Hurdy Gurdy Man

Album: Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Charted: 4 5
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  • A hurdy-gurdy is an odd instrument resembling an organ grinder. It is played by turning a crank and pressing buttons to play notes.

    In the song, Donovan finds a shimmer of enlightenment when he awakes from a sleep to see a hurdy-gurdy man singing songs of love.
  • Donovan in the London Daily Mail Weekend magazine dated May 20, 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 three 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 record it but they played it in a heavy rock style and Donovan wanted it light and acoustic, so he kept it for himself.
  • 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." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Darryl - Queensland, Australia
  • There is no hurdy-gurdy on this track, but there is 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." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
  • Donovan's friend George Harrison wrote another verse for this song, but it was never recorded. Here is that verse:

    When truth gets very deep
    Beneath a thousand years of sleep
    Time demands a turn around
    And once again the truth is found

    Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
    Who comes singing the songs of love
    Here come the Hurdy Gurdy Man
    And his singing the songs of love
  • The Butthole Surfers did a suitably disorienting cover of this song in 1990. Others to record it include Eartha Kitt, Eric Mercury and L.A. Guns.
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Steph - Ottawa, Canada

Comments: 32

  • Anthony Harland from Neath, WalesReference "Donovan's friend George Harrison wrote another verse for this song, but it was never recorded." Actually it was. It's on the live CD recorded in 1984 at Madison Square Garden, New York. Donovan does a very long version of this song where he relates, quite humourously, what was happening with the Maharishi in India. He mentions George Harrison writing a verse and asks the audience do they want to hear it ? You can guess the answer :) This concert has had numerous releases (40 ?) over the years, my UK copy is just called 'Donovan In Concert' (GFS130)
  • Kate from Split, CroatiaI remember hearing that Bobby Kennedy was shot when they cut in on this song playing on the radio to make the announcement. In spite of that, it is a favorite song of mine.
  • Axy from Logansport, InThe B-Hole Surfer's cover is a heavier paced song, which was sampled in Dumb and Dumber (1994) also Howard Stern's band "The Losers" did a cover as well on his XM radio station.
  • Harry White from CaliforniaI think there's some poetic irony with the words hurdy gurdy, which sounds like a fat man, a roly poly man, who hurts others, singing songs of love (perhaps in order to attract his victims). This might be a metaphor for English bands, like the Beatles, who were a part of MI6 and their British Security Coordination promoting LSD to weaken the hippie movement who protested the Viet Nam war in their songs. The Bealtles' involvement was revealed in Sgt. Pepper, Pepper being John Pepper the head of the entire British spy organization in the U.S.
    See Mathis paper on this at
  • Paul from Scottsville, NyDonovan's daughter, Ione Skye, has a small part in the movie "Zodiac." This song opens the movie.
  • Mark from Plymouth, Mn
    About three years ago I John Mellencamp was here in concert. His special guest was Donovan. What an awesome set he did with John's band. The played "Hurdy Gurdy Man" along with other Donovan classics. It was so amazing and unexpected to hear an old favorite song live and Mellencamp's band were spot on with every note and nuance of the song. Oldies gold.
    It was nice to read the post that cleared up who played on this song. Too bad it wasn't Beck. Still sounds like him.
    Still one of my favorite songs. So late 60's.
  • Jason from Mamou, LaIn 1968, I was only 2 years old. Barely capable of expressing any rational speech. Yet I remember Hurdy Gurdy Man. When I heard that song, my spirit connected with the Divine Spirit of The Universe. Only 2 years old, but, I remember that 100% metaphysical experience. I met God at that moment (LOVE) and became one with the UNIVERSE and it's Divine Creator. "hurdy gurdy hurdy gurdy"
  • Nick from Seattle, Albaniajust listen to the drumms, it dosent sound like bonham. he liked technical stuff and tripples and all thats on hurdy gurdy man is rolls. bonham would have done more.
  • Daevid from Glendale, Cadoesn't McCartney play drums on this track?....can anyone tell me?
  • Cornflakes from Bfe, TnBeastie Boys paid homage to this amazing track on their album "Paul's Boutique" by not only mentioning the title in lyrics, but also sampling the (drum) break in "What Comes Around."
  • Robert Campion from Galway, IrelandDoesn't really matter who plyed on or didn't play on this song. (Except to Clem I suppose !!) Sometimes different versions of music are 'overlayed' or overdubbed to get a particular sound. So don't sweat it. Fact of the matter is its a great song with really unique eerie sound (tambura) and works really well on film 'Zodiac'... which is where I first heard it ...immediataely I went out and bought Donovan's Greatest hits ...nice bit of marketing Donovan you clever old hippie :-)
  • Shanti from Claremont, CaDonovan might have said that Jimmy Page played on Hurdy Gurdy man, but Jimmy Page himself says he did not. So, who do you believe?
  • Steven from San Jose, CaThere is a video on YouTube recorded in Liverpool at Beatle's Week 2006 where Donovan says George gave him that Tambura and he (Donovan) played it on the song. Also Donovan says it was Jimmy Page on lead guitar.
    So there must be more than one session recorded.
  • Suchetan from Bangalore, IndiaThis song has also been used as movie soundtrack in many parts in David Fincher's 2007 movie Zodiac starring Jake Gyllenhall.
  • Mark from Twin Cities Metro Area, MoThis is my favorite Donovan song. For years I had heard it was Jimmy Page on lead Guitar. I thought it sounded a lot like Jeff Beck's solo work in the Yardbirds (Mister Your a Better Man Than I, Shapes of Things etc. I heard Page in an interview say "No, it wasn't him". I gor from his answer he knew who it was. I read somewhere it was Jeff Beck. I think I read or heard, with appologize to Mr. Catinni, it was Carman Appice who played drums on the song ( don't know that for a fact, I just read it). There was so much intermingeling back then with Beck, Page, J.P.J., & Micky Most in studio sessions that it seems like almost anything is possible.
    I do know Jones, and Page played on "Beck's Ballero".
    Who ever played on it, it's a great song I never get tired of hearing.
  • Shannon from Sioux Falls, SdThis song is also on Bobby when ashton kutcher,shia labeouf,and brian geraghty characters take LSD
  • Scott from Green Bay, WyI just don't understand why Donovan would say that Bonham, Page and Jones played on this track if they didn't. I mean, we are talking about Donovan! He really doesn't have to make facts up to make himself look better!
  • Konrad from Trinidad & Tobago, Other"Hurdy Gurdy Man" opens the 2007 film ZODIAC, a movie about the notorious killer of the same name. As steph of Ottawa noted with the movie "L.I.E.", it gives the song lyrics an unsettling twist.
  • Cove from Keizer, OrIn donovan's 2005 autobiography, he says about this song that he envisioned hendrix doing it an was gonna give it to hendrix until a manager told him to release it as a single. He tried to get Jimi to play lead but he was off touring, so he got Jimmy Page. donovan's book is interesting you guys should read it tells of advendtures with dylan, the beatles, joan baez, etc.
  • Richard from Sacramento, CaMy apologies to Mr. Cattini,whose drumming on this song I use nearly every day for practicing my rolls, but for all these years I was under the mistaken impression that Mitch Mitchell was the session drummer. You have to admit there is some similarity in the "around the kit" style. Also I had been told at the same time ('68) by my 'very knowledgeable' friend that Jeff Beck was the guitarist, and again, one can understand the confusion, as the style of the lead quite resembles that of Beck's.
  • Fremont from Concord, NhThere are actually two recorded versions of this song. One version had only John Paul Jones on bass, and had much lighter drums, and no electric guitar. The other version of this (the one most people know) does infact have Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham playing in it. I have never personally heard this lighter version, but I'm sure it's out there somewhere, and I'm sure someone has heard it.
  • Jeff from Sharon, PaThe hurdy-gurdy dates back all they way to the 12th century AD.
    The liner notes on the CD "Donovan's Greatest Hits" say Jimmy Page plays guitar on "Hurdy Gurdy Man."
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis was Donovan's foray into psychedelia after Mellow Yellow.
  • Kevin from Cincinnati, OhAccording to Donovan,in the book the Ultimate experience.Jimi Hendrix was going to play the solo on the song.but Jimi wasn't around when they recorded,a shame.But still a great song.
  • Jordan from WvThe Butthole Surfers version is really funny!
  • Craig from Dunedin, New ZealandThis slice of psychadelic rock takes me on a personal journey every time!
  • Christopher from Burlington, NcIn regards to the missing George Harrison's lyrics:
    According to his album Donovan: Greatest Hits Live, Vancouver 1986:

    When I wrote this song, I was in India.
    With 4 Beatles, 1 Beach Boy and Mia Farrow.
    We were gathered together one day in Maharishi's bungalow.
    The 4 Beatles, 1 Beach Boy and Mia Farrow.
    There was an embarrassed silence in the room.
    Maharishi sat cross legged upon the floor, on his deerskin
    and John Lennon, the wit and the humorist, he decided to break the silence.
    So he walked up to Maharishi as he sat on the floor, and he patted him on the head and said,
    'There's a good guru.'
    We all laughed, and Maharishi laughed the loudest.
    But later that night we were gathered together on the roofs of our bungalows
    Under the tropical stars while monkies and peacocks and elephants were calling to each other in the jungle.
    And I started to write this song and George Harrison turned to me and he said,
    'I could write a verse for that song, Don.'
    And he did. Would you like to hear George's verse?
    Okay. George he wrote:
    When the truth get's buried deep
    Beneath a thousand years of sleep
    Time demands a turnaround
    And once again the truth is found.
    Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
    Comes singing the songs of love
    Beatles were Hurdy Gurdy Men
    They came singing the songs of love
    I am the Hurdy Gurdy Man
    I come singing the songs of love
    Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy he sang
    Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy he sang
    Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy he sang.

    Your friend, Treaghon
  • Clem Cattini from London, EnglandI would like to point out that your wrong info is causing me a lot of embaressment and money .I would be grateful if you would corrct this wrong info Thank You
  • Clem Cattini from London, Englandonce again John Bonham did not play on Hurdy Gurdy Man
  • Ryco from Port Orford, Orare you sure bonham played drums on this cut? i never knew he did session work. could be but ........ i dunno
  • Steph from Ottawa, CanadaFeatured in the movie 'L.I.E.'. This song plays while a child molester roams the streets, hunting for new conquests, which gives the lyrics a very disturbing new meaning.
  • Hugh from Dallas, TxEartha Kitt also recovered a rather campy version of the song.
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