Born Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1948, the singer and songwriter now known as Yusuf first came to fame as Cat Stevens in 1966 after signing a contract with Decca Records. His first song was a minor hit “I Love My Dog” followed by “Matthew and Son” that reached number two in the British charts.
Ironically, his most famous song in this period gained its fame from other people. On his 1967 album New Masters, the song “The First Cut is the Deepest” was a bigger success for the various people who made covers of it including PP Arnold, Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow.
Cat Stevens and Tuberculosis
In 1968, still aged just 19, it looked like Cat Stevens’ career, and maybe his life itself, was going to be cut short as tuberculosis and a collapsed lung placed him in hospital. It was during his convalescence that he seriously started considering the meaning of life and this was where his spiritual side first started to emerge.
The other effect of the convalescence was that it gave him time to write more mature songs and during this period he wrote some of the songs for which he was to become best known.
Songs written during his illness comprised nearly all of his next three albums – Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For the Tillerman and Teaser & the Firecat – plus some of Catch Bull at Four. These were released on Island Records, who introduced him to guitarist Alun Davies, who was to become Cat’s close friends and is still playing and recording with him today.
His first single in this period from Mona Bone Jakon was “Lady D’Arbanville” (named after his American girlfriend Patti D’Arbanville) and this was his first song to get real airplay in the USA.
Tea For the Tillerman and Teaser & the Firecat
After Mona Bone Jakon launched a new version of Cat Stevens onto the music market on both sides of the Atlantic, his next two albums – Tea For the Tillerman and Teaser & the Firecat – made him an international star. They contained his biggest hits including “Wild World”, “Father and Son”, “Peace Train” and “Moon Shadow”. They also contained his version of the hymn “Morning Has Broken”. While waiting for a train at Euston station in London, he bought a hymn book to read and discovered the song.
He followed these two albums with Catch Bull at Four, which was his most successful album in the USA but didn’t produce any hit singles.
The albums that followed in the late 1970s were less successful than those written during his illness but showed his willingness to experiment with music styles starting with Foreigner, of which the A side was just one track and hardly endeared him to radio DJs. He followed Foreigner with Buddha & the Chocolate Box, Numbers, Izitso and Back to Earth. His most successful single during this period was a duet with Elkie Brooks called “Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard” from Izitso.
Cat Stevens Becomes Yusuf
Cat Stevens converted to the Islamic religion at the end of 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam the following year. He also retired from the music business.
In 1985, he attracted controversy over the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for his book “The Satanic Verses”. Comments made to students in London were interpreted by the press as him expressing support for the fatwa but despite releasing a statement the following day denying this, the press continued to repeat the allegation. Yusuf explains the incident here. The allegations led to him being banned from entry into the USA though the ban was later removed.
Yusuf Records Again
Yusuf picked up his music career in the 1990s but it was another decade before he launched a new album onto the pop world. This was An Other Cup, released in 2006, and followed with Roadsinger in 2009.