Its an oddly regal voice on the other end of the line with a distinctly British accent, and a certain laconic charm which almost immediately puts my mind at ease.
This is he, I reply, still trying to place the tone and the personality a personality evident from just those 7 words.
This is Donovan calling.
For someone like myself, thats a moment that just about takes my breath away.
Id given up hope of speaking to the legendary troubadour and spiritual seeker after weeks of waiting around for some sort of response to my request for an interview in advance of John Mellencamps recent kickoff show for his Greatest Hits Tour at our Civic Center.
Donovan was being touted as the heartland rockers special guest for all the U.S. dates, and as strange a matchup as that seemed, it paled in comparison to having an extended chat with one of the only cats to ever truly give Bob Dylan a run for the money at his own game.
Long story short, Don (as his friends call him, and as I too shall call him until he hears about it and asks me to stop) had been in Europe and never got my messages. Is it too late to do the interview? he asks. Well, yeah, it was too late to run before the show itself, but hey, who am I to turn down such an opportunity?
And so we talked. And talked. Dons a wonderful talker. Measured, convivial, gentlemanly, and so very well-versed. It was quite a pleasure, and my only regret is that we havent got the space here to even touch the skipping reels of astute insight and perspective he has on not only his own career and the influence his early albums had on rock and folk in general but the evolving music scenes of today, and what role he might play in those scenes at this stage of his career.
Oh well. maybe we can fit the entire thing on the website at some point. Suffice it to say that on the occasion of his 40th year as a professional musician, hes gearing up for a whirlwind of activity after years of relative silence.
His current album (and first of new material in 8 years) Beat Café is knocking the critics dead. Its a concept CD about the entire history of the Bohemian movements of the world from the 1840s up through Bohemias last major gasp (the 1960s). Don says he has always felt that his life and career are inextricably linked to the pursuit of true Bohemian ideals, and as soon as the Mellencamp jaunt is done (on which he too is concentrating on his biggest chart hits), hes embarking on a worldwide trek to push this new Donovan thing as far as it will go, with a forthcoming autobiography, and a major film retrospective of his entire life.
At the opening night of that tour, he appeared slightly nervous at first, but soon warmed to a crowd one could charitably call not his own, delivering a half-dozen classic tunes, such as the trippy Hurdy Gurdy Man, the haunting Season Of The Witch, and the anthemic Atlantis, backed by Mellencamps crack band who seemed to relish the opportunity to use their effects pedals on songs with more than three chords. In the end, he was quite well-received.
With that in mind, heres a very tiny taste of my audience with the man:
Connect Savannah: How did you come to partner with John Mellencamp?
Donovan: I had watched him from afar and listened to his music, not immediately connecting it to me straight away. But he says that I was a tremendous influence on him right from the start, along with Bob, of course. Both of us who invaded the pop charts from the folk charts (laughs) with our poetic lyrics and social conscience. Little did I know one day he would invite me to join him onstage. Apparently, he had seen Paul Simon introduce The Everly Brothers as guests, and a light went on, and John said hed like to celebrate with an influence of his own, and that was me.
Connect Savannah: Are you concerned that his fans wont make that leap?
Donovan: John is astute. He would not invite me unless he thought his crowd would like what Im doing.
Connect Savannah: Youre involved in a lot of different endeavors right now...
Donovan: The film, the book, the record, theyre all designed to present the Bohemian manifesto. Because if it was just my life story, that would be amazing enough, but whats more amazing is my songs seem to mark the milestones of a generations search for some answer to the madness. I include in my book all my contemporaries who walked the same path and wrote songs of a similar urge.
Connect Savannah: Were you aware at the time of how much of an impact you had?
Donovan: I missed some things then, but we were all paying attention to pop culture. John Lennon was listening closely, and Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, and Roger McGuinn. We were all after the same thing. It was a fusion...