Shel Silverstein Biography

Shelby Silverstein, 25 September 1932, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 9 May 1999, Key West, Florida, USA. A former artist with Stars And Stripes magazine, Silverstein joined the staff of Playboy at its inception during the early 50s and for almost two decades his cartoons were a regular feature of the publication. He later became a successful illustrator and author of children’s books, including Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, Uncle Shelby’s Zoo, The Missing Piece, A Light In The Attic, The Giving Tree and Giraffe And A Half. Silverstein was also drawn to the folk scene emanating from Chicago’s Gate Of Horn and New York’s Bitter End, latterly becoming a respected composer and performer of the genre. Early 60s collaborations with Bob Gibson were particularly memorable and in 1961 Silverstein completed Inside Folk Songs, which included the original versions of ‘The Unicorn’ and ‘25 Minutes To Go’, later popularized, respectively, by the Irish Rovers and Brothers Four. Silverstein provided ‘novelty’ hits for Johnny Cash (‘A Boy Named Sue’) and Loretta Lynn (‘One’s On The Way’), but an association with Dr. Hook proved to be the most fruitful. A series of successful singles ensued, notably ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ and ‘The Cover Of Rolling Stone’, and a grateful group reciprocated by supplying the backing on Freakin’ At The Freaker’s Ball. This ribald set included many of Silverstein’s best-known compositions from this period, including ‘Polly In A Porny’, ‘I Got Stoned And I Missed It’ and ‘Don’t Give A Dose To The One You Love Most’, the last of which was adopted in several anti-venereal disease campaigns. The Great Conch Train Robbery, released on the traditional music outlet Flying Fish Records, was less scatological in tone. Silverstein adopted a less public profile in later years. His off-Broadway play Wild Life enjoyed good reviews in 1983, and seven years later he earned an Oscar nomination for ‘I’m Checking Out’, written for the Mike Nichols movie, Postcards From The Edge. Silverstein was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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