Don Mclean – American Pie
Don McLean is one of the most revered and respected songwriters in American history. An extremely talented singer, songwriter, and musician. While just playing his acoustic guitar and creating hauntingly beautiful music that just reels us all in. That’s what Don Mclean does! No smoke, no mirrors, and really no over the top theatrics either. Just keeping it simple and true to his heart.
Starting out in 1964 and to this day, he’s still playing and performing for audiences. So obviously he’s got the formula down to a science when it comes to his career! Check out “Vincent” by Mclean which is a homage to Vincent Van Gogh. McLean wrote the lyrics in 1971 after reading a book about the life of Van Gogh. The song is just the acoustic guitar, and strings.
Becoming a Musician and Performer
Don 1s just 15 years old when he starts out performing live. He’s first inspired by folk music from his uncle who introduced him to the genre. More specifically the musical group “The Weavers” and their 1955 landmark recording “Live at Carnegie Hall.” This is when he realizes the path that he wants to conquer and it’s by becoming a professional musician and singer. By the age 16, he’s already making contacts with people in the business! Growing up, Mclean had health issues (Asthma) and would miss a lot of school as well as hanging out with his friends.
But luckily, he had a radio that kept him entertained during the days he was stuck at home. He would listen to the radio and would learn all the pop songs that he heard over and over. During this time of his life the radio would play the likes of Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and all the other greats from that era. After getting his home number from the telephone directory, Don phoned Fred Hellerman and later, Erik Darling. Don and Erik became friends and Don visited his apartment in New York. In 1955, his life completely changes! Rock n Roll happened and his whole attitude about music changed! There was Elvis, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers just to name a few.
He started studying music with a friend of his who also happened to have a guitar that he could play. So they would hang out and listen to records together with the likes of Duane Eddy, Django Reinhart and many others performing at the time. He decides that he needs a guitar of his own so, he gets a job as a paperboy and starts saving his money! He buys a Harmony F Hole with a sunburst finish, starts taking voice lessons and shortly after starts performing for family and friends. Lastly, he starts working on his health. Because if music is going to be a part of his life he needs to improve his health issues.
Through Erik Darling, Don records his first studio sessions with Lisa Kindred and is invited to join a group with Darling and the other members of the “Rooftop Singers”. However, even at that time, Don saw himself as a troubadour and turns down the offer. He attends Villanova University in 1963 stays for about 4 months and then decides that music was more important. He finds a management with Harold Leventhal management and hits the road. Starting a six-year period during which time Don performs at venues like “The Bitter End” and “Gaslight Café” in New York, the Newport Folk Festival, The Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., “The Main Point” in Philadelphia, the Troubadour and Ash Grove in Los Angeles and over forty colleges throughout New York and New England.
Performing alongside with the likes of Herbie Mann, Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry, Melanie, Steppenwolf, Pete Seeger, Janis Ian, Josh White, Ten Wheel Drive, The James Gang and many others. He also finally finds time to go to college and graduates with a Bachelors degree in Business Management. during this time he also gets an invite from the New York State Council for the Arts to become their “Hudson River Troubadour”. He accepts and spends the summer traveling from town to town in the Hudson Valley, giving talks about the environment and singing songs for whoever showed up to listen.
In 1969, Don recorded his first album, “Tapestry”, in Berkeley, CA. The student riots were going on outside the studio door as Don was singing “And I Love You So” inside. The album was first released by Mediarts and attracted good reviews and achieved some commercial success. It succeeded in transforming Don McLean from an unknown to an underground sensation. FM radio loved the “Tapestry” album and very quickly, Don became a headliner in nightclubs and colleges across the country. The transition to international stardom began in 1971 with the release of “American Pie”. “American Pie” was recorded on 26th May 1971 and a month later received its first radio airplay on New York’s WNEW-FM and WPLJ-FM to mark the closing of The Fillmore East, the historic rock & roll concert venue.
Thirty years later, “American Pie” is voted number #5 in a poll of the 365 “Songs of the Century” compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. “American Pie” also becomes the longest song ever to become #1. It’s so popular that it even went international! Making him an in-demand worldwide performer! Including his first concert at the Albert Hall in 1972. As much as I would like to write about how fantastic this iconic artist is and all the accolades he has won and all the cool things he is still doing, we would be here for days! I suggest you just check out his music and you’ll see how dedicated he is about creating great music, touring, songwriting and so much more! A true musical icon!
Furthermore, be sure, to check out the other blog posts: https://jbonamassa.com/jb-blog/
CREDITS: Video/Vincent -folkman123, American Pie – BBC Newsnight Archives, raystevensmusic: “Lucky Guy” (Live on CabaRay Nashville)