2017-04-10 03:42:24 UTC
David Peel, Downtown Singer and Marijuana Evangelist, Dies at 74
By WILLIAM GRIMES
APRIL 9, 2017
[PHOTO CAPTION] David Peel with a poster in front of John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce in New York in June 1984. Yoko Ono donated 123 of Lennon’s personal items to be auctioned with the proceeds going to a foundation to benefit children suffering from the plight of war or poverty. Credit Frankie Ziths/Associated Press
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.”
David Peel Sang Once for Lennon, Now for Occupy Wall Street APRIL 27, 2012
“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.
He wrote two songs for the cause, “Up Against the Wall Street” and “Mic Check, No Check.” He told a reporter for The New York Times that he planned to carry on until “the day I drop dead and go to rock ’n’ roll heaven.”
[PHOTO CAPTION] Long a counterculture fixture in the streets of Manhattan, David Peel became a regular at Occupy Wall Street events/
Peel — a reference to banana peel, once thought to induce a marijuana-like high — was not his name. He was born David Michael Rosario. According to his F.B.I. file, he was born on Aug. 3, 1942, in Manhattan to Puerto Rican parents. His father, Angel Perez, was a restaurant worker; his mother, Esther Rosario, was a homemaker.
He leaves no known survivors.
Mr. Peel grew up in Midwood, Brooklyn, and served two years in the Army, which stationed him in Alaska. A fellow serviceman from New York excited him with tales of the developing folk scene in Greenwich Village, and after completing his military service he made his way to the neighborhood.
He could play the harmonica, and after learning a few basic chords on the guitar he was off and running.
I loved playing music, and I saw all the musicians standing there in Washington Square Park,” he told Goldmine in 2000. “I got involved and had a great time with the older people, playing all those oldies, from camp songs to calypso. And that’s where I began.”
The somewhat mysterious album title “Have a Marijuana” intentionally repeated an error in a Time magazine article in April 1968 about a large Yippie demonstration at Grand Central Terminal, where a police officer had spotted Mr. Peel and asked him to sing a few songs to keep the crowd happy.
“They poured into the vast main concourse of Manhattan’s Grand Central Station 3,000 strong, wearing their customary capes, gowns, feathers and beads,” the magazine wrote. “They tossed hot cross buns and firecrackers, and floated balloons up toward the celestial blue ceiling. They hummed the cosmic ‘Ommm,’ snake-danced to the tune of ‘Have a Marijuana,’ and proudly unfurled a huge banner emblazoned with a lazy ‘Y.’ ”
Mr. Peel recorded a second album for Elektra, “The American Revolution,” released in 1970. After befriending Lennon and Ms. Ono, he often appeared with them at political rallies and concerts.
During the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972, the F.B.I., on Lennon’s trail and eager to deport him, printed fliers for its agents with a description of Lennon, should he turn up. The face in the accompanying photograph, however, was Mr. Peel’s, with a cartoon bubble surrounding the words “The Pope Smokes Dope.” Someone had mistakenly used a publicity photograph from the album.
[PHOTO CAPTION] David Peel performing in Union Square Park in 2012. Credit Marcus Yam for The New York Times
Mr. Peel recorded steadily. His album “Santa Claus Rooftop Junkie,” released in 1974, was followed by many others, including “King of Punk” (1978), “John Lennon for President” (1980), “John Lennon Forever” (1987) and “Marijuana Christmas” (2008). With Wayne Kramer, the guitarist for the politically radical group the MC5, he recorded “1984” (1984) and “War and Anarchy” (1994). In 1995, the British group Technohead sampled “I Like Marijuana” for “I Wanna Be a Hippy,” a song that made the Top 10 in Europe — new territory for Mr. Peel.
His final album, released in 2015, reflected his immutable worldview. It was titled “Give Hemp a Chance.”
A version of this article appears in print on April 10, 2017, on Page D7 of the New York edition with the headline: David Peel, 74, Singer and Pot Evangelist