P.F. Sloan, a folk-rock musician of the 1960s whose two best-known songs — the apocalyptic protest anthem “Eve of Destruction” and the ominous TV-show theme song “Secret Agent Man” — became major hits for other performers, died Nov. 15 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 70.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his publicist, Sangeeta Haindl.
In a long but spotty career, Mr. Sloan was a songwriter, record producer and member in the 1960s of a Los Angeles recording-session coterie known as the Wrecking Crew. The Turtles, Herman’s Hermits, the Searchers and other groups recorded his compositions.
With frequent songwriting partner Steve Barri, he recorded surf music as the Fantastic Baggys. Mr. Sloan’s guitar work graced several recordings by the Mamas and the Papas including the introduction to “California Dreamin’ ” (1965).
Inspired by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other events, he wrote “Eve of Destruction.” He later said, “I was arguing with this voice that seemed to know the future of the world.”
Couplets such as “You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’/You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin’?” and “Think of all the hate there is in Red China/ Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama” distilled the era’s anxieties into a strident 3
Folk rockers the Byrds had already rejected the song when Barry McGuire, a former member of the folk group the New Christy Minstrels, recorded it. McGuire’s label, Dunhill, had so little faith in it that they released it as a B side. However, the 1965 recording beat Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” for the No.1 spot on the Billboard pop charts.
Conservatives objected to the lyrics, even as many liberals considered it a cheap attempt to capitalize on the anti-war movement. In England, the BBC banned it, as did several U.S. radio stations. And a group named the Spokesmen immediately recorded a conservative rebuttal, “The Dawn of Correction.”
“Secret Agent Man,” which Mr. Sloan and Barri co-wrote for singer Johnny Rivers, became the theme to the English spy show “Secret Agent” starring Patrick McGoohan (the program was originally called “Danger Man” in England). Mr. Sloan’s simple guitar hook on Rivers’s 1966 recording made it a standard for fledgling garage bands.
He also produced the Grass Roots, one of the era’s most successful folk-rock groups. The act began as an avenue for Mr. Sloan and Barri to record their songs. Their first recording, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” featured Mr. Sloan as a vocalist. However, Dunhill insisted that they find a “real group,” since Mr. Sloan and Barri were too valuable to the label as a production and songwriting team. A Los Angeles band, the 13th Floor, was hired to tour and later record as the Grass Roots.
Mr. Sloan also recorded two albums of his own, “Songs of Our Times” and “Twelve More Times,” but Dunhill did little to promote them. The single from the first, “The Sins of the Family” (1965), a song about teen prostitution and dysfunctional families, reached No. 87 on the charts.
Feeling disenchanted with Dunhill and its unwillingness to push him as a concert performer, Mr. Sloan gave up his songwriting royalties so he could get out of his contract. His later albums barely sold. Then illness caused him to stop performing.
“Around ’72, I literally collapsed inwardly and physically,” Mr. Sloan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, a blood illness that zaps you of all your energy. I was depressed. Nobody knew what to do.”
He added: “I received a dream around 1986 from a holy man in India. I didn’t know who he was. My Judaism was not giving me the answers I was looking for.”
In India, he briefly joined an ashram and claimed to have lived on a diet of papaya juice.
His disappearance from public view prompted fellow songwriter Jimmy Webb to write the song “P.F. Sloan” with its line, “I have been seeking P.F. Sloan but no one knows where he has gone.”
Philip Gary Schlein was born in New York City on Sept. 18, 1945. His father, a Jewish Romanian immigrant and pharmacist, moved the family to West Hollywood in 1957 and changed their surname to Sloan.
At 12, Mr. Sloan said, he was inspired to pursue a music career after getting an impromptu guitar lesson on the song “Love Me Tender” from Elvis Presley when he met the entertainer at a Hollywood music store.
The youngster was soon recording as Flip Sloan for Aladdin Records and, at 16, landed a job as a staff songwriter at Screen Gems, the production company and music publishing house.
The publicist said Mr. Sloan never married and had no immediate survivors.
In recent decades, he reemerged sporadically to record and perform. A 2006 album, “Sailover,” featured guests such as singers Frank Black of the Pixies and Lucinda Williams and included a remake of “Eve of Destruction.”
“It really feels good to be back, especially meeting people,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a very small world that I live in — very small, very small, very enclosed — so getting out and talking with people and exchanging ideas and finding out what other people are doing, feeling and thinking is very nice.”
Last year, he collaborated with S.E. Feinberg on a memoir, “What’s Exactly the Matter With Me?”