“ A taste of Scott Walker, a flicker of Bowie, Lou Reed and Tim Hardin, but a sound that is purely and utterly Fagan.”
That Scott Fagan never became a major star is mystifying. That even cult success eluded him is all the more surprising. His is a story of extraordinary talent and monumental potential confounded by a series of frustrating near-misses, all of which conspired to obscure him from the public eye for decades. A teenage prodigy, mentored and managed by songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman in the Brill Building, who almost became the first artist signed to Apple Records (South Atlantic Blues was in the running to be the label’s first non-Beatles album release), and later to compose Soon, the first rock musical produced on Broadway (which Fagan intended to record as his follow-up to South Atlantic Blues).
The son of a sax player and singer who fraternised with jazz greats, including Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young and Billie Holiday, music was Scott Fagan’s life blood and legacy. That familial connection with music would come full circle when Fagan became aware that he was the biological father of songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, the fruit of a brief affair on the Islands just before Fagan left for New York in 1964, after Merritt announced during an interview on NPR in 2000 that his father was the folk singer Scott Fagan. They did not meet until the New York premiere of a documentary about Doc Pomus in 2013.
As a teenager, Fagan led a raggy band of street kids called The Urchins, playing rock ‘n’ roll for nickels and dimes at local St. Thomas hotspots, Trader Dan’s and Duffy’s—the same nightclub-cum-bar/hotel immortalised in the Mamas and the Papas’ hit, ‘Creeque Alley’. Seeking fame, fortune, and an escape from the grinding poverty of life on the Islands, Fagan jumped on a schooner called ‘The Success’ to Florida and, from there, made his way to New York City, arriving with just eleven cents in his pocket. Ten of those he used to make a phone call to the Brill Building office of songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and managed to secure an audition, in-person. On hearing him, they immediately signed the teenager up to a management and production contract with their Pomshu Productions.
Fagan spent the next two years being schooled in the craft of songwriting by his mentors in Pomus’ suite at the Forrest Hotel. The pair also secured deals for their young charge with first Columbia (a single remained unreleased), and then ‘Twist and Shout’ songwriter Bert Berns’ Bang Records label, also home to fellow singer-writer, Neil Diamond. Released in 1966, that single, ‘Give Love A Chance’, a pre-Summer of Love plea for love and understanding, was an early indicator of Fagan’s talent but enjoyed little commercial success.
Fagan subsequently signed with manager Herb Gart (who also represented Buffy Sainte Marie and, later, Don McClean) and began recording South Atlantic Blues in 1967, at Musicor Studios in New York, with producer Elmer Jared Gordon (co-producer of the debut album by experimental rock group, Pearls Before Swine) and arranger Horace Ott (songwriter of the Nina Simone/The Animals song ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’). Time and memory have conspired to obscure the musicians who played on the record, but they are believed to include veteran jazz and soul session players like drummers Bernard Purdie, Jimmy Johnson (of the Sun Ra Arkestra). Virtuoso steel pan player Victor Brady, a fellow countryman from the Virgin Islands, was a featured player on the record.
An epic song cycle about Fagan’s hard-scrabble life in the Virgin Islands (where he was raised and lived until 19, before returning to his birthplace, New York City), wrapped around an impassioned love story, South Atlantic Blues is driven by Fagan’s dense, allusive lyrics and experimental production that infuses his folk song stylings with R&B, jazz and Caribbean island rhythms. Front and centre on the record though is Fagan’s remarkable voice, rich with emotion and longing, which has been described as “somewhere between Scott Walker, Tim Hardin, early Bowie and Donovan”. The album’s iconic cover photo, a portrait of a twenty-year-old Fagan, was shot by legendary photographer, Joel Brodsky, who took the famous ‘Young Lion’ photos of Jim Morrison and also shot the cover of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks — released the same month as South Atlantic Blues.
This is a reissue that heralds the rediscovery of a major talent, one that should finally see Scott Fagan accorded his place in the canon of popular music alongside his better-known ‘60s and ‘70s peers.
SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES (CEC003) – CD in slipcase with 36-page booklet. Remastered from the original tapes and released on CD for the first time. Includes download card for free download of five bonus tracks—the original 1965 demo Scott recorded for Doc Pomus that won him a record deal with Columbia Records, and a previously-unreleased 1965 Doc Pomus song, "All For The Sake of Love".
SOUTH ATLANTIC BLUES (CEC003LP-J) – Audiophile vinyl edition pressed on 180-gram vinyl and housed in an old-style 'tip-on' Stoughton jacket on heavyweight board stock. Exclusive cover art reproducing the Jasper Johns lithograph "Scott Fagan Record" (1970). Comes with download card, liner notes and lyric sheet. First 1000 copies are a hand-numbered limited edition.