Donovan Leitch Interview

When I had the opportunity to see Donovan Leitch perform and be interviewed at LA’s Grammy Museum in honor of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I expected a fascinating interview and a great performer, but I had no idea that I might get the chance to ask this legendary singer-songwriter of the 1960s and 1970s a few questions myself. The evening itself was excellent, but the real excitement was to come later, when while walking back to where my family’s car was parked, I saw a man carrying Donovan’s guitar case (which we had seen earlier) into a restaurant with none other than Tommy Smothers.

After some cursory decisionmaking, I decided to go in and introduce myself to the man– Donovan’s manager– who then introduced me to Donovan himself. During my brief meeting with this genuinely nice and down-to-earth performer, who informed me that he had written a song called Lily once, but that it was for his cat, I managed to score a five-question interview over email– this is the direct transcript.

LA: I think that one of the major reasons I am drawn to music so much before pmy time is perhaps what seems to me to be the more organic nature of it– stars weren’t made by American Idol or Youtube, and music didn’t have to be digitally corrected before it was considered finished. What do you think has been lost with music in the digital age? What has been gained?

DL: Music has lost nothing, it is always rising up from the deep wells within us. All new composers need to do is practice the forms with dedication. The forms are folk and blues and their children, pop and rock.

LA: Do you think that in this time, it is still possible to find poetry in music?

DL: Poetry and Music were one and they were separated. My generation re-united them. New poets need to practice the forms—the forms are lyric and free verse .

LA: Its position has obviously changed over the years– do you fear it is becoming obsolete, or that it ever possibly could?

DL: New poets need to study William Butler Yeats’ early poetry of Myth & Magic. Poetry is the language of the invisible world and always exists.

LA: In so much of your music, you express what was actually going on in the world– for instance, “From Susan On the West Coast Waiting.” How important do you think social consciousness is in popular music?

DL: New composers should reflect current events more often. Personal songs of love and relationships are always dominant though.

LA: Transcendental Meditation has played a huge part in your music. Nowadays, it seems as if the only kind of spirituality that can be found in popular music is in so-called “Christian Rock.” Do you feel that spirituality is an essential part of music?

DL: In traditional cultures the Shaman Poet Musician leads the society to the Realm Within through storytelling, chant and vision. Music is the invisible sound that calls the tribe to transcend. The Great Religions of the Passing Epoch have lost their efficacy and a New Form is emerging to suit the New Age being born. Read Joseph Campbell to see where we are in the transition.

LA: Lastly, how is it possible for you to stay passionate about a song forty years later? Do you think that forty years ago, you expected that you still would be?

DL: The songs I sing are archetypal and are not limited to my own life experience. The song is singing of all our lives, and so I am not reliving an earlier experience, I am echoing the drama of relationships that we all share. The song is ever young and wise.

I hope these replies are able to enlighten your readers to the Poet’s Role in Societies in the past, now and in all futures.

Donovan

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Crushed Butler

Every once in a while, when the School Machine has not given me enough to do, I will stroll one and a half hilly-but-pleasant suburban miles to the nearest public library, and seek to educate myself on something or other. More often than not, given my general state of mind, the “something or other” in question is at least tangentially related to the sort of nonsense that ends up on this blog. Yesterday, when I reached the library at approximately the same time as I finished the first disc of Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, I had put myself in a definite rock and roll mood, but as such moods often do, it lacked any specific direction.

Crushed Butler in 1970: Jesse Hector, Alan Butler, and Darryl Read

Blindly searching the rock and roll section, I happened to pick up what turned out to be an excellent book, Phil Strongman’s Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk, and proceded to discover yet another candidate for the endless “who started Punk?” debate: the explosive UK rockers, Crushed Butler.

Crushed Butler, it is important to note, were not of the brand of pure garage noise that one would expect to lead to the punk movement of groups like The Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, or The Buzzcocks. While yes, John Lydon was an Crushed Butler fan before he went Rotten, the group actually reminds me more of very early Black Sabbath, who released their first album while they were together– a fuzzy, messy guitar tone,  strong, riffy bass, drums that seem from the school of Ginger Baker or Mitch Mitchell, and prominent, gritty vocals. A full-on, reverb-heavy sound that pulls out all the stops. Indeed, in terms of both style and chronology, it appears that Crushed Butler is somewhat removed from the late-70s punk movement, definitely more akin to the heavy psychedelic and proto-metal of the late 60s that at least helped inspired  Punk with its sheer rawness, volume, and departure from the late-60s peace-and-love sensibility that many felt was rapidly turning to cliché.

Crushed Butler in 1969

The history of Crushed Butler is surprisingly difficult to find– the bio listed on the band’s own website leaves a lot to be desired, and further information tantalizingly sparse, apt to leave a researcher interested, but begging for more.

From what I can discern, the band was formed sometime around 1968. In the beginning, guitar and vocals were covered by Ray “Jesse” Hector, also a member of The Gorillas and of The Jesse Hector Sound. Hector was a constant member, remaining a part of Crushed Butler until their name change (to Tiger), personnel change (when Neil Christian of The Crusaders became their manager) and eventual disbandment in 1971. Bass was covered by Alan Butler at the beginning, but he had departed by 1971. A succession of  bassists after him included Stan Aldous, Arthur Anderson and Barry Wyles, who would later join Smile with future members of Queen. Actor-musician Darryl Read serves as drummer. In addition to a short stint later in Krayon Angels, he would go on to collaborate with Mickey Finn and Bill Legend of T. Rex, and record with Ray Manzarek, formerly of The Doors.

While Crushed Butler did not record any full-length albums in their short-but-influential existence, there are several recordings in existence from demo sessions throughout the band’s short life. They were eventually released as a collection, Uncrushed, in 1991. The best-known of their songs is probably the A-side of their 1969 single, the garagey  “It’s My Life,” a ferocious attack that sounds almost like an angrier, more distorted and less psychedelic Seeds, and heavily features Darryl Read’s steady barrage of drums, which propel the track relentlessly forward for its disappointingly short 2:16 running time.

Crushed Butler’s more heavy-psychedelic side is represented by the band’s extremely Black Sabbath-sounding “Love Is All Around Me,” recorded in 1970. Note, of course, that this similarity in sound might have something to do with the band’s involvement with Don Arden, who aside from managing The Small Faces and ELO was not only Black Sabbath’s manager, but also Ozzy Osbourne’s father-in-law. But no matter who influenced who, “Love Is All Around Me” is a great heavy psych song– driven by palpably aggressive unison riffing between guitar and bass and a song form complicated enough to be interesting, and simple enough to have an almost irresistible hook. In addition,  bluesy but inventive guitar lines provides a classic example of psychedelic guitar work.

All in all, with so few Crushed Butler songs available– all of seven, by my count (one of which I have not heard, as it is only available on the Uncrushed collection), I would recommend listening to every one. From the raspy psychedelic blues of “High School Dropout” to the terrifically primeval rock of “Factory Grime” and “Love Fighter,” the slow, crushing epic that makes its rather silly title seem like a mockery, Crushed Butler might have made even the staunchest of flower-power advocates wonder just how much raw aggression will be able to survive into the Age of Aquarius, and whether it will be enough to feed the utter intensity of this truly heavy music.