November 25, 1997
by Gary James
Philip (Flip) Sloan, P.F. Sloan as he is known the world over, certainly qualifies as one of rock's greatest songwriters. It was P.F. Sloan who wrote "Eve of Destruction" for Barry McGuire, "Secret Agent Man" for Johnny Rivers, "She's A Must To Avoid" for Herman's Hermits, "You Baby" for The Turtles, and "Where Were You When I Needed You" for The Grass Roots. Between 1965 and 1967, 150 of his songs were recorded, of which 45 made the charts. It could be said that the Top 40 would have been an empty place indeed without P.F. Sloan.
Often referred to as the "Pioneer of Folk Rock," many of today's top performers including Alanis Morisette, Joan Osborne, and Hootie and the Blowfish all credit Sloan as an influence on their career. The National Academy of Songwriters honored P.F. Sloan at its Fifth Annual Salute to the American Songwriter Concert held in Los Angeles. They acknowledged Sloan as a legend, and he received a standing ovation after performing a medley of his hits.
Paul Zpllo, the editor of Songtalk, wrote P.F. Sloan was "one of the most significant songwriters to ever match music with words." We're honored to present an interview with one of rock's best -- Mr. P.F. Sloan.
Q: How long did it take you to write "Eve of Destruction" and "You Baby"?
A: "Eve of Destruction" was originally written during one night with five other songs as well. "You Baby" was a song that I was working on since I was 13, and that came out when I was around 21 simply because it was an R&B riff. It was an R&B song.
Q: And "Secret Agent Man"?
A: A quick delivery.
Q: Did you ever tour with any of the groups you were writing songs for?
Q: So, you didn't do anything like the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars?
A: You gotta be kidding. No, that was a Turtle kind of trip. Those were neat tours. I didn't do any of that stuff. I was with The Byrds. I was with The Beatles. I was with The Stones. I was with The Spoonful, The Grass Roots, The Mamas and Papas, The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, you name it. I was in the studios working with everybody at the same time, writing songs for people and also playing guitars on all these albums. The time was really important. Going out on the road would be fine, but it would just take away from that.
Q: So, you were not really a performer, but more of a behind the scene guy?
A: Not necessarily. I had gone out with an original record in 1965 called "Sins of the Family, Fall on the Daughter." It was a successful record. I went out with Barry McGuire touring with that, and also The Grass Roots. That's basically the extent of it. I went out in the 70's and did some club dates.
Q: Was "Eve of Destruction" the song that brought you initial fame and acclaim?
A: It was originally the song that brought me into that sphere, yeah. It was also so awesome an experience that it literally sent me away from music. (Laughs)
Q: And what have you been doing with yourself these last 25 years?
A: I was living a quest really. I was living a quest of picking up the pieces of gold dust that had been spread around my early youth. A good part of that was seeking who I really was in the world and in reality. There was a very strong spiritual thrust that's been ongoing for a good number of years. There wasn't very much music in the sense that I wasn't recording music or singing or writing songs. I was just into world music, Indian music, and the likes.
Q: Not to be nosy, but how did you support yourself? Did you live off of your royalties?
A: There was some of that. But, it's basically been friends who have kept me afloat.
Q: Where do your song ideas come from? The daily news? What you hear in the street?
A: Not from the news per se, from inspiration.
Q: George Harrison said something like everybody can write songs, it's just that some songs become more popular than others. Would you agree?
A: I agree, yes. I agree that everybody writes songs because our lives are a song. There are those of us who maybe focus on writing it down. Whether some write songs that more people want to hear, no, I don't think that's it. I believe that everybody's life is a song and that everybody is writing the song of their lives.
Editor's note: Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.