Donovan (born Donovan Philips Leitch, 10 May 1946) is a Scottish singer, songwriter and guitarist. Initially labelled an imitator of Bob Dylan, he developed an eclectic and distinctive style that blended folk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, and world music (notably calypso). He has variously lived in Scotland, London, and California, and, since at least 2008, has lived in County Cork, Ireland with his family. Emerging from the British folk scene, Donovan shot to fame in the United Kingdom in early 1965 with a series of live performances on the pop TV series, Ready Steady Go!.
Having initially signed with Pye Records in 1965, he recorded a handful of singles and two albums in the folk music vein, but after signing a new contract with US CBS/Epic Records his popularity spread to other countries. After extricating himself from his original management contract, he began a long and successful collaboration with Mickie Most, one of the leading British independent record producers of the era, scoring a string of hits in the UK, the US and other countries.
His most successful singles in the 1960s included the early UK hits "Catch the Wind", "Colours" and "The Universal Soldier" in 1965, while "Sunshine Superman" topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart (reached number two in Britain), and "Mellow Yellow" reached US number two the following year, with "Hurdy Gurdy Man" reaching the Top 5 on both shores in 1968. He was the first artist to be signed to CBS/Epic Records by then-new Administrative Vice-President Clive Davis. Donovan and Most collaborated on a series of hit albums and singles between 1965 and 1970. He became a friend of leading pop musicians including Joan Baez, Brian Jones, and The Beatles. He taught John Lennon a finger-picking guitar style in 1968. Donovan's commercial fortunes waned after parting with Most in 1969, and he left the industry for a time.
Donovan continued to perform and record sporadically in the 1970s and 1980s. His musical style and hippie image was scorned by critics, especially after the advent of punk rock. He withdrew from performing and recording several times during his career, but he underwent a revival in the 1990s with the emergence of the rave scene in Britain. He recorded the 1996 album Sutras with producer and long-time fan Rick Rubin and in 2004 released a new album, Beat Cafe. Donovan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
Donovan was born in 1946 in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland to a Catholic mother, Winifred (née Phillips), a factory worker, and a Protestant father, Donald Leitch, a Rolls Royce factory employee. He contracted polio as a child. The disease, and subsequent treatment, left him with a limp. In 1956, his family moved to Little Berkhamsted near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. Influenced by his family's love for folk music, he began playing guitar at 14. He enrolled in art school but dropped out soon afterwards, determined to live out his beatnik aspirations by going out on the road.
1964-67: Rise to fame
Returning to Hatfield, he spent several months playing in local clubs, absorbing the music of the British folk scene around his home in St Albans, learning the crosspicking guitar technique from such local players as Mac MacLeod and Mick Softley and writing his first songs. In 1964, he travelled to Manchester with Gypsy Dave, then spent the summer in Torquay, Devon. In Torquay he stayed with his old friend and guitar mentor from St Albans, Mac MacLeod, and took up busking, studying guitar, and learning traditional folk and blues songs.
In late 1964, he was offered a management and publishing contract by Peter Eden and Geoff Stephens of Pye Records in London, where he recorded a 10-track demo tape (later rediscovered and released on iTunes), which included the original recording of "Catch the Wind" (his first single) and "Josie". The first song revealed the influence of Woody Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who had also influenced Bob Dylan. Dylan comparisons followed him for some time. In an interview with KFOK radio in the US on 14 June 2005, MacLeod stated that: "The press were fond of calling Donovan a 'Dylan Clone' as they had both been influenced by the same sources: Ramblin' Jack, Jesse Fuller, Woody Guthrie, and many more."
While recording the demo, Donovan befriended Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, who was recording in a nearby studio. Coincidentally, he had also recently met Jones's ex-girlfriend, Linda Lawrence. The on-off romantic relationship that developed over the next five years was a pivotal force in Donovan's career. She exerted a huge influence on Donovan's music but she refused to marry him and moved to the United States for several years in the late 1960s. They met again by chance in 1970 and married soon after. Donovan had other relationships – one of which resulted in the birth of his first two children, Donovan Leitch and Ione Skye, both of whom became actors.
In the first week of May 1965, Donovan met Bob Dylan, then touring the UK, in Dylan's suite at the Savoy Hotel in London. The music press had made much of the supposed rivalry between the two, and of Donovan's alleged aping of Dylan (similarities also noted by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones),
The meeting went well and Dylan later told Melody Maker: "He played some songs to me. ... I like him. ... He's a nice guy." The Melody Maker report also noted that Dylan had mentioned Donovan in his song "Talking World War Three Blues" but that the crowd had jeered when Donovan's name was mentioned, to which Dylan had responded backstage: "I didn't mean to put the guy down in my songs. I just did it for a joke, that's all." The meeting was captured in a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker, who was filming Dylan's Spring 1965 tour, and part of the event was included in the documentary, Dont Look Back, although Donovan's management reportedly refused to allow journalists to be present, stating that they did not want "any stunt on the lines of the disciple meeting the messiah". The director later recalled an embarrassing encounter:
In an interview for the BBC in 2001 to mark Dylan's 60th birthday, Donovan acknowledged Dylan as an important influence early in his career while distancing himself from the "Dylan clone" allegations:
In late 1965, Donovan split with his original management and signed with Ashley Kozak, who was working for Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises. Kozak introduced Donovan to American impresario Allen Klein (who would later take over management of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles). Klein in turn introduced Donovan to producer Mickie Most, who was riding high on the success of his chart-topping productions with The Animals, Lulu, and Herman's Hermits. Mickey Most was the producer of all Donovan's recordings during this period, although Donovan claimed in his autobiography that some of the recordings were self-produced, with little or no input from Most. Their collaboration produced a string of successful singles and albums, recorded with leading London session players including Big Jim Sullivan, Jack Bruce, Danny Thompson, and future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page.
Many of Donovan's late 1960s recordings featured a core group of musicians including his key musical collaborator John Cameron on piano, Danny Thompson (from Pentangle) or Spike Heatley on upright bass, Tony Carr on drums and congas and Harold McNair on saxophone and flute. Carr's conga style and McNair's distinctive flute playing are an intrinsic feature of many of these recordings. Cameron, McNair and Carr also accompanied Donovan on several major concert tours and can be heard on his 1968 live album Donovan In Concert.
By 1966, Donovan had shed the overt Dylan/Guthrie influences and become one of the first British pop musicians to adopt a flower power image. More importantly, his music was developing and changing rapidly as he immersed himself in jazz, blues, Eastern music, and the new generation of counterculture-era US West Coast bands such as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. He was now entering his most creative and original phase as a songwriter and recording artist, working in close collaboration with Mickie Most and especially with arranger, musician, and jazz fan John Cameron. Their first collaboration was "Sunshine Superman", one of the first overtly psychedelic pop records.
Donovan's rise stalled temporarily in December 1965, when Billboard broke news of the impending production deal between Klein, Most, and Donovan, and then reported that Donovan was about to sign with Epic Records in the US. Despite Kozak's strenuous denials, Pye Records dropped the new single from their release schedule, and a contractual dispute ensued, because Pye had an existing US licensing arrangement with Warner Bros. Records. As a result of the dispute, the UK release of Sunshine Superman LP was delayed for many months, robbing the album of the impact it would otherwise have had. Another outcome was that the UK and US versions of this and several later albums differed markedly – three of his Epic LPs were not released in the UK, and Sunshine Superman was issued in a completely different form in each country. Several significant tracks featured on his late 1960s Epic (US) LPs were not released in the UK for many years. The legal dispute continued into early 1966. During the enforced hiatus, Donovan holidayed in Greece, where he wrote "Writer in the Sun", inspired by the rumours that his recording career was over. He toured the US, and during this visit he appeared as a guest on episode 23 of Rainbow Quest with Shawn Phillips and Rev. Gary Davis. After his return to London, he developed his friendship with Paul McCartney and reportedly contributed the line "sky of blue and sea of green" to the song "Yellow Submarine".
By late 1966, the American contractual problems had been resolved, and Donovan signed a $100,000 deal with Epic Records. Donovan and Most went to CBS Studios in Los Angeles, where they recorded tracks for a new LP, much of which had been formulated and composed during the preceding year. Although folk elements were still prominent, the album showed the increasing influence of jazz, American west coast psychedelia, and folk rock – especially The Byrds. The LP sessions were completed in May, and "Sunshine Superman" was released in the US as a single in June. It was a big success, providing Donovan with his American chart breakthrough, selling 800,000 copies in six weeks and reaching No. 1. It went on to sell over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The LP followed in August, preceded by advance orders of 250,000 copies, reached No. 11 on the US album chart and sold over half a million copies.
The US version of the Sunshine Superman album is set in chamber-style folk-jazz arrangements, and features an eclectic range of instruments including acoustic bass, sitar, saxophone, tablas and congas, harpsichord, strings and oboe. Highlights include the swinging "The Fat Angel", which (Donovan's book confirms) was written for Cass Elliott of The Mamas & the Papas. The song is also notable for name checking the cult San Francisco acid rock band Jefferson Airplane, well before they became known internationally and before Grace Slick joined. Other tracks include "Bert's Blues" (a tribute to guitar hero Bert Jansch), "Guinevere", and "Legend of a Girl Child Linda", a track featuring voice, acoustic guitar and a small orchestra, and which runs for over six minutes.
The album also features extensive use of the sitar, which was played by American folk-rock singer Shawn Phillips. Donovan had met Phillips in London in 1965, and he became a close friend and an important early collaborator, playing acoustic guitar and sitar on several major recordings including the Sunshine Superman album, as well as accompanying Donovan at numerous concerts and on their TV appearance on Pete Seeger's TV show. Several of the songs including the title track had a harder edge. The driving, jazzy "The Trip", named after the Los Angeles club of the same name, chronicled an LSD trip he took during his time in L.A. and is loaded with references to his sojourn on the West Coast, and name-checks both Dylan and Baez. The third "heavy" song, destined to become one of his most enduring recordings, was "Season of the Witch". Recorded with American and British session players, it features Donovan's first recorded performance on electric guitar. The song was covered by Brian Auger on his first LP in 1967, and Al Kooper and Stephen Stills recorded an 11-minute version on the 1968 album, Super Session. Donovan's version is also heard in the closing sequence of the Gus Van Sant film, To Die For.
Because of his earlier contractual problems, the UK version of Sunshine Superman LP was not released in Britain for another nine months. This was a compilation of tracks from the already released US albums Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow. Donovan had no input into the track selection for this release.
On 24 October 1966, Epic released the single "Mellow Yellow", arranged by John Paul Jones and purportedly featuring Paul McCartney on uncredited backing vocals. In his autobiography Donovan explained that the phrase "electrical banana" was a reference to a "yellow-coloured vibrator". The song became Donovan's signature tune in the US and was another big chart hit there; it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, #3 on the Cash Box chart, and earned a gold record award for sales of more than one million in the US alone.
Through the first half of 1967, Donovan worked on an ambitious double-album studio project, which he produced himself. In January he gave a concert at the Royal Albert Hall accompanied by a ballerina who danced during a 12-minute performance of "Golden Apples". On 14 January, New Musical Express reported he was to write incidental music for a National Theatre production of As You Like It, but this did not come to fruition. His version of "Under the Greenwood Tree" did appear on "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden".
Later that month Epic released the Mellow Yellow LP (not released in the UK), which reached No. 14 in the US album charts, plus a new non-album single, "Epistle to Dippy", a Top 20 hit in the US. Written in the form of an open letter to an old school friend, the song had a strong pacifist message as well as psychedelic imagery. The real "Dippy" was at the time serving in the British Army in Malaysia. According to Brian Hogg, who wrote the liner notes for the Donovan boxed set Troubadour, Dippy heard the song, contacted Donovan and left the army as a result. On 9 February 1967, Donovan was among the select group of guests invited by The Beatles to join them at Abbey Road Studios for the final orchestral overdub session for the Lennon-McCartney collaboration "A Day in the Life", the grand finale to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
In mid-1966, Donovan became the first high-profile British pop star to be arrested for possession of cannabis. Donovan's drug use appears to have been moderate, and was mostly restricted to cannabis, with occasional use of LSD and mescaline, and he was not indulging on the scale of friends like John Lennon and Brian Jones. His use of LSD is referenced indirectly in many of his song lyrics (i.e. "The Trip", "Sunshine Superman", "Wear Your Love Like Heaven", and "Epistle To Dippy").
Public attention was drawn to his marijuana use by the TV documentary, A Boy Called Donovan, broadcast in early 1966, which showed the singer and friends smoking cannabis at a party thrown by the film crew. However, it now appears that the Drug Squad already had many British pop stars in their sights, and Donovan's arrest proved to be the first in a long series of busts involving members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The arrest garnered a great deal of publicity, and in early 1967, Donovan was the subject of a controversial exposé published in the British tabloid News of the World.
According to Donovan's autobiography, the article was based on an unauthorised interview given by an ex-girlfriend of his closest friend, Gypsy Dave. The article was the first instalment in a three-part series, Drugs & Pop Stars – Facts That Will Shock You. While some claims made by the writers may have been true, it was quickly shown that others were false. The most notorious instance was that of a News of the World reporter's claiming to have spent an evening with Mick Jagger, who allegedly discussed his drug use and offered drugs to companions. After publication it was discovered that the reporter had mistaken Brian Jones for Jagger, and Jagger immediately sued the newspaper for libel. Among other supposed revelations were claims that Donovan and other stars, including members of The Who, Cream, The Rolling Stones, and The Moody Blues, regularly smoked marijuana, used other illicit drugs, and held parties where the recently banned hallucinogen LSD was used, specifically naming The Who's Pete Townshend and Cream's Ginger Baker as LSD users. It emerged much later that the News of the World reporters were using their access to pop stars to gather information and pass it to the police. In the late 1990s, an article in The Guardian asserted it was News of the World reporters who alerted the police about the party at Keith Richards's home, which was raided on 12 February 1967. Although Donovan's was not as sensational as the later arrests of Jagger and Richards, it had a serious effect on his career – because of the charges he was refused entry to the US until late 1967. Although he had originally been invited to be part of the all-star bill at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June that year, he was thus unable to appear.
1967-1969: International success
In July 1967, Epic released "There Is a Mountain", which just missed the US top ten and was later used as the basis for The Allman Brothers Band's Mountain Jam. In September, Donovan embarked on a tour of the US, backed by a small jazz group and accompanied by his father, who introduced the show. Later that month, Epic released Donovan's fifth album, an album set entitled, A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, the first rock music box set, and only the third pop-rock double album released. It was split thematically into halves. The first, subtitled "Wear Your Love Like Heaven", was written for the people of his generation that would one day be parents; the second, subtitled "For Little Ones", was a collection of songs Donovan had written for the coming generation. Worried it might be a poor seller, Epic boss Clive Davis insisted the albums be split and sold separately in the US (the "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" album cover was photographed at Bodiam Castle), but his fears were unfounded – although it took time, the boxed set sold steadily, eventually peaking at 19 in the US album chart and achieving gold record status in the US in early 1970.
The psychedelic and mystical overtones of the work were unmistakable – the front cover featured an infra-red photograph by Karl Ferris showing Donovan dressed in a robe holding flowers and peacock feathers, while the back cover photo showed him holding hands with Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The liner notes for the album included an appeal from Donovan for young people to give up drugs. His public disavowal of drugs came after his time with the Maharishi in Rishikesh, a topic discussed in a two-part interview for the first two issues of Rolling Stone.
In late 1967, Donovan contributed several songs to the soundtrack of the Ken Loach film, Poor Cow. The title track (originally called "Poor Love"), which set to music Christopher Logue's poem Be Not Too Hard, was released as the B-side of his next single, "Jennifer Juniper", a song inspired by Jenny Boyd, sister of George Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd. It was another top 40 hit in the US. Donovan developed a strong interest in eastern mysticism and claims to have played a significant role in awakening the interest of The Beatles in transcendental meditation. In early 1968 he was part of the group that travelled to India to spend several weeks at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh. The visit gained worldwide attention thanks to the presence of (for a time) all four Beatles as well as Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love and actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence (who inspired John Lennon to write "Dear Prudence"). According to a 1968 Paul McCartney interview with Radio Luxembourg, it was during this time that Donovan taught Lennon and McCartney various finger-picking guitar styles including the clawhammer style, which he had learned from his St Albans friend, Mac MacLeod. Lennon went on to use the technique on songs including "Dear Prudence", "Julia" and "Look At Me" and McCartney with "Blackbird" and "Mother Nature's Son".
Donovan's next single, released in May 1968, was the swirling psychedelic "Hurdy Gurdy Man". In the liner notes from EMI's reissues, it is revealed that the song was intended for Donovan's old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod, who had a heavy rock band called Hurdy Gurdy. After hearing MacLeod's power trio version, Donovan considered giving it to Jimi Hendrix, but when Mickie Most heard it, he convinced Donovan that the song was a sure single that he should record himself. Donovan tried to get Hendrix to play on the recording, but he was on tour and unavailable, as was Jimmy Page who was out of the country touring with The Yardbirds. Instead the job went to a young British guitarist, Alan Parker. The heavier sound of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was a deliberate attempt by Most and Donovan to reach a wider audience in the US, where new hard-rock groups like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were having a major impact. In this case Most's commercial instincts were spot-on, and the song became one of Donovan's biggest hits, making the Top 5 in both the UK and the US, and the Top 10 in Australia.
In July 1968, Epic released Donovan in Concert, the recording of his Anaheim concert in September 1967. The front cover featured only a painting by Fleur Cowles (with neither the artist's name nor the title). The album contained only two of his big hits and several other songs which would have been new to the audience. The expanded double CD release from 2006 contained "Epistle To Derroll", a tribute to one of his formative influences, Derroll Adams. The album also includes extended group arrangements of "Young Girl Blues" and "The Pebble And The Man", a song later reworked and retitled as "Happiness Runs".
During the summer of 1968, Donovan worked on a second LP of children's songs, eventually released in 1971 as the double album, HMS Donovan. In September, Epic released a new single, "Laléna", a subdued acoustic ballad which reached the low 30s in the US charts. The album The Hurdy Gurdy Man followed (not released in the UK), continuing the style of the Mellow Yellow LP and reached #20 in the US, despite containing two earlier hits, the title track and "Jennifer Juniper". After another US tour in the autumn he again collaborated with Paul McCartney, who was producing Post Card, the debut LP by the Welsh singer Mary Hopkin. Hopkin covered three Donovan songs: "Lord Of The Reedy River", "Happiness Runs" and "Voyage of the Moon". McCartney returned the favour by playing tambourine and singing backing vocals on Donovan's next single, "Atlantis", which was released in the UK (with "I Love My Shirt" as the B-side) in late November and reached 23.
Early in 1969, the comedy film If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium featured music by Donovan; the title tune was written by him and sung by J. P. Rags, and he also performed "Lord of the Reedy River" in the film as a singer at a youth hostel. On 20 January, Epic released the single, "To Susan On The West Coast Waiting", with "Atlantis" as the B-side. The A-side, a gentle calypso-styled song, contained yet another pointed anti-war message, and became a moderate Top 40 US hit. However, when DJs in America and Australia flipped it and began playing "Atlantis" heavily, that song became a major hit, achieving top ten in both countries in spite of its subject matter, its lengthy spoken introduction, and its running time of five minutes. Ironically, the gentle "Atlantis" formed the musical backdrop to a very violent scene in Martin Scorsese's film "GoodFellas". "Atlantis" was revived in 2000 for an episode of Futurama titled "The Deep South" (2ACV12) which first aired on 16 April of that year. For this episode Donovan recorded a satirical version of the song describing the Lost City of Atlanta which featured in the episode.
In March 1969 (too soon to include "Atlantis"), Epic and Pye released Donovan's Greatest Hits, which included four songs previously only available as singles – "Epistle To Dippy", "There is a Mountain", "Jennifer Juniper" and "Laléna", as well as rerecorded versions of "Colours" and "Catch The Wind" (which had been unavailable to Epic because of Donovan's contractual problems) and specially-mixed stereo versions of "Sunshine Superman" (previously unissued full length version) and "Season of the Witch". It became the most successful album of his career; it reached #4 in the US, became a million-selling gold record, and stayed on the Billboard album chart for more than a year. On 26 June 1969 the track "Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)" (recorded May 1969), a song which gained him an avid following on the rave scene decades later, was released, reaching #12 in the UK but charting less strongly in the US. This time he was backed by the original incarnation of The Jeff Beck Group, featuring Beck on lead guitar, Ronnie Wood on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Micky Waller on drums. The Beck group was under contract to Most and it was Most's idea to team them with Donovan in an attempt to bring a heavier sound to Donovan's work, while also introducing a more lyrical edge to Beck's. On 7 July 1969, Donovan performed at the first show in the second season of free rock concerts in Hyde Park, London, which also featured Blind Faith, Richie Havens, The Edgar Broughton Band and the Third Ear Band. In September 1969, the "Barabajagal" album reached #23 in the US Only the recent "Barabajagal"/"Trudi" single and "Superlungs My Supergirl" were 1969 recordings, the remaining tracks were from sessions recorded in London in May 1968 and in Los Angeles in November 1968.
Split with Most and later career
In late 1969, the productive relationship between Mickie Most and Donovan ended abruptly after an argument over the conduct of an unidentified recording session in Los Angeles. In the 1995 BBC Radio 2 special The Donovan Story, Most recounted:
Donovan declared that he wanted to record with someone else, and they did not work together again until Cosmic Wheels (1973). After the rift, Donovan disappeared, apparently to Greece, re-emerging six months later to begin work on his next LP. In late 1970, the result, which was both titled and credited to Open Road, came out and was a marked departure from his earlier work. Stripping the sound back to a rock trio format, he dubbed the sound, "Celtic Rock". The album was moderately successful, but it marked the start of a gradual decline in his popularity and commercial success, and his concert appearances became increasingly rare. Reflecting on this transitional period in 2005, Donovan commented:
Donovan toured consistently throughout the late 1960s, often playing to sell-out crowds. But the reality was that, for most of the top British performers of the period, their commercial success was being savagely undercut by the punitive British tax rate levied on high earners. By the turn of the decade Donovan's advisers were pressing him to go into a self-imposed "tax exile" for a year, during which he was not supposed to set foot in the UK:
After this fortuitous reunion, Donovan and Linda married on 2 October 1970 at Windsor Registry Office and they honeymooned in the Caribbean. From this time on Donovan dropped out of the standard round of tour promotion and concentrated on writing, recording and his young family. The largely self-produced children's album HMS Donovan was released in 1971, but failed to gain a wide audience (owing mainly to its being a UK-only release). During an 18-month tax "exile" in Ireland (1971–72), he penned songs for the 1972 film The Pied Piper in which he played the title role, and for Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), Franco Zeffirelli's film about St Francis of Assisi. The title song from the Zeffirelli film provided Donovan with an unexpected publishing windfall in 1974 when it was covered as the B-side of the million-selling US top 5 hit "The Lord's Prayer", by Australia's singing nun, Sister Janet Mead.
After signing a lucrative new deal with Epic, Donovan reunited with Mickie Most in early 1973, resulting in the LP Cosmic Wheels, which featured arrangements by Chris Spedding. It was his last chart success, reaching the top 40 in both America and Britain. Late in the year he released Essence To Essence, produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, and a live album recorded in Japan (and only released in Japan), which featured an extended version of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" that included an additional verse written by George Harrison in Rishikesh.
He did the vocals on the Alice Cooper song "Billion Dollar Babies". Later output included 7-Tease (1974) and Slow Down World (1976), his last recording for Epic. In 1977, he toured the as the opening act for Yes during their six-month tour of North America and Europe following the release of Going for the One (1977). The 1978 LP, Donovan was released on Most's RAK Records in the UK and on Clive Davis' new Arista Records label in the US; it reunited him for the last time with Mickie Most and John Cameron, but was not well received at the height of the New Wave period and failed to chart. It was followed by Neutronica (1980), Love Is Only Feeling (1981), Lady Of The Stars (1984), and a 1990 live album featuring new performances of his classic songs.
The punk era (1977–1980) had provoked a backlash in Britain against the optimism and whimsy of the hippie era, of which Donovan was considered a prime example. The word "hippie" became pejorative, and Donovan's fortunes with the public and the media suffered. In this period he guest-starred on Stars on Ice, a half-hour variety show on ice produced by CTV in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. There was a brief respite for Donovan when he appeared alongside Sting, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck in the Amnesty International benefit show The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. He was accompanied by Danny Thompson and performed several of his hits including "Sunshine Superman", "Mellow Yellow", "Colours", "Universal Soldier", and "Catch the Wind". He featured in the line-up of the all-star performance of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" for the show's finale. His performances were seen and heard worldwide on the resulting album and movie, released in 1982. A tribute album to Donovan, Island of Circles, was released by Nettwerk in 1991. Sony's 2-CD boxed set Troubadour: The Definitive Collection 1964–1976 (1992) continued the restoration of his reputation, and was followed by the overdue 1994 release of Four Donovan Originals, which saw his four classic Epic LPs released on CD in their original form for the first time in the UK. He found a seemingly unlikely ally in rap producer and Def Jam label owner Rick Rubin, a long-time fan.
In 2000, Donovan narrated and played himself in the Futurama episode "The Deep South" which aired on 16 April with the song "Atlantis". In November 2003, Donovan was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Hertfordshire. He was nominated by Sara Loveridge (who was a student at the University and had interviewed and reviewed Donovan for the University paper in 2001–2002), Andrew Morris, Sara's partner and Donovan researcher/writer and co-nominated by Mac MacLeod.
In 2000, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was featured prominently on the soundtrack of Michael Cuesta's movie L.I.E. A new album, Beat Cafe, was released on Appleseed Records in 2004. It marked a return to the jazzy sound of some of his 1960s recordings and featured bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Jim Keltner, with production by John Chelew (Blind Boys Of Alabama). At a subsequent series of Beat Cafe performances in New York, Richard Barone (The Bongos) joined Donovan on stage to sing and read passages from Allen Ginsberg's Howl.
In May 2004, Donovan played "Sunshine Superman" at the pre-wedding concert for the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark. He released his early demo tapes, Sixty Four, and a re-recording of the Brother Sun, Sister Moon soundtrack on iTunes. A set of his Mickie Most albums was released on 9 May 2005. This EMI set has dozens of extra tracks including another song recorded with the Jeff Beck Group. In 2005, his autobiography The Hurdy Gurdy Man was published. In May/June 2005, Donovan toured the UK (Beat Cafe Tour) and Europe with Tom Mansi on double bass, former Damned drummer Rat Scabies and Flipron keyboard player, Joe Atkinson.
In spring/summer 2006, Donovan played a series of British festivals and two dates at Camden's The Jazz Café, London.
In January 2007, Donovan played concerts at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, DC, at Alice Tully Hall, in New York City, and at the Kodak Theatre, in Los Angeles, California, in conjunction with a presentation by film maker David Lynch supporting the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and world peace. The concert at the Kodak Theatre was filmed by Palm Springs production company Raven Productions and was broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Public television as a pledge drive special. Donovan's partnership with the David Lynch Foundation saw him performing additional concerts through October 2007, as well as giving presentations about the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique. He appeared at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa in May 2007, as well as touring the UK with David Lynch in October 2007.
In March 2007, Donovan played two shows at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. He had planned a spring 2007 release of a new album, along with a UK tour. However, he subsequently announced on his website that the tour had been cancelled and the album release delayed. He indicated that he is in good health but gave no reason for the cancellation.
In April 2007, Donovan presented a three-part series on Ravi Shankar for BBC Radio 2. In October 2007 Donovan announced plans for the "Invincible Donovan University" focusing on Transcendental Meditation. It will be near either Glasgow or Edinburgh. In October 2007 the DVD, The Donovan Concert—Live in LA, filmed at the Kodak Theatre Los Angeles earlier in the year, was released in the UK. On 6 October 2009, Donovan was honoured as a BMI Icon at the 2009 annual BMI London Awards. The Icon designation is given to BMI songwriters who have had "a unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers".
In October 2010, Donovan's newest recording, a double CD set entitled Ritual Groove was made available exclusively through his official website. Prior to the album's release, he had described Ritual Groove as a multi-media album that was waiting for videos to be applied to it. His song "Jennifer Juniper" was featured on The Simpsons episode "Flaming Moe" which aired on 16 January 2011. Two other Donovan songs have been played on other episodes of The Simpsons: "Season Of The Witch" in "Rednecks and Broomsticks" and "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" in "Weekend at Burnsie's". In "I Am Furious (Yellow)", Homer Simpson is heard singing "Mellow Yellow" along with a brief backing track.
On 14 April 2012 Donovan was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Donovan married Linda Lawrence on 2 October 1970. They have two children together, Astrella Celeste and Oriole Nebula. He also has two other children, Ione Skye and Donovan Leitch.
- If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969)
- The Pied Piper (1972)
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
- A Boy Called Donovan (1966)
- Dont Look Back (1967)
- "The Deep South", Futurama season 2 episode 6 (2000)
- Poor Cow (1967)
- Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)
- The Pied Piper (1972)
Music and documentary DVD
- Festival (Directed by Murray Lerner, 1967. Footage from Newport Festival 1963–66. Also with Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary)
- Don't look back (Documentary film by D. A. Pennebaker, 1967)
- Isle of Wight festival (1970, "Catch the Wind")
- The Secret Policeman's Other Ball ("Catch the Wind", :"Universal Soldier" & "Colours".)
- Donovan: The Donovan Concert Live in L.A. 21 January 2007
- Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan (Documentary directed by Hannes Rossacher, 2008)
- Official website
- Donovan unofficial site
- Donovan at the Internet Movie Database
- Extensive discography
- Donovan interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).
- Donovan at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
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