Sunday, May 23, 2010

First, there is a mountain

Editor's Note:  Today we launch an occasional feature Sundays at the Sanctuary, wherein we hand our blogospheric pen and headphones to friends and followers who share our love of music and have been providing inspiration and support for Club SSS. Consider them Guest DJs, if you will, and feel free to comment as always on the perspectives offered. Look for future contributions on -- where else? -- Sundays.

By Wayne Shelor

It’s been said, without much argument from any quarter, that all popular music is derivative: think of Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. Without them, rock wouldn’t know many of its best-loved licks and beats, found in so many songs. But if one listens to music, you’ll find that rock ‘n’ roll is every bit as incestuous as it is derivative. Consider, today, Great Britian’s psychedelic hurdy-gurdy man, Donovan.

Donovan Leitch’s reputation is that of a hippy-dippy Scotsman who penned pretty flower-power songs in the ‘60s, trippy tunes such as "Mellow Yellow" and "Sunshine Superman." But this so-called English Bob Dylan’s influence on American musicians resulted in some of the most recognized and honored “variations on a theme” ever put on wax.

Al Kooper, a New York musician/producer who’d played with Bob Dylan, and Stephen Stills, a Texas guitarist with a folkish bent and a close friend of Jimi Hendrix, made Donovan’s 1966 Season of the Witch  into an 11-minute musical incantation on the hallowed Top 20 album “Super Session,” an LP gleaned from the tapes of a remarkable nine-hour studio jam. "Season of the Witch" is clearly a magical tune, for it’s been reinterpreted many times by many others, including Lou Rawls, Vanilla Fudge and even Courtney Love’s Hole.

Then there’s Donovan’s 1967 Buddhism-inspired There is a Mountain, the soul and spine of the half-hour long musical meditation known by millions as the Allman Brothers’ Mountain Jam. The Southern rockers took a throw-away song and made it an impressive improvisational masterpiece.

So now, the rock ‘n’ roll incest: Duane Allman first dissected Donovan’s "There is a Mountain" while sitting in with The Grateful Dead at a Fillmore East show in 1970; you can hear several bars of  "There is a Mountain" in the Dead’s song Alligator .  Duane and the other Brothers later made the lengthy "Mountain Jam" famous on the album Eat a Peach, and if one listens to the 33-minute song you’ll hear the muse of another of Al Kooper’s recording mates: Jimi Hendrix’s "Third Stone From the Sun" is invoked at about the 22-minute mark. And, it turns out, Donovan asked Jimi Hendrix to play -- way back in 1968 -- on what became the Top 10 hit "Hurdy Gurdy Man," but the guitarist was unavailable. There’s more, but you get the picture.

A special 11-track gold CD of Donovan’s “Greatest Hits” was released in March by Phantom Sound & Vision of Great Britain, complete with Donovan’s original versions of "First There is a Mountain" and "Season of the Witch."

Now, there is no mountain.

Wayne Shelor, a former newspaperman, is a life-long Florida resident and music collector specializing in blues and British Invasion rock. His favorite group is the Allman Brothers Band. He still collects vinyl LPs and is one of the Sanctuary's alert tipsters to news and releases we might otherwise overlook.  


  1. The Stills - Gainesville connection is interesting as I can think of a few other great artists that were either born there, or spent formative years there. Maybe Florida Blue Key will bring him back for a commencement speech and give him an honorary doctorate. Can ya picture that? Stephen Stills with robes and ribbons?

  2. Tom Petty? He's a Gainesville boy. His cousin is now the sheriff (a woman) of the county! And there's a now-dead bluesman, also from Alachua County, you've probably heard of also ... ;-{)

  3. Bravo! Obviously there are fans of the Hurdy Gurdy man out there: The gold disc already is temporarily out of stock through Should've grabbed one when the tipster first told me about it.

  4. when i was in college in tampa we trekked to gainesville one weekend to see mudcrutch, tom petty's band - they were holding a festival on their farm where they lived/practiced. all i remember is, it was in fact muddy.

    i also saw stephen stills at fla. field with manassas. he went to UF but dropped out but has given $$ to the school. earlier he went to admiral farragut in st. pete where legend has it he learned to play guitar from fred neil.

    oh yeah, i heard the allmans play this song a half dozen times - when duane was alive. it was always a pleasure.