P.F. Sloan (Sept. 18, 1945-November 14, 2015) was just 20 when "Eve of Destruction" hit the charts 50 years ago. He died at 70 (of pancreatic cancer). He lived to reach the 50th anniversary of "Eve of Destruction," joining Barry McGuire on stage in January. No, not on a PBS special or HBO show; just a gig at a somewhat obscure venue.
Roger Waters probably hated the guy, because P.F. Sloan, like so many of the 60's singer/songwriters who began their careers knocking out "Brill Building" pop tunes, was Jewish. Yep, he was born Philip Gary Schlein. The family switched Schlein to Sloan because there were too many people like Roger Waters in their neighborhood. This was still the era of quotas (Jews being denied chances in certain professions, being restricted at health clubs and other places) and if that wasn't bad enough, there was outright violence. Sloan's Dad, a pharmacist, realized a Jewish name was very bad for business.
Like Goffin and King, and Mann and Weill and Leiber and Stoller, all Jews whom Roger Waters would like erased from the music history books (perhaps replaced by Palestinian and Muslim songwriters who've given the world so much joy), the Jewish team of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri began by writing for others.
The Jewish duo evolved from pop "I Found a Girl" (Jan and Dean) and "A Must to Avoid" (Hermans Hermits) to folk rock "Let it Be Me" (The Turtles) and "Where Were You When I Needed You (The Grass Roots, which originally included them as members). When 60's spy TV shows became popular, and Patrick McGoohan was imported to America, they gave us "Secret Agent Man," sung by Johnny Rivers.
When protest songs were hot, P.F. Sloan was right there with "Eve of Destruction." Barry McGuire's rendition had some purists shaking their heads. They found the opening tolling of the drums less than subtle, and McGuire's overboard growling wasn't Phil Ochs. Some felt the Dylan-esque harmonica toots here and there were a cliche if not insulting. Then there were some glaringly bad "punk swallows a dictionary" lines like: "my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin' I'm sittin' here just contemplatin'."
But the more you heard it, the more powerful it became, and it was pretty powerful even the first time. You could listen to it often enough to even notice the odd splice on the last "tell me/over and over," where McGuire apparently couldn't quite keep up with the musicians. There was soon an answer song, "Dawn of Correction," replying to what (it was thought) McGuire had written.
The song was almost completely written by P.F. Sloan (Barri usually was the lyricist). No surprise, that P.F. Sloan's next move was to push for his own record deal, and the chance to become a true singer/songwriter.
While some obscure songwriters eventually made a dent singing their own songs (Randy Newman comes to mind) and some became stars (Carole King, aka Carol Klein), others languished. Along with Ellie Greenwich, Barry Mann and others, P.F. Sloan was a decent singer who could've had a hit off one of his solo albums, but it just didn't happen.
Depression plagued Sloan, his use of drugs didn't help, and he retreated back home to live with his parents, convinced his record label had not only failed him, but screwed him on royalties. "I was ill I guess for a good 20, maybe 25 years,” he recalled, although he wasn't able to recall some of those years with any great accuracy.
Summer-burned and winter-blown by the failure of Sloan, Jimmy Webb (who has issued many great albums to a niche audience of devotees) wrote a tribute song. Frankly, it was "P.F. Sloan" by Jimmy Webb that called my attention to what up till then had just been a parenthetical name under my 45 rpm copy of "Eve of Destruction."
Webb's song praised Sloan for continuing as long as he could, but acknowledged that he had dropped out of sight after 1968. (Sales of Sloan's "Measure for Measure" solo album were almost too small to measure.
"“I have been seeking P. F. Sloan/But no one knows where he has gone," sang Jimmy Webb. Rather than explore Sloan's life and work, subsequent stanzas note Roy Rogers' taxidermy-preserved horse, London Bridge becoming an American tourist attraction, and Nixon taking office. The song has one of Webb's most catchy sing-along choruses, which warns "don't sing this song."
Below is a live version of "P.F. Sloan" by Webb, and also a live acoustic version of "Eve of Destruction" by Sloan. He delivers it thoughtfully, without the bombast of McGuire. Sloan's last album was released in 2006. He turned up in clubs now and then. Rumer recorded "P.F. Sloan" and in 2014 he joined her on stage at a gig. It was the same year he published his autobiography.
Sloan's book is "What's Exactly The Matter With Me? Memoirs of a Life in Music." If you didn't even know it existed, well, the book business is as fucked up as the music business, especially now that books can be so easily stolen and even scabbed on eBay by any seller who puts in a laughable caveat: "I own copyright or I am an authorized re-seller or the book is in public domain."
Fans will find much to enjoy, including notes on his various songs, and some passages that druggily slide around the line between fact and creative fiction. At least, unusual reporting. How about Sloan describing George Harrison driving in that famous area for stoners, Haight-Ashbury: ""the zombies started pushing and trying to roll the car over with him in it. They started crawling on the car like hungry lizards. As the car sped off, the zombies looked around for something else to crawl onto..."
Sloan's tome is from Jawbone, a small publishing outfit run by real nice hippie-type music lovers. I think I correctly recall in speaking to the head man one time, that he chose his company's name with a nod to a memorable song by "The Band." In true hippie-dippie fashion, the company allowed Sloan to pretty much write anything he recalled or thought he recalled, leading some fans to sigh about how accurate some anecdotes are. Like, did Sloan really suggest the sitar that was used on "Paint it Black?" And yeah, typos don't help! The book's available in both paperback and Kindle editions. It gives you the complete story. Or to quote Sloan: "Stardom and success lay in front of me now, followed by destruction and ultimately resurrection."
ACOUSTIC EVE OF DESTRUCTION P.F. Sloan
P.F. SLOAN (LIVE) Jimmy Webb