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P.F. Sloan 1945-2015

P.F. Sloan 2The songwriter P.F. Sloan died this week, aged 70. More than 40 years ago, the record producer Lou Adler told me a story about him that still makes me smile, even though it had the polish of a tale that had been told many times and perhaps enhanced by the process of repetition.

It was in 1964 that Adler had signed the teenaged Sloan to his publishing company, along with his writing partner, Steve Barri. The duo’s early pop hits included “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers, “Summer Means Fun” for Bruce (Johnson) and Terry (Melcher), and “A Must to Avoid” for Herman’s Hermits.

But Adler had a new idea. He’d noted Bob Dylan’s growing celebrity and thought that Sloan might have potential in that direction. One day in 1965, he told me, he gave the 19-year-old a corduroy cap, an acoustic guitar and a copy of Dylan’s most recent album, shut him in a room — it might even have been a bungalow at the Beverly Hills hotel — for a weekend, and told him to write some songs. When Sloan emerged, it was with “Eve of Destruction”. After Barri had added a couple of lines (to be precise: “You may leave here for four days in space / But when you return it’s the same old place,” he told the New York Times‘s obituaries writer this week), it was ready for its destiny as a worldwide hit for Barry McGuire.

Sloan quickly came up with other soft-protest folk-rock songs, including “The Sins of a Family”, which became his own single, “Leave Me Be” for the Turtles, and “Take Me For What I’m Worth” for the Searchers. But after he returned from a trip to London with McGuire, during which they both appeared on Top of the Pops, Barri noted a change. “When he came back he was never really the same person,” he told Richard Cromelin of the LA Times. “There was no more joking around. Everything was very serious, and he was angry. After a while he just broke off all relationships with everybody and we lost contact for many, many years.”

Those lost years, which included addiction and mental illness, prompted Jimmy Webb to write “P.F. Sloan” in 1970. Sloan had re-emerged long before Rumer covered Webb’s song a couple of years ago, and in 2006 he re-recorded the biggest hit from his catalogue as part of an album for the Hightone label, produced by Jon Tiven. It’s a wonderful version, making “Eve of Destruction” sound like the serious song the 19-year-old composer had probably intended it to be. Here he is that year, performing the song in a Los Angeles club.

His original demo is on an album called Here’s Where I Belong, a selection of his recordings for Adler’s Dunhill label between 1965 and 1967, compiled by Tim Forster for Ace’s Big Beat label. As well as the better known songs, it reveals gems — previously unknown to me — like “From a Distance” and “I Can’t Help But Wonder, Elizabeth”, which he released under the name Philip Sloan. There’s also an album in Ace’s songwriters series devoted to the songs of Sloan and Barri. It’s called You Baby and it features, among many other goodies, the Mamas and the Papas’ version of the title track. Sloan had played one of the two acoustic guitars on intro to their “California Dreamin'”: another decent claim to immortality.

* The photograph of P.F Sloan is from the cover of Here’s Where I Belong, released in 2008.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sales Timothy (Sussex Partnership Trust) #

    Dear Richard,

    There’s a nice clip on YouTube with PF Sloan popping up at a Rumer gig. You’re probably already aware. Thanks for your writing, always entertaining and enlightening.


    November 20, 2015
  2. I suppose when Bill Clinton dies someone will get a quote from Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr, but that wouldn’t be the direction I’d go.

    Phil did have some sort of forgiveness for Lou Adler recently, but not for inventing the tale of giving him the cap and the Dylan album which was b.s. and irked him. As far as Phil being so “serious” (according to Steve Barri) after he returned from his UK jaunt, perhaps having his high school sweetheart Julie stolen by Barri in his absence took the fun out of the relationship. That and Barri siding with the publisher and record company when Phil had his dispute, enriching himself and triggering Phil’s slide into depression and drugs.

    Phil was a beautiful soul who managed to salvage a life and career from those who savaged him. It was only in the 1990s when I introduced him to Jody (and Allen) Klein—who rattled the cages at Universal Music—that he started to get paid even a fraction of what he was owed, and that was in the mid90s. Even though he was unable to recover the millions that were stolen from him in the 60s and 70s, there were a few covers and TV commercials that allowed him to live with some sort of financial benefit from his music.

    November 20, 2015
  3. Trevor #

    An affectionate tribute. Thank you

    November 20, 2015
  4. PF was one of the frequent guests at the Sunset Sound Studio 2 vocal booth hotel.. one of many on the distinguished guest list of big names who have slept on that vocal booth floor from time to time with no other place to stay for one reason or another. i had many a fascinating conversation there with PF, who referred to his former record company as Dunghill; Lou Adler would occasionally give him a fiver, if PF hadn’t eaten lately. PF was convinced he’d been poisoned in the mental hospital, and that Dylan and the Reagan rightwingers had destroyed his career.
    i know he’s in a good place now …RIP P F !!

    November 21, 2015
  5. Phil Shaw #

    I love the video of PF shambling onstage in his cardy. A neat idea, even if it didn’t shake the feeling I had when I first heard Rumer’s version of the Jim Webb song that she hadn’t really connected with the lyric (Nixon, Rolling Stone and so on). There’s a stunning version of the song by Unicorn which came out in (I think) 1971 – almost certainly available on YouTube.

    November 21, 2015
  6. Much has been made of the Jimmy Webb song that bears his name but this was mostly an irritation to Phil. In fact, he was very annoyed with Jimmy Webb who he thought used him without acknowledging him in interviews in a good way. The song came out in the low point of his life, and he took it more as a negative than any kind of tribute. But Phil adored Rumer so much that her singing the song helped him appreciate it. It was fairly recently that he and Webb got together, got over the song and re-established any kind of friendship.

    November 21, 2015
  7. David C #

    PF Sloan performed at the Ponderosa Stomp in October, and was interviewed by Todd Abramson at the Conference the day before, where he came across as relaxed, amiable, and very amusing, with a somewhat wry humour. On Elvis, whom he blamed for a less than happy home life, he said ‘My mother and sister fell in love with Elvis and out of love with me. This man stole my family’. However, he did credit Elvis with teaching him to play guitar when as a twelve year old he met him in a store. He also said that Eve of Destruction, with its line about being old enough to kill but not for voting, changed the law on the minimum age for voting. Whether his stories were true or not, the twinkle in his eye said that he was enjoying telling them. He did not look like a man who would die in a matter of weeks.

    November 21, 2015
    • Some of his stories may seem far-fetched, but Phil was fetching from a very lofty perch. As for the disease that killed him, he was in excruciating stomach pain for a few weeks before the gig but refused to see a doctor because he didn’t want to blow the gig off. “What’s Exactly The Matter With Me” indeed. When you look at the arc of his life it’s quite a dramatic one, with peaks and valleys but he made sure he left on a peak.

      November 21, 2015
  8. @ZenPublisher #

    Always loved this version by Larry Coryell…

    November 23, 2015

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