Friday, April 14, 2017

David Peel, Downtown Singer and Marijuana Evangelist, Dies at 74

I met David in the Haight Ashbury during the dark year of 1968.  He was sort of the Abbie Hoffman of marijuana advocacy.  Out on the corner thumping a way on a beat up guitar singing in praise of pot.

From The New York Times:
David Peel, a longtime New York street musician whose song “I Like Marijuana” became a hippie anthem in the 1960s, and who collaborated with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early ’70s, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 74.

The cause was complications of a heart attack, said Joff Wilson, a friend who performed with Mr. Peel’s band, the Lower East Side.

Mr. Peel, an anarchist and marijuana evangelist, began performing in Washington Square Park in the late 1960s. He was equipped with three guitar chords, a screaming vocal style and an endless stream of punchy, provocative lyrics aimed at the Establishment in all its forms.

Danny Fields of Elektra Records, who later signed the Stooges and the Ramones, heard Mr. Peel and signed him to the label. Mr. Peel was recorded live in the park with a portable tape machine, singing “I Like Marijuana,” “Here Comes a Cop,” “Up Against the Wall” and other songs released in 1968 on the album “Have a Marijuana.”

“I Like Marijuana,” with its happy, insistent refrain — “I like marijuana, you like marijuana, we like marijuana too” — became his signature.

In 1971, Lennon and Ms. Ono stepped out of their limousine at the park, joined the audience being entertained by Mr. Peel and began singing along and clapping. Lennon signed Mr. Peel to Apple Records, the Beatles’ label, and produced his album “The Pope Smokes Dope.” Released in 1972, the record “might well be the first truly essential American album of the 1970s,” the music magazine Goldmine wrote in 2000.

“We loved his music, his spirit and his philosophy of the street,” Lennon said on “The David Frost Show” in 1971, performing with Mr. Peel and Ms. Ono. “That’s why we decided to make a record with him. People say, ‘Oh, Peel, he can’t sing and he can’t play.’ But David Peel is a natural, and some of his melodies are good.”

Mr. Peel soon went his own way. He started a label, Orange Records, and continued to play on the streets, assuming mythic status as the years went by and the counterculture faded from memory — although not from his. When the Occupy Wall Street movement arose in 2011, he turned up at the encampment in Zuccotti Park, guitar in hand and ready to play.

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