Harry Chapin

  • Born in Brooklyn NY, 1942. Died in 1981 in an automobile accident.
  • Chapin originally planned to be a documentary film maker. In 1968, he directed a documentary, Legendary Champions, that was nominated for an Academy award.
  • By 1971, he decided to focus on music, playing New York City nightclubs with backing musicians. His manager also was the manager for his brothers, Tom and Steve Chapin. They leased the Village Gate, a club in Greenwich Village, and Harry was the opening act. For the first show, there were 4 musicians on stage – and 3 people in the audience.
  • His folk-style of music and storytelling approach to writing caught the attention of Elektra Records, and he signed a nine-album deal with them, that included free studio time. This saved Chapin hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it became a precedent in future recording contracts for other artists.
  • His first album, released in 1972, was Heads & Tails, and included the single Taxi. Taxi hit #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and it became a defining song for Chapin as a writer of stories, not just songs.
  • Chapin had one #1 hit – Cats In The Cradle. The song is based on a poem written by his wife Sandy about her first husband’s relationship with his father. When Harry’s son Josh was born, he put the words to music. The song was nominated for a Grammy in 1975, and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011. The band Ugly Kid Joe did a cover of the song in 1992, and their version peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Johnny Cash also covered the song in 1989.
  • He released 10 studio albums (the last was released 7 years after his death) and 2 live albums.
  • Chapin was a social activist, with a keen interest in the issue of hunger in America. He co-founded the organization World Hunger Year, and he contributed financially and personally to the cause to combat hunger. More than half of his concerts were benefits. I attended a concert in 1980, where after the show, he met with fans, cup in hand, asking for donations that would be given to a local food bank.
  • Harry was one of my favorite performers while in high school and college. I remember hearing about his death – I felt like I had lost a friend. His “story songs” made him seem much more real than other rock stars. Harry’s final album before his death included a song called Sequel, which was a “where are they now” update to Taxi. He performed the songs consecutively during his last concert tour. Here’s a video of the songs, from 1980.

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