Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Ricky Gervais, and more recall Yusuf/Cat Stevens on his 75th birthday

The singer-songwriter's career has spanned over 50 years

On Yusuf/Cat Stevens 75th birthday, see what Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Ricky Gervais and others have recalled of his music. Check it out exclusively on NME below.

The legendary musician first found fame with his debut album ‘Matthew And Son’ when he was just 18 in 1967, before releasing the likes of ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’, ‘Father And Son’, ‘Morning Has Broken’, ‘Peace Train’ and ‘Wild World’. He has had a career that has spanned over 50 years, with his latest album being 2023’s ‘King Of A Land’.

Marking his 75th birthday today, the icon told his fans: “Thanks to the One who gave us life after our lifeless non-existence – to You is the Journeying.”

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To help celebrate, various artists and fellow musicians took the time to recall the importance of both Stevens’ music and himself as a person with these exclusive comments to NME:

Sir Paul McCartney

“It was wonderful to hang out with Cat in the ’60s.  We had some fun experiences together and I have always admired his music.  It was a great pleasure to meet his wife and children in latter years and see how happy they all are as a family. From Cat to Yusuf he is a great singer and song writer and easy to admire.”

Dolly Parton

“I have loved Cat Stevens from the first time I heard his voice, heard him play the guitar, and heard his wonderful, touching, deep lyrics.  I also thought he was the most beautiful and mysterious man I had ever seen.  I loved how his music touched my very soul…and still does. ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ is still my favorite album ever. I have recorded his ‘Peace Train’, one of the greatest songs ever written. I was also blessed to have him sing a duet with me on ‘Where Do The Children Play’, another one of my all time favorites.  And I was proud to get to sing with him on his ‘Boots and Sand’ album. I love his music, but I also love his good heart and soul.”

Cat Stevens, later Yusuf Islam, 25th May 1972. Credit: Michael Putland/Getty
Cat Stevens, later Yusuf Islam, 25th May 1972. Credit: Michael Putland/Getty

Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull.

“I first heard Cat Stevens – the young pop singer Cat – in 1966 with ‘I Love My Dog’. Perked up my ears at the lyrics of an unconventional love song. But it was the 1970 Island Records releases ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ and ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ that really brought home to me the excellence of his songwriting and the rich, rough-velvet texture of his voice.
Over the years, I have often cited Cat/Yusuf as a major influence in my own occasional singer-songwriter efforts… Cat/Yusuf has never really been away. Always in our hearts.”

Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac

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“When I first heard Yusuf’s music, it was a revelation. I’d already been playing guitar for about fifteen years, but I’d not yet started to write. Yusuf’s folk, rock and classical influences were similar to mine, and his breathtaking vocal performances, combined with his sublime melodies and rhythmic sensibility were inspirational and exemplary in helping me find my own way as writer and artist. Yusuf was and has remained an inspiration; one of my favorites of all time.’

John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers

“In 1974, when I was 4 years old, I remember being at a neighbor’s house one night in Tucson, Arizona, in a small living room, the lamplight dim, listening to Cat Stevens playing on the turntable. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard his music, but for some reason, in that environment, I had a pivotal experience which is hard to reduce to words. I will always remember it as the first moment I realized that music is something which exists living within me; not just something which exists in the outside world. I somehow knew at that moment that I had something to say musically.”

“There was an explosion of feeling within me that was animated by the music I was hearing, and I saw the music in the air, mingling with the soft lighting and shadows. It was a moment of wholeness where life seemed rich and full, and inner and outer world were one. Everything I’ve lived through and done since has been searching for, or trying to stay true to that feeling.”

Cat Stevens back stage at the Finsbury Park Astoria, London. Credit: PA Images via Getty Images
Cat Stevens back stage at the Finsbury Park Astoria, London. Credit: PA Images via Getty Images

“I have many memories of learning and performing his tunes. My most recent memory of this kind is perhaps the most meaningful. My dad has a doctorate degree in music as a pianist, but he had a block against learning “simple” pop music, until age 70 when we sat down with a Cat Stevens songbook and got ‘Morning Has Broken’ together. We performed it in my house for ourselves; him playing and me singing.”

“It was a breakthrough moment for my father, and for us, as it was also the first time we’d ever played music together. We have since played it on whatever occasions we’ve seen each other. Cat Stevens songwriting has inspired my own, in countless immeasurable ways. His songs, for me, are among the most fulfilling to learn, study, play along with, and interpret. His records carry a warmth with them that is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by other music.”

“No matter where you are, those albums do the same thing to one’s sense of well-being that a cozy, homey living room does, and if you are already in such a living room, no music can emphasize that feeling better than his.”

Peter Gabriel

“I was a big fan of Yusuf or Cat as he was. It was his song writing and then his singing that drew me in. The unconventional way he would use rhythm, melody and song structure was fascinating to me. He found it so easy to break the convention of song writing without losing any heart or soulfulness.”

“I was very excited when Paul Samwell-Smith invited me to play flute on the ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ session [on “Katmandu”]. I was never much of a flute player and was very nervous. In fact, I believe they played my track back in solo and had a good laugh at the anxious breathing of a nineteen year old would-be flute player.”

Ricky Gervais

“Cat Stevens was probably the first artist I really loved growing up and that has never changed. I still listen to at least one album a week. ‘Tea for The Tillerman’ was the perfect song to end each episode of Extras. Short. Melancholy. Rich. Dramatic. Hopeful. I think the whole album has a spiritual feel to it and for an atheist this translates into a love letter to the highs and lows of humanity.”

Nile Rodgers, CHIC

“Yusuf and I spent some time together recently at Abbey Road and it reminded me that we share something in common which is that our primary purpose is to bring joy. These are joyful albums and he’s a deep joyous man. He’s a very special Cat indeed”

Yusuf Islam, also know as Cat Stevens, performs on the Pyramid Stage at Day 5 of Glastonbury Festival 2023 on June 25, 2023. Credit: Samir Hussein/GETTY
Yusuf Islam, also know as Cat Stevens, performs on the Pyramid Stage at Day 5 of Glastonbury Festival 2023 on June 25, 2023. Credit: Samir Hussein/GETTY

Carly Simon

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that if it wasn’t for Cat Stevens (as most of us knew his name as that) I would probably never have performed. When my first album came out, it was presented to me that Cat Stevens had asked me to open for him at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. I balked and I put up barriers, but the lure of being a part of that week was too attractive.”

“The first time I heard his voice which was on the radio earlier that year (1971) I had such an unusual reaction to it. It was brand new in every way except for one: it stirred my soul (up from the many) but like very few voices ever had. I had to hear it in person. Skip to the Troubadour and during the two days of rehearsal there, I got to hear him practice and it brought me out of the overly excited nervous system that may have usurped me, made me more self-preoccupied than would have been helpful.”

“He did transport me and grip me. The songs coming from that warm, dark, fierce place. The child like quality which he had in addition to the powerful adult male sexiness was so interesting, so charismatic. He had that quality that you couldn’t name. You had to go searching.”

“‘Peace Train’, ‘Moonshadow’, ‘The Wind’, ‘If I Laugh’ and all the songs I recognized from ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ were brilliant and of the same various emotional resonances each in their different way, but then he played: ‘How Can I Tell You’ and it became the song that is one of the songs of my life.”

“My son sang it at my daughter’s wedding, he (Ben) sang it everywhere. Even, in 2010 when as if by magic, Yusuf appeared at my hotel door in London when Ben and I were there performing. The concierge called from the lobby and announced him unexpectedly. Ben sang ‘How Can I Tell You’ for Yusuf and I am pretty sure it was one of the high points of my life. If I sound ecstatic I am. I’m not exaggerating.”

Cameron Crowe

“‘Teaser And The Firecat’ was an album meant to be played from beginning to end.  The song cycle was peerless.  This masterwork began with ‘The Wind’, a song I’m constantly grateful that Yusuf allowed us to use in our film Almost Famous…  Thank you Yusuf, for then and for now.  And excuse me while I drop the needle on ‘The Wind’ and take the journey one more time.  It’s the best kind of journey. The one that never ends.”

Rick Wakeman

“Cat Stevens stood out for me as one of the great songwriters of the period. Songs like ‘Moonshadow’, ‘Peace Train’ and ‘Father And Son’ are songs that will live on and on.”

“To be invited to play on ‘Morning Has Broken’ was a real honour and a day I will always remember in Studio 2 at Morgan Studios in Willesden… I have always been proud of the piano on that track and we had a chance to relive it all almost 50 years later at the O2 in London at a charity concert for the Royal Marsden Hospital…”

“His albums are stand out monuments to a great era of music which he helped to shape. I have so much respect for his music, his personal beliefs and his desire to create… If he ever needs piano on a track he just needs to let me know!”

Paul Rodgers, Free / Bad Company

“I feel that ‘Morning has broken / like the first morning’ is the greatest opening line to any song ever written. It is almost biblical and sends me back in time to the very first morning when the earth was fresh, new and unspoiled.”

Bonnie “Prince” Billy

“I know music changes me.  I see it in Yusuf.”

“When he felt himself pulling or being pulled away from the heart of the song, he surrendered.  Music found its way back to him.  By allowing his truth to guide him rather than vice-verse, we were given the gift of a maintained and renewed voice.  There is spirit in ‘Teaser and the spirit is voiced more fully, years later, in ‘An Other Cup’ and beyond.  More fully because more life has been witnessed; sacrifice and compromise were kept in a proper place, away from the creating and sharing of music.”

“I am grateful for this example: listen to the wind of your soul.”

Dale Crover, The Melvins

“Rock & Roll needs people like Yusuf/ Cat Stevens. The approach, the attitude, and most importantly, the wonderful music.”

James Morrison

“Yusuf Islam’s music has been in my subconscious since I was a little kid. My dad used to play ‘Teaser And The Firecat’ and ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ a lot when we spent time together. He was always playing me lots of great music and singers -singing their heart out. Cat Stevens was always one of them.”

“…it’s like I’m with my dad again when I listen to his music. I was lucky to meet him and record backing vocals on a song for him on his album ‘The Road Singer’. That was a dream come true! His music reminds me we are all connected together in some beautiful mysterious way and his songs do that. They are very powerful!”

“So thanks Mr Islam for your beautiful soul and music. May it live on forever more!”

Cat Stevens – CREDIT: Ge

Stevens performed in the Legends slot on the Pyramid Stage at this years edition of Glastonbury. Though he told NME that he was “petrified”, beforehand – adding “I haven’t done a big gig like that in a long time” and describing the honour as a “bucket list moment”.

Fans then praised his set as a “mesmerising” and “magical” set.

Speaking to NME earlier this year about his new LP ‘King Of A Land’, Stevens shared: “I didn’t have a plan for what this album was going to be and, in a way, I’ve been recording it for 12 years. I started recording it in Berlin in 2011, but I wasn’t happy with the tracks I laid down there.

He continued: “Over the years, I’ve gradually been perfecting them. I live in Dubai, where I’ve been adding details in my studio. So it’s taken a long time, but it’s benefitted from that. I wasn’t going to let go until it’s ready and I’m very, very pleased with the results. It’s probably one of my best albums.”

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