It was also named one of the Top 5 songs of the 20th century by the Recording Industry Association of America, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, where it joined less than 500 works (including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”).
Every line of the song was analyzed time and time again to find the real meaning. McLean has refused to sanction any of the many interpretations.
The New York native is in the midst of a world tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic song, and he and his band will also perform many of his other memorable hits, including “Vincent (Starry Starry Night),” “Castles in the Air,” “And I Love You So,” and “Cryin.”
McLean overcame childhood asthma, taking voice lessons combined with running, walking and swimming to develop breath control and help him hold longer notes.
Having missed long periods of school, his love of music was allowed to flourish while at home pursuing his studies.
He would often perform shows for family and friends. As a teenager, he purchased his first guitar. By this time, his focus was on folk music. Determined to become a professional musician and singer, he was already making contacts in the business at 16.
In 1963, he began a six-year period during which he 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 more than 40 colleges throughout New York and New England. He appeared alongside artists like Steppenwolf, Pete Seeger and Janis Ian.
In 1968, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration but turned down a prestigious scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School.
“I had my degree; I did that for my dad,” said McLean in a recent interview with ELF (McLean was 15 years old when his father died). “But I was going up-river to sing and I left it all behind.”
He’s referring to that year when the New York State Council for the Arts invited him to become their Hudson River Troubadour.
He spent that summer traveling from town to town in the Hudson Valley, giving talks about the environment and singing songs for whoever would turn up to listen. A year later, Don was a member of the first crew of the Sloop Clearwater. With folk singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, they traveled the Atlantic seaboard giving concerts at each port and being featured in the news wherever they went. In 1969, Don recorded his first album, “Tapestry,” the title song of which inspired the creation of the environmental action group, Greenpeace.
Since the inception of his career as a musician, McLean wanted creative freedom.
“I had the talent and music but I didn’t have the team like Elvis did.” he said. “I didn’t want the team; I didn’t want to be owned by my career. I wanted to do what I wanted to do without anyone breathing down my neck. I knew if they plugged me into the right team I could go to the moon but I didn’t want to go to the moon. I wanted to ride my horse, write when I wanted to write and sing what I wanted to sing and I did.”
He continues to sell out concert performances worldwide.
His environmental and social justice efforts continue today, now that he is in need of nothing himself, he said.
He finally got his own team to help operate The Don McLean Foundation, which sends students who cannot otherwise afford it to college and continues to support homeless shelters and food banks in the state of Maine.
“I get projects going so I can get sources of income going,” he said, adding that his college degree has been helpful in his work with the foundation.
“The most important thing to me is the relieving of suffering.”
Don McLean performs Saturday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $55-$120 and can be ordered at https://latchis.ticketleap.com/
Livingston Taylor performs Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. at The Latchis Theater, 50 Main St., Brattleboro. Tickets are $45-$85 and can be ordered at https://latchis.ticketleap.com/