Yusuf got a little help from his friends—Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, and Terry Sylvester (formerly of the Hollies)—who sing backup vocals on the recording that features a guitar and mandolin backdrop. (They do not appear in the music video.)
Yusuf originally intended to include the song on his new CD, “Roadsinger”, but decided it didn’t fit in with the rest of the material. Instead it’s being offered as a bonus track with album purchases through iTunes and Best Buy, the Associated Press reports.
“‘Boots and Sand’ is a light-hearted take on that whole rather awkward moment in my life where I was suddenly faced with being interrogated by seven FBI agents asking me to spell my name again and again and again”, said Yusuf in a telephone interview from London. “The song is great fun and it shows that we can look back and smile”.
Yusuf was flying from London to the US with his daughter in September 2004 after being invited to Nashville to make a record with producer Steve Buckingham and visit friend Parton, who had recorded “Peace Train” and several other Cat Stevens songs. But his plane was diverted to Bangor, Maine, where federal agents questioned him for hours because his name, Yusuf Islam, was similar to one on the government’s “no-fly” list.
In the song, the backup singers portray sheriffs who trade lines with Yusuf: ‘”Is your name this?”/”I guess it is”/“You’re on our ‘no-song’ list!”/”Oh, no, sir no. This can’t be so!”/”Oh, please let us go!”’
Homeland Security put him on a plane back to London, prompting a complaint over his deportation by Britain’s then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to US Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was an apparent case of mistaken identity, and Yusuf has since travelled to the US without incident, most recently in May to Los Angeles to give his first West Coast performance in 33 years.
“I take things positively in life and when I got back to London, I realised it wasn’t God’s will that I should begin my record in the States, but that didn’t stop me from making a record”, That 2006 album, “An Other Cup”, was Yusuf’s first pop music recording since his last Cat Stevens album in 1978.
The “Boots and Sand” music video, directed by Jesse Dylan, Bob’s son, has the look of a spaghetti Western with Yusuf leading a band of bedraggled travellers and a herd of goats through California’s Mojave Desert. Along the way, he encounters a Wild West-style wanted poster of the singer from his days as Cat Stevens, who’s described as “the infamous outlaw … who rode the Peace Train”.