I can still remember when
By Jim Stewart
Remembering one morning as a teenager on his paper round and putting those thoughts into words and music lifted Don Mclean from being an aspiring young songwriter on the first rung of the ladder to success to becoming an internationally acclaimed artist.
‘American Pie’ was outstanding in so many ways, more than eight minutes long, split over two sides on the 45rpm single, with many DJs defying the system by playing the full version from the album. Often referred to as the greatest pop song of all-time, No.5 in the ‘Song Of The Century’ listing, it hit No.1 worldwide, stumbling at No.2 in the UK.
Madonna took the song to No.1 in the 90s, but it is the original full length version that still gets the airplay today.
McLean would soon reach the ultimate position, not once but twice, with ‘Vincent’ and a few months later, with his remake of ‘Crying’ in 1978, which Roy Orbison himself described as the definitive version. A frequent visitor to these shores, McLean tours included all the major venues – The Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park and Glastonbury.
He begins his latest nationwide tour on May 15 in York, Albert Hall on the 19, before hopping across the water for four dates in Ireland ending on June 4: 15 dates in total, details on www.donmclean.com
With plenty to talk about, Don and I began talking about the tour.
Honoured and delighted
‘I’m doing fine and I’m really looking forward to it, I get to come over every couple of years, as I do Australia and Asia. I am honoured and delighted they still want me back after all these decades. It’s not like a thing I do a lot, such beautiful places to visit. I always realise I’m an American in a foreign country, being hosted and I’ve got to be at my best.’
I recently watched your ‘Live In Manchester’ concert, and again last weekend, thoroughly enjoying it.
‘Well, thank you. For the past seven or eight years, I’ve spent a lot of time cataloguing photographs, because I like doing it, not just of myself but of people I like a lot usually from the music or movie business.
I’m currently collecting photographs of President Roosevelt, who I admired a lot. I had a great friend, one of the best record producers of all time, Joe Doran, he did ‘Killing Me Softly’ and lots of other big hits before he passed away in 2008, and he asked if I had any old tapes around. I said ‘No’ but then I remembered I had a whole garage full of 24-track tapes.
‘So Joe sent a truck down to collect and take them to Nashville to be digitalised. He put out a little project on a label that he owned called ‘Rear View Mirror’ and that started me cataloguing all the videos and tracks that I own.
‘One of them was the Manchester project. It’s amazing how fast the technology has changed because this was on a six-track tape recording of some sort, but there were no ways of playing it. So one of the guys who works with me, Chuck Haines, managed to find one and that’s how we got to save it.
‘I didn’t know quite what to do with it, and then the people at Wienerworld said they would release it and they will be putting some more stuff out in the future’.
It’s been a long time since you released a new album.
‘I’ve got one coming now called ‘Botanical Garden’. I’ve got one track on You Tube already. It’s called ‘Waving Man’ about a man in my town who is in a wheelchair and he sits there waving at everybody coming and going.
‘It’s not really representative of the album, but my wife took some footage of him sitting there, so we’ve already put it on there, and I’ll put four – possibly five – in total on there, ahead of the album, which will also come with a DVD. I’ve got some work still to do on that, but it should be ready around August time. I’ve just got to find a record label. I was talking to Barry Gibb recently and he’s in the same boat, said he’s got a new album but nobody wants to release us old guys!’
You’ve been writing and releasing songs for well over 40 years now. I assume you’ve also got a large number of unreleased ones.
‘There are lots of bootlegs etc out there, and You Tube is full of stuff I didn’t know existed. There there is no way this should be happening to a guy of my age, but I’m so grateful that, if somebody wants to discover who Don McLean is, they can go on You Tube and follow my journey right from the very start, see how I’ve changed as a performer, and how I’ve aged. It’s wonderful that they can do it now.
‘What I would really like to find is some of the stuff I did for the BBC like ‘Don Mclean and Friends’, ‘Pebble Mill’, which I did with The Jordanaires and ‘At The Royal Albert Hall’, but I do know they wiped a lot of stuff.’
I think ‘1967’ is my favourite song of yours but you obviously can’t ignore ‘Vincent’ and ‘American Pie’. You seem to write what you see in life. How long did it take you to write ‘American Pie’? ‘I started thinking about it the year before. It came right out of the little radio inside my head. The only time I can’t write is when I’m trying to force something. I need the music to take me where it wants to go. I’m like a receptacle, I like the song to be fully formed. Once I get the idea going, then I start thinking about it and adding to it, and either finish it or decide it’s not worth continuing with.’
You recently sold, very successfully, the original manuscript for ‘American Pie’ at auction.
‘It was sold at Christies in New York, to a secret buyer who will more than likely sell it in five years for a whole lot more.’
Judging by our conversation Don is still passionate about music and life, and he has plenty more to share with the world.
All details of his tour, and links to the videos from ‘Botanical Garden’, can be found at www.donmclean.com