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Donovan (10 May 1946–Present)

Guitarist and singer-songwriter born Donovan Leitch from Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland, whose family relocated to Little Berkhamsted, England, in 1956.  He started played guitar when he was fourteen years of age, and briefly attended art school before venturing out on the road with musicians such as Gypsy Dave, Mac MacLeod and Mick Softley.

His early recording experience consisted of playing and singing other composers’ demos, but it wasn’t long before he was recording his own and sending them out to producers.  One of those producers was Elkan Allan, who steered the ship of Ready, Steady, Go!, a hit TV program.  Donovan became a regular guest on the show.

A record contract was not far behind, when he inked a deal with Pye Records.  His first two singles, “Catch the Wind” and “Colours”, peaked at #4 on the British chart.

He made his debut in the States at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and signed on with CBS/Epic Records.  This led to legal problems, as Pye Records already had a licensing deal with Warner Bros.  In order to get out of his contract with Pye, he agreed to forego recording royalties for his first thirty-odd releases, although he was allowed to receive royalties for the songs he composed.

Once the awkward transition was finally made to CBS/Epic, Donovan began a lucrative partnership with producer, Mickie Most.  Mickie made the most of Donovan’s recordings:  “Sunshine Superman” was issued on 45 in the U.S. in June 1966, and it shot to #1 in the U.K. and U.S., and achieved gold status.  Its follow-up, “Mellow Yellow”, went to #2 on both sides of the pond.  The album, Sunshine Superman, peaked at #11 in the States.

In 1967, he could be found all over the charts, as well as on the big screen and the small screen.  Hits included “There is a Mountain”, “Epistle to Dippy”, “Jennifer Juniper” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”.  He also penned the title track to the theatrical release, Poor Cow.  Fans could see him on TV shows such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hourand the documentary, Don’t Look Back, which also featured Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, with whom he toured.

The Mellow Yellow album hit the shelves in January 1967 and peaked at #4 in the States.  In February 1967, Donovan was back in England at Abbey Road to overdub “A Day in the Life” with The Beatles.  Before the year was out, he went on a tour of the States, and released a double-album, A Gift from a Flower to a Garden.

He even influenced the Beatles’ sound on some of their later albums by teaching John Lennon and Paul McCartney how to pick on the guitar.  You can hear the cascading guitar technique on songs such as “Blackbird”, “Dear Prudence”, “Julia” and “Mother Nature’s Son”.

In May 1968, he released “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, which he had written for Mac MacLeod and his power trio, Hurdy Gurdy.  He liked the sound that Mac and his band had gotten out of it, and wanted to have someone like Jimi Hendrix record it, but Mickie Most encouraged him to record it himself.  The result was another top-five hit in the U.K. and U.S.  The album of the same name managed the top 20 in the States:  “Atlantis” went to #23 in the U.K. and “Lalena” made the top forty in the U.S.

He was back in the movie studio in 1969, when he appeared in and composed music for the comedy, If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.  His next single, “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting”, backed with the aforementioned “Atlantis”, cracked the top 40 in the States, but disc jockeys became enamoured of the B side, and helped turn it into a top-ten hit in Australia and the U.S.  “Barabajagal (Love is Hot)” was released on 26th June 1969, and peaked at #12 on the U.K. chart.  The album, Barabajagal, topped out at #23 in the States.  A greatest hits package went gold and went to #4 in the U.S., making it his most commercially successful LP.  The decade ended with the creative divorce of Donovan and Mickie Most.

In 1970, he issued Open Road, which he qualified as Celtic rock.  This was followed by the children’s album, H.M.S. Donovan, in 1971.  In 1972, he was back on the big screen in The Pied Piper, and wrote music for it as well as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Franco Zeffirelli’sbiopic of St. Francis of Assisi.

Donovan and Mickie reconciled their differences in 1973, when they collaborated on Cosmic Wheels, which cracked the top forty in the U.K. and U.S.  Essence to Essence, however, was produced by Andrew Loog Oldham.  More albums followed in the ‘70s:  Donovan7-Tease and Slow Down World.  In 1978, he appeared in the movie musical, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

His 1980s albums included Lady of the StarsLove is only Feeling and Neutronica.  A live album was released, and his song “Atlantis” appeared in Martin Scorcese’s GoodFellas, in 1990.  In 1991, Nettwerk issued a Donovan tribute album, Island of Circles.  A boxed set entitled Troubadour:  The Definite Collection 1964-1976 hit the stores in 1992.  In 1993, he released One Night in Time.  His recording of “Season of the Witch” was featured in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, starring Nicole Kidman, in 1995.  He closed out the decade with the albums, Pied Piper and Sutras.

In the year 2000, he spoofed his own song, “Atlantis” (“Atlanta”), on a Futurama episode called “The Deep South”.  “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was used in its pure form in L.I.E., a film starring Brian Cox and directed by Michael Cuesta.  He released Beat Café in 2004 and supported it with a tour of Europe, New York and the U.K.  His autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, was published in 2005.

In 2007, he made a series of live appearances with movie director, David Lynch, at Alice Tully Hall in the Big Apple, the Kennedy Center in the nation’s capital, and the Kodak Theatre in Tinseltown.  Donovan:  The Donovan Concert Live in L.A. was subsequently aired on the Public Broadcasting Service.

A documentary, Sunshine Superman:  The Journey of Donovan, directed by HannesRossacher, reached audiences in 2008.  BMI acknowledged Donovan as an Icon at their London Awards in 2009.  In 2010, he issued a double album, Ritual Groove, which he marketed through his website, listed below.

The Simpsons seem to love Donovan:  The long-running animated comedy has featured his songs, “Jennifer Juniper”, “Mellow Yellow”, “Season of the Witch” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted him into their ranks on 14th April 2012.

Medium Wave Band recordings
Mellow Yellow (Donovan Leitch)