Thursday Inspiration #159 Hurdy Gurdy Man

Respond to this challenge, by either by using the prompt word eyes, or going with the above picture, or by means of the song ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’, or by going with another song by Donovan, or anything else that you think fits.  Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan Leitch wrote, recorded and released ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ in 1968 on his sixth studio album with the same name.  The single reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it went to #4 on the UK Singles Chart.  Donovan wrote ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ while he was in Rishikesh in northern India for three months, located in the foothills of the Himalayas where he was studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi along with the Beatles.

The truth about this song is a little blurry, as Donovan recalled that he may have written this while he was on the beach in Jamaica smoking some very good ganja and drinking 110-proof rum.  Donovan says that he fell asleep on the beach, chilling out unaffected by any disturbing emotions and he went into a dream where he saw a cross-legged figure coming over the ocean and presumedly this is the hurdy gurdy man.  This enlightened stranger starts singing songs of love.  While Donovan is dreaming, he reflects on how the world and humans are, feeling that mankind hasn’t changed all that much over time, as we are still fighting wars and not practicing peace and love.  The shadow of previous eras has been cast on us and the hurdy gurdy man may actually represent the hippies that were around at this time.  The hurdy gurdy man is the one who reawakens ancient knowledge that has long been forgotten.  There are so many cruel things going on in the world and these songs of love that the hurdy gurdy man sings tend to make everything a little better.  The hurdy-gurdy is a stringed instrument from the sixteenth century which produces sound by turning a hand crank, that in turn makes a rosined wheel rub against the strings, while you press keyboard buttons.  The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to those of a violin.  The roly poly man may be the same man as the hurdy gurdy man, or he could be a totally different character that accompanies the hurdy gurdy man.  The pillbug is called a roly poly due to its ability to roll into a tight ball when it is disturbed, and this term also refers to someone who is considered to be pudgy, having a short and stout physique.  I love this verse:
Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity

Donovan uses a range of distorted guitars and aggressive drums on this song.  It also features an Indian influence with the use of a four-string tambura, which was a gift to Donovan from George Harrison.  The song may have been influenced by ‘Green Circles’, a psychedelic 1967 song by Small Faces.  Donovan said that he made friends with them in 1965 and they were both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 2012.  Donovan originally wrote this for the Danish band Hurdy Gurdy, which included Donovan’s old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod.  Donovan intended to be the producer, but the collaboration was cancelled due to creative disagreements, as they played it in a heavy rock style and Donovan wanted it to be light and acoustic, leading Donovan to kept it for himself.  Donovan said that he also wanted this to be recorded by Jimi Hendrix, but he was unavailable, or couldn’t be reached.  Mickie Most produced this song and he flipped out advising Donovan that this single could be a great hit.  George Harrison helped to write an additional verse for this song, however it was not used in the original recording, but the verse is below:
When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath a thousand years of sleep
Time demands a turn around
And once again the truth is found
Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Who comes singing songs of love

Donovan sings lead vocals, plays acoustic guitar, and tambura with Alan Parker on lead electric guitar, John Paul Jones on bass and arrangement, and he does the musical direction, and Clem Cattini plays drums.  It became an anthem for free-spirited hippies because of the great psychedelic sound, which would later be called Celtic Rock.  Donovan felt that perhaps this session inspired the creation of Led Zeppelin, as Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones formed Led Zeppelin right after these recording sessions.  When they couldn’t get Jimi Hendrix to play guitar in the song, they contacted Jimmy Page but he was tied up in The Yardbirds at the time, so Alan Parker played the guitar solo.

Thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peek
To find that I was by the sea
Gazing with tranquility

19 thoughts on “Thursday Inspiration #159 Hurdy Gurdy Man

      1. I agree… I guess a lot of those UK bands had ties with each other. The Small Faces would take a teenager around with them that played some guitar…that teen was David Bowie.

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