Sunday, February 10, 2008

Donovan Comes to Town

Donovan made a rare concert appearance in Phoenix Feb. 6 with a solo, acoustic performance at the historic Orpheum Theatre.

With just his shiny green acoustic guitar and trademark vibrato vocal, the Scottish troubadour put on a highly entertaining show by revisiting much of his rich catalogue of songs. He played the hits, but also performed several deeper tracks, often tapping his Celtic ancestry.

Launching into some of his earliest compositions without fanfare, Donovan rendered faithful renditions of "Catch the Wind" and "To Try for the Sun" (which, by the way, was recently recorded by Lindsey Buckingham).

He warmed up the humorous side of his storytelling with an introduction to a Scottish pirate song called "Henry Martin," noting the similarities between Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the Stones' Keith Richards.

On a more serious note, Donovan memorialized the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his long-time spiritual advisor, who had passed away the day before at the age of 91 in the Netherlands. 40 years ago this month, Donovan ventured to the Maharishi's Meditation Academy in India with The Beatles, the Beach Boys' Mike Love and jazz musician Paul Horn to study transcendental meditation.

Before performing "Hurdy Gurdy Man" as a musical tribute, Donovan told the audience, "a dear friend, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has dropped his body to move on, but has left a great legacy, a wonderful meditation program. This song is dedicated to all the students of the teachings of this Yogi."

A peace warrior since the early '60s, Donovan updated a couple of anti-war songs with references to the Iraqi conflict; Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier" and his own composition from the Vietnam era, "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting."

Other song highlights included "Sunny Goodge Street;" "Jennifer Juniper;" "Wear Your Love Like Heaven;" "Lalena;" "Eldorado;" "Season of the Witch" and "Atlantis."

He saved his biggest hits for the end of the show with inspired versions of "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow," while wrapping up the night with his encore, the jaunty "There is a Mountain."

The following morning, I had the opportunity to interview Donovan at his hotel in downtown Phoenix. Not surprisingly, I discovered that not only is he a great artist, but a terrific person as well.

You can hear Donovan's tribute to the Maharishi leading into an unplugged version of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" on next weekend's Acoustic Storm (2/23-2/24).

That same weekend, we'll be featuring our annual "Silver Screen Acoustic Storm" with acoustic rock from the movies. Since The Beatles had their fair share of cinematic experience, we'll profile the Fab Four in the Eye of The Storm. I hope you can join me then...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Kicking Off February

It's always a lot of fun to find acoustic versions of songs you've never heard before. A couple of weeks ago, my old radio friend Lee Powell sent me the CD-single of "On the Way Home," a live, acoustic version of the Buffalo Springfield classic from Neil Young's forthcoming "NYA Performance Series Vol. 1: The Riverboat." You may have heard me play that track on last week's show when Neil was the featured artist in the Eye of The Acoustic Storm. The latest volume of Neil Young's archival series captures some of his earliest live recordings at the Toronto coffeehouse, The Riverboat.

I'm also looking forward to spinning tunes from a soon-to-be released acoustic album by Pat Benatar, plus previously-undiscovered acoustic versions from The Fixx, as well as Little Feat, courtesy of the band's Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett.

The Acoustic Storm will be "kicking off" February with a couple of songs for this Sunday's Super Bowl teams. The NFL's ultimate game is being played in The Acoustic Storm's backyard in Glendale, Arizona. So we'll play Jackson Browne with "I Am a Patriot" for New England and Billy Joel's 2006 live performance of "New York State of Mind" for the Giants.

Also on this weekend's Pink Floyd, The Beatles with a vocal demo from "Abbey Road," Ray Davies of the Kinks with an acoustic take on a British Invasion classic, and some nifty acoustic work from 6 & 12 string guitar wizard Leo Kottke. Plus, Elton John goes into the Eye of The Storm.

On a sad note, the music world lost a fine singer-songwriter January 19th with the passing of John Stewart. John's career got underway in 1961 when he replaced Dave Guard in the Kingston Trio. As the folk scene gave way to rock in the late '60s, Stewart continued to write songs. In fact, he penned "Daydream Believer," which hit the top of the charts for the Monkees.

John Stewart really came into his own as a solo artist. After meeting and marrying fellow folk singer Buffy Ford, he released his solo debut, 1969's "California Bloodlines." He recorded it live in the studio in Nashville, while across the hall Dylan was recording "Nashville Skyline." Other critically-acclaimed John Stewart albums include "Willard," "Cannons in the Rain," and "Wingless Angels."

He often performed in Phoenix, Arizona and became one of the Valley's most popular artists in the mid 1970's. In fact, John Stewart recorded "The Phoenix Concerts" at Symphony Hall in 1974.

Teaming up with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, Stewart released the album "Bombs Away Dream Babies" in 1979, featuring "Gold," which reached #5 on the singles chart. Two other tracks from that album, "Midnight Wind" and "Lost Her in the Sun," would also hit the top 40. It was around that time that I interviewed John Stewart live on K-104 (KIOG-FM/KQXE-AM) in Phoenix.

Stewart's later success mostly came as a songwriter. Nanci Griffith, Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Joan Baez are among the artists that have recorded his material in recent years.

The Acoustic Storm will remember John Stewart on this weekend's show, with one of his best-loved songs, "July, You're a Woman."