What stands out in your mind when you think back on your relationship with The Beatles?
We walked away from superfame in 1968 and went to India to search for the way forward. We wanted to dive deep within … We had read about meditation … George gave me Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda. I gave him The Diamond Sutra of the Buddhist path. John was reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead. We all searched for an answer to the big question and also the root of suffering. We had already sung of peace and love and led millions to express their angst through our songs. Now we would be the most visible artists who would bring true meditation back to the West through the great gift Maharishi gave to us.
What was it like to be a part of the creation of “Yellow Submarine” and “A Day in the Life”?
I wrote a line for “Yellow Submarine” but wasn’t at the session. I dropped by [for] “A Day in the Life,” and it was as one would expect: a celebration of the great heights of creativity we had reached where we, as poets and shamans, announced the musical triumph of the universal song. I wandered through the studio in a dream, greeting the pantheon of stars with a smile and a knowing wink … the world would hear this recording soon and marvel!
How much of a musical influence were The Beatles on you during the ’60s, and how much do you think your music influenced what they were doing?
My breakthrough album, Sunshine Superman, was made in late ’65/’66 and showed the way for many to fuse all styles of music. [Sgt.] Pepper would be influenced. George said, “Donovan’s all over the White Album” … he meant the album was filled with my acoustic guitar styles. It’s known I taught John finger-style guitar, and many folk [and] Celtic styles of acoustic playing were part of the White Album. Paul also picked up a finger-picking lick or two from me. I am pleased to have opened new songwriting doors for these great songwriter chums. I was encouraged, rather than influenced, by the first Beatle single, “Love Me Do,” as it showed me that British new songwriting and recording was separating itself from American beginnings. The single had Aeolian harmonies, too … sounds of things to come.
>Of your own hits, is there a tune you feel epitomizes your work during your 1960s heyday?
This year, a song from 1968, “The Hurdy Gurdy Man,” rings through from the great year when I journeyed to India and rediscovered meditation with The Beatles. Jimmy Page plays guitar, and I play the Indian instrument—the tambura, gifted to me by George in India—on this track. Here comes the hurdy gurdy man, and he’s singing songs of love. This song announces that a generation will once again dive deep within and find the answer to humanity’s suffering, find that it’s ignorance of the true unity that underlies all life, that we all are one beneath the skin. Ignorance is the only sin.
Donovan performs at the Las Vegas Fest for Beatles Fans at 9 p.m. on June 30 and July 1 at the Mirage. Tickets are $60 at the door. 866-843-3378.