Hanging with Donovan in the Hollywood Hills

Written by
Gary Calamar and Donovan by Danette Christine

From KCRW DJ Travis Holcombe:

There’s tons of amazing older artists I’ve admired from afar, never thinking I’d ever get to see them perform in person.

Since I moved to L.A. 9 years ago, I’ve had the good fortune of seeing many of them perform live — Blowfly, Eddie Bo, Joe Bataan — just to name a few.

Yesterday, KCRW DJ Gary Calamar celebrated a birthday boss-style with freaking Donovan playing in his living room.

A couple of weeks ago, Gary had mentioned to me that it was a possibility.

The Donovan?” I asked.

To which Gary responded, “Yes. That Donovan.”

Donovan is a pantheon-level performer in my book. If I were to make you a mix CD of my favorite Donovan tracks, I couldn’t do it with less than a 2CD set. “Bert’s Blues”, “Sunshine Superman”, “Riki Tiki Tavi”, “Barabajagal”, “Season Of The Witch” (the list goes on) all get regular play on my turntables and iTunes.

When Gary’s invite arrived in my inbox last week, I still couldn’t believe it. Mr. Hurdy Gurdy Man, the Sunshine Superman himself, Donovan was really performing in Gary’s living room at 11AM.

I kinda blew it and got there a little late. I thought 11AM meant 11:30~noon(ish). My lack of familiarity with the winding roads in the Hollywood Hills didn’t help either — but that’s neither here nor there…

When I arrived, there was Donovan, sitting in front of Gary’s fireplace with his green acoustic guitar before a packed living room audience talking about “Catch The Wind” as he strummed the chords to the song. In between – and sometimes during – the songs, Donovan would tell little stories about the songs’ origins and his feelings on their placement in ads and movies.

During “Mellow Yellow“, Donovan talked in rich detail about the song’s usage in a GAP ad a few years ago and discussed the origins of smoking banana peels (referencing his “electrical banana” line in the third stanza). Basically, the take away is that smoking banana peels will not actually get you high, although a lot of people who heard the song in the ’60s tried. Donovan and Country Joe made it all up, you gullible hippies.

Wear Your Love Like Heaven” was followed with “Hurdy Gurdy Man”. Donovan talked about David Fincher‘s juxtaposition of his song with a gruesome murder scene in Zodiac. I was surprised there was no studio trickery involving a vocal effect that gave his voice the quivering quality on “Hurdy Gurdy Man” — he actually does that himself. Donovan closed his set with “Gentle Heart“, a tender song from his latest release, Ritual Groove Mission.

The audience was lapping it up and demanded, “one more,” to which Donovan ceded and sang a song apropos to the day: singing “Happy Birthday” to Gary Calamar.

Happy Birthday, Gary! You just threw the coolest pre-noon birthday party EVER!