Philip Gary Schlein was something of a child prodigy. Moving from New York to Hollywood in the late 50s, he signed his first recording contract at the age of 12.
After releasing a debut single in 1959 he landed a job at Dunhill. Teamed with song writing partner Steve Barri, they became the label’s in-house hit-making machine.
As PF Sloan – the teen prince of Californian pop – Schlein seemed to have it all. In the 60s he wrote hits for The Turtles, Herman’s Hermits, The Searchers, Jan & Dean and – most famously – Barry McGuire, whose version of Eve Of Destruction was a 1965 Billboard chart-topper. But by the end of the decade, he’d vanished altogether.
In 1970, Jimmy Webb was moved to pen PF Sloan, mourning his absence with the lines; “The last time I saw PF Sloan/He was summer-burned, he was Winter-blown/Did you hear he turned the corner all alone?”. So where did it all go wrong?
“I’d say it was when my label tried to put a bomb under my parents’ car,” said Sloan in 2006, with mock casualness. “That’s what put me off the record industry. What was it all about? Money, power and greed. These people were very dangerous and put me through a tremendous amount. I had to scurry and find a way to survive.”
Although The Turtles and The Byrds both passed on their Dylan-esque bomb protest Eve Of Destruction, ex-New Christy Minstrel folk singer Barry McGuire knew better. Even a radio ban couldn’t halt its progress to the top of the charts.
Its success (and the release of 1965 solo LP Songs Of Our Times) suddenly converted him from backroom boy to would-be generation spokesman. Ironically, the label was not pleased.
“Dunhill didn’t want me to be a solo artist and write songs like Eve Of Destruction. They just wanted nice little pop songs, which I was doing as a teenager,” says Sloan.
He cited ‘death threats’ as the cause of his abrupt retirement. And there were surprisingly few royalties to live off. “I was paid just once when I was 19 or 20. Then the private accountant absconded to Brazil. The next year they put a gun to my head and made me sign away everything.”
By 1970 he had moved back in with his parents and took a series of jobs washing cars, polishing sunglasses and selling insurance by telephone. Then came the breakdown . . .
“I became terribly ill. I was suffering from hypoglycaemia [a blood glucose deficiency] and catatonia and spent time in three mental institutions. I was basically off the planet for 18 years. I was really wearing everything out on my sleeve. So when I cracked, it was a deep, deep crack.”
He received an epiphany in 1986 at the hands of Indian holy man Sai Baba. After slapping Sloan’s face, his subject went into a “bliss state” for days, after which his illness slowly began to fade. In the interim, his songs were covered by everyone from The Pretty Things and Betty Everett to Devo and Psychic TV.
Sloan returned with a new album in 2006 – Sailover – which boasted contributions from various famous fans. Lucinda Williams duetted on a recast The Sins Of The Family, while Frank Black tackled Eve Of Destruction.