Cat Stevens

  • British singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist born Steven Georgiou in 1948 in London England. In 1977, he changed his name to Yusuf Islam after converting to Islam. He performs today using that name.
  • He played piano as a boy, and at 15, he acquired a guitar after listening to the Beatles. He did poorly in school in everything except art. After high school, he took art courses in a London Art School, and while there, he began to perform using the stage name Steve Adams. He became interested in songwriting, and 1965, he signed a publishing deal and recorded some demos, including the song The First Cut Is The Deepest. This song would become a hit for several artists – most famously, for Rod Stewart in 1976-1977 and Sheryl Crow in 2003.
  • In 1966, he began to perform in London pubs, adopting the stage name Cat Stevens, because Steven Georgiou didn’t sound right, and he thought that people loved animals in the UK and America. His music impressed a local music manager and producer, and Stevens signed a record deal.
  • His debut album was Matthew and Son, released in 1967. The title track reached #2 in the UK, and another single, I’m Gonna Get My Gun, reached #6. This led to high hopes for his next album, released later that same year. Titled New Masters, it did not chart in the UK or the U.S., and 2 singles from the record were disappointing. It included his version of The First Cut Is The Deepest.
  • In 1969, he contracted tuberculosis, and nearly died. During his recuperation, he began to look at life more spiritually, taking up yoga and meditation. As part of his spiritual awakening, he wrote many songs that he would record on future albums. He also evolved to a preference to folk music, away from music that was heavily orchestrated like his first 2 albums. After signing a new recording deal, he met with Alun Davies, a session musician with similar interests in folk rock music. For Stevens’ next album, Davies played guitar and sang harmonies, and Davies continued to collaborate with Stevens on most of his future albums.
  • His first folk album was 1970’s Mona Bone Jakon. It did not produce the breakthrough in the U.S. that he had hoped. That changed with his fourth album, also released in 1970 – Tea For The Tillerman. It was his first of 5 albums to go platinum – this one was 3x platinum, and contained his first hit in the U.S., Wild World, which reached #11 on the Hot 100. The album is #208 on Rolling Stones list of the Greatest Albums of All Time.
  • His follow-up album in 1971, Teaser and the Firecat, also was 3x platinum. The album reached #2 in the U.S. It contained 3 hits – Moonshadow was #30 on the Hot 100 chart, and Peace Train reached #7 on the Hot 100, and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The most popular song on the album was Morning Has Broken. The song is Christian hymn first published in 1931. The familiar piano arrangement on this classic was composed and performed by Rick Wakeman, keyboardist for the progressive rock band Yes.
  • Between 1972 and 1978, Stevens released 6 more albums, with Catch Bull at Four, Foreigner, and Buddha and the Chocolate Box all peaking in the top 5 of the album chart. He scored top 10 hits with Oh Very Young and Another Saturday Night. 
  • While on vacation in Morocco, Stevens was intrigued by the Islamic call to prayer, which he learned was “music for God.” In 1976, he nearly drowned, but was saved by a sudden wave that brought him to shore – Stevens said that this happened after shouting “Oh God, if you save me, I will work for you.” This intensified his quest for spirituality, and soon he was studying the Qur’an. He converted to the Muslim faith in 1977, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978.
  • He abandoned his music career for nearly 3 decades, though he was still earning over $1 million a year from his old music. He used his wealth on philanthropic causes in the Muslim community in London and elsewhere. From 1995 to 2008, as Yusuf Islam, he released 10 albums that focused on Islamic themes – some of these were children’s records, and some were simply spoken words.  In 2006, he released his first secular studio album since 1978, using the name Yusuf only. Two more albums were released in 2009 and 2014. In 2017, he released The Laughing Apple – this record reference both “Yusuf” and “Cat Stevens” as the artist.
  • Yusuf Islam has been awarded several humanitarian awards over the years, including the Man of Peace Award of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.  I remember his songs from the early 70s – unique sound, distinctively Cat Stevens. Here is a performance of Peace Train after his return to music – he performs the song at an event honoring Muhammad Yunus after Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. My favorite Cat Stevens song!

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