John Contributes Liner Notes To Essential Donovan Release

John inducted Donovan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week. He also wrote insightful liner notes for the just release "Essential Donovan" collection that chronicles his earliest encounter with Donovan's music and its lasting influence on him.  

When I was kid of just 13, back in the mid-’60s, I was completely caught up in rock and roll. In fact, I was the singer in a band where all the other guys were a whole lot older. But I knew there was other music out there because I had heard Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie as well as Irish and Scottish folk songs in my parents’ record collection. The seed had planted for me to offset my rock orientation, counterbalancing it with something else, something more akin to what Woody had done but for and of my generation. It didn’t take all that long for me to discover Donovan. He was actually Scottish and steeped in that tradition and he was influenced by Woody, too. I heard Donovan’s “Catch The Wind” and then his Fairytale album and was transfixed. I learned as many of his songs as I could and became a sort of “Donovan jukebox.”

My parents were kind of dubious about rock, they thought it sounded like a bunch of noise. I learned how to play and sing “Catch The Wind” and performed it for them and claimed I had actually written the song. Well, that kind of shut them down (up?) and they had to admit there was some worth in that just the way they valued Woody’s music. A few days later I played them Donovan’s record of it and that, so to speak, drove the stake in even further. It was “us” and “them” back then and Donovan was a brilliant protagonist (poster boy?) for “us.”

At that time Donovan was one of the only folk artists who was able to present that kind of music in such a way as to make it palatable to be played on mainstream radio. It was kind of subversive in the sense that something so cutting edge could be so broadly accepted, generating a string of huge hits. The combination of Donovan’s songs and voice and Mickie Most’s groundbreaking (and, yes, commercial) production was a stroke of genius, raising the music to a much higher, almost Beatles-level of sophistication and innovation.

Just about 40 years after I pulled that “Catch The Wind” stunt on my parents I got to thinking that Donovan hadn’t been considered for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I wanted to highlight just how important he had been not only to me, but also to the ongoing evolution of music, melding folk and rock and even jazz. He was a songwriter who was able to show a gentler, more sensitive side and, while that impressed me to no end, it didn’t really “take” as far as my own music is concerned though I certainly appreciated it, conceptually. I decided to ask him tour with us but I couldn’t make him the opening act – I just had too much respect for him to even ask that so I decided to put him in the middle of the show and have him perform his songs on his own and as well as with my band. Things had really come full circle when I got to duet with him on “Sunshine Superman” every night and that was, of course, a thrill and I didn’t even make believe I wrote it. I was delighted to finally share the stage with the guy who, in some ways, showed me how to get there in the first place.

– John Mellencamp