Don McLean was born into a comfortable suburban home in New Rochelle, New York. When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in February 1959, McLean was a 13-year-old paperboy. The headlines he read would sow the seed for his greatest song, some 12 years later.
In 1963 – at the age of 15 – he began playing local clubs and a couple of years later was playing throughout the state of New York.
Initially moved to start playing guitar by the music of Holly, Don moved away from rock and into folk circles, and by 1968 was firmly established in that scene.
Pete Seeger invited him aboard the sloop Clearwater for its anti-pollution voyage along the Hudson River, and Don edited a book telling the story of the trip and reproducing some of the songs the singers sang on the boat.
American Pie (1971) was a lengthy, complex metaphoric epic about the death of rock & roll and the state of the nation. The eight-and-a-half minute song captured the imagination of a generation and spent seven weeks at #1 in the US, selling over three million copies.
He followed it up with the quiet Vincent, a song about Vincent Van Gogh that was more typical of his usual material.