Updated 18 September 2016
It’s good to hear that Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, has returned to the blues influences he absorbed during his London youth, with his latest album, “Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone”.

The son of a Greek restaurateur and Swedish mother, Cat, or as he’s now billed, Cat Stevens/Yusuf, grew up near the subject of my last post, the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End. His name then was Steven Georgiou. It was the early 1960s and all around were the influences of now legendary London-based blues-rock acts of the like of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, the Pretty Things, Rolling Stones and Kinks.

Age catches up with all of us. Cat Stevens now (left) and then (right)

 

Cat Stevens, though, chose a more gentle style, having success in the 1960s with “I Love My Dog”, “Matthew and Son and “I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun”. Cat’s “Here Comes My Baby” was also a hit in 1967 for the Tremeloes, on both sides of the Atlantic. For me, though, Stevens’ greatest-ever composition was another song released in 1967, the classic “First Cut Is The Deepest”, made famous by Rod Stewart, and covered by a host of others.
The legendary bluesman Charlie Musselwhite features on Cat’s latest album
In the 1970s, Cat Stevens had even greater success with enormous global hits like “Morning Has Broken”; “Wild World” so successfully covered by Jimmy Cliff; “Moonshadow”; “(Remember The Days of) The Old School Yard” and “Peace Train”. His record, “Catch Bull At Four” was
Billboard’s number one album for three consecutive weeks in the USA in 1972 and albums like “Tea For The Tillerman” and “Teaser and the Firecat” also went triple platinum.
Even so, Cat always included amongst his influences the like of Lead Belly, Muddy Waters and Nina Simone. Now, as they say, the Cat has gone back to his roots, with a blues-inspired album recorded by renowned American producer, Rick Ruben, perhaps better known for founding Def Jam Records.

Featured on the album are renowned electric blues harp-player Charlie Musselwhite, the eclectic former Fairport Convention guitarist, Richard Thompson who I guarantee plays a mean blues guitar, and desert blues ensemble, Tinariwen*, from Mali.

(*You might be interested in my post of 15 July 2013, “Is this where blues really started?” You can find it in my archives.)

Tracks on Cat’s new album include covers of Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, Edgar Winter’s “Dying To Live” and an unexpected bluesy version of the old 1933 number, “You Are My Sunshine”, first recorded by Atlanta’s Pine Ridge Boys in 1939. Now 66, Cat Stevens was said to have found Islam after getting into trouble in the sea off Malibu on the Los Angeles coast in 1977. He was dabbling in the religion at the time and pleaded, “Oh God. If you save me, I will work for you”.

Guitarist extraordinaire, Richard Thompson, also on Cat’s album

 

Llandudno beach, Cape Town, where I only saved myself  by swimming
towards the rocks – centre right of photograph
I had a similar experience myself off the African coast in 1973, except for the God bit. Swimming in a deserted bay that I had absolutely no idea was highly dangerous (there were no warning signs in those days), I was swept way out to sea by the icy Atlantic surf. It was so cold you only survived ten minutes, said the locals. I waved in desperation to my wife and her sister sitting on the beach, who waved happily back. I’m done here, I thought. My best option was to swim towards sharp rocky cliffs, and hope I’d survive the battering.
Calling to God didn’t occur to a heathen like me but as luck would have it, as I neared the rocks, I was swept from danger and back to the safety of the distant beach. I’ve since learnt that’s how sea currents behave.
Cat’s latest album harks back to his blues roots
But, I digress. Cat Stevens became a Muslim in 1977 and was denied entry into the USA in 2004, after flying there to meet Dolly Parton, who was planning to record his “Peace Train”. Cat believes this was a case of mistaken identity; and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam was allowed back into America in 2006.
He’s now dropped the Islam and become simply Cat Stevens/Yusuf.

“Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone” was released at the end of October 2014 followed by a UK and European tour. Cat Stevens/Yusef then hit the USA in December 2014 for his first series of performances in America since 1976.

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