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Don McLean to Play Monmouth University's Pollack Theatre

By Danny Coleman

originally published: 04/30/2024

Don McLean to Play Monmouth University"I'm excited, I love traveling and singing. I don't really tour for any particular reason; except for the pandemic I've never stopped since 1968," began music legend Don McLean as he talked about his career, folk music, "The SONG," and his upcoming May 4 show at Monmouth University's Pollak Theatre. "I just like rambling and singing and going and having a certain rhythm to my life where I'm home for a while and then I go to some place that maybe I've been to before or maybe never was before; when I would do foreign tours in places like Australia, England or Europe, that would often be behind an album and that would be called the "Prime Time" tour or the "American Pie" tour, the "Headroom" tour or whatever it was depending on the album because you'd be on a bus for a month and do 25 to 27 shows and that was intense and I've done many, many of those. I've decided to stop doing that sort of thing and what I'm doing now and will continue to do is the occasional one or two nights and then some time off. I'll go overseas for one or two shows; I'm going over to England to perform at a festival in August and I'll stay at a nice hotel with my girlfriend and we're gonna visit nice restaurants and do some sightseeing and that's what I'm gonna do from now on. Anybody else would say, "You are still working" but to me that's semi-retirement."

McLean has certainly come a long way from growing up in New Rochelle, NY, where as a boy he delivered newspapers; to having songs covered by such luminaries as Elvis, Helen Reddy, Glen Campbell and even Madonna. His penning of the classic "American Pie" is still revered by every generation since its release in 1971.

Naturally, the question about the mega-hit which is still sung in bars, restaurants, backyards and by anyone with a driver's license (Especially if you own a convertible but that's a whole other level/story) can be a risky one and that question is; was "American Pie" a blessing or a curse? Many times, artists have a hit and can't get out from under it; McLean feels very differently." 

"Well, I don't like that question because it's so long ago now and the song is so famous that it can only be and should only be seen as a blessing; I was poor and then I became rich. I've had a different trajectory to my career than other people have had but I'm still on top, I'm still doing very, very well 50 years later. There are a lot of people who have a lot of action and then they just fade away, there is no relevance; my music is still relevant to people. Hence, the big success of the documentary movie we made, "The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean's American Pie" that song deserves to be what it is because it took 10 years to write it. I didn't even realize that until I made that movie. I was always thinking about all of those ideas that ended up in that song. I didn't do that with "Tapestry," I didn't do that with "Castles In The Air." I didn't do that with "And I Love You so," those were very good songs that sold millions of records. I was recently certified as selling 50 million records and that's not just "American Pie," those are all of my records; that's why people come to see me. That particular song deserves the attention that it gets because it was a homerun and so exciting back in those days when you only had three radio stations playing the hits and if you were number one and happened to have a song that was eight-and-one-half minutes long (laughs); that's a whole other story how the long version got to be number one; it was almost like being a silent screen star or something. The power of music over people in those days, now it's very diluted. People just flit around and graze and go from one thing to the next. I can't even whistle anything that's out there because to me, it all sounds like the same stuff."

McLean has gone the band route, the solo route and recently has been considering other possibilities such as a "Storytellers" or "Unplugged" type of format  but for the Monmouth University show, it will be with a full band.

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"I have a five piece band, two electric guitars, piano, drums, bass; these guys have been with me for years.You can see us at Glastonbury, Stagecoach, all the biggest festivals, that's what I do; rock 'n' roll. People have asked me to do that again actually. They have asked me to sit down with big screens behind me covering my career and someone would interview me and I'd also sing songs. That is another kind of thing that has been kicked around and that requires a whole different approach and I'm not ready to do that but it has been talked about. I kind of pioneered that, so I suppose I could go back to it if I want to." 

"I'm probably the only commercially successful artist who's worldwide who performed for 10 years solo after he had massive hit records," he went on. "I did that and that's memorialized in an album called "Solo" recorded at Royal Albert Hall. So, I continued to do that until I was satisfied that I had done it to my specifications and then I started working with other musicians after that and built a band over a period of about 10 years and for about 15 years, I worked with a guitar player named John Platania who also worked with Judy Collins and Van Morrison and he is on a lot of Van's records. It was just the two of us and we rocked, he was a great guitar player and off of him I built, with Tony Migliore my keyboard guy, a group that has worked well for the last 30 years. I can play any venue, big or small and rock the place but there has been a change and I think people would like to hear the guitar played and singing and going back to that a bit. I don't think I'd do that all of the time but I'd definitely consider doing that now and then; of course, I love to talk about myself so that's one good reason to do so I guess (laughs)" 

Ah yes, but playing solo acoustically without the support and interaction of other musicians can put pressure on some to be perfect and others embrace any type of performing.

"It's something that you'd really have to be into," he said with confidence. "I started out playing in small clubs; there are pictures of me in 1975 playing to over 100,000 people in Hyde Park and it was one of the first Hyde Park concerts, second only to The Rolling Stones was my show. I was very, very popular in the UK and I still am quite popular there.I had no monitors on stage, it was completely acoustic, there was no wire in my guitar and I just knew how to hear myself and I could tell when I was contacting the audience because the sound system was enormous. So, you learn to live in that world but the band world is a much different world. You're surrounded by music, you get a lot more powerful contact with an audience, you can do a lot of things that are power oriented but with the solo thing; you have to sort of weave a spell. I've never abandoned that, I always try to reach people at a deeper level whether I sing a song by myself or have a group with me. Again, I've evolved over 50 years to what I do now but the nice thing about it is that I can sit down and play three or four by myself or just a piano with me or sing just with the piano or go back to doing something that's a little bit louder with more energy; I can do anything I want. I pioneered doing this on a major level, as a recording artist who was making hit records. My albums, in the 1970s solo, when I played Hyde Park completely unplugged and drew those hundred thousand people, all of my albums were selling like crazy, "Tapestry," "American Pie," "Don McLean," "Playin' Favorites," "Homeless Brother;" those albums basically summed up what I did and was some of the best work I ever did. I could've gone on, had a band and played "American Pie" and done all of this stuff that way but I do things for myself. I was still determined to satisfy myself that I was as good at doing this as I could possibly be. I wanted to prove that to myself and I did and then I moved on." 

When told that "American Pie" wove a story reminiscent of another great songwriter; Bob Dylan's, "Tangled Up In Blue" and how his words painted pictures; he gave a backstory shedding some light on his influences and self-invention.  

"I'll tell you a little something, my girlfriend and I like to watch stupid things and I got this DVD of the old show "Hootenanny" that was on in 1963 that was all folk music," he laughed. "Folk music was enormous in the late '50s and early '60s, you can't even imagine how popular it was.This show was on TV and the songs and the performers, the things that they did were absolutely terrible, awful and you have this guy Bob Dylan comes along writing a song like "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and you can't imagine the contrast between that song and some "Skip to My Lou" bullshit that some group just did and that was all (laughs).It was amazing and it had an effect on me; I love the English language and I suddenly realized, my God, folk music is just too small for me. I really have so many things I want to say and I can do anything I want. The tough part was to get record companies to simply shut the fuck up and get out of my way so that I could do anything I wanted on my recordings; nobody has ever told me what to do in 50 years. So, all of those songs out there and those five, six, seven that everybody knows and that one big one that everybody knows and there are hundreds of others;they were all exactly what I wanted and that was a hard thing to do. I had a manager in those days who at the time was very effective. We had contracts where the albums; we had total control of everything and I could do anything I wanted and I did. There was a watershed moment when I saw Bob Dylan in 1962 with Pete Seeger at Carnegie Hall and I was involved with all of that for years and it changed me. I thought, I can say anything I want and I started to really try a lot of different things lyrically. I mean, if you listen to the "Tapestry" album, there is "And I Love You So and ":Castles In The Air" are on that record but there is also "Three Flights Up," "Tapestry" and "Orphans of Wealth," "General Store" and all these different songs; "Magdalene Lane" which is a song about Los Angeles and it was very liberating. Record companies and publishers; The Beatles, it's so amazing because they had the standard deal in England where it was three percent and Capital Records and BMI got 97 percent and Capital owned the masters and the Beatles paid for those masters out of their royalties and so until they recouped the amount that was put into "Beatles '65," they didn't see a penny from that record. The same thing for songwriters, they'd be hired by publishers and given money every month and then the publishers would own the songs." 

Ever evolving, taking the ups with the downs and writing timeless material is McLean and if you'd like to find out more about him, his latest release or find tickets to the upcoming Monmouth University show, please visit

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Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 7:000pm EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.

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