Donovan Biography

Songwriter, Guitarist (1946–)
Donovan emerged onto the musical scene in the 1960s as a folk singer, but he is best remembered for such hits as “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman,” hippie odes to the counterculture revolution swelling at the time.


Donovan burst onto the musical scene in 1965 with the folk songs “Catch the Wind” and “Colors,” and as his songs took on the psychedelic flavors of the day, he was soon helping to define the era. With hits like “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Season of the Witch” and “Mellow Yellow,” Donovan cemented his reputation as a hitmaker who could bring the 1960s subculture to the mainstream with verve.

Early Life

Donovan Philips Leitch was born in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, Scotland on May 10, 1946. He began playing guitar at age 14 and teamed up with his musician friend Gypsy Dave to do a limited tour of the United Kingdom a few years later. In 1964 he recorded his first demo, which contained "Catch the Wind," a song that would gain greater popularity a year later, when it was released as a single. In 1965, Donovan emerged onto the larger music scene with a series of live performances on the British television series Ready Steady Go!

At this stage in his career, Donovan resembled Bob Dylan in both appearance (scraggly) and musical style (folksy), but all that would change in 1965, when he began working with a new producer, British hitmaker Mickie Most. The first Donovan/Most collaboration was "Sunshine Superman," one of the earliest overtly psychedelic songs, and one that helped ignite the musical counterculture revolution. The subsequent album was also titled Sunshine Superman, and it contained the song "Season of the Witch," which would become a classic as well.

High-Profile Musician

In October 1966, Donovan released the single "Mellow Yellow,” which was arranged by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. It became Donovan's signature song. Also in 1966, Donovan became the first high-profile musician to get arrested for possession of marijuana. The incident kept him out of the United States long enough for him to miss the now-legendary Monterey Pop Festival.

By this time, Donovan had made some famous friends, prominent among them the Beatles' Paul McCartney. In February 1967, the Beatles invited Donovan to join them at Abbey Road Studios during the final recording session for "A Day in the Life," the last song on their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Donovan was also one of the few musicians to collaborate with the Beatles, contributing lyrics and vocals to their song "Yellow Submarine."

Later Years

By 1969, Donovan had already released a greatest hits album, which went on to be his best-selling work. He continued to make new records as well, although after 1969 they were chiefly without Mickie Most, with whom he had a falling out. Donovan continued to tour, and he also wrote music for films, such as The Pied Piper and Brother Sun, Sister Moon, both released in 1972.

Donovan is a supporter of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which is based on transcendental meditation, a practice that Donovan has embraced since the 1960s. He has never stopped playing music, either live or in the studio, and over the course of his career he has performed with folk music legends Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and rock musicians Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.

In 2012, Donovan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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