“Danavan! Danavan! Who is this Danavan?!?”
Bob Dylan, in 1965’s ‘Don’t Look Back‘ is met by the name of Donovan everywhere he goes – “He’s the new you!” everyone tells him, and with Donovan dressed head to toe in scuffed suede and cord and occassionally sporting a jaunty Lennon cap atop his outgrown Beatlesish mop while singing songs of multiple verse, they have a point. When an unconvinced but curious Bob, surrounded by a stellar gang of hangers-on hanging on to his every word and savage put down finally crosses paths with Donovan in a hotel room and asks him to play one of his songs, he sneers that it sounds a bit like ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. Ouch! Bob complaining about plagiarism is a bit like a petty thief complaining about being pick-pocketed.
Donovan, if you didn’t already know, is the Forrest Gump of 60’s popular music. His CV makes him out to be just about the most influential musician who ever walked the planet, blazing a trail of originality while pointing the major players of the day in the right direction before receiving musical favours of thanks somewhere down the line. ‘They couldn’t do without me’ might well be Donovan’s epitaph. ‘They can thank me later‘. He has an incredibly big shout for himself.
Just as Forrest was the inspiration for the Elvis pelvis hip-shake, just as Forrest witnessed first-hand the front line in Vietnam, just as Forrest shook hands with JFK and influenced the cultural climate of the times, Donovan was responsible, amongst other things, for (deep breath….) gifting the ‘sky of blue and sea of green‘ line in ‘Yellow Submarine‘ to Paul McCartney, turning John Lennon on to a new style of fingerpicking, from which came Dear Prudence, Happiness Is A Warm Gun and a handful of others, holding George Harrison’s hand on his first tentative steps on the sitar and aligning the stars that would lead to Led Zeppelin’s formation. Without Donovan, none of that would’ve happened, y’know. He was the first musician to release a ‘psychedelic’ record (‘Sunshine Superman’), the first musician to be on the receiving end of a drugs bust and the first musician to realise the value of talking yourself up. Hang on to your ego, as one of the era’s true geniuses once said.
When music started getting heavier, Donovan was there at the front, claiming a leading role. As Cream, The Yardbirds and the Jimi Hendrix Experience kicked in the jams, he recruited half of the future Led Zeppelin (Page and Jones) along with experienced sessioneer Clem Cattini on drums and cut the folk/psych epoch-defining Hurdy Gurdy Man.
Donovan – Hurdy Gurdy Man
It’s an astonishing record. Taking it’s cue from The Small Faces ‘Green Circles’, it’s a riot of descending basslines, wobbly vocals and strung out, wigged-out electric guitars. In true understated Donovan fashion, he claimed that a) he wrote it for Jimi Hendrix and when Jimi didn’t want it, Donovan asked him to play on his version instead but b) once producer Mickie Most had heard the version Donovan had cut, told Donovan to keep it as it was and release it for himself. Not only that, but c) the last verse written by George Harrison (payback for those sitar lessons, no doubt) was dropped in favour of the uncredited Jimmy Page’s fantastic divebombing solo to keep the record under the crucial 3 minute mark. With the record’s success, claims the humble Don, Led Zeppelin were born.
Quite the magnet for talent, was our Donovan. In his 60’s heyday, he hung about/latched onto Brian Jones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Dylan and anyone who might appear cutting edge. What’s not so well-known is that a few short years later, he’d be in the front row at the Lesser Free Trade Hall offering fashion tips as The Sex Pistols broke year zero, he’d be the first to don a bandana and a yellow smiley and drop one (geezer) to Altern 8 (who’s ‘Evapor 8’ he ghost-wrote) and give The Stone Roses the idea to sample a James Brown drum loop before playing, uncredited (strangely, for him) the distinctive wockawockawocka lead guitar part on ‘Fool’s Gold‘.
“Danavan! Danavan! Who is this Danavan?!?” The most influential man who ever walked on Planet Pop, obviously.