Great Speckled Bird (self-titled)

Great Speckled Bird

The Great Speckled Bird was lead by Ian and Sylvia Tyson. The above album was recorded and released in 1970. The record company pulled the album from store shelves within months, making this album rare and thus sought after. It’s not uncommon for a copy of the Great Speckled Bird to exchange hands for hundreds of dollars, if not more!

The album itself was a great mixture of early country-rock and folk. At the time it was a bold move for the Tysons to break free from their folk straight jackets. The Great Speckled Bird was supposed to signal the beginning of something new for this famous folk-rock duo. The band was very tight from live gigging, containing some good musicians such as the Remains’ N.D. Smart. Amos Garrett (lead guitar) and Buddy Cage (steel guitar) play with an added venom, incorporating different tones and textures to their guitar playing that work just brilliantly.

The concept of the Great Speckled Bird was to change the direction of folk as well as add electricity and rock n roll power to contemporary country music. The songs speak for themselves, just listen to the power in Ian Tyson’s Calgary. Both he and Sylvia are in great voice, adding a compelling and courageous element to this landmark album. Some of the songs such as Love What You’re Doing Child have that funky rural vibe while others (Rio Grande) recall their folk past. Flies in the Bottle is a beautiful country song and one cannot help but think how this album predates the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris collaborations. At times this album rocks hard too, as heard on Bloodshot Beholder.

Definitely worth your time, the Great Speckled Bird is the best album this duo has ever released.

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  • Henry S. Wright

    I love this album too. I only learned about it recently and I can’t stop listening to it. I knew who Ian & Sylvia were from the Canadian folk scene and admiring covers of their songs by Gene Clark, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, etc, but I’d never heard of this hidden gem. It’s a crime that’s it’s currently unavailable on CD and as far as I know can’t be had as a download either. Ian Tyson’s voice is amazing here, it reminds me of a cross of Jerry Garcia on “Working Man’s Dead” and Elvis in the early ’70’s. In addition to country, rock, and folk, there’s also an element of white gospel here, which is what evokes Elvis for me. Sylvia is quite fine too, evoking Loretta Lynn at times, to me. And the band….they’re on fire. Very worth seaking out and enjoying.

  • Nik Rayne

    Agreed, this one’s a real righteous record. I just recently found a bargain bin copy of the follow-up, You Were On My Mind, the other day, and though it’s a lot mellower, it’s definitely worth seeking out. Includes a rollicking cover of ole Jaime Robertson’s Get Up Jake, as well as what has quickly become one of my favorite Ian Tyson compositions, the beautiful Old Cheyenne.

  • Len Liechti

    Available on CD currently on an imprint called Collector’s Choice Music – can’t say whether it’s a bootleg or legit. I second the above comments re the music itself. Backings by the guys who would become Hungry Chuck – review of their own album coming soon on The Rising Storm.

  • Henry S. Wright

    Len, I am aware of the Collector’s Choice edition, from 2006, but the fact that it is going for $26 on ebay and currently out of stock on amazon makes me think it’s more or less out of print now. However, I will check Collector’s Choice’s own site, as they sometimes have left over copies of their own releases.

    Update: It is listed as out of stock on the Collector’s Choice site as well.

  • Len Liechti

    My apologies to Collector’s Choice Music, which is quite clearly not a bootleg outfit judging from its website which I’ve just checked out and which is very good. As I type this CCM is still advertising this album on CD at $22.39. I bought my as-new copy of Great Speckled Bird a couple of months ago from a private seller in the UK via Amazon, somewhat cheaper than that . . . just lucky.

  • Henry S. Wright

    Last week I was able to get a copy for myself from CD Universe. There are also copies available on (Ebay). It’s the version with a bonus track (rare live version of “Trucker’s Cafe” from 1969). I still think this album is overpriced and far too rare considering how great it is. It was worth it though.

  • Jason Odd

    This album was recorded in early November of 1969 (source Jack Clements website) at Jack Clements studio in Nashville with Todd Rundgren as producer and his then companion Miss Christine of the GTO’s sitting on knitting and hopefully digging the grooves. The band were tight, and considering only guitarist Amos Garrett was left from the original Great Speckled Bird formed in late 1968.
    Buddy Cage and N.D. Smart had only arrived in the last couple of months. Since the first CD reissue (there has been at least three, labels being Stony Plain, Sanctuary and Collector’s Choice) it has been suggested that Great Speckled Bird’s bassist Ken Kalmusky, who had played with the Tyson’s prior to the group’s formation, had left and a Nashville session player covered the bass parts.
    Jim Colgrove joined as bassist in January of 1970, however early promo photos used for touring purposes in early 1970 and for promoting the LP show the earliest Ampex promo shots with Ken pictured with the group.
    As to the album being deleted within months of release, I don’t buy that line at all. By July Ampex were pushing a new Great Speckled Bird single “Trucker’s Cafe / Smiling Wine” [Ampex 11006] to make the most on recent airplay on both tracks.
    Obviously the band and Ampex parted ways, and the Tysons and the group moved on to Columbia for two rather fine albums (although the bulk of the band was passed over for Nashville pickers for one of those albums), but this debut, it’s really something.

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