With focus on live performance, McLean enjoys symphony work

More than 37 years after the surprise success of his folk-rock epic American Pie , Don McLean is still finding fans with his eclectic approach to songwriting.


Tonight, Mr. McLean will appear at Bell Auditorium with the Augusta Symphony for the final Pops! concert of the season.

Mr. McLean, who tours with a four-piece rock band, said playing symphony gigs appeals to him because of the size and scope of the backing band and the things it brings out of him as a musician.

"What I like about the symphony experience is the discipline it requires," he said in a recent telephone interview. "There's also a very good reason for doing something like this. I mean, it might be a waste of time putting a string arrangement on a song like Walk the Line , but it really works on Vincent ."

Mr. McLean has seen a shift in his career. He said he initially saw himself as a recording artist, a musician whose primary goal was recording and releasing music. He said changes in the music industry have forced him to focus more on live performance.

"It's pretty much what I have left," he said. "The recording industry is almost dead because of the Internet. It's too bad. I got into this because I wanted to make records, on vinyl, that would spin on a turntable. That's not an option anymore."

Although best known for his 1971 album American Pie , which spawned the hits American Pie and Vincent, Mr. McLean has continued to write, record and perform steadily.

He said his inability and unwillingness to ride on the financial success of his early hits inspired him to produce music in a variety of styles. Those records did not sell as well as American Pie but Mr. McLean considers them just as satisfying.

"I have always been interested in so many types of music, so many approaches," he said. "I just couldn't stick to a signature feel. So I have a lot of things that I consider successful. They just might not be well-known."

Mr. McLean is grateful for the freedom his early successes provide him, and he understands that although his hits don't reflect who he is as an artist today, they are important and appealing.

"There's so much that goes into a well-written song, into a record," he said.

"There are huge hurdles to jump over. I never knew that it would happen. What I knew is that I was a good songwriter and the songs had integrity.

"That's the key."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


WHAT: Don McLean, the Augusta Symphony

WHEN: 7:30 tonight

WHERE: Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.

COST: $25-$65

CONTACT: (706) 826-4705, augustasymphony.org

TO HEAR Mr. McLean, go to chronicle.augusta.com/applause">style="bold">chronicle.augusta.com/applause.