Taken from the teenage girl magazine ‘Jackie’, September 9th 1972
Who would you like to chat to for half an hour? Linda Mathew of Doncaster (England) chose Don McLean
Linda – Where were you born and raised?
Don – Born 26 years ago in New Rochelle, a small suburb of New York City. I went to various schools there till I was 17.
I started playing and singing in coffee houses. I remember the first was “The Bitter End” – which was funny, with me just making a start.
Wasn’t 17 a bit young?
Sure. I remember one of the waitresses asking my age, turning to the other waitresses and saying, “What can a guy have to say in his songs when he’s only 17?”. I guess she had a point.
But there must have been someone on your side
I had a lot of encouragement from important figures on the folk scene like Josh White, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
When did you first start making music?
When I was 15. I was going to learn ukelele, but a girl friend said she like guitar better, so I went along with that. But I also learnt the ukelele later.
What made you get into folk singing?
It was my way of protesting about pollution of the environment
Who was your idol when you were a boy?
The late Buddy Holly
Your main fault
I guess I’m the laziest person in the world. All the songs I’ve written have come to me quickly.
Your toughest period?
In 1968, when I toured river communities. I did three a day for six weeks. I sure had to overcome my laziness, cos I sometimes sang as many as 60 songs a day. New York State was paying me 200 dollars a week and I reckon that worked aout cheaper than a juke box!
When are you at your happiest?
On a stage. Then I can communicate. But in private life I’m very much a loner.
Your most satisfying moment?
I helped folk singer Pete Seeger and other enthusiasts to build “The Clearwater”. This was a replica of one of the old cargo ships which used to be seen on the Hudson River many years ago. The one we built has the biggest sail in the world. The idea was to sail the Hudson and bring home to people the danger to the river from industrial pollution.
Were you surprised your ‘American Pie’ was such a super hit?
Sure. I thought it might do fairly well – but not THAT well. I guess 39 record companies were also surprsed, because that’s how many turned me down!
Can you explain the song’s words?
I prefer people to make up their own minds about the meaning. But I can tell you the death of Buddy Holly was a big factor in what I wrote.
How long did it take you to write it?
About half an hour. But no doubt the idea had been forming in my mind for some time.
If all those record companies had turned you down, how did you finally make it?
Some people came to film “The Clearwater”. They heard me singing and decided to make a film of me aswell. The film was bought by a small company which was later taken over by United Artists who gave me a recording contract.
Where do you live?
In a timber house on a riverbank near where the Hudson river takes a huge bend in the area of Bear Mountain, New York State. There I do what I call creative loafing – just sitting around waiting for the right ideas to come.