by Robert Wilkinson
Today we celebrate the 68th birthday of Donovan Leitch. Poet, mystic, balladeer, and once considered the Sacred Isles' answer to Bob Dylan, he's still crafting some of the most beautiful songs in the world!
This Scottish singer-songwriter called simply by his first name, Donovan (10 May 1946) came to fame in early 1965 with his hits "Catch the Wind," "Colours," and the timeless "Universal Soldier." Given his folk roots in the Celtic music of Ireland, Scotland and England, which also played a major part in American folk and blues roots, it was inevitable that the press would compare him with Bob Dylan, since both were troubadours in the classic sense. That comparison was not entirely fair, since Dylan was far more acerbic and intense than Donovan, who tended toward more a more mystical sense of storytelling, introspective poetry, and playful lyrics.
He followed his initial folk style with pure "flower power" psychedelia, and in 1966 scored a monster #1 hit with "Sunshine Superman." He continued his psychedelic folk-rock stream of songs with "Mellow Yellow," my personal favorite "Season of the Witch," "There Is A Mountain," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," "Jennifer Juniper," the extremely electric "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Lalena," and "Atlantis," with dozens more in the years during and after these.
Back in the day he hung out with Joan Baez, Brian Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and The Beatles, and taught both John Lennon and Paul McCartney his finger-picking style in 1968. Besides being one of the first to use sitar and tablas on his songs, his eclectic and unique style blends folk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, and world music. If you haven't heard his music, prepare for a treat! And if you remember his music, then enjoy going back to a more innocent gentle era!
We'll begin with some great live performances!
From 1964, "Catch the Wind."
From 1965, "The Universal Soldier"
Live on television in the mid-60s, "Colours."
We'll finish the clips of his early career with Donovan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 doing "The War Drags On," "The Ballad of the Crystal Man," and "Colors," the latter with Joan Baez.
To dig where his head was at during those years, here's a 1966 Donovan Interview.
Here’s Bob Dylan and Donovan during Zimmie's mid-60s UK tour.
We now move into his psychedelic era, beginning with a French Pop Festival performance in 1966 of his awesome and spell binding "Season Of The Witch." (The video isn't that great.)
Here's an extremely psychedelic performance with the cameras providing a sense of altered reality! For your memories of another time, "Mellow Yellow."
Some songs from the same era include:
"Jennifer Juniper." (1968)
"There Is A Mountain" with Sergio Mendes, 1968.
Here's Donovan at L' Olympia Paris in 1970 doing his major psychedelic fuzzed-out song "Hurdy Gurdy Man," with another version from Beatle Week in Liverpool where Donovan performs "Hurdy Gurdy Man" with a special verse that George Harrison wrote for the song that never had been recorded.
I also found a 1972 Donovan BBC concert where he does "There Is a Mountain."
Here are some live gems from his appearance in 1968 on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Here’s Donovan doing “Lalena” and “Happiness Runs.”
Still on the show, here's Donovan with Mary Travers and Jennifer Warnes on "To Love Me (Lassie Lay Down)."
Also from the Smothers Brothers, here he is doing "Atlantis" helped out by The Smothers Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary, Jennifer Warnes, and Mort Sahl.
I found this Donovan concert from 1972 where he performs "Cosmic Wheels," "Maria Magenta," "The Pee Song," and "Mellow Yellow."
For those who want the original studio versions of his songs, here they are with most set to still photos or footage. His early stuff is definitely folk alley!
Back to the very trippy "Sunshine Superman."
"Season of the Witch." For two more incredible takes on this song from radically different approaches, I found the original Vanilla Fudge totally psychedelic studio version of "Season of the Witch," which is an amazing piece of work in itself! To close this trifecta of performances of this oh so strange song, here's the funkier "Super Session" version of Donovan's "Season of the Witch" featuring Stephen Stills, Al Kooper, and Mike Bloomfield. Enjoy these three entirely different arrangements of this magnificent mystical tune!
Back to the studio versions of Donovan's best in the psychedelic era:
"Wear Your Love Like Heaven." (Bonus points if you remember which company used this song in the 70s to sell its product! Answer to this Kosmic Question at the end of the article.)
I figured a fitting closer for today’s birthday celebration would be a two-fer. We begin with a live 2007 performance at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood of Donovan doing a very funky version of “Season of the Witch.” For a 2012 performance at Sundance, here’s a solo performance of “Season of the Witch.”
And for an encore, from 2010 here's Donovan doing "Mellow Yellow."
If you want to find out more about what this amazing talent has been and is still doing, please visit Donovan's Official Website. On a final note, I couldn't find anything from his 1996 album "Sutras," but it's a great album. The themes are definitely spiritual and worth more than one listen, so if you can find a copy, by all means get one!
So it's a very Happy and Merry 68th Solar Return and Birthday to this Scottish poet and mystic, a Taurus of amazing smiles and gentle awareness. All the best from the Cosmic Cantina!
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson
(ps - The answer to the Kosmic Question is the Eau De Love (by Menley & James) fragrance commercial!)