Immortalized in John’s song New York City.
April 7, 2017 1:59 PM
David Peel, a mainstay of New York folk music and pro-marijuana advocate who was referenced in John Lennon‘s “New York City,” has died. He was 73.
Peel’s former bandmate Jeff S. Levy told Billboard that the singer and songwriter had a massive heart attack on March 31. “He was like a big brother to me,” Levy added.
Born David Rosario in Brooklyn on Aug. 1, 1943, Peel and his band, the Lower East Side, gained a following with their 1968 Elektra debut, Have a Marijuana, which was recorded on the streets of New York. The album revealed his worldview with songs like “I’ve Got Some Grass,” “Show Me the Way to Get Stoned” and the underground classic single “I Like Marijuana.” His next release, The American Revolution, took on the Vietnam War.
Shortly after that, as Rolling Stone noted, John Lennon and Yoko Ono encountered Peel singing in a New York park. Lennon signed him to Apple and produced 1972’s The Pope Smokes Dope. Lennon further gave him a seal of approval on his 1972 song “New York City,” singing in the first verse, “Up come a man with a guitar in his hand / Singing, ‘Have a marijuana if you can’ / His name was David Peel / And we found he was real.”
While Peel never achieved mainstream success beyond the No. 186 placement for Have a Marijuana, he retained his cult status as a New York street musician, recording artist, underground figure and political activist for the rest of his life. He performed at the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 and wrote a song called “I Can’t Breathe” about Eric Garner, who was choked to death by New York City policemen while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes in 2014.