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. He 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.

Here’s a couple of videos of early Fairport Convention:

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.