Born as Donovan Philips Leitch in Mayhill, Glasgow on 10 May 1946. In 1956, his family moved to Little Berkhamsted near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England. Influenced by his family’s love of folk music, he began playing the guitar at 14. He enrolled in art school but soon dropped out, to live out his beatnik aspirations by going on the road. After spending several months playing in local clubs, he was offered a contract with Pye Records in 1965. He recorded singles and two albums in the folk vein, after which he signed to CBS/Epic Records in the US – the first signing by the company’s new vice-president Clive Davis – and became more successful internationally. He began a long and successful collaboration with leading British independent record producer Mickie Most, scoring multiple hit singles and albums in the UK, US, and other countries.
His most successful singles were the early UK hits ‘Catch the Wind’, ‘Colours’ and ‘Universal Soldier’ in 1965. In September 1966 ‘Sunshine Superman’ topped America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week and went to number two in Britain, followed by ‘Mellow Yellow’ at US No.2 in December 1966, then 1968’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ in the Top 5 in both countries, then ‘Atlantis’, which reached US No. 7 in May 1969. Donovan’s commercial fortunes waned after parting with Most in 1969, and he left the industry for a time.
Donovan continued to perform and record sporadically in the 1970’s and 1980’s. His musical style and hippie image were scorned by critics, especially after punk rock. His performing and recording became sporadic until a revival in the 1990’s with the emergence of Britain’s rave scene. He recorded the 1996 album ‘Sutras’ with producer Rick Rubin and in 2004 made another new album, ‘Beat Cafe’.
Kate about Donovan
Donovan has got the most beautiful voice — that very slow vibrato that people like Cliff Richard can put on, but [Donovan] has it very naturally. I mean he sings like this all the time. And again, he’s an incredible song writer, lyric writer. He can play the guitar and he has that fantastic voice. And it seemed that he’d really got caught up in the copying of Dylan when he first signed up and was singing. And he was wearing the hats and he was carrying the guitar and everyone thought he was just a Dylan copy, when in fact he wasn’t at all. And it seems that he’s just been forgotten, he’s gone under. It’s ridiculous. I can’t stand to see that happen to people, especially someone like him. (Paul Gambaccini, BBC Radio 2, 1980)