. In 1972 they recorded an LP for Columbia titled You Were On My Mind (Columbia KC31337). The same players in this band also recorded for Bearsville Records as Hungry Chuck.
Great Speckled Bird returned to touring in 1972 but the lineup changed. N.D. Smart was replaced on drums by former Mothers of Invention drummer, Billy Mundi. David Wilcox was replaced by Red Shea, former guitarist with Gordon Lightfoot. Jeff Gutcheon was replaced on piano by Gordon Fleming, formerly of the Candian group Jericho. Ben Keith was replaced by Nashville session player, Jim Baker. Baker was soon replaced by Pee Wee Charles on steel. Jim Colegrove left the band in 1974 and was replaced by Roly Salley on bass (later of Chris Isaak's band).
You Were On My Mind cover art
Desperados - The Roots of Country RockIan kept the band going until 1976. Then Great Speckled Bird flew off into the sunset leaving only two issued records. There were numerous performances on The Ian Tyson Show that documented this band in most of its configurations. An example can be heard on the reissued Great Speckled BirdCD. The cut, New Trucker's Cafe, is a live performance from the early TV show band. Perhaps more of these performances will be issued if they still exist. The documentary film of the Festival Express was finally released and first screened September 9 and 13, 2003 at The Toronto International Film Festival. A book titled Desperados - The Roots of Country Rock by John Einarson has been published by Cooper Square Press. This book contains a historical perspective on not only Great Speckled Bird but all of the bands of that era. Another book by John, the first biography on Ian and Sylvia, has been published titled Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia.Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia


Great Speckled Bird and Festival Express

The Ian Tyson Show, early 1970s
CTV Television Production from Toronto,

Ian Tyson, Jim Colegrove 2012
Ian Tyson and Jim Colegrove, November 30, 2012, Fort Worth, Texas

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