Ignored Obscured Restored
In 1968, an album called South Atlantic Blues was released on Atco Records by an artist named Scott Fagan. Hardly anyone heard it, though it deserved a listen then as it still does today.
Fagan has the type of backstory that lends credence to the Mark Twain quote “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Born in the US, Fagan was taken to live in the Caribbean by his free-spirited mom – along with her other children, her twin sister, and her boyfriend. But over time, things in their little “commune” turned bad. The boyfriend and aunt left, and Fagan’s mom began to abuse alcohol and enter destructive relationships. (She was married seven times, mostly to alcoholics.)
In 1964, Fagan left the Caribbean and moved to New York. There he looked up one of his songwriting idols, Doc Pomus. (Working with Mort Shuman, Pomus co-wrote several Elvis Presley hits including “Little Sister,” Viva Las Vegas,” “Suspicion” and others.) Pomus was impressed that the young Fagan was able to find him in NY and was even more taken with his songwriting, voice, and good looks. Pomus signed him and took him under his wing. Pomus, Shuman, and Fagan started to work together and came up with “I’m Gonna Cry Til My Tears Run Dry” which was a hit for Irma Thomas, and later covered by Linda Ronstadt. Fagan also played on the same bill at New York’s Cafe Au Go Go with Jimmy James (aka Jimi Hendrix).
So, what went wrong? Well, pretty much everything. First was the record deal. He had a shot at being the first non-Beatles release on Apple Records but got beat out by James Taylor. He was signed by Jerry Schoenbaum to make the album for Atco. But soon after the signing, Schoenbaum quit the label, leaving Fagan without anyone to champion him there.
So the album sank without the benefit of promotion, which is really a shame because it contains some excellent music. Take, for instance, “In My Head.”
On the blog Rockasteria, Ryan Prado writes of “In My Head”:
Fagan’s conscious vocals command attention, ruminating on the hazy inner dialogue of someone coming into his own not just as an artist, but as a man. Fagan sings, “The city street show cracks like a star so I wonder/why is it so strange to rearrange the clouds over and under myself?/and I have always seen the sea as secret lover/but does she want the sky instead?/Oh no; it’s something in my head.” String flourishes and tasteful guitars accentuate the propulsion of what sounds more Motown than sacred psych-folk (as this release is widely incorrectly ballyhooed as), which is one of the first indicators of the album’s otherness. Fagan’s powerful vocal takes are the next.
Another odd twist to this story occurred in 2000, when Stephin Merritt, of the Magnetic Fields, was being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air and mentioned that his father was Scott Fagan. One of Fagan’s ex-wives heard the interview and alerted him to Merritt’s claim. Fagan tracked him down and it turned out to be true. The men finally met for the first time in 2012.
This story does once again prove Twain to be correct!
Enjoy… until next week.