P.F. Sloan Another Victim Of Rock & Roll Success



pfsloanI wanted to acknowledge the passing of songwriter and guitarist P.F. Sloan, but first, a little story.

I was on a cross-country road trip several years ago when my companions and I rolled in to this amazing little lodge situated on the crest of a mountain pass in the Rockies. It was an amazing place, twenty miles away from civilization on either side. To our giddy delight, the hotel lounge had a folksinger providing entertainment, and he was fantastic.

We were reveling in the incredible beauty and peaceful isolation of this place, nestled exactly on the Continental Divide, literally on top of the planet. The “real” world seemed so far away. So, ironic pranksters that we were, when the singer asked for requests, we tried to think of the unlikeliest folk song for this unlikeliest of settings.

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The answer was obvious: “Eve of Destruction”. As we sang the chorus at the top of our lungs, the folksinger grinned conspiratorially, and we all knew we were having a night we would never forget.

“Eve of Destruction” is a landmark song in Rock history, perhaps more for what it represented than for what it actually was. P.F. Sloan wrote the song when he was 19 years old in the bedroom of his parents’ house. The next year, in July 1965, the song became a smash #1 hit for Barry McGuire.

It was remarkable that such a bleak song, one that pulled no punches about serious world issues – the threat of nuclear war, trouble in the Middle East, the civil rights movement, discrimination, militarism – could reach the top of the Billboard charts in 1965.

By that time, much of the culture had become aware of Bob Dylan and his protest songs, but none of these songs made a dent in the pop charts. Suddenly here came a song that echoed Dylan, but in a much more accessible, pop-flavored context – Dylan-Lite if you will – and the public flocked to it like moths to a flame. Thanks to “Eve of Destruction”, the 1960s protest movement had finally gone mainstream.

But P.F. Sloan was no Bob Dylan. He never wrote another protest song like “Eve” either before or after. He was a session man for Dunhill Records in L.A., working under industry legend Lou Adler. Together with his writing partner Steve Barri, Sloan wrote mostly pop love songs for other artists, and as an accomplished guitarist, he also worked with the famed Wrecking Crew studio band. That’s him playing the acoustic guitar intro to The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin’”.

Sloan and Barri founded the Grass Roots, and the first album Where Were You When I Needed You was really just the two of them fronting the Wrecking Crew. Dunhill decided that the Grass Roots needed real band members, who eventually decided they didn’t need Sloan and Barri after all.

Sloan had another huge hit with “Secret Agent Man”, which peaked at #3 for Johnny Rivers, and that’s him playing the wicked lead guitar on it. Other hits he penned included “A Must To Avoid” for Herman’s Hermits and “You Baby” for The Turtles.

After a solo album bombed in 1968, and facing legal and business problems with Dunhill, Sloan dropped out of the music scene. All was not well with him. His former partner Barri claimed Sloan was never the same after the success of “Eve of Destruction”. And it’s not hard to imagine how Rock fame and fortune at age 20 might affect a sensitive artist like him.

By some accounts he began to believe he himself was Bob Dylan. He started to believe the record companies were punishing him for the “communist” message of “Eve of Destruction”. He spent a lot of time in India, and began suffering from mental health issues. In 2006 he told the L.A. Times that “I was ill I guess for a good 20, maybe 25 years. . . . Catatonia for a long time.”

By the turn of the millennium Sloan had finally recovered and resurfaced to take on a couple of projects, including an album last year in which he compares his own work to that of Beethoven. OK, so maybe it wasn’t a complete recovery. Alas, two weeks ago, P.F. Sloan died of pancreatic cancer at age 70. He wasn’t the first artist to be driven mad by Rock success, and he certainly won’t be the last.

But I raise a glass to his talents and accomplishments, with special thanks for a memorable night I once had on top of the world.

 

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2 comments to “P.F. Sloan Another Victim Of Rock & Roll Success”
  1. i know most of the music referenced but unfortunately never followed p.f.sloan– i first heard the name on a warner/reprise loss leaders record with the song p.f. sloan by jimmy webb–

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