D o n o v a n
“Welcome back, Donovan, you’ve been missed.”
That shimmering, intimate voice . . . the poetic, seductive lyrics . . . the dreamy, hazy music that surrounds them . . . From folksinger to flower-child to timeless musical poet, Donovan and his distinctive, magical songs have become familiar to decades of music fans since the early Sixties through hit singles like “Mellow Yellow,” “Sunshine Superman,” “The Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Catch the Wind,” “Colours” and “Atlantis,” through jam-band covers by the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, on TV and movie soundtracks and commercials, and on a precious, infrequent trickle of new releases. In 2004, Appleseed was honored that Donovan chose Appleseed to release Beat Café, his first album for grown-ups since 1996, forsaking offers from far larger companies because of our label’s independent and idealistic outlook. The musically adventurous CD and subsequent tours have helped to bring Donovan back into the public eye and ear as a still-vital, uniquely talented, and eternally idealistic keeper of the Bohemian and flower power spirit.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1946, Donovan Leitch’s musical career started in England in the early Sixties, where his influences included musicians Martin Carthy, Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and a mixed bag of blues, jazz and folk songs. After appearing on the UK’s starmaking “Ready Steady Go” TV pop show for three consecutive weeks in late 1964, the 18-year-old Donovan watched his first single, “Catch the Wind,” ascend to Number 3 in the British music charts. Although inaccurately tarred with the tag of “Great Britain’s Bob Dylan,” Donovan’s acoustic, folk-oriented songs were far more optimistic and inclusive than those of his media-perceived transatlantic counterpart, reflecting his love and respect for nature, peace and harmony.
Throughout the Sixties, Donovan’s songs gradually shifted from wide-eyed folk to a hip blend folk-rock, jazz, and Celtic influences, with the earnest innocence of “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” giving way to lighthearted, playful flower-power anthems like “Mellow Yellow” (which inspired the urban myth that smoking banana skins gets the user high), “Sunshine Superman,” the calypso-flavored “There is a Mountain,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Atlantis.” One of his most enduring numbers and most-covered originals is “Season of the Witch,” an uncharacteristically edgy portrait of psychedelia’s downside. Imaginative arrangements and topflight sessionmen such as Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones (both of Led Zeppelin), and the Jeff Beck Group (on the hit “Barabajagal”) made each new Donovan single and album an unpredictable adventure for the duration of the Seventies and early Eighties. Perhaps his most surprising appearance was as guest vocalist on the title song of Alice Cooper’s Number One-selling 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies. Donovan can also be heard in the background of a Beatles song or two (and vice versa), and has been credited with teaching John Lennon a finger-picking guitar style later used on several of the Beatles’ White Album songs.
As his recording output slowed in the Eighties, Donovan and his family moved to Joshua Tree, California, for a period of rest and creative recharging before returning to the United Kingdom in 1990 to tour, to work on his autobiography and to write new songs.
In 1996, Donovan recorded his Sutras album with the unlikely figure of Rick Rubin, best known for working with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys, and Johnny Cash, as producer of this auspicious return to a folk-oriented sound, which was met with popular and critical applause. Overseas, a collaborative version of “Atlantis” by the German group No Angels and Donovan hit Number 5 on the German charts in 2001 and sold over 500,000 copies.
More recently, Donovan’s contributions to music and poetry were recognized with the award of an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Hertfordshire in 2003. In the summer of 2004, early recordings by Donovan were issued in the UK as Sixty Four, marking Donovan’s fortieth anniversary as a performer, followed by the reissue of many of his classic albums in expanded form.
The release of Donovan’s Beat Café CD, his first for Appleseed, was followed by a series of US and international tours in a variety of settings. Initially Donovan performed a series of prestigious club dates in America, recreating the atmosphere of the Bohemian cafes of Paris in the 1840s that combined philosophy, poetry, music and free thought. Longer tours in larger venues have followed, including a “special guest” slot on an arena tour by John Mellencamp, a major Donovan fan, and headlining theater shows on his own.
In 2005, Donovan’s autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, was published to positive reviews and many of his most popular songs were enshrined in the Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan 3-CD/1-DVD boxed set. Most recently, a Donovan concert DVD recorded in January 2007, “Donovan: Live at the Kodak Theatre” is scheduled for release in January 2008.
Donovan’s latest adventure is to establish a college in Scotland that will teach transcendental meditation, the Indian philosophy that united him, the Beatles and various other rock stars during the Sixties. The project is supported by filmmaker David Lynch (“Eraserhead,” “Twin Peaks”), who has practiced transcendental meditation for more than 34 years and created his own meditation foundation, which he believes helps children perform better at school.