Don McLean: The FolkWorks Interview

Part 3

By Ross Altman

Don McLean with Banjo at LenaRA:      How did you get acquainted with Pete?

DM:     I got acquainted with him because, well I always loved his records, and loved that image which I felt was the perfect image for me, you know, because I was always kind of an outsider. I didn’t really want to work with people. I didn’t get along with people. I was always getting punished for things I was saying, you know, even at home. In school, at home, whatever, I would say something that was the truth, but it would get me in a lot of trouble and it kind of continued right on.

RA:      Can you think of an example off the top of your head of that kind of thing?

DM:     I can – wow, I mean, no. But I was always being impertinent, let’s say.

RA:      Okay.

DM:     The biggest example was American Pie, you know, where everybody sort of crucified me for – Rolling Stone crucified me for trying to take over the telling of the history of rock and roll.

RA:      Oh, really? This I did not know.

DM:     Oh, sure, absolutely. They just crucified me and then they finally left me alone when they realized that people liked it.

RA:      It was bigger than either of you.

DM:     They liked me and they liked the song and they stopped messing with me. But no, that’s just the biggest example. But there are thousands of others. And I was not – I was a person, you know, who...

RA:      You think of yourself as an outsider.

DM:     …Pete Seeger liked me a lot in the early ‘70s and then I became very successful and the Seeger’s were a little threatened by that because, you know, it wasn’t him now, it was me. And Pete’s got a big ego. He likes to be the center of attention.

RA:      Yeah, I know.

DM:     And suddenly I was. And so – but I made every effort. You know, I was with him when the FBI was there, and I was with him in anti-war rallies all over, way before Springsteen was around.

RA:      When the FBI came to his log cabin?

DM:     I was around.

RA:      Oh, my God.

DM:     Not when they came to the log cabin, but they were in the audience. There were government people that were salted into the whole original Clearwater Board.

RA:      Oh really?

DM:     Oh yeah. It was a big deal. The government was quite threatened by this kind of thing and they were always doing these things.

RA:      Uh huh.

DM:     So I was with him all the time and he seemed different then from the kind of guy he is now. Now he’s very anxious to accept awards and plaudits and he’s very anxious to come out of the political closet and whereas in those days, there was never – the image was that he had been wrongly accused and wrongly pilloried and persecuted for his political beliefs, but the political beliefs seemed to be very reasonable, that he was just for, you know, good things. And so I was 100% there behind him. But in any case, he did a lot of good things for me and I wish him well and not – I don’t want to...

RA:      Well, when you’re 95.

DM:     What’s that?

RA:      When you’re 95, Ezra Pound said toward the end of his life, “I feel closer to my old enemies than to my new friends.”

DM:     Well, I hope I’m not his enemy, but I have this problem where I do say things that I think.

RA:      Yeah, I noticed that.

DM:     It just comes out. I can’t help it and it breaks my heart to have to say these things, but that’s how it is. I’m not on anybody’s team. I call them like I see ‘em and so that’s the reason I left in the ‘70s and I went on and did other things. And I could say a lot more, but I’m not going to say anymore, but I will say that those records and the wonderful thing about him was that he attracted so many songwriters and recorded so many unusual songs like Newspaper Man and The Ballad of Sherman Wu and this wonderful song. I used to have a Stinson record of his. It was red plastic, I remember.

RA:      I have those. American...

DM:     There was one called Ariran, which was about Korea.

RA:      Yeah, it’s a Korean song.

DM:     And I went to Korea and I thought, “God, what a nice song to have in my head,” you know?

RA:      It’s a beautiful tune. I notice on the front page or the title page of the Clearwater book there are some people that I know and I wonder if you might say a word about a couple of them.

DM:     Okay.

RA:      Gordon Bok, for one, who actually lives in Camden.

DM:     Lives in Camden and he’s a legend, you know, and he writes these very wonderful songs. He’s written many, many, many songs about the sea and he performs.

RA:      Do you know him at all?

DM:     I know him a little bit. I wasn’t close to him. Okay, I wanted to say something about Frank Hamilton.

RA:      Oh, thank you.

DM:     I really, really want to say what a wonderful musician and person he is, and I want to say...

RA:      Is he still alive?

DM:     He’s still alive and I think he teaches still at the Chicago Old Town Folk Music – School of Folk Music, but...

RA:      He also took a role in the Weavers at one point.

DM:     That’s right.

RA:      In the ’63 reunion concert.

DM:     And Erik Darling told me that the Weavers were not too nice to him. And he was annoyed about that. He thought Frank was a wonderful person, and I frankly think...

RA:      Not too nice to Frank Hamilton?

DM:     Yeah. They didn’t particularly like his style or him or whatever. I don’t know what the problem was, but anyway, I was sort of sad to hear that because Frank sounded phenomenal with that group. I think that Frank Hamilton sounded better with the Weavers than Seeger or Erik.

RA:      Wow.

DM:     If you listen to Hineh Ma Tov and some of these songs, he was so perfect for this group and he has a wonderful voice. It’s a clear voice with a gorgeous vibrato. He’s knowledgeable, he’s very musical, and he’s so humble that he really – you never really hear about him much, but he was a guy I got to know a little bit and played some music with.

RA:      Well, he’s...

DM:     I just thought his recordings with the Weavers, there weren’t too many, they point over to the, I think it’s called the Python Temple or something like that where a lot of Buddy Holly records were made for Decca Records.

RA:      Oh really?

DM:     The Knights of Pythias Temple or something. It had an amazing sound. Vanguard Records used to use a church, you know? They used to get a real echo and go to places where it really was rather than this stupid technology, kind of phony echo that they get now.

RA:      Yeah, of course.

DM:     A chamber echo and echoes in really beautiful halls are what you really want. You can’t fake that. But they made a bunch of recordings there at this Pythias Temple or whatever the hell it’s called, for Decca Records used to have there.

RA:      And that’s in New York City?

DM:     Yeah, it’s in New York. And they recorded Hineh Ma Tov and Miner’s Life and a bunch of tunes in the studio which they then made to appear to be live recordings, which they’re not.

RA:      I see.

DM:     They put applause on it. So Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Volume 2 has all those recordings. Yerakina which actually Frank had done on an album, with a girl called Veluscia or something or other. He made an album on the Phillips Records where he did that song. But anyway, he also made a song – an album with Pete Seeger called Nonesuch which I love.

RA:      I have that. It’s on Folkways.

DM:     Yeah.

RA:      It’s a great album.

Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry at Carnegie HallDM:     I love those records. I mean they just had a wonderful feeling to them and to this day, I will listen to Pete Seeger and Sonny Terry at Carnegie Hall and hear the way the banjo sounds in that hall when he plays that banjo. You know, he made that neck. That’s the neck that he made the original – the neck that he uses on his banjo now is made of lignum vitae.

RA:      Yeah, I don’t know what that is, but I’ve seen the name.

DM:     But the wood is a South African wood that sinks. It doesn’t float. It’s very heavy and what he did was he made it because it was as dense as ebony and he didn’t want to have a fingerboard. So if you look at The Weavers at Home, you will see him playing this banjo on the cover, and the fingerboard has a sort of a greenish brown kind of look to it. Well, he sent the banjo to – he used to send it – everyone used to send their instruments to the Village to D’Angelico, who had a shop where he made his great guitars, these masterpieces, but he also did repair work in the Village. And he sent this guitar there and D’Angelico planed down the neck and put a fingerboard on it, and Seeger wanted to murder him.

RA:      You’re talking about his banjo now?

DM:     Yeah.

RA:      What do you mean? He didn’t want to have a fingerboard? You mean a fret lift?

DM:     Well, a banjo neck itself is one piece, so he just set the frets.

RA:      Oh, he didn’t want a separate piece for the fingerboard.

DM:     Yeah.

RA:      I see.

DM:     But D’Angelico thought that wasn’t a good idea, so he planed the neck down and put a fingerboard on it.

RA:      Oh, my God.

DM:     And Seeger wanted to kill the guy.

RA:      [laughing]

DM:     And the interesting thing is the same thing happened with Gibson to Earl Scruggs. I know this because these people told me these stories. Earl Scruggs told me this. He said, “I sent my banjo to them and they...” and if you remember, he had like a hearts and flowers design on the banjo.

RA:      Uh huh.

Foggy Mountain JamboreeDM:     And you can see that on the cover of the Foggy Mountain Jamboree. It’s a great cover on Columbia. Well, after he got it back, it had a fingerboard on it with bow tie inlays. But it still had the RB4 or whatever the name of the banjo was.

RA:      I think that’s what it was. Yeah.

DM:     So he was furious about that.

RA:      Wow. Back to Frank Hamilton for one second. His name is one of the four names on We Shall Overcome.

DM:     Zilphia Horton.

RA:      Is it Zilphia Horton, Miles Horton’s wife, and Pete and Guy Carawan and Frank Hamilton.

DM:     Correct.

RA:      And to this day...

DM:     The song was written by somebody else. His name isn’t even on there.

RA:      Well, the song was a traditional song originally.

DM:     Yeah.

RA:      A white hymn from, I think from the – well I’m not sure it was a white hymn, but it’s from the Georgia Sea Islands. I’ll Be All Right Someday.

DM:     Okay.

RA:      And Guy Carawan is usually given credit for adding the – for slowing down the tempo and making it like an anthem. But I think Frank Hamilton added the chords that were used.

DM:     Well, I don’t know who did what.

RA:      I know why his name – I think that’s why his name is not...

DM:     I don’t know who did what on that. I don’t. All I know is that a lot of people get a lot of money for stuff they didn’t do in folk music…

RA:      All right. Let me ask you a couple other names here. Len Chandler. Did you know he was...?

DM:     I knew Len Chandler. Len Chandler was an amazingly creative songwriter who was also a singer on this boat, and I think he’s still living.

RA:      Yeah, he’s – we’re friends. I mean, he’s in Los Angeles.

DM:     And he made a couple of albums for Columbia Records and I totally respected Len Chandler. I thought he was very fluid, you know?

RA:      Uh huh.

DM:     I was not. I was a guy who had to think things through a lot and I would have to really hammer things out. He would just come up with stuff. When we played, I was lucky enough to be in this group when we were taken by Seeger, we all felt honored to have been taken by him to the Newport Folk Festival, which he basically controlled with his wife and his manager and all the rest of it.

RA:      What year was it?

DM:     1969.

RA:      Okay.

DM:     And that was the – while we were there, the man landed on the moon and you can’t imagine...

RA:      While the festival was going on?

DM:     While the festival, that weekend.

RA:      Holy mackerel.

DM:     And there were vans with PDs on the top and people were writing songs. It was the most amazing – it was like some sort of a solar eclipse or something. I don’t know what you could liken it to. The weird kind of energy that was around was nothing like I’ve ever experienced since, and I’ve done a lot of things.

RA:      Uh huh.

DM:     And everybody, a lot of people were making their debuts at – James Taylor, Van Morrison. I saw the Everly Brothers for the first time. Their father was there. Ike Everly. Muddy Waters was there doing like acoustic music. It was just an amazing thing. We were there. There were a lot more, a lot more. Buffy St. Marie, Joni Mitchell, all kinds of things. This was 1969. The man landed on the moon. Also introduced by Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was there. Johnny Cash introduced the first time, Kris Kristofferson.

RA:      So that was just the year before your first album.

DM:     Yeah. That was when I was trying to get started on the first record, yeah. And Len Chandler was writing, like a song a minute about the man landing on the moon. The guy was normally very hyper, so I mean it was flying out of his ears. So I remember that very well.

RA:      [laughing] He’ll be tickled to hear that.

DM:     Oh, it’s true.

RA:      That is so funny. Were you performing at that point?

DM:     Well, we would sing together. We were like, and also we were like a group of sailors. I wasn’t a sailor, but Gordon Bok was a sailor.

RA:      So you were performing from the Clearwater?

DM:     No, no. We were on stage at Newport, but that was Pete’s brilliant way of talking about the boat.

RA:      I see.

DM:     What is the sloop? What is a Sloop Singer? Well, oh the sloop’s in Newport. Oh, I see.

RA:      Okay, so you were part of the Sloop Singers?

DM:     Yeah.

RA:      Oh wow. That is wonderful.

DM:     Yeah, I was the original crew.

RA:      And did you know Fred, my friend Starner?

DM:     Vaguely.

RA:      He was also a banjo player. And how about Ramblin’ Jack? Did you have any?

DM:     Ramblin’ Jack came and went, kind of. He wasn’t around. There were a lot of people that came and went who were around for a show or two and then weren’t around.

RA:      All right, let me ask you…

DM:     He was very good friends with the Seeger’s, so he would show up from time to time…

RA:      What got you writing songs to start with? And do you remember anything about that?

DM:     Yeah, Woody Guthrie. I heard a song, one of his songs, and I thought, “I can do that.” I heard, I think it was one of his tunes. I don’t remember. Roll On, Columbia or, you know, it was a simple thing. Maybe I’ll try to write a song like that with a little chorus and a verse.

RA:      Wow. And this was – how old would you have been at that time?

DM:     14.

RA:      That young, God. That is wonderful to have a vision.

DM:     Well yeah, and that was the wonderful thing about folk music. Is that it made you think that you could do this. You couldn’t, of course. It was subtle. I mean, you didn’t realize how brilliant these people were, but they made it seem so easy. You know?

RA:      And that’s just when you were learning to play basically.

DM:     Yeah, that’s why it was perfect timing. I was a lucky fellow.

RA:      Yes. I mean, to start out learning your instrument and immediately get the idea you could write a song. That’s amazing.

DM:     You know, it was a lucky – but you know, even rock and roll was very simple. Don’t Be Cruel wasn’t hard. Peggy Sue wasn’t; once you start to play guitar, you could play all those songs, too.

RA:      Uh huh.

DM:     So everything was three chords. Once you learn those three chords, you were set free, man. I mean, you learn E, A, B7 and you were in business.

RA:      Did your mother play any music? Did you get any...?

DM:     My mother played a little piano and sometimes we’d go in the basement and we had this really beat up old piano. It has most of the, what do you call it, ivory keys were missing, you know, the ivory that covered the keys had fallen off. But there was a lot of music in the bench, that you’d open up and there’d be hundreds of songs, sheet music. And so now and then my mother would sing the theme from “Moulin Rouge” or she would sing, she would play on the piano some other song that was there, but that was the thing I remembered.

RA:      Is she still alive or not?

DM:     My mom? No, she died in 1984.

RA:      ’84. Well, she got to see the wonderful success you’ve had.

DM:     My mother received the benefits from my success.

RA:      That’s beautiful.

DM:     And I undid all of the damage that was done by my father’s death, so that was very satisfying.

RA:      That is.

DM:     Darling where is your heart... the theme from Moulin Rouge. [humming] A beautiful melody I remember that.

RA:      So you learned some of the songs from…Actually from the piano?

DM:     I knew hundreds of songs by the time I was ten years old.

RA:      Wow.

DM:     I was singing all the time without any accompaniment.

RA:      You did a beautiful song without any accompaniment, speaking of that. The last lines were “to love somebody and...”

DM:     Oh, that’s Nature Boy.

RA:      That’s Nature Boy. Is that...

DM:     That’s Nat King Cole’s hit.

RA:      That’s Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy.

DM:     Yeah, that was written by Eden Ahbez. Eden Ahbez, believe it or not, was one of Pete Seeger’s mother’s boyfriends.

RA:      Oh, really?

DM:     Really. Yeah. His mother was a...

RA:      Not Ruth Crawford, but his own mother.

DM:     Yeah. And this guy would walk around in sandals with long hair, back in the 1940s.

RA:      Holy mackerel.

DM:     And I think Seeger’s mother knew him.

RA:      Wow. Well, I assume Nat King Cole does it with the piano.

DM:     Well, he does it with fifty strings. It’s a gorgeous string arrangement.

RA:      Because you do it a cappella and that is an extremely subtle tune to capture a cappella; I was quite taken just with that.

DM:     It’s really not hard, but the thing about it is, I talk to people sometimes about guitar and Woody Guthrie played three chords, but he had all the music in his head. So where the guitar is a wonderful instrument because you can be very, very skilled on an instrument, any instrument, and yet have no real music in your head. And yet you can play a song that’s very simple, but you can tell the person has music in their heart, in their head.

RA:      Well, the way you do Crying is a good example of that.

DM:     Because I have this music in my head. I mean, it’s there.

RA:      I’ve never heard anybody do that besides Roy Orbison until your concert. I wasn’t aware of the recording that you had done, and it is such an incredible vocal performance.

DM:     Well, I lived that song, so I understood it. You know? A song a lot of times is a script for a performer. If you can’t feel that you lived it, then you shouldn’t sing it. That was the problem with the Folk era is that there were so many kids around singing songs that really they hadn’t lived that it was a silly time for music. You know? Some little group of college kids, if they sing The Midnight Special, I mean, it’s okay, but if Leadbelly sings it, you know, or somebody who’s been to jail, like Merle Haggard, that makes a difference. That’s folk. But you can’t know all these things in the beginning. You have to figure it out as you go along. It’s like figuring out what clothes suit you, you know? When you’re young, you might wear anything. But as you get older, you think, “Well this is more suitable to how I am,” and you know what garment is going to be you. And the same thing is like a song. A song has – you have to wear a song. A song is something that you wear and it either fits you properly or it doesn’t. And this is the reason why I couldn’t sing a lot of songs that were presented to me by different people who meant well and wanted me to have hit records because they liked my voice, but they weren’t a garment that I could wear.

RA:      Well, when did you – I mean, when did you discover that you had a voice that could do a song like Crying? I mean that is – it’s like an opera.

DM:     Well, I didn’t really talk to people too much, so one of the things that Erik did for me was he sent me to a music – a voice coach and he got my mind around the idea that if you work harder with the right people, you can improve. You can become something better than you are. I didn’t realize that you could do that. So people would say things and there would be realizations that I would have as a young person that were like astounding. So I went to this voice coach and he taught me some exercises and all of a sudden my voice box was clearing out of stuff that was in there and my voice became clearer and clearer. And I noticed it and I stopped smoking. I used to smoke. And it got better and better and as I got broader, it got more beautiful and I kept working on the thing and polishing it. And it got better and better and it’s all because of this voice coach, and I had one before that actually, because I wasn’t completely unaware of voice coaches.

RA:      Well, you captured the Buddy Holly kind of hiccup in Everyday. It’s just beautiful. And a lot of these vocal flourishes that you just don’t hear from folksingers, you know?

DM:     Well, you know, I’m not – the thing about the folk singing thing is that – I want to say this diplomatically and say it fairly because discovering folk music was probably one of the most fun things that ever happened to me. But really, it’s an artificial category because we’re not loggers, we’re not seamen, and we’re not cowboys and we don’t know what that way of life is like. So we’re – most of the people that started this, Carl Sandburg, the Lomax’s, the Seeger’s, were intellectuals that were also upper class, if you will. And we really, to be honest, have no business singing these songs, but Doris Ulmann, who photographed these people and John Jacob Niles would travel with us. These are all highly educated, sophisticated people and in a way, it was a kind of an odd thing because when the Lomax’s brought back Leadbelly off the prison farm, they dressed him in stripes and made a film with him and treated him kind of like a King Kong or something. Brought him to different schoolrooms and scared the shit out of people because he was different. And I don’t particularly like that.

RA:      Yeah, I don’t either. Leadbelly didn’t either. I mean, he had a rupture with John Lomax.

DM:     I can understand why and...

RA:      He was basically treated like what he was. He was a chauffeur.

DM:     He was a genius and I used to think that – I ordered some Leadbelly CDs recently and actually Pete Seeger showed me a movie of Leadbelly made by the Lomax’s once at his house. But I was as amazed at what Erik learned how to do on the 12 string and how to use his wrist, his whole forearm and his wrist to make those notes pop out of that 12 string on those bass strings. And I learned how to do that. I know how to do that. And I know all about where to play everything.

RA:      Do you have a 12 string?

DM:     Uh, I don’t play one, but I have it in the attic. I can play one. I can do all that stuff.

RA:      Uh huh.

DM:     But Leadbelly had a way of making those strings shoot out, making them - and he was very fast with the thing, like that. It’s impossible to do, I mean, to be as fast as he was with his thumb.

RA:      There were some other things on your website that I really enjoyed. First of all, I got your guitar wrong—I thought it was a D45 because I’d never even heard of a D40.

DM:     Well, that particular one is, I think, a D41 that I played that night, but there is...

RA:      But you have your own signature model.

DM:     I also use a D40DM which is a signature model.

RA:      Yeah, I was reading about that.

DM:     That particular one I used that night, I started to use some now is a D41 I’ve had for about 20 years. It just sounds extremely good.

RA:      It was gorgeous. So your wife said that you were around for a couple of weeks. So you’re going back out on tour?

DM:     Yeah, coming into January we’re going to be moving around.

RA:      Uh huh. Well, I managed to avoid the subject, but since you brought it up, I’ll return to it. Even so, I still have the date here. How long do you think American Pie had been kind of gestating in you before you actually started to write it?

DM:     Oh, I don’t know, maybe a year. Maybe a year or so. Like I’d take a long time for me to do these things.

RA:      Really? So when you write songs, they’ve been working in your unconscious.

DM:     Yeah. One of the problems I had was that when I started making records, after the first two or three records, there was always a demand for another album and I just didn’t have the – I just wanted time to do it and I was always so rushed. Some people can turn this stuff out.You know, they have a facility. I can’t. So it took about, I guess, about a year and oddly enough, what really pushed it over was meeting Phil Everly at the...

RA:      Really?

DM:     Yeah, in 1969 at that Newport show, I was so impressed with their show, it was so incredibly different and so professional, and very powerful, and they just showed everybody what it was all about. How to be a professional entertainer and performer. You know most everybody there were glorified amateurs. They may have been very successful, they may have written songs and stuff, but they really didn’t have the professional skill that these boys had. And they were just past masters and...

RA:      Did they have a band at that time?

DM:     Oh, did they have a band. They had a trio that just kicked ass. I mean, they were phenomenal. And so anyway, afterwards, the next day or someplace, they’re both hanging around and I went up to Phil. I said, “Did you know Buddy Holly?” because I was still thinking about this idea that I had and he said, “Oh yes, we knew Buddy.” Phil has said this, and then he said, “You know he died for dirty laundry.” And I said, “What do you mean by that?”

RA:      Yeah, that’s the first thing that crossed my mind. What do you mean by that?

DM:     He stayed behind to do his laundry and flew ahead to meet with the group. If he had just gone on the bus, he would have been alive. And that did it. Then I started really thinking about something. It made it real, it made it like I was there. It wasn’t this frozen...

RA:      Oh, so he had to catch up with them.

DM:     Picture on the front of an album now, it meant I was there and I understood it. And I was able to move on and started thinking about writing this song.

RA:      I see.

DM:     Well, that’s why I shed a tear because he was a sweet person, Phil Everly. So I think we’ve covered everything, haven’t we?

RA:      Well, I wanted to say I stole your line for a program I did on Hank Williams. The 60th anniversary of his death was last year, January 1, and so I did a show and wrote a piece on him and it was called The Day the Music Died.

DM:     Okay.

RA:      But I thought it was the best way to, you know…

DM:     Well, I’d like to end this interview by saying that I think Hank Williams III is one of the most talented people around.

RA:      His grandson?

DM:     Yeah.

RA:      Yeah.

DM:     He’s a remarkable talent.

RA:      Did Hank Williams, Sr.’s music mean anything to you growing up?

DM:     Oh, definitely. In fact, I recorded Love Sick Blues on the Playin’ Favorites album and I know most of Hank Williams’ stuff.

RA:      Well, that’s a good note to end on.

DM:     But his grandson is a remarkably talented person.

RA:      Well, I will make sure to see him the next time he comes around here.

DM:     And make sure you bring a gun, though.

RA:      Why is that?

DM:     He has tough country people come and see him.

RA:      Oh, I see.

DM:     Nice to talk to you, man.

RA:      Thank you so much, Mr. McLean. I will send you a copy of this when it’s...

DM:     I hope you don’t edit too much out.

RA:      Thank you. I appreciate that. It can all be on the record.

DM:     I’d like it.

RA:      Okay.

DM:     I enjoyed talking to you very much.

RA:      Thank you again.

DM:     All right then. Bye.

RA:      Take care now.


Don McLean and Judy Collins will appear in concert at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside on Friday, July 25. For further info and tickets see

Ross Altman will perform a solo acoustic tribute to Pete Seeger Saturday, July 19 at 2:00pm; Santa Monica Public Library; 601 Santa Monica Blvd Santa Monica CA 90401(outside, in the North Courtyard); sponsored by the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest Free Family Concert Series

Saturday July 26, 8:00pm Ross Altman and Jill Fenimore perform at the UnUrban Coffeehouse Gallery Opening for an exhibition of the late Change-Links Editor John Johnson’s paintings; 3301 W. Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA. 90405; 310-315-0056 ; Jill will play Don McLean’s Vincent in honor of John.

Ross Altman may be reached at