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INDIANAPOLIS--When “American Pie was released in 1971, it became an unlikely hit. It was over eight minutes long, and some radio stations only played the first half of the song, which was the “A” side of the single. For McLean, who celebrates 50 years on “American Pie” at Clowes Hall on the campus Butler University, May 1, the song was a kind of victory.

“It was a long time percolating because I wanted to write a big song about America and I had been thinking about the Buddy Holly tragedy for many years. It was something that had haunted me,” said McLean, in an interview from his house in California, where he spent the entirety of pandemic lockdowns.

LISTEN: Don McLean speaks with WIBC about “American Pie” and the pandemic.

McLean had been writing and performing for several years and had recorded an album called “Tapestry” (not the Carole King number), but that was on a small record label that had no money. When he switched to RCA and recorded “American Pie”, the company helped change his fortune.

“They put money behind the record. That started the ball rolling,” he said.

Though he is asked often about the meaning of the record, decades after first discussing it, McLean is still generous with the story. But, you can learn about its writing and meaning in an upcoming documentary.

McLean, 76, says he was glad to have a break from 50 years of touring during the pandemic, but is also glad to be going back out next year, with an itinerary that begins in Hawaii.

“What bothers me is to see all the people that want to bring me and present me in their halls and their theaters have to reschedule and move things around. You know it’s very tough on all these venues.”

He said he knows that it’s possible that some of his shows next year could be moved or canceled, but it’s also very important to be able to support the venues, like the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where he performs Feb. 3, the “day the music died”.

“You have to have people coming. You have to have activity. Otherwise these places seize right up,” he said. “But, I think we are developing coping mechanisms to be able to handle this pandemic.”

McLean is now used to playing venues of all sizes, but says he truly enjoys festivals, like Glastonbury, which he played in 2014.

“People at these shows come to hear the music and that’s why they’re so wonderful,” he said. “In the festivals the kids are all there and they have a wonderful time hearing different artists and you could probably go solo and they wouldn’t mind either,” he said.

McLean was a solo act, with just a guitar through his most popular times, determined to make a go of it like a troubadour, his hero being folk singer Pete Seeger. That has changed and when McLean comes to Indiana in May, it will be with a full band. You’ll hear “American Pie”; “Vincent”; “Castles in the Air” and all of McLean’s hits and popular cuts from his entire catalogue, which will be expanded with an album freshly recorded called “Still Playin’ Favorites”, and his YouTube channel. McLean said he spent much of the pandemic uodating it with 173 tracks, 11 albums worth.