The Complete True Story Behind “American Pie” by Don McLean

The Roots of an American Icon

One of the most enduring American singers-songwriters, Donald McLean III was born on October 2, 1945, in a family with Scottish roots. Both his father and grandfather were named Donald McLean, and his mother’s side of the family had roots in Abruzzo, Italy. His early musical influences included Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, but as a teenager, McLean became particularly interested in folk music, and his love of music flourished when he was in high-school. McLean bought his first guitar at the age of 16, and he started making contacts in the music business. This was the period he made friends with Fred Hellerman of the Weavers and singer Erik Darling.

Photo of Don McLean Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

After his father died when McLean was 15, he briefly attended Villanova University, but he dropped out after four months to focus on his musical career. He became associated with Herb Gart, who would become his manager for almost two decades, and started to perform at various events and venues across the country. He Released his first album, “Tapestry,” in October 1970, but had it rejected 72 times before “Mediarts”, a new label, agreed to release it. Even though the album received good reviews, it was not a commercial success. McLean had his major break with the release of his second album, “American Pie,” which made him an international star and remained in charts for over two years after its release.

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