Reissued late last year to great acclaim, Scott Fagan’s 1968 debut album South Atlantic Blues reintroduced the world to one of the great lost folk singers of the 1960s, and an extraordinary story to rival that of Rodriguez. Fagan, the father of Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, was mentored by legendary songwriter Doc Pomus, almost signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records and played on the same bill at the Cafe Au Go Go as a pre-fame Jimi Hendrix.
An epic song cycle about Fagan’s hard-scrabble life in the Virgin Islands, wrapped around an impassioned love story, South Atlantic Blues is driven by Fagan’s dense, allusive lyrics and experimental production that infuses his folk song stylings with R&B, jazz and Caribbean island rhythms. Front and centre on the record though 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”. The album’s iconic cover photo, a portrait of a twenty-year-old Fagan, was shot by legendary photographer, Joel Brodsky, who took the famous ‘Young Lion’ photos of Jim Morrison and also shot the cover of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks — released the same month as South Atlantic Blues.
That Scott Fagan never became a major star is mystifying. That even cult success eluded him is all the more surprising. His is a story of extraordinary talent and monumental potential confounded by a series of frustrating near-misses, all of which conspired to obscure him from the public eye for decades.