That singer-songwriter Scott Fagan never became a major star is mystifying. That even cult success eluded him is all the more surprising. A teenage prodigy, mentored and managed by songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman in the Brill Building, who almost became the first artist signed to Apple Records, and later to compose the first rock musical to open on Broadway, Fagan’s story is one of extraordinary talent and monumental potential confounded by a series of frustrating near-misses, all of which conspired to obscure him and his remarkable catalogue of songs from the public eye for decades. Yet in recent years, South Atlantic Blues, his bewitching 1968 debut album for Atco, has been recognised as a genuine lost classic—a mystical, mythical, and deeply soulful folk-rock masterpiece.
An epic song cycle about Fagan’s hard-scrabble upbringing in the Virgin Islands, wrapped around an impassioned love story, South Atlantic Blues is driven by Fagan’s dense, allusive lyrics and an experimental production that infuses his folk song stylings with R&B, jazz, and Caribbean island rhythms. Front and centre on the record is Fagan’s remarkable voice, rich with emotion and longing, which has been described as “somewhere between Scott Walker, Tim Hardin, early Bowie and Donovan”.
Hampered by record company politics, South Atlantic Blues originally landed with a thud, but became so beloved by pop artist Jasper Johns that he rendered his copy into a 1970 lithograph artwork, entitled Scott Fagan Record, publicly unveiled at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Fagan followed up South Atlantic Blues by writing (with songwriting partner Joe Kookoolis) an ambitious 1971 rock musical, Soon. Produced by Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Bruce Stark, the musical featured Fagan in the lead role, alongside an unknown young actor called Richard Gere, and a female chorus that included Vicki Sue Robinson (then Scott’s girlfriend, later a huge disco star). Soon is a radical call-to-arms against the complacency of the modern world; a tone poem in 36 songs about art, passion, commerce, and corruption.
In 1976, now signed to RCA, Fagan released Many Sunny Places, a joyous collection of calypso-inflected blue-eyed soul produced by Warren Schatz. Following that, Fagan spent many years in a music industry hinterland, continuing to write and record songs, including two charming albums written for his children—Sandy, the Blue-Nosed Reindeer and The Great Seahorse—but with nowhere to place them.
In 1999, Fagan became aware that his musical talent had borne unexpected fruit, when he discovered that he was the biological father of songwriter Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. The song cycle begun anew, the torch passed from father to son, it’s now time for Scott Fagan to step out of the shadows and let the world hear the work of this extraordinary and unique artist.