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Donovan On His New Single "I Am The Shaman," His Upcoming Animated Series & The Role Of The Shaman In Everyday Life

Donovan

Photo: Jaume Caldentey (Supplied By Donovan Discs)

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Donovan On His New Single "I Am The Shaman," His Upcoming Animated Series & The Role Of The Shaman In Everyday Life

From his upcoming green-themed animated series with his wife, Linda Lawrence, to his transportive David Lynch-assisted single, "I Am the Shaman," the psychedelic-folk journeyman Donovan remains a potent creative force in 2021

GRAMMYs/Jun 1, 2021 - 10:58 pm

Fifty-five years after Clive Davis signed Donovan, the trailblazing A&R man and singer/songwriter sat down for an interview and performance at Davis' 2021 GRAMMYs celebration on May 15. For reasons one can probably guess, they weren't in the same room. 

"The main problem was, what guitar should I use?" Donovan recalls thinking before his performance. "It's very bad sound through these Zoom microphones." After the 1960s star grabbed a classical guitar and beamed in his performance, the pair got to chatting about their epic history together, which predates the Summer of Love. 

"Clive and I opened a new way ahead for music in 1966—he in a new way as a record label leader, me in a new way forward for music," Donovan tells GRAMMY.com, referring to his pivotal, Davis-facilitated 1966 album Sunshine Superman. "The new way was established. The effect would begin to influence bands to come. My shamanic mission for that time [was] accomplished."

Donovan's new single, "I Am the Shaman," and upcoming children's series, "Tales of Aluna," for which he and his wife, Linda Lawrence, have completed 26 episodes, speak to his ability to transform the world heart by heart. (The single is available on limited physical formats on his website; the show’s release date remains TBD.) The former, produced and with visuals by David Lynch, casts a purple-clothed Donovan as the titular healer. The latter teaches youngsters to steward a battered Earth.

Over Zoom, with his long, gray locks tucked beneath a hood, Donovan comes across not only as an ageless wizard of yore but a happy, vital artist in the now. "I had to be reminded I made four albums in two-and-a-half years," he says with a laugh. Two of those were 2019’s Joolz Juke, a bluesy collaboration with his step-grandson (and Brian Jones’ grandson) Joolz Jones, and 2021’s Lunarian, a mystical tribute to Lawrence.

GRAMMY.com caught up with the psychedelic-folk troubadour about his recent rendezvous with Clive Davis, the wild renaissance of his 1966 song "Season of the Witch" and his memories of his wholehearted 1965 debut album, What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What does the word "shaman" connote to you, and what role does the spiritual realm hold in your daily life?

People who go online think of a shaman up in the freezing north of the world, dressed in ceremonial costumes. A very important role to play in the tribe. I've always known that there are shamans in all countries. My shaman's role is always, I've realized, to assure us that we're heroes of our own adventure. You see, the shaman has got a song, usually. That song is very helpful to the tribe, and, in my case, to a huge audience in the world.

Because the song of the shaman allows us to rise above our fears and doubts. We identify with the story in the song. Because we're doing this for the GRAMMYs, which is about music and song, I want to explain to you that one can see clearly when a modern song appeals to millions. Even though the language of the lyric is English, the song is understood in every language.

We identify with the story and the characters. They overcome their trials. So we need these shamans—the male and the female—to be guides on the journey of life. When you look at the old idea of a shaman, that's exactly the role he plays. [For] anybody in difficulty—and it's usually a psychological difficulty—the shaman is there to move that person into their place of healing. You know, [like I say in] the line in my song, "I Am the Shaman": "She guides us on our way/When hearts, they go astray." 

This GRAMMY motto—MusiCares—expresses it quite clearly. The care, of course, can be physical. To help music-makers get the real healing is the invisible sound of music, which releases the obscure emotions of the heart. And that line in the song: "Who'll dry your pretty eyes?" I was committed to [being a shaman] very early. When a shaman is young, usually, that shaman gathers people around them; has some kind of skill, usually in music; and more often than not, has a childhood illness, which I had, which separates one from the others and makes you different.

Donovan in 1966. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What was it like collaborating with David Lynch for the visuals?

Well, it wasn't a planned session. It was obvious that at one point, we would run into each other. Before David became a huge promoter of [Transcendental Meditation] and created the David Lynch Foundation to bring TM essentially to schools and young people—now, it's quite wide, the range—Linda and I, and the Beatles, of course, were into TM. It was obvious I would run into David at one point.

So, when we did finally meet, it was in his studio. There, I had my guitar, of course. We got on really well. In the studio, he became interested in my process. He said, "Sit in front of the microphone, Don, with your guitar." So I sat, and he'd already said, "Bring a song in that is just emerging. Absolutely not even begun to be a song." I did, and he said, "OK, can you just play and write a song, sitting there? Just there?" I said, "Sure I can."

I started "The Shaman," and he said, "That's great. OK, let's roll tape." I started doing the song in a very special way that I do sometimes. Extempo. I was making it up as I went along. I only had a couple of structures, and the structures came out just right. This is a way that a skilled songwriter like I can just be open to the possibility. Maybe like a skilled artist who lets the pen play on the paper and sees the images come forth. Then, in the next few days, David put on his magic—I didn't know he was a record producer, really—and we created "I Am the Shaman."

What can you tell me about "Tales of Aluna," the show you're working on with your wife?

If you can imagine a long incubation period of 50 years, Linda and I, having met in '65—she was my sunshine supergirl—we met again after the turbulent '60s was over. We met; we married. We lived in Windsor. At one point, we traveled to Ireland. I started getting out my writings and she was looking at them and we thought, "Let's move out of music. The '60s [are] over. Let's try and move into the world of audio/visual."

We spoke of how difficult it had been to do anything in the late '60s, early '70s, about ecology. Nobody really wanted to talk about it. The government certainly didn't know anything [about] what to do and never mentioned it. Anybody that mentioned it was considered back-to-nature, a hippie, a bohemian. But Linda and I were also surprised that none of my contemporaries were writing [any] green songs. I'd already started.

But when we looked at the green songs I had, it was important that the message can't just go to teenagers and adults, because they're quite conditioned as well. So what I thought would be better, and so did Linda: "Why don't we make a tale for the very young before the conditioning grabs them?" 

When we started to make "Aluna," it was very difficult. Animation was expensive and it was very hard to get into, but the story continued! We went to animation meetings and my publisher, peermusic, encouraged it all. And it went on and it was off and it was on and it was off. [laughs] And then, finally, out of Australia came this wonderful company called Three's a Company, and we created it.

Down there in Australia, 26 episodes have been produced. It's odd. Things have to come in their own time. But we never gave up the project. Now it's here, "Tales of Aluna." The girl [character] is very much based on Linda and her interests. There's a character that's based on me. But really, they're stories that I wrote 50 years ago, so it's taken a while.

How did the Clive Davis performance go? What's your history with Clive?

Of course, it was known by him and I that when he took over Columbia and created Epic, I was his first signing. But it didn't all become—what should we say—historic until later. He got so busy, I got so busy, and in 1966, he signed me, and the album was Sunshine Superman

What we see now is it was quite a new door that he'd opened. He would be creating a new kind of record company and development of talent, similar to what happened in earlier decades when artists were encouraged seriously to be found and promoted. At the time Clive was in the driving seat of Columbia, a lot of pop music had gone down already. But he was sort of a visionary. He wanted to develop and find new talent.

Now, looking back, I realize Sunshine Superman kind of opened a door one year before Sgt. Pepper—opened a door to a fusion. This door was wide open now. Clive developed that with me and he developed all of my albums in the '60s. Then, it came around that I ran into Richard Barone on the phone again. We've known each other for years. We talked about various things and he was working [with] the GRAMMYs. He said, "Why don't you and Clive get together and talk about those days?" He arranged the gala and I was very, very pleased. It was probably my first Zoom. When Clive and I got together, I found myself feeling rather touched. Him, too.

It was very moving [of Clive to] place me at the end of the gala, honoring me. And I honored him during the interview. It was quite historic, really. It was a piece of history that people don't point to very much, but the doors have to be opened wide by somebody.

I'd never thought of it that way, that Sunshine Superman paved the way for Pepper.

Well, most of the bands up until '66 were quite formatted. Four guys, same suits, of course, long hair. Blues had arrived and was tearing things apart a bit, but nobody was thinking to fuse all forms of classical, Indian, folk music, poetry, jazz, and rock—"Season of the Witch."

I didn't plan it. I didn't sit down and say, "I'm going to do this." It just happened, and my sense of avant-garde—if you look at what the avant-garde is described as on Wiki—it is pushing boundaries. At first, [it was] quite unacceptable. But of course, I had "Sunshine Superman." That was the song that [producer] Mickie [Most] knew would go whizzing up the charts, and it did. Opening doors with that album was a great pleasure to me.

You brought up "Season of the Witch." Any time I see anything mildly haunting on TV or film, that song almost invariably plays—yours or someone else's version. How does it feel to have that song permeate the public consciousness again?

It's crazy! It's not mellow. It's not "Superman." It's not "Jennifer [Juniper]." It's "Season of the Witch" that has risen. The plays on Spotify, for instance, are extraordinary. It is an angst-based song. And Donovan, the soft, gentle singer, why is he singing so dark? David Lynch and I would smile because he gets the same: "Here you are promoting peace with meditation and you have these dark forces in your movie!"

I said to him, "Yeah, so what did they say to Picasso when he painted Guernica? Did they say, 'Why are you painting terrible, visionary, dark forces, when really, you should be supporting peace and brotherhood?'" You have to show the dark because out of the darkness of this modern age, we must come out. That darkness has to be plumbed. It seems like I did it with "Season of the Witch."

Donovan with his friend David "Gypsy Dave" Mills  in 1966. Photo: Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images​

Your first album, What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid, rang in its 55th anniversary last year. That album's really important to me. Any memories you can share of that one?

I'm interested. Without going into detail, how old were you when you first heard it, would you say?

I was probably 13 or 14.

I think what you were experiencing was what I was experiencing on the album. I was growing into myself and wondering where I was going. I'd already left home and hitchhiked with Gypsy Dave and been the Ramblin' Boy and all that. At your point in life, maybe that feeling was what you felt most.

In those days, in the recording world, I knew I was going to the folk world; I knew I was going out of the folk clubs and pubs. I wasn't headed for the folk labels. The mission with Gypsy and I was, "Why don't we make a real record for the real charts, and we'll be part of the flow of the invasion of popular culture by folk music, blues, poetry, and jazz?" But more folk, more poetry from my end, at first, and I wanted to make a record. What you're listening to on that album was a kid who'd just begun to record. That was me. Those recordings [that comprise] What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid, I had the zeal and the power and the energy to want to sing of civil rights and protest songs. But at the same time, my guitar picking had developed very fast, and it was even before I went to Tin Pan Alley. I was a publishing signing first.

I made most of those in the basement at Denmark Street in London. Now, those albums are re-released on vinyl via BMG, which is great. There's two of them: What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid and Fairytale. That's 1965. You are not alone. 1965 recordings of Donovan are now way in the forefront, leaving "Superman" behind in interest by the younger and even younger and your age, as well.

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

Alicia Keys

Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour

GRAMMYs/Mar 5, 2020 - 04:07 am

After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.

Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression."  You can pre-order the title here.

The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.

Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.

This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.