Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 – 11:51 AM
Forty-six years after it was released, people are still debating Don McLean’s classic hit American Pie. He will bring that song and other hits—including Vincent (Starry Starry Night), Castles In the Air, And I Love You So, Crying and more—to The Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., for a 9 p.m. concert, Saturday, Feb. 25.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says McLean, “it’s a lovely theater.” He played a holiday show at the venue two years ago and his L.A. ties go back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. McLean got his start at L.A.’s Troubadour, under contract to Owner Doug Weston. “It was my first West Coast job.”
After 20 albums, McLean has much concert material to draw from; and with no formal set list, he says he’s free to throw in songs ranging from Crossroads and Empty Chairs to Travelin’ Man.
Audience members may also get a taste of his latest album of all-new material, Botanical Gardens.
“When I decide to make a record and the conditions are appropriate, I focus on it for real for a year,” McLean says. For the new songs, “experiences accumulate and I start thinking about things; and as that happend ideas will form. It can be anything. With songs ranging from Vincent to Dreidel, I’ve never done anything tailored to what a Don McLean song should be.”
Of his enduring hit, American Pie, McLean says, “I understand that part of the charm is that people want to know ‘who’s this and who’s that.’ I did that on purpose to draw them in,” he relates. “I was brought up on ‘Paul is dead,’ and it became a fun thing to do; to create something that sparked a little of that mystery as well. I didn’t take it seriously.”
Explaining the song’s longevity, McLean says, “Fans who have children play it for them and as they grow up they want to know what at it’s about.” His response: “It’s about Buddy Holly and they say ‘who’s he?’ and start asking questions. But there’s even more there. It’s about America, politics and the spiritual essence of the country through the decades. They’re brought up with it and it stays with them because it has substance.”
As for all the song’s interpretations: “I never paid attention. I let people do what they want.” But he’s still happy to be asked about the song, “and know that it’s important to people.”
He points out that while he never owned a Chevy, “to drive to the levy,” his mother did. When Chevrolet used the song in a commercial, “I was hoping they’d give me a Corvette,” says McLean.
McLean’s songs have been recorded by artists from every musical genre, including Madonna’s No. 1 recording of American Pie in 2000, George Michael’s version of The Grave in 2003. and Josh Groban’s cover of Vincent. “I’m honored that I’ve been recorded by major artists who have good musical ears, “ says McLean. Garth Brooks, Chet Atkins, Julio Iglesias and Johnny Mathis have put their own touch on McLean songs.
And his songs are still inspiring other artists. On Drake’s 2011 album “Take Care,” the song Doing it Wrong, is based on two McLean compositions – The Wrong Thing To Do and When A Good Thing Goes Bad – from McLean’s 1977 Prime Time album.
So at 71, why does he keep touring? “I am vey hungry and ambitious still,” says McLean, “not for money and material things, but to do as much as I can to bring beautiful songs to people. It was what I was put here to do. So I really can’t live without connecting with and performing for an audience.”
Doors open at 6 p.m. for the concert with tickets ranging from $48-$78. To purchase, and for more information, call 888-645-5006 or visit sabanconcerts.com/events/don-mclean/.