The Hurdy Gurdy Man
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The rise, reign and early retirement of 1960s British pop superstar Donovan.

His early years spent in post-World War II Glasgow, his leg weakened by a polio vaccination, Leitch's childhood was the gritty but honest sort, peopled with decent folk struggling to get by. He yearned for more—a life worthy of Jack Kerouac—and accordingly hit the road to spend a couple of vagabond teenage years on the beaches of Cornwall. While playing small clubs on the Beat scene, he was discovered, then taken to London's Tin Pan Alley, and finally made a sudden and unexpected ascent into the pop stratosphere, all within the space of mere months. Here, he discusses how it all came about, and why he eventually left it behind: how Beat culture evolved into the flower power scene, and the series of characters he met on his personal (frequently very drug-fueled) quest toward peace and love. But for all of his velvet capes and mystical journeys, Leitch was also a serious musician, constantly expanding his sound with various styles: Celtic, jazz, classical, Indian, Caribbean and anything else that struck his fancy. He associated with the biggest musicians of the time, including the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. And, he points out countless times, he was there first. He was the first to play electric guitar at a folk concert, he says, well before Dylan did at Monterrey Folk: “Bob's experiment that August of 1965 would be hailed as the first 'folk-rock' fusion, but I went electric on stage back in the spring of that year.” He also notes that “the dawning consciousness of my spiritual quest appeared on the new album Rubber Soul”—a Beatles album.

Romances, odysseys, tax evasion, drug busts, true love—it's all here, although a bit more tiresome and credit-demanding than one might expect from the original Mellow Yellow.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-312-35252-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2005