The Don McLean Story
Don McLean shares his life story for the first time...
The must have book for all Don McLean fans. Contents and extracts.
Enter the name or first few letters of a Don McLean song:
Don McLean Fans
Visit Everybody Loves Him, Baby - the most popular dedicated Don McLean fan site on the Web with over 1500 members.
View more Don McLean on Youtube
Don McLean's new studio album of original songs released April 19, 2010. More details
|Listen to some of
Don McLean's recent releases in high
quality mp3 format.
There are many more tracks available on our fan site.
America's Legendary Singer-Songwriter
This brought back memories of his father’s funeral, for all during the funeral, Kennedy was being inaugurated. Now Kennedy was dead. Nothing in America was worth believing in. Something told Don that it was time to leave school.
Years later when McLean was asked whether he would have been a success in business, he responded:
“No, I think I would have been a serious alcoholic if I had been in business. If I had done what my father wanted, I would have been arrested, I would have hurt someone, I would have been an alcoholic, a drug addict, or both. I’d probably be dead by now.
I’m a wild person, a free person, and I don’t like taking orders from people. I think it’s because of how I developed as a young person. I never got accustomed to the harness like the other kids did by going to school so regularly. There was always this wild streak within me which caused me a lot of trouble in school. Thank God, I had music. Music came along, and it suited me so beautifully, and I was able to use my abilities. You have to give a young person something they can get excited over, something that they can be competitive about, something that makes them feel, ‘I can do that.’”
McLean quit Villanova in January, 1964, leaving everything he owned in a pile in the center of the room he shared with another guy. He told Jim Croce that he was going to start his career. Jim just laughed and said that was too reckless for him. Jim wanted to graduate.
Don returned home to the half empty apartment in Larchmont. There was no way he wanted to be a person who a country club acquaintance would ask to bring a guitar to the party because he had almost been professional in his college days. He wanted to follow Sandburg and Guthrie and write songs about the New Jerusalem.
“I was a poet. I was a troubadour. This was not an image or a fanciful, thoughtless moment when I departed from the script for a while. Fuck the script. I was going to write the rules from now on, and nobody would ever tell me otherwise. I wasn’t cut out to be some wimped-out college boy from New Rochelle. I was going to be a legend. Nobody would give my wife my briefcase. I didn’t want a wife anyway. I wanted women all over town, like Josh White.”
Don was a college drop-out living in an apartment with no furniture. He was becoming a “show business bum,” the kind of person his father had despised, except that he wasn’t even in show business yet. He was unemployed, but at least he knew what he wanted to be unemployed at.
Don McLean, Age 17
He attended many auditions and eventually began to get odd jobs accompanying other singers, but a breakthrough seemed elusive. Then one day the phone rang, and it was Harold Leventhal. Leventhal had received Don’s demo tape and wanted him to visit his office in New York City.
In the spring of 1964, McLean took the train in to the city to meet Harold Leventhal at his office on 57th Street. He rode the elevator up to the top floor where “Harold Leventhal Management” was printed on the door. Don sat in the waiting room, looking at the large posters that covered the walls: Alan Arkin in Second City, the Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Judy Collins at Town Hall, and Pete Seeger in – where else – Russia. In a few years, while auditioning for various record companies, McLean would wander through a world of record executives’ offices that could only have been created by Mel Brooks. Purple offices with chrome. All white affairs. White, white, white is the color of our carpet. Stun me! Shock me! I’m in the record business. But Leventhal’s office looked like he was in the silk importing business.
Indeed he might have been, if it hadn’t been for the Weavers’ Reunion Concert at Carnegie Hall in 1955. Now, he was truly at the heart of the music business, and his artists were the best. And he had integrity. He refused to handle the Beatles when they came to New York, because he didn’t handle that kind of music. He had the Leadbelly legacy and the Woody Guthrie archives to watch out for. He didn’t need the Beatles. Leventhal knew how to build and maintain legends. It was his stock and trade, not music.
As a young man, Leventhal had been a song plugger for Irving Berlin, and a picture of them with Sinatra hung on the wall. Leventhal told McLean that Irving Berlin used to have him wear his new shoes to break them in, because they wore the same size. He wanted to know what Leventhal had thought of his tape. Leventhal said, “We like it. We think you’re talented. One of the folks here in the office would like to work with you.”
Don was amazed. He knew his tape recording was not the best, but here he was, where music had taken him, being told that he had talent and that they wanted to “work with him.” He was again where he wanted to be. “Validation oils the wheels,” says McLean.
A few days after their meeting, Leventhal called McLean and said that his assistant, Charles Close, would work with him. Close was 27 years old, a handsome, blonde graduate of Tulane University. He loved women, loved to party, and loved to have a good time. He went out with a different woman every night. He met Harold Leventhal because he was friends with Lee Hays’ nephew, Bill Hays, at Tulane University. When Close moved to New York, he became Leventhal’s assistant and the Weavers’ road manager.
McLean visited the office frequently and sat with Close as he penciled in gigs on the calendars of different artists. Don saw the amount of work that a busy professional had to do. He also acquired a healthy respect for the frustration involved in being an agent and trying to coordinate all the appearances so that the routing is not completely insane.
As the Weavers’ road manager, Close had to look after the needs of Lee Hays, who could be very demanding. Lee did not travel. He had to be transported like a large piece of furniture. He’d sit like a pasha in his hotel room and order room service. He always had a regal presence and he expected people who he hardly knew to do almost anything for him. Charles was sick of Lee but had a lot of respect for the Weavers’ professionalism. There were stresses and strains that caused them to have daggers drawn, but, when show time came, they never failed to deliver.
Shortly after McLean joined Leventhal’s office, the Weavers disbanded. He received an invitation to dinner from Hays. Hays wanted McLean and Close to join him at his apartment on Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights. Don was unable to believe he was sitting in Lee Hays’ living room. However, during the evening McLean learned that Leventhal had sent Hays his demo tape, and it was Hays who had said that they should take him on. He had liked the sound of the tape very much and recognized that Don had talent. Hays died in 1981 and left Don a box of reel to reel tapes of obscure Weaver recordings and other memorabilia. In among the tapes McLean found the original demo that he had sent to Harold Leventhal in 1962.
Charles Close booked McLean many guest appearances in clubs in Greenwich Village. After each show he would critique Don’s performance. McLean began to learn how to program his concerts, how to know what to sing and when to sing it. This is the single most important thing that a musical performer can learn. In the beginning Don was not confident about programming. When he was talking between songs, he could easily be thrown, if somebody in the audience said something. He would feel as though he had lost his place in the script. He was in the long, painful process of developing his own idiomatic style as a performer. McLean watched many seasoned performers “phone in” the exact same show every night. To him, this is not art. He never sings the same show twice. He doesn’t know what he is going to sing until he hits the stage. He says, “You will never find a set list taped to my guitar. Symphony performers and groups need scripting so that everybody knows what’s happening. Troubadours don’t.”
Extract from The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs by Alan Howard Copyright 2007 Starry Night Music, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction or translation of any part of this work without the permission of the copyright owner is unlawful. Used by permission