Hurdy Gurdy Man

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For The Spectres' song, see Hurdy Gurdy Man (The Spectres song).
For Franz Schubert's song "Der Leiermann" (The Hurdy Gurdy Man), see Winterreise.
"Hurdy Gurdy Man"
Single by Donovan
B-side Teen Angel
Released May 1968 (UK)
June 1968 (U.S.)
Format 7" 45 RPM
Recorded April 3, 1968, CBS Studios, London, England[1]
Genre Psychedelic rock, folk rock, acid rock
Length 3:15
Label Pye (UK)
Epic (USA)
Writer(s) Donovan
Producer(s) Mickie Most
Donovan UK singles chronology
"Jennifer Juniper"
"Hurdy Gurdy Man"
Donovan USA singles chronology
"Jennifer Juniper"
"Hurdy Gurdy Man"

"Hurdy Gurdy Man" is a song by the Scottish singer/songwriter Donovan. It was written during a trip to India,[2] was recorded in early 1968, and was released in May 1968 as a single. It gave its name to the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which was released in October of that year in the U.S. The single reached No.5 in the U.S. and No.4 in the UK pop charts.[3]

The song features a harder rock sound than Donovan's usual material, supplying a range of distorted guitars. It also features an Indian influence with the use of a tambura. The song may have been influenced by 'Green Circles', a psychedelic 1967 UK single by Small Faces. The similarity is in the melody of the descending verse, the strange vocal delivery, and most tellingly, the topic of being visited by an enlightened stranger. In 2012, Donovan said that he'd made friends with them in 1965.[4]

According to some sources, the song was written for the band Hurdy Gurdy (which included Donovan's old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod)[5][6] with Donovan intending to be the producer, but the collaboration was cancelled due to creative disagreements, leading Donovan to record the song himself.[7] However, there is no mention of this story in the chapter of Donovan's autobiography that is devoted to the song – there he says that he originally wanted it to be recorded by Jimi Hendrix.[2]

Musicians for the song[edit]

In the booklet that came with Donovan's 1992 double CD, Troubadour: The Definitive Collection 1964-1976, Allan Holdsworth and Jimmy Page are listed as the electric guitar players and John Bonham and Clem Cattini (spelled as "Clem Clatini") as drummers on the recording. However, according to John Paul Jones, who arranged and played bass on the track (and also booked the session musicians), Clem Cattini played the drums and Alan Parker played the electric guitar.[8] This line-up was confirmed by Cattini. [9] In Donovan's autobiography, he credits Cattini (spelled as "Catini") and Bonham for the drums.[2]

On Jimmy Page's website, he lists this song as one on which he plays.[10] However, someone on a forum site said that Page himself has never claimed to have played on the track and has also said that Alan Parker was the guitarist on the session.[11] Donovan said that Page was the guitarist in Hannes Rossacher's 2008 documentary Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan, where he also asserted that the song ushered in the Celtic rock sound which would lead to Page, Jones, and Bonham forming Led Zeppelin soon afterwards. In Donovan's autobiography, he credited both Page and "Allen Hollsworth" as the "guitar wizards" for the song.[2] However, he also says that "Hollsworth" had played with Blue Mink, which was a band that Alan Parker had played in.[2] In the autobiography, Donovan said that perhaps this session inspired the creation of Led Zeppelin.[2]

The tambura had been given to Donovan in India by George Harrison, and in his autobiography, Donovan said that with the drone of the tambura, he had created "Celtic Rock".[2]

The session was produced by Mickie Most and engineered by Eddie Kramer.

Donovan had originally hoped Jimi Hendrix would play on the song, but he was unavailable.[7][2] In fact, Donovan said he wanted to give the song to Hendrix for him to record, but that Mickie Most "flipped out" when he heard the song and insisted that Donovan should record it himself as his next single.[2]


The lyrics recount the tale of a nameless narrator being visited in his dreams by the eponymous Hurdy Gurdy Man and his close associate, the Roly Poly Man. Both men come "singing songs of love".[12]

Additional verse[edit]

On his 1990 live album The Classics Live and in his autobiography, Donovan has said that there is also an additional verse that had been written by George Harrison that was not included on the radio single:[2]

When performing the song in concert, Donovan often relates to his audience the story of how this final verse came about. He played the song for Harrison when they met in Rishikesh, and Harrison offered to write a verse for the song. Harrison's verse was recorded: however, in order to keep the running time below the three-minute maximum generally allowed for singles at the time, the producer had to choose between the extra verse and the guitar solo, and chose the solo. Donovan has said the additional verse is a summary of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's explanation of the way in which the teaching of transcendental consciousness is eventually re-awakened after having been forgotten for a long period of time, and is based on part of the Maharishi's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Donovan said the Hurdy Gurdy Man is the one who re-awakens this knowledge; in this case, the Maharishi.

The tambura which Donovan himself plays on the track was a gift to him from Harrison, given while they were both together in India.[2]

Notable cover versions[edit]

The song has been covered by many musicians over the years, including:

Soundtrack appearances[edit]

"Hurdy Gurdy Man" most recently appeared on the soundtrack for the horror film, "The Conjuring"(2013). "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was used as a framing device in 2011 German TV melodrama "Familiengeheimnisse" (Family Secrets) and David Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac;[14] in the 2006 film Man of the Year, starring Robin Williams; in the 2006 film Bobby; in the 2005 film Edison; in the 2002 independent film Spun; in Michael Cuesta's 2001 film L.I.E.; and in Barry Levinson's 1996 film Sleepers. It was also featured in the Fringe episode "Black Blotter" (2012 Season 5 Episode 09[15] ). The 1994 film Dumb and Dumber featured a cover version by Butthole Surfers.


  1. ^ "Donovan recording sessions listing". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Leitch, Donovan, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Century, an imprint of Random House, London, 2005 (published in the U.S. as The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005, ISBN 0-312-35252-2.), pp. 218–219.
  3. ^ Donovan UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  4. ^ "Donovan". Retrieved 2013-08-21. 
  5. ^ (15 June 1968). Donovan's More Down to Earth, New Musical Express.
  6. ^ Altham, Keith (December 1968). Coming Down From the Clouds, Hit Parader.
  7. ^ a b (6 July 1968). Don Wants to Spin a Film Legend, Melody Maker.
  8. ^ "Clem Cattini - Drummer On 45 Number 1 Hit Singles". 2003-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  9. ^ "Email from John Paul Jones to Clem Cattini". 2003-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  10. ^ "Sessions -". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  11. ^ "Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan Songfacts". 2006-05-20. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  12. ^ Donovan, "Hurdy Gurdy Man", 1968.
  13. ^ "Catch the Wind / Hurdy Gurdy Man - Eartha Kitt". Retrieved 2012-01-06. 
  14. ^ "Zodiac [Soundtrack]". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  15. ^ "music from Fringe". Retrieved 15 December 2012. 

External links[edit]