Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’ 1969 Martin headed to auction

Acoustic guitar used to write & record hit joins original lyrics at auction

Julien’s Auctions has announced an additional marquee item to day one of its Icons & Idols: Rock ‘N’ Roll auction, happening November 11-13th at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York. The 1969 Martin 00-21 acoustic guitar Don McLean used to write and record “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” will be publicly sold for the first time at day one of the massive rock auction that also includes McLean’s original lyrics of the song estimated to fetch $1 million dollars.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Don McLean Foundation, which contributes funds to underserved college students, homeless shelters, and food banks in the state of Maine and throughout the country and “Kicking The Stigma,” the Indianapolis Colts and the Jim Irsay family’s national initiative to raise awareness about mental health disorders and to remove the stigma too often associated with these illnesses.

“Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” an emotional tribute to the artist Vincent Van Gogh, and the second single off of McLean’s seminal Grammy-nominated album American Pie charted in the US and the UK and ranked Billboard’s Top 100 songs for the year. McLean purchased two Martin 00-21s as a result of a musical encounter with prominent blues musician Josh White who played the same model guitar and retrofitted this one with new Schaller tuners to make it easier to tune on stage. This guitar, along with his beloved Martin D-28 and his Vega banjo, would make up his “first family of instruments” as McLean stated in the 2012 documentary about his life and career, American Troubadour. The 1969 Martin 00-21 can be seen in photographs of McLean with this musical “family,” relaxing and working in his residence in Cold Springs, NY.

As a singer-songwriter hailing from the folk revival movement, McLean has often spoken about the importance of the guitar in his creative process. During a conversation with Norm of Norman’s Rare Guitars in Southern California, he stated: “The guitar has been the way I’ve written a lot of songs, like a song like ‘And I Love You So’… And even ‘Vincent’ was really off the guitar.”

Along with “American Pie,” “Vincent” is one of McLean’s most beloved works and was written before his eight-and-a-half-minute magnum opus. McLean was inspired to write the song after reading a book about the close relationship Van Gogh had with his brother Theo and the pair’s shared mental health struggles. While Van Gogh’s mental health has been the subject of much speculation and sensationalism, McLean wanted to approach the subject from a less clinical and more humanizing perspective.

This 1969 Martin 00-21 was the primary instrument used for the conceptualization and recording of McLean’s other songs, including “Til Tomorrow,” “Winterwood,” “Sister Fatima,” “The Grave” and “Empty Chairs,” the song that inspired Lori Lieberman’s “Killing Me Softly,” later a smash hit recorded by Roberta Flack and the highly successful cover version by The Fugees. In 1971, young songwriter Lieberman went out to see McLean perform at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and was immediately moved by his music. The lyrics, then, describe McLean performing the song he’d conceived of and recorded with the 1969 Martin 00-21: “I heard he sang a good song / I heard he had a style / And so I came to see him / To listen for a while / And there he was this young boy / A stranger to my eyes / Strumming my pain with his fingers / Singing my life with his words / Killing me softly with his song…”

McLean used this particular guitar exclusively on stage from 1969-1971, concluding when he gave it to a friend’s son (who retained the guitar until recently). McLean also used the 1969 Martin 00-21 for live performances of “Vincent,” including one at Columbia University in 1971. McLean’s gentle fingerstyle playing serves as the foundation for the song’s nuanced examination of Van Gog where he would often perform it with only the guitar as accompaniment. The instrument can also be seen being held and played by a homeless man as McLean looks on, a moment that was captured during a photo shoot with photographer George Whiteman who shot McLean for the iconic cover of American Pie.

Fans can also have a chance to view this guitar as well as other historic rock’n’roll artifacts at Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square New York from November 7-13, before the auction.

The three day event will see over 1,500 spectacular instruments, artifacts and memorabilia owned and used by some of the world’s greatest music artists and legends be auctioned. Items from Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Prince, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Eddie Van Halen, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Madonna, The Cure, LL Cool J, Guns N’ Roses, Lady Gaga, David Gilmour, Gene Simmons, Meat Loaf, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Nikki Sixx, Daft Punk and more will be offered.

Items from the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concerts in London and Los Angeles will also be featured. A charity auction featuring guitars, cymbals, drumheads, and a one-of-one custom 2022 Ram Rebel Crew Cab pickup truck with unique badging, all signed by some of the most popular and respected artists in musical history, all of whom participated in the all-star concerts honoring the life and memory of Foo Fighters legend Taylor Hawkins, will be available during the event as well.

Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com

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