October ’68 – Donovan, Paul Horn, and Echoes of India

1968 saw four album releases from attendees of that well-known spiritual retreat which took place in Rishikesh, India at the beginning of the year.  The Beach Boys released their album Friends in June, and in October Donovan released his classic ode to time spent with the Maharishi.  Perhaps lesser known (even though it sold a million copies) but still very significant is the work of jazz flautist Paul Horn, who recorded his album in April while still in India, although the exact release date other than the year 1968 seems to have been lost.  Today I’m celebrating these second two releases.

Donovan – The Hurdy Gurdy Man

Donovan Leitch is a bit of a mysterious figure to me in the world of music.  He isn’t nearly the self-promoter that many of his peers are/were, and it’s never really occurred to me to learn much about him (his autobiography is now on my reading list).  Without looking it up, I have no idea when the last time was he toured the US or what he’s done in recent years.

Is he considered an influential “heavy,” as evidenced by his participation alongside the Beatles at the famed retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in 1968 where he shared guitar techniques with the Fabs, or is he a “lightweight” Dylan wannabe hanging onto Bob’s coattails as depicted in the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back?  Fifty-plus years on it doesn’t really matter, if it ever did.  As with any artist, you either like their work or you don’t, and I like Donovan’s music, especially The Hurdy Gurdy Man, released 50 years ago this month.

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Donovan’s record, an interesting mix of folk, pop, eastern influences, and jazz, gave us two singles in Hurdy Gurdy Man and Jennifer Juniper.  The album’s tone is set by Donovan’s tremolo voice in the title track, and by use of the tambura which was given to Donovan by George Harrison while in India.  Harrison also contributed a line which was unfortunately removed to shorten the song for the radio.  It went:

When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath the thousand years asleep
Time demands a turnaround
And once again the truth is found

The Hurdy Gurdy Man is an enlightened teacher – in this case the Maharishi – who helps seekers awaken from their thousand years sleep to find the truth.  The song is a testament to the freewheelin’ and, uh, foggy nature of how recording sessions unfolded back then, as there were session musicians used who went on to become quite famous, though other than John Paul Jones as the arranger and bass player it’s not entirely clear who.  According to Donovan, Jimmy Page and Allan Holdsworth played electric guitar and John Bonham and Clem Cattini played drums.  Page and engineer Eddie Kramer claim Page played, though Kramer says Bonham did not.  Anyhoo…

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Other than the two singles, favorites for me include the tambura drone-drenched Peregrine and Tangier, the dreamy and brief The Entertaining of a Shy Girl, and the jazz influenced Get Thy BearingsThe Hurdy Gurdy Man is a rather tidy collection of songs which hold up well to my ears.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Hurdy Gurdy Man
  2. Peregrine
  3. The Entertaining of a Shy Girl
  4. As I Recall It
  5. Get Thy Bearings
  6. Hi It’s Been a Long Time
  7. West Indian Lady

Side Two:

  1. Jennifer Juniper
  2. The River Song
  3. Tangier
  4. A Sunny Day
  5. The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow
  6. Teas

Paul Horn – Inside the Taj Mahal

Jazz flautist Paul Horn was a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation who joined the Beatles, Donovan, Mike Love, Mia Farrow and others at the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh in February 1968.  He had previously worked with Chico Hamilton, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Cal Tjader when he recorded Paul Horn in India and Paul Horn in Kashmir in 1967 (now both available on one disc).  Then, upon leaving Maharishi’s ashram after the retreat, he snuck a tape recorder into the Taj Mahal on April 25, 1968 and began playing his flute.  The guerrilla recording which resulted from it is titled Inside the Taj Mahal, or simply Inside.

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The album has been described as Horn playing not only his flute, but the building itself with its long sound delay creating a type of etherial echo which couldn’t be created in studios at that time.  A security guard was about to ask him to cease playing, but was so moved by what he was hearing that he allowed Horn to continue.  The haunting vocal on the album was improvised by a complete stranger who happened to be under the massive marble dome at the same time.  Unfortunately, he was uncredited.

 

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Paul Horn and George Harrison at Rishikesh

Inside the Taj Mahal is considered a pioneering album in the realm of “world” or “new age” music.  It’s a good choice for drifting into or out of meditation, or for the spiritually uninclined, for sinking back into a comfortable chair late at night with a snifter of brandy.  In my case, it’s both.  Paul Horn was nominated for a Grammy five times during his career.  He passed away at the age of 84 in 2014.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Prologue/Inside
  2. Mantra I/Meditation
  3. Mumtaz Mahal
  4. Unity
  5. Agra

Side Two:

  1. Vibrations
  2. Akasha
  3. Jumna
  4. Shah Jahan
  5. Mantra II/Duality
  6. Ustad Isa/Mantra III

-Stephen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hurdy_Gurdy_Man

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-hurdy-gurdy-man-mw0000203921

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_(Paul_Horn_album)

https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2013/jul/03/101-strangest-spotify-paul-horn

The Beatles in India: Feb. 15-April 12, 1968

Since long before 1968, westerners have journeyed to India in search of a different way of being within the confines of the material world.  But no visit has been more documented, more celebrated, than that of the Beatles when they traveled to the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose spiritual guidance they had begun receiving the previous August, in the beautiful surroundings of Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges, northern India.

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Rishikesh today

The group and their entourage arrived in two parties, with George Harrison and his wife, Pattie Boyd, her sister, Jenny, and John and Cynthia Lennon arriving on February 15.  Paul McCartney and his girlfriend, actress Jane Asher, and Ringo Starr and his wife, Maureen, arrived at the ashram on February 20.  There they joined a larger group of seekers and Transcendental Meditation (TM) teachers-in-training for a months-long immersion in meditation and lectures by the Maharishi.  Others of note at the retreat included John’s inventor-friend Alexis “Magic Alex” Mardas, Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, jazz flautist Paul Horn, as well as Mia Farrow and her siblings, including sister Prudence.

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Mia Farrow and the Maharishi

The basic story is well-known.  The Beatles had long beforehand grown weary of Beatlemania, George and perhaps John the most.  With the combination of the death of their manager, Brian Epstein (while they were in Wales being initiated into TM the previous August), and the founding of their company, Apple Corps, they were quickly becoming untethered, stressed, and looking for guidance or at least a nice holiday.  Ringo and Maureen stayed about ten days, the food problematic for his sensitive digestive system.  Paul and Jane left after about a month – Paul to supervise Apple business and Jane for an acting engagement.  The Harrisons and Lennons stayed on until April 12, famously leaving when the rumor that the Maharishi had made inappropriate advances toward Mia Farrow became fact in John’s mind due to Magic Alex whispering in his ear.  Years later they would all express regret at their behavior in leaving the ashram as they did, assigning it to their relatively young age when they were there.  This would be the final time the four Beatles traveled together.

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Photos and film footage of the Beatles’ time in Rishikesh paint an idyllic picture of mid/late 20-somethings on a spiritual quest, evolving out of a life of short-lived pleasures enjoyed by elite celebrities and into something more meaningful and lasting.  But while the trip did everyone some good by most accounts, you can take the egotistic rock star out of Swinging London, but you can’t always take Swinging London out of the egotistic rock star.

Associates made sure LSD and alcohol were available, a big no-no at a spiritual retreat (duh).*  Also, John and Cynthia’s marriage was in its final throes, and he began each day with a trek to the local post office to check on the arrival of new telegrams from Yoko, to whom he would soon and almost always be attached.  And much to George’s chagrin, Paul and John spent a lot of time writing songs that would end up on the sprawling White Album later in the year instead of meditating.  Indeed, George was the single most serious practitioner among the four, and continued to be until the end of his life with lapses along the way like most of us mortals.

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John pretending to be married to Cynthia in India.

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Another element to this period is the fine line a spiritual teacher walks between the teachings on one side and the commercialisation of it on the other.  Obviously the Maharishi enjoyed increased publicity worldwide as a result of his association with the Beatles, and I have no problem with that in and of itself.  When the dust of the 60’s settled, the awareness and popularity of TM became much more widespread.  This was a good thing, and the Beatles, especially George Harrison, were a major reason for it.  Was it inherently bad that the Maharishi was also a shrewd business man?  I don’t believe so.  Just as modern teachers such as Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle generate large amounts of money through their writings and speaking engagements, so too did Yogananda and Vivekananda years before the Maharishi, and it was all for the better in my book.

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The remains of the Maharishi’s abandoned ashram today.  Apparently there are plans to renovate the grounds.

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*Subsequent to this post, I’ve read another account of the Beatles’ India Trip (Riding So High:  The Beatles and Drugs by Joe Goodden) which states the group was clean during their stay in Rishikesh.  However, within weeks Lennon would develop a heroin addiction upon meeting Yoko back in London.

https://www.beatlesbible.com/features/india/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles_in_India

-Stephen