Cat Stevens released his version of the hymn "Morning Has Broken" back in 1972. Now, as Yusuf, he's touring the United States again after a long absence. Anthony Mason talks with him now . . . For The Record:
On Thursday at the Tower Theater outside Philadelphia, a name appeared on the marquee that had been missing from the concert circuit for decades.
Inside at the sound check, Yusuf, the singer who came to fame as Cat Stevens, was preparing to open his first U.S. tour since 1976.
Mason said, "You could fill theatres bigger than this."
"Well, yeah, sure. But It's the intimacy I'm looking for. It's not a matter making money or proving that I can play the big halls," Yusuf replied. "I just wanted to get close to my audience. That's the buzz for me."
The stage set depicted a train station. "We've transported this station everywhere we go now," Yusuf laughed. "This is the Peace Train station! We've got these tracks along the stage. And we're just waiting for this train to arrive. It's all to do with the message."
The station door seemed like a portal to the 1970s, when he walked through it to a thunderous ovation Thursday night -- what he called "a sea of warmth."
Cat Stevens was back, under a different name, but sounding like he'd never left.
Mason asked if the relatively brief, two-month-long tour was just "testing the waters here."
"Yeah, in some way it is. In another way it's part of my ticking the little boxes. You know, I want to do certain things before I leave this planet. And one of them is, you know, to play the U.S.A. again.
"It's like coming home," Yusuf said, "back to where my first heartbeat began on the musical journey."
Born Stephen Georgiou in London to a Greek father and Swedish mother, Cat Stevens (his stage name) was 18 when he released his first album. He broke through in the U.S. in the Seventies, scoring eight straight gold or platinum albums.
But the singer started looking for a higher purpose in his life.
During his last tour in the U.S. in 1976, he was already studying the Koran. A year later, he would convert to Islam . . . and in November 1979, he turned his back on his music career.
Mason asked, "Did you have any regrets?"
"I think the only regret I had was kind of in a way saying goodbye to a lot of the people that wanted me to hang around and keep singing," he replied. "But I had a life to get on with."
He changed his name to Yusuf Islam - and he would not pick up a guitar again until 2003, when his son brought one home.
How did it feel to play the guitar again? "You know, it hurt a little bit, 'cause you know your fingers get a bit sore at the top. But very soon that vanished and I was back creating songs and writing with another meaning."
"There were some people in the Muslim world who were uncomfortable with [you] picking up the guitar again," said Mason.
"That's true. There is an opinion -- although it's an isolated one perhaps -- which is very loud, that doesn't agree with music or frivolity and generally the entertainment world.
"So I've now written a book called 'Why I Still Carry a Guitar.' And that's kind of to silence those people who perhaps think I'm doing something outside of the religious boundaries. And of course, [it's] nothing like that. The civilization of Islam was probably the first to introduce the guitar as a popular instrument."