A hurdy-gurdy is an odd instrument resembling an organ grinder. It is played by turning a crank and pressing buttons to play notes.
Donovan in the London Daily Mail
Weekend magazine dated 20th May 2006 said, "I was intrigued by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's teachings of transcendental meditation, which were also followed by The Beatles. I went with The Beatles and George's wife, Pattie Boyd, Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher to stay with the Maharishi in the Himalayas for 3 months. For a while, Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, shared the bungalow next to mine. She inspired John Lennon to write Dear Prudence
. Hurdy Gurdy Man was influenced by the sounds I heard there."
Donovan wrote the song for his old guitar mentor Mac MacLeod who had formed a power trio he called "Hurdy Gurdy." Donovan wanted MacLeod's band to play it but they played it in a heavy rock way and Donovan wanted it light and acoustic.
Over the years Donovan has mentioned various people as playing on this track. It is now understood to be as follows according to John Paul Jones (who did play bass and book the session players) as:
Donovan on acoustic guitar, tambura and vocals
Alan Parker on Electric Guitar
John Paul Jones on bass, also the musical director
Clem Cattini on drums
John Bonham, Allan Holdsworth and Jimmy Page were not involved with this song; Jeff Beck, according to Page, did play on one version which was wiped. Jimmy Page said, "I know it's rumored that I played on that, but I didn't... I heard about this story actually when I was in USA, it was about the time we were talking about the deal with Led Zeppelin. We were at Miami with Jerry Wexler, and I heard about the story by there and then, across from England, and on the shores over here. And what the story was - and it's very true - that they had Jeff Beck go in, and Jeff Beck played on it, and the producer decided to wipe the track. And Donovan had asked for me to do it, but of course I wasn't there. And they had a guitarist, he basically filled, you know. He went into the session - and I wouldn't say filled my shoes - but he went in the door, and his name was Alan Parker. I mean, none of you even know of him. It's not the film producer. But anyway, he's the guy who played the guitar solo, so you know, as you say, some people might have thought Beck did it, or me, but it was neither of us. But I think it was tragic that Beck got wiped off. That was absolutely crazy. They just decided that they didn't like what he did. And I mean, perish the thought, you know." (thanks, Andrew - London, England for above 2 - source: liner notes from the 2005 reissue of the album)
The session was produced by Mickie Most and engineered by Eddie Kramer. Clem Cattini, who played drums on the track, explained to Songfacts: "John Paul Jones told me this was recorded two years before he met John Bonham and he only ever used me on his sessions. In fact, we worked together in Lulu's band for two years. Also at the time I did a lot of work for Mickie Most who was the producer."
John Paul Jones also did the arrangements for two other Donovan Hits, "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow
." (thanks, Darryl - Queensland, Australia)
This features a tambura, an Indian instrument used to get the droning sound. Donovan was interested in Indian music. He went with The Beatles on their transcendental meditation retreat in 1968.
Donovan recalled to Uncut magazine: "George [Harrison] had brought in Indian instruments to the ashram in Rishikesh and he gave me a tamboura, the Indian bass instrument. George wrote one of the verses for my song The Hurdy Gurdy Man and I played tamboura on the recording. It was two-way; I learnt from them and they learnt from me." (thanks, DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation)
Donovan's friend George Harrison wrote another verse for this, but it was never recorded.
The Butthole Surfers did a cover of this in 1990.
This was used in the film L.I.E., which gives this psychedelic song a very, very sinister new meaning. The film deals with child molestation, and this song plays when the guy is out 'looking' in his car. (thanks, steph - Ottawa, Canada)