Kubernik: Happy Birthday, Donovan!

Photo by Henry Diltz; Courtesy of Gary Strobl at the Diltz Archives

It’s Donovan’s birthday. I’ve met him a few times. The first was in 1974 in Hollywood. During 2008 I interviewed him via email. Excerpts from one our encounters.  Nameste, Harvey Kubernik

Q: Can you recall and offer some reflections on your appearance at The Big TNT Show at The Moulin Rouge/Hullabaloo Club on Sunset. The Phil Spector production. Any comments on your set list that day and the tunes and general. I was at tapings of Shindig! and you did one at the ABC-TV studios in Hollywood. 

A:   L.A. TV was a bit diff from British Telly, but the elements were the same. The  Hollywood  A Go Go,   Shindig!  and other little TV Shows  had  the 3  dancers, and  I  had  the  shades  on.  Gypsy [Dave] and I smiling at it all and the craziness.  On the street, of course.  the girls still in Bobby Sox and Pony Tails and the  guys  in  plaids  shorts  and  crew  cuts,  that  was  to  change. We were treated like visitors from another planet…  The British Invasion...but the Planet we were from was  Planet  Bohemia , and  soon  it  would  change  the  way  Youth saw  so-called  reality. 'And  How!'. It was 1966 and I played that May a week at  The  Trip   club  on  sunset. All Hollywood turned up.  New pals.   I met The Mamas and The Papas and Cyrus Faryar, [The Modern Folk Quartet] who played the wonderful electric violin  on “Celeste” when  I  recorded  it  in CBS  Studios on Sunset Boulevard.    

Q: I located via Henry Diltz a photo of you at the Hollywood Bowl from 1966. Any reflections on the venue? I know you later headlined the Hollywood Bowl. KHJ radio in town always supported your singles. Your thoughts on AM radio dial in L.A. and the US stations and RKO programming that first introduced us to your music. Later you recorded your live album locally at the Anaheim Convention Center venue.

A: The Hollywood Bowl was divine for my music and I filled the place up twice. Open to the stars.  I was creating The Ritual Donovan ... For one of the performances   I ordered every Blue Iris flower from every Florist in California, and made a giant Mandala on the stage. We flew in the last of the blossoms from Hawaii. That was when I was titled The Prince of Flower Power. The Teachings of The Masters  of  The  Ages   I  channeled  into  the  New  Youth   Millions  , as  my  service  this  incarnation  as  Poet  and   Rock  Shaman.   The Hollywood Bowl was the launch of the Mission that George Harrison and I would   take on more than any of our brothers and sisters of The Music Fraternity.  

Q: There’s you epic Sunshine Superman album as it pertains to CBS studio on Sunset Blvd. I know items like "Season of the Witch" and "The Trip" were cut in the studio when you were staying locally. Can you discuss the genesis of the compositions and offer an anecdote on these Hollywood-birthed recordings. You were in Laurel Canyon.

A: Mickie Most, my Brit producer and I went into CBS Studios recording “The Season of The Witch.”  The sound engineers in white coats!  Like doctors.

Mickie said to one engineer, as we recorded “The Season of the Witch,” to “turn the bass level up.” And, the two in white coats said “they needed a conference on this.” They left the studio control room. They returned and said “they couldn’t turn up the bass as it was going into THE RED on the dial.” Mickie said, ‘look guys, your boss Clive Davis just gave me a million dollars to record 3 artists. Do you think if I asked him for a little more Bass he would give it to me?” The bass was turned up. A real Spinal Tap Moment long before the film of the same name.

Q:  You did a live album from the Anaheim Convention Center, now out in expanded edition. Any observations of this circa '68 show or the repertoire you were performing then?

A:  The album IN CONCERT was recorded at The Anaheim Convention Center and I had my wonderful  little  band  so  Mickie  and  I  recorded  it.. Probably one of the first few live concert albums of the late Sixties. I did “Saturday Night,” a rare song, and with Harold McNair on flute we performed some of the gentle nature  ballads  and  children’s  fantasy  songs. “Tinker and the Crab” was on this album, I believe. I remember that I was pioneering so many things taken for granted now, like good sound  systems  and  lighting, real  security. I began Artists Services with Don Murphit who trained the 'Minders' who went on to look after top bands (Don  was  the  first  Minder  to  me  then  The  Beatles, an  Escapologist, Gypsy  and  I  called  him). We needed to get off the stage and safely to the cars  after each  huge  excited  concert.  DJ's and promoters were so naive eve they stepped on stage at the last song and said that’s the end and the promoters put on the lights in the hall and  we  artists  could  not  get  off  quickly  and  the  fans  rushed and  hurt  themselves   and  this  could  not  continue,  so  Don  Murphit  and  I  and  Gyps created  Security  Models  for  every  band  after  us. The new release of this historic album has out-takes and it sounds really good.

Q: FM radio in Los Angeles and the States supported your albums. In 1969 we saw you on The Smothers Brothers Show offer some tunes, including one with Jennifer Warnes. Any memories of that show booking?

A: Yes. Tom and his brother were so influential in creating free speech and music on TV. Great sound and great guests. I had a fine time with Tom.

Tom and I were meant for each other it seemed as we shared the same humour and commitment to excellence that young talent today would be smart to grab from   two innovators like Tom Smothers and Donovan. With no hint of humility of course. The Celtic Boast is strong in me to this day!  Ha Ha! Begorrah!

Harvey Kubernik in 1969 witnessed his first two concerts by the Rolling Stones in Southern California at the Inglewood Forum.

        Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon, 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972, 2015's Every Body Knows: Leonard Cohen, 2016's Heart of Gold Neil Young and 2017's 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love.

   Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

    Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters. His writings are in several book anthologies, including The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski.

    Harvey wrote the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.  

   During 2006 he spoke at the special hearings initiated by The Library of Congress held in Hollywood, California, discussing archiving practices and audiotape preservation. In 2017 Kubernik appeared at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, as part of their Distinguished Speakers Series. For a decade, Harvey has been the Editorial Director of Record Collector News magazine.