Since Nick Drake's death, his eerie, jazz-tinged folk music has had an ever-growing cult following. Born to British parents, Drake spent his first two years on the Indian subcontinent before moving to the English village of Tanworth-in-Arden. He played saxophone and clarinet in school but turned to the guitar at age 16. Two years later he began writing his own songs. He was a student at Cambridge University in 1968, when Ashley Hutchings of Fairport Convention heard him performing at London's Roundhouse. Hutchings introduced him to Joe Boyd, who managed Fairport, John Martyn, and other leaders of the British folk revival. Boyd immediately signed Drake to Island Records and put him on Witchseason concert bills. In 1970 Elton John was hired as a session vocalist to record Drake's songs to use as demos to entice established singers to covet Drake's compositions.
Drake was a shy, awkward performer and remained aloof from the public and press. By all accounts his isolation and confusion, results of severe mental illness that at times would leave him catatonic and requiring hospitalizations, grew more severe. By the end of 1970 he had stopped doing concerts. He lived for a short while in Paris at the behest of Françoise Hardy (who never released the recordings she made of his songs) and then settled in Hampstead, where he became increasingly reclusive, allowing the company of only his close friends John and Beverly Martyn. He recorded Pink Moon totally unaccompanied, submitted the tapes to Island by mail, and entered a psychiatric rest home.
When he left the home months later, vowing never to sing another song, he got a job as a computer programmer. In 1973 he began writing songs again. Drake had recorded four when he died in bed at his parents' home in 1974, the victim of an overdose of antidepressant medication. Suicide was considered probable by the coroner, but Drake's friends and family disagreed. Fruit Tree is a box set containing his three albums plus the four songs recorded in 1973. In 2000 Drake's music reached a much larger audience than during his lifetime after Volkswagen used his "Pink Moon" in a car commercial, which greatly spurred sales of his recordings. This music also turned up on a few film soundtracks and became the subject of tributes performed by such artists as Duncan Sheik. Drake's original albums were remastered and repackaged on CD in late 2000.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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