Muslims in Classic Rock

Classic rock is also diverse as far as religious beliefs go. Not everyone in classic rock is Christian or non-religious. This post will talk about the most famous Muslim rock stars: Yusuf Islam, Richard Thompson, and (most of the members of) The Action/Mighty Baby.

Note: This is being reposted because of a glitch that the mobile version of WordPress made regarding the date stamp. I didn’t make this post a month ago. I also like my blog to be organised. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens): Born 21 July 1948 in London to immigrant parents. His father was Greek Cypriot and his mother was Swedish. He was raised Greek Orthodox, but converted to Islam in the 70s. He played the piano ever since he was a kid.

Two of his inspirations were The Beatles and musicals such as West Side Story. His best subject in school was art. Other musicians he liked included The Kinks, Muddy Waters, and Paul Simon.

He picked his stage name because he wanted a name that would roll off the tongue better than his birth name of Steven Georgiou. Cat came from a girlfriend saying he had eyes like a cat.

At 17 he got a deal as a songwriter with a publishing company and then got a record deal at the age of 18. His career started off with him being a teen idol in the late 60s. With the late 60s pop scene, Cat Stevens was drinking, partying, and not living a very healthy lifestyle and ended up getting very sick with tuberculosis, nearly costing him his life. This would not be the only time he was close to dying. In the 70s, he nearly drowned after swimming at a beach. He believed that it was divine intervention that saved his life, as a wave pushed him to shore after he prayed. He dedicated his life to honouring God. He converted to Islam in 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam and stopped recording secular pop music.

As far as his music, he released his first album, Matthew & Son in 1967. Three singles were released from that album and the two most successful were his second and third singles released, “Matthew & Son” and “I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun”.

Right around that time, two of his songs were recorded by other musicians, “Here Comes My Baby” is one of his best known songs and was in the soundtrack for the Wes Anderson movie Rushmore. A version of this song by The Tremoloes was a bigger success than the original, charting at number 4 in the UK. “The First Cut Is The Deepest” was also from 1967 and originally written and recorded by Cat Stevens, but many notable covers of this song were made by PP Arnold, Keith Hampshire, and Rod Stewart. Rod Stewart’s version was a chart topper in 1977 for 4 weeks. Keith Hampshire’s version was number one in Canada. Other well known singles are “Father and Son”, “Wild World”, “Moonshadow”, “Peace Train”, and “Another Saturday Night”. In more recent years he has worked with Klaus Voormann, Paul McCartney, and Dolly Parton.

If you want to read more about Yusuf Islam and his faith and his conversion to Islam, here’s an interview. 

Richard Thompson: He was born in London on 3 April 1949. His father was Scottish and got him into jazz music, such as the music of Django Reinhardt. He joined the band Fairport Convention when he was 18. Fairport Convention played folk music, but also played some Irish, Scottish, and English traditional music (Liege & Lief has a lot of covers of traditional songs).

The band covered a lot of Bob Dylan songs. He was with Fairport Convention until 1971 and wrote some songs for the band. He released his first solo album in 1972 and worked with a few band members from Fairport Convention on it like Sandy Denny and Ashley Hutchings. He also recorded music with his wife at the time, Linda Thompson. Richard Thompson got into Sufi Islam in 1974. Some say that the members of Mighty Baby introduced him to the religion. In an interview with Bomb Magazine, he said he was familiar with the band members and worked with them on a Gary Farr record and a few of the band members worked with Sandy Denny. He had an interest in what the members of Mighty Baby were getting into. In the 70s he lived in Sufi communes, taking a break from music for a time. He also recorded some Eastern instrumental music. Richard Thompson is still Muslim.

 

The Action/Mighty Baby: The Action were formed in 1963 in Kentish Town, London. They were a mod band that were inspired by American soul music. Other influences of the band members later on include country rock (you’ll hear it on the Mighty Baby song “I’m From The Country”), jazz, and psychedelic rock.

Some famous fans of the band include Phil Collins and Paul Weller. They released their first single as The Action in 1965, “Land of One Thousand Dances”. Their next single in 1966 was a Motown cover of “I’ll Keep Holding On”. In 1968 they did a cover of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle. Other songs I recommend of theirs are “Brain”, “Come Around”, “Climbing Up The Wall”, and “Something to Say”. The Action opened for The Byrds.

The Action broke up in 1969 with Reg King leaving the band. Most of the members formed the psychedelic rock band Mighty Baby. The members of Mighty Baby were Alan “Bam” King, Martin Stone, Ian Whiteman, Mike “Ace” Evans, and Roger Powell.

Mighty Baby released two albums, a self titled debut from 1969 and A Jug of Love from 1971. Their self titled debut also includes some tracks by The Action. The band played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Mighty Baby were known as “The English Grateful Dead”.

All of the members except for Alan “Bam” King converted to Islam (Sufi order) in 1970. According to Martin Stone, the rest of the members who converted are still Muslim, while he no longer is Muslim. I recommend the songs “Egyptian Tomb”, “Same Way From The Sun”, “House Without Windows”, and “Trials of A City”.

As well as working with The Action and Mighty Baby, Ian Whiteman, Mike Evans, and Roger Powell worked on an album by The Habibiyya called If Man But Knew. This album was inspired by a holiday in Morocco that was a spiritual revelation to them. They also toured with Richard Thompson in 1977.

Here’s a link to an interview with Martin Stone that will tell you more about The Action and Mighty Baby.

Here’s a link to an interview with Mike Evans.

John “Twink” Alder (now known as Mohammed Abdullah): John Alder, also known as Twink was born in Colchester, Essex in 1944. In 1965, he moved to London and joined The In-Crowd, which had Yes’s Steve Howe on guitar.

The In-Crowd soon became Tomorrow. Tomorrow only released one album in the 60s. In my opinion, the album is absolutely worth listening to and has some great songs like “My White Bicycle” and “Revolution” (no relation to The Beatles song), but my favourite one on the album is “Real Life Permanent Dream”. There’s also a cover of “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the album.

Around this time, Twink was in a blues group called Santa Barbera Machine Head. Other members of this group include Jon Lord of Deep Purple; Ron Wood of The Faces and The Rolling Stones; and Kim Gardner of Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke.

Tomorrow were short lived and Twink’s next project, The Aquarian Age, was even shorter-lived, releasing only one single, “10,000 Words in a Cardboard Box”/”Good Wizzard Meets Naughty Wizzard”.

The next band Twink joined were The Pretty Things and he played on their most famous album, SF Sorrow, a concept album that tells the story of a WWI veteran by the name of Sebastian F. Sorrow who had an ordinary upbringing at the turn of the turn of the 20th century until he’s forced to get a job at the appropriately named Misery Factory, the beginnings of a sad life for the man. A pretty girl in his neighbourhood is his only hope and what keeps him going, he proposes to her, but is forced to delay the wedding because he was drafted. Some time later, he moves to America and his wife is to join him, but dies in an incident reminiscent of the Hindenburg disaster. The only thing that gave him joy is gone, and he lives the rest of his life depressed and lonely, hiding from the world. You can hear some proto-metal on the track “Old Man Going”.

While the album was brilliant artistically, it didn’t do well commercially because of its depressing storyline. 1968 was a depressing year generally with assassinations and the Vietnam War, so my guess is that people wanted to listen to happier music to distract themselves. On top of that, it was a hard album to play live. Twink did not stay with The Pretty Things for long and was on one more album with them that was released 40 years after it was recorded.

In 1970, he recorded his first solo album, Think Pink. Steve Peregrin Took of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Mick Farren of The Deviants contributed to the album. It’s another psychedelic album with some Indian influences and futuristic space-age sounds. There’s a remake of one of his Aquarian Age songs, with better production. My favourite songs on the album are “Tiptoe on the Highest Hill”, “Mexican Grass War”, “Rock An’ Roll The Joint”, “Suicide”, and “The Sparrow is a Sign”.

After this album, Twink formed a band called The Pink Fairies, playing on only one of their albums, Never Never Land, released in 1971. The sound on the album is generally harder and edgier than previous works by Twink. My favourite songs on the album are “Heavenly Man”, “Say You Love Me”, “War Girl”, “Never Never Land”, “Teenage Rebel”, and “The Snake”.

After The Pink Fairies, Twink was in a band called Stars with Syd Barrett, only playing a few shows. Syd Barrett quit because of negative reviews and the band broke up. Between 1972 and 1975, Twink played with Hawkwind occasionally. In July 1975, Twink played a once off reunion concert with The Pink Fairies.

Not just a psychedelic musician, Twink tried his hand at punk in 1977, releasing a single with The Rings called “I Wanna Be Free”.

Twink described his late 70s as Acid Punk and released some songs, one of them, “Psychedelic Punkeroo”, a tribute to Syd Barrett. He moved to Belgium in 1978 and played drums on an Elton Motello album.

In the first half of the 80s, Twink wasn’t active. Finally in 1986, he started his own record label and released some solo work. Between then and now he moved around a bit, living in California and Morocco (he briefly lived there in the early 70s). In the 2000s, he converted to Islam and changed his name from John Alder to Mohammed Abdullah.

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