Friday, November 1, 2013

Devoted to Donovan

A few months back I read Donovan's biography Hurdy Gurdy Man. Sarah from Where the Roses go and I were planning on doing a joint post, but Sarah is no longer at the blogging helm sadly! 

Initially my intention was to write a post about the book and whether or not I liked it, but now I think I must write more. 

Donovan (Leitch) for those who need a quick catch up, is a Scottish singer songwriter who made his name initially singing folk songs in the style of Woodie Guthrie and Ramblin Jack Elliot. He left home to travel on the road and live life as a vagabond in St Ives, Cornwall and learnt the finger picking style that he eventually passed on to John Lennon (among others) from a man called Dirty Phil in St Albans


Donovan.
Source

Donovan
Source

In London, Donovan recorded his first range of songs, where he also met Brian Jones, a meeting that would cement in his memory and would re-emerge often. It was at this meeting that Brian told Donovan, "You sound like Dylan." This comparison would continue until Donovan took on a more psychedelic sound later on. 

Donovan's progress throughout the decade followed the typical idea of a 60s troubadour quite closely - starting as an acoustic folk singer then moving into psychedelic pop and world music. Traveling to an Indian Ashram with The Beatles and diving quite deeply into eastern spirituality. 

India, 1968 (l-r): Jenny Boyd, Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, Donovan, Mia Farrow, George Harrison, the Maharishi, the Beach Boys' Mike Love, John Lennon & Pattie Boyd
India, 1968 (l-r): Jenny Boyd, Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, Donovan, Mia Farrow, George Harrison, the Maharishi, the Beach Boys' Mike Love, John Lennon & Pattie Boyd

He had faced the tax exile and so left for Japan but decided to risk the costs and went back home after a short period.

Donovan counts this desire to return home to his connection with Linda Lawrence - his girlfriend in 1965 and eventual wife who also returned home from the US two days later after Donovan. They were married in 1970 and had two children - Astrella Celeste and Oriole Nebula


His love story with Linda Lawrence is wonderfully beautiful and that serendipitous reunion is very sweet and romantic. 

Linda had been an early girlfriend of Brian Jones and they had a son named Julian. However Brian was not the best father and Linda had decided to try being independent for a while instead of immediately marrying Donovan when they met. She decided to give it time and they naturally came back together later. 

Linda Lawrence
Source

Along with reading the book, I dived deeply into Donovan's music. He talks about his music in his book a fair bit and I love to take the time to listen to the song he talks about in that instance and listen to the instruments or players he mentions. 

Donovan
Source

I definitely prefer his Celtic rock/ jazz fusion/ world music better that his early folk stuff - but I'm always naturally drawn to all that happens in the 2nd half of the 60s. Music was more experimental and Donovan seemed to be the guiding light for his fans and other musicians.



donovan
Source

One of my favourite records of his Donovan in concert at the Anaheim Convention Centre in 1968. The recording covers the full range of his music up until then plus some extras from the unreleased album "A gift from a flower to a garden". I highly recommend having a listen to it! 

Donovan In Concert - The Complete 1967 Anaheim Show


A few interesting rumours that tend to go around about Donovan that I think I should dispel 
Despite being enamored with Jenny Boyd, they didn't actually have a relationship. He did write the song Jennifer Juniper for her, but that was it!

Donovan
Donovan and Jenny Boyd

The song Mellow Yellow was rumoured to be about smoking banana skins to get high, but this was a joke started by Country Joe McDonald.


The meeting between Donovan and Bob Dylan, while it may have been awkward at the time was not as terrible as the media made it out to be. He did sing a similar song to Dylan's Tambourine Man, but they ended up being friends. Donovan also made friends with Joan Baez on this occasion 

bob dylan, donovan, and mary travers at the newport folk festival, july 1965.
Bob Dylan, Donovan, and Mary Travers at the Newport folk festival, July 1965


The title of the book alludes to his song of the same name. It's definitely one of my favourites not because of the familiarity of the song, but because of the message and the musicians that the song involved. Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, all play in Hurdy Gurdy Man. 

"Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man comes singing songs of love"



When I listen back to it I tried very hard to listen to the various parts. John Bonham’s drums are very similar to the ones he would eventually play for Led Zeppelin - he found his style early with lots of rolling drums. Also Jimmy Page's talented guitar playing gives that long stretched note right before the chorus. This was during Pages session musician days. He also played on Donovan's Sunshine Superman album. 

Donovan initially tried to offer up Hurdy Gurdy man to Jimi Hendrix but his manager was quick to pull him back. I wonder who would have played it better? 

Donovan's musical inspirations are varied and a lot of the songs he writes directly correlate with something happening in his life. Many songs were written for Linda and a few for Enid Stulberger, whom he had 2 children with. (Ione Sky and Donovan Leitch) 

I'm so glad I read this book, I understand his music so much better and he seems very kind and lovely person. The few times he mentions being angry, he doesn't tend to elaborate, but I'm ok with thinking of him being nice all the time.


He also seems to be somewhat of a trend setter - initiating the idea of Universal Love, bringing in the new English folk music style, protesting the Vietnam war through music, helping to trigger the Wests obsession with Eastern Mythology and Flower Power. I'm not sure if he means he indirectly influenced these things or directly - but he does seem to be there before all these ideas became popular, or making the sounds that then drove the ideas of his fans and others.

Donovan, Prince of Flower Power
Donovan, Prince of Flower Power

In 2012 Donovan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and works supporting the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace

I encourage you to check this book out if you’re a fan (big or small) of Donovan's. There are so many little things that he mentions and stories and ideas that I wouldn't be able to explain in this blog post. 


Are you a fan of Donovan? What's your favourite song of his? It's hard to pick a favourite for me, but Sunshine Superman may have to be the best!




Take care beautiful people! 
Cat xo


References 
Performing Songwriter: Interview with Donovan, May 10th 2013
http://performingsongwriter.com/donovan/
Leitch, D (2005) The Autobiography of Donovan, The Hurdy Gurdy Man. St Martin's Griffin

14 comments:

  1. So cool! I've never actually heard about him before *shame shame*, so thank you for this article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh well im sure you would have heard Mellow Yellow or one of those popular songs! He was involved with many musicians from the 60s so you may have heard his influence somewhere. I'm not sure what kind of music you like but he has such a varied style. The first two albums are very gentle folk and then he progressively gets harder and more psychedelic

      Delete
  2. Speaking of "epic" posts, dear Catherine, you have presented one of your own with this fabulous book review of Hurdy Gurdy Man and this article about the life and music of Donovan!

    You mentioned that you are drawn to the late 60s period. Can you imagine how lucky I feel to have been in my teens in the late 60s when all this was unfolding? I remember very well when Eastern religion and spirituality became infused in mainstream pop culture in the Western world. Around March 1966 the Beatles shifted the emphasis of their recordings away from romantic love songs and toward universal love songs. Donovan, along with Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and others, was one of the principal artists of the movement and his many fine recordings influenced my thinking and behavior. His singles "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow" were major hits at the Shady Dell and are favorites of mine as are "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting" and the flip side of that U.S. single "Atlantis" which became the bigger hit.

    I'm glad you mentioned Ione Sky and Donovan Leitch, Donovan's children to model Enid Karl (née Stulberger). The beautiful Ione Sky made a splash and became a teen idol as a result of her featured role in the popular comma-drama Say Anything... Donovan Leitch, Jr. starred in one of my all time favorite movies, the high school musical The In Crowd.

    Thank you, dear Cat, for this wonderful essay about one of the most important and influential voices of my generation, Donovan!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes! you are very lucky! I so wish i was there - i even worked out the perfect year to have been born - 1946! How wonderful to hear your memories of this time - I can only look back and wonder what it was like. but at least i can pretend to be in which ever year or city i want with my imagination!

      I was going to mention Ione Sky's movie role, but i thought it was a bit off topic. I haven't seen the film but ill have to make an effort to find it.

      I'm glad you liked the post and i hope i did it justice!

      Delete
  3. I love Donovan! I think "Season of the Witch" is my favorite. I really like pretty, dreamy music combined with ambiguous lyrics. I didn't know about this book and now I'll have to go to my library and look for it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh i love that song too! Donovan is a really great story teller, just like his idols. Its a really good book - hopefully your library stocks it, but there is always Christmas coming ;)

      Delete
  4. I like a few of Donovan's songs but I don't know too much about him, thanks for an informative post! x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh well im glad you liked it! I love to learn as much as i can about all those 60s figureheads!

      Delete
  5. I am so glad you loved his book, it really takes you back to that era, I read it years ago maybe I should read it again, he is quite the amazing soul. I wish I could have met him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He still tours from what i know. Maybe he'll be nice and come to our local towns!

      Delete
  6. I am in St. Ives with him 1965 spearing fish with sticks. Great times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think he became a vegetarian until after his trip to India in 1967

      Delete

Thanks for your comment! Please do not comment anonymously - feel free to use the Name/URL option instead as I’d still love to hear from you xo

*Spam comments will be swiftly deleted, so please do not bother