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Don McLean was born on October 2nd 1945 in New Rochelle, NY to Elizabeth and Donald McLean. By the age of five he had developed an interest in all forms of music and would spend hours listening to the radio and his father’s records. As a teenager, he purchased his first guitar (a Harmony F Hole with a sunburst finish) from the House of Music in New Rochelle and took opera lessons paid for by his sister. These lessons combined with many hours in the swimming pool, helped Don to develop breath control, which would later allow him to sing long, continuous phrases, in songs such as “Crying”, without taking a breath. Don was determined to become a professional musician and singer and, as a 16 year old, he was already making contacts in the business. After managing to get his home number from the telephone directory, Don phoned Erik Darling. They become friends and Don visited his apartment in New York.Through Erik Darling, Don recorded his first studio sessions with Lisa Kindred and was 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 turned down the offer.
While at Villanova University in 1963 (he stayed for just four months), Don met and became friends with Jim Croce and President Kennedy was assassinated. After leaving Villanova, Don worked his ‘apprenticeship’ for “Harold Leventhal Management”. This started a six year period during which time Don performed 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. He appeared alongside artists like Herbie Mann, Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry, Melanie, Steppenwolf, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Janis Ian, Josh White, Ten Wheel Drive and others.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 famous New York concert hall. Thirty years later, “American Pie” was 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” was issued as a double A-side single in November 1971 and charted within a month. Interest from the media and public sent the single to #1 in the USA and Don to international superstardom. Every line of the song was analysed time and time again to find the real meaning. Don refused to sanction any of the many interpretations, so adding to its mystery. In the wake of “American Pie”, Don became a major concert attraction and was able to call upon material not only from his two albums but from a repertoire of old concert hall numbers and the complete catalogues of singers such as Buddy Holly, and another McLean influence, Frank Sinatra.
Throughout the 1970s, Don McLean remained an in-demand concert performer. In 1975, 85000 fans attended his London Hyde Park concert. 1977, saw a brief liaison with Arista Records that yielded the “Prime Time” album before, in 1978, Don’s career began again in Nashville where he would work with Elvis Presley’s backing singers, “The Jordanaires” and many of Elvis’s old musicians. The result was “Chain Lightning” and the UK No 1, “Crying”. The early 1980s saw further chart successes with “Since I Don’t Have You”, a new recording of “Castles in the Air” and “It’s Just the Sun”.Don McLean credits his 1997 performance of “American Pie” at Garth Brooks’ Central Park concert (attended by over 500,000 people) as the beginning of his third career comeback. According to Don, his first “comeback” had been the release of “Vincent” and the second, the North American release and massive success of “Crying”. “Brooks was joined on stage by two surprise guest stars, Billy Joel and Don McLean, who brought down the house with an acoustic rendition of “American Pie.” (CNN, 1997)
The 21st Century has seen a number of new honours for Don McLean and his music. Iona College conferred an honorary doctorate on Don in 2001 and, in February 2002, “American Pie” was finally inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004 Don McLean was inaugurated into the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters’ Hall of Fame and in 2007 he shared his life story in Alan Howard’s biography.Don McLean continues to tour the world and release new material. In 2009 his latest studio album, “Addicted to Black”, was released and in 2010 he returned to Europe for a seven nation tour, including the Royal Albert Hall, London on May 7th.
2011 saw another tour of UK and Ireland, including a sensational appearance at Europe’s largest music festival, Glastonbury and in 2012 Don completed his longest European Tour in 20 years. In 2012 Don was also awarded the BBC Folk Music Lifetime Achievement Award and performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A busy year also saw the release of “American Troubadour” on CD and DVD and the worldwide broadcast of the documentary of this name, charting Don’s life and career.
2013 was a busy year touring North America and Australia and in 2015 Don broke his European tour record for number of concerts in one year. 2017 will see the release of Don’s latest album and further USA and overseas touring.Don lives in Maine on a 300-acre estate and has two grown-up children – Jackie and Wyatt – by his second wife Patrisha.