The year 2005 marks Donovan Leitch’s 40th year in the music biz—a career span that has charted his emergence as a ’60s hippy troubadour, a pop hitmaker, a folk laureate, and a poet, as well as one of those mythic cultural icons who can be identified by a single name. The still vital and impish musician is marking this anniversary with a new album, Beat Café [Appleseed], sporadic tours, and an autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man.
What guitars are you currently playing?I have some beautiful Tony Zemaitis guitars from the ’70s—Blue Moon, Sunburst, and Green Heart—as well as my current favorite, Kelly, which was made by Danny Ferrington. When I first picked her up, all she would play was Irish tunes. I had to trick her into writing other songs. On the Beat Café tour, I’m taking a Harvey Citron acoustic-electric. The Citron has a very big and powerful sound, but it still sounds like an acoustic guitar.
Which players influenced your style of self-accompaniment?As you ask, I think of Martin Carthy, who is a giant of the British folk movement. I learned a lot from Martin, and it was Martin Carthy who Bob Dylan sought out when he first visited Britain in 1964. Then I ran into Derroll Adams, who was my direct link with the American folk scene. He had come over to Europe in the late ’50s, and was bumming around with Jack Elliot—who we called the “famous first disciple of Woody Guthrie”—and a Scotsman named Alex Campbell. These three were kind of the wild boys of the folk revival when I was getting into folk music. Two Yankees and a Scot! I didn’t know how to fingerpick until I met Derroll, who played banjo in a very unique way. I would follow Derroll around like Dylan being a disciple of Woody. Soon, I was incorporating Derroll’s banjo styles into the guitar fingerpicking that I had learned from Dirty Hugh [Editor’s Note: Dirty Hugh—a mysterious person who is referred to only as “Dirty Hugh”—taught the teenaged Donovan the fingerstyle technique of the Carter Family.] Banjo is a very unique influence on this folk style that I play—that picking and dancing over the strings. Many people thought I was playing an alternate tuning, when I was really just playing four strings on a standard-tuned guitar.
How did your “beat-box” style of rhythmic slapping develop?Not many people know that I was a drummer first, but I realized that to be a drummer, you needed a band. Then I started getting restless and becoming bohemian, so I really couldn’t resist changing to [solo] guitar. But the rhythmic qualities of the drummer remained intact, and I started feeling the guitar as a rhythm section—like Bo Diddley. Bo was originally a drummer, as well, and he hit the guitar in a way that sounded like a snare drum. The slapping became more prominent, however, through my understanding of Bert Jansch’s music. Jansch was making this chunking sound with his fingers, and I thought, “That’s good. I’ll do it, too.”
Some of my enduring images of you are those 1966 photos from the infamous Maharishi trip to India with the Beatles.It has been said that I spent more time socially, musically, and spiritually with the Beatles than any other musician of those days. In fact, I became the only person who ever added lyrics to a Beatles tune when I reworked two or three lines on “Yellow Submarine.” I also showed John Lennon the clawhammer fingerstyle that Dirty Hugh taught me, and John went on to write “Dear Prudence,” “Julia,” and “Crippled Inside” with a whole new pattern. In the ’60s, we were experiencing the same sort of crazy fame. We did not need to be this famous. We actually wanted to present the bohemian manifesto in lyrics and music. When we journeyed to India, we were seeking how to walk away from the extraordinary event that had become too big for us.
Chris Wyse and Owl Premiere Music Video for New Single “Lake Ego” (WATCH)
Bassist Erik Scott Wins Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Instrumental at ZMR Awards
Lando Chill to Release Album 'The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind' With Chris Pierce on Bass
Dada Life’s Endless Smile Plug-in Creates Tension for EDM Build-Ups
Video: Presonus Studio One 3.5 Update Adds Major Features
This Week in Free Stuff: Reverb, Delay & EQ Plug-ins
Chick Corea Answers YOUR Questions!
Master Class: Korg minilogue and monologue
TALENT SCOUT - James Francies
Dan Auerbach Premieres “Waiting On a Song” Music Video
Are These the Top 10 Guitar Harmonies of All Time?
Watch Steve Vai Perform Led Zeppelin Classics with Zepparella
KLANG:fabrik Gets Inside The Heads Of Linkin Park
L-Acoustics ARCS WiFo Finds Favor With DC/Baltimore-Area Churches
Sully Meets the Challenges for RHCP with Rat Sound and L-Acoustics
Moving Up the Neck and Soloing Over Two-Chord Vamps
Ibanez's New RGA Iron Label RGAIX6U and RGAIX7U Guitars: See and Hear Them in Action
Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and Others Rehearse in 1992
Copyright ©2017 by NewBay Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. 28 East 28th Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10016 T (212) 378-0400 F (212) 378-0470