We all have a soundtrack to our lives, usually the music we heard when we grew up, from when we were around thirteen to twenty years old. Some are more conscious about this soundtrack, others less. It all depends on if we were hung up on music, sports, girls/boys, etc. And some of the artists we heard at that time follow us the rest of our life. Last night I saw one of the contributors to my own soundtrack.
When I was a teenager I played in a local rock/blues band, and my musical heroes were John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac (the first edition, with Peter Green on guitar), Chicago, The Mamas & The Papas, and when I got seriously interested in girls, Procol Harum with A Whiter Shade of Pale and Moody Blues with Nights In White Satin. Then I moved to Oslo to start my studies, and I began playing in a folk group, and suddenly some other artists contributed to the soundtrack – Cat Stevens, Roy Harper, James Taylor and Don McLean.
I will state as a fact that most acoustic guitarists who grew up around 1970-73 and were interested in folk music have tried to play American Pie. And a big number of them have also tried to play Vincent, the song about the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Both of these songs have long been considered among the best songs ever written. American Pie was voted #5 by RIAA on their Song of the Century list. The song is also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Don McLean is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
When listening to Don McLean’s songs, I am reminded about how much a song can mean to us. There are a few songs in pop history that sums up the times we are living in, like What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye and American Tune by Paul Simon. Both these songs sums up the post-Vietnam war USA and the political and racial tensions that became apparent at that time. American Pie is also a member of that group of songs, bt more oriented towards the musical heroes and a more personal feeling of loss. Many of Don McLean’s songs are very personal and open for different interpretations. Lori Lieberman claims that she was inspired to write the lyrics to the song Killing Me Softly With His Song when attending a concert with Don McLean.
At the concert at Sentrum Scene in Oslo, Don McLean was accompanied by Tony Migliore on keyboards, Jerry Kroon on drums, Carl Vipperman on guitar and Brad Albin on bass. They constituted a tight band that was the perfect background to his songs together with Don McLean’s guitar and beautiful voice. In spite of having turned 73, his voice still has that very special sound that I remember from the early 70’s, but it has aged gracefully and has become fuller and with some more depth.
I noticed a lot of grey hair in the seated audience at Sentrum Scene, but they were enthusiastic from the first song. Many of the fans obviously knew more of McLean’s songs other than Vincent and American Pie, because I heard private sing a long during many of the songs. The band followed McLean perfectly, and there were many great details, specially from guitarist Vipperman and pianist Migliore.
Don Mclean and Jerry Kroon
The songs McLean performed were mainly his own, from his earlier works, but also from his newest album, Botanical Gardens. He also sang a few covers, among them his own #1 version of Roy Orbison’s Crying and Buddy Holly’s Everyday, which is maybe better known from James Taylor’s version. And he did a couple of covers of songs by Josh White, plus A Hundred Years From Today, originally by one of his musical heroes, Frank Sinatra. Naturally, towards the end he played Vincent, and when he started on American Pie, the audience got up from their chairs and started singing and dancing. The original recording of the song is 8:33, but last night he did an extended version that lasted at least for fifteen minutes.
During the years I have often regretted seeing old musical heroes many years after their breakthrough, specially artists I loved when I was young. It would have been better to remember them as were in their prime. Since I have never seen Don Mclean live, I had no comparison to make, and I was impressed by his voice, his performance with some thoughtful but also funny small talk between the songs and also his band. He just turned 73, but said he will continue for at least 20 years. I can easily recommend him at least for the next ten years!
Here are the songs he performed:
Singing the Blues, Everyday, Jerusalem, A Hundred Years from Today, And I Love You So, Empty Chairs, Castles in the Air, Crossroads, Lucky Guy, Botanical Gardens, Rock ‘n’ Roll Your Baby, La La Love, Where Were You Baby?, Hide Nor Hair, Vincent, Crying, Sleep Walker (excerpt), American Pie, Got The Bull By The Horns.
All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.