Don McLean ‘s grandfather and father were also named Donald McLean. The Buccis, the family of McLean’s mother, Elizabeth, came from Abruzzo in central Italy. They left Italy and settled in Port Chester, New York, at the end of the 19th century. He has other extended family in Los Angeles and Boston.
Though some of his early musical influences included Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holly, as a teenager, McLean became interested in folk music, particularly the Weavers’ 1955 recording At Carnegie Hall. Childhood asthma meant that McLean missed long periods of school, particularly music lessons, and although he slipped back in his studies, his love of music was allowed to flourish. By age 16 he had bought his first guitar and began making contacts in the music business, becoming friends with folk singers Erik Darling and Fred Hellerman, both members of the Weavers. Hellerman said, “He called me one day and said, ‘I’d like to come and visit you’, and that’s what he did! We became good friends – he has the most remarkable music memory of anyone I’ve ever known.”
When McLean was 15, his father died. Fulfilling his father’s request, McLean graduated from Iona Preparatory School in 1963, and briefly attended Villanova University, dropping out after four months. After leaving Villanova, McLean became associated with famed folk music agent Harold Leventhal for several months before teaming up with personal manager Herb Gart for 18 years. For the next six years he performed at venues and events including The Bitter End and Gaslight Cafe in New York, the Newport Folk Festival, the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C., and the Troubadour in Los Angeles. He attended night school at Iona College and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1968.
He turned down a scholarship to Columbia University Graduate School in favor of pursuing a career as