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Article Bob Dylan Donovan

May 8th, 1965: Dylan & Donovan

Dylan & Donovan

The events we write about at Gaslight Records happened in some form or another 50 years ago to the day. Roll along with us and imagine you are back in 1969.

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London’s Savoy Hotel has played host to many illustrious guests over the years—John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Babe Ruth etcetera. Not least among them was Bob Dylan, who frequented the hotel during tours of the UK in the 1960s. The most famous of his visits came in 1965, when filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker shot much of his acclaimed documentary Don’t Look Back in and around the hotel.

if you were in the presence of Joe Montana as an aspiring young quaterback, wouldn’t you be tempted to show him how you throw a football?

In one of the film’s most revered scenes—shot May 8th, 1965—Dylan is shown hanging out with British folksinger Donovan Leitch in his hotel suite. Others in the room included American singer Derroll Adams, whom Dylan was excited to meet because of the connection the pair shared to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. At one point, Adams informs Dylan that he can turn him onto some great British poets, to which Dylan responds, “OK. . .Are there any poets like Allen Ginsberg around, man?”

“No, nothing like that,” says Adams. “There’s Dominic Behan.”

“I don’t wanna hear nobody like Dominic Behan, man,” says Dylan, clearly nursing a grudge following the plagiarism accusations Behan had recently levelled against him, which claimed that Dylan used the melody from Behan’s “The Patriot Game” for his song, “With God On Our Side.”

The focus of Don’t Look Back’s May 8th Savoy sequence is, of course, the meeting of Dylan and Donovan. In the lead up to this point in the film, Dylan seems almost obsessed with the eighteen year-old Donovan, who British Newspapers were calling the "New Dylan". By the time the pair meet in Don’t Look Back the tension in the air is palpable—well, at least it has been viewed that way by many since the film’s release.

I for one think the scene doesn’t necessarily depict Donovan staking a claim on Bob’s ‘king of folk music’ status. Yes, Donovan plays a song - "To Sing For You" - which many commentators have interpreted as a throwing down of the proverbial gauntlet. And, yes, Dylan arguably responds with a trump card in the form of "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue". But I see the footage as more the tale of a young kid, who, whilst in the presence of his idol, can’t contain the urge to share one of his own songs.

Watch above as Dylan performs "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" & Donovan plays "To Sing For You".

Nowadays, comparing Donovan to Dylan is a dog that just won’t hunt. But to be fair, Donovan never came out and made the comparison in the first place. The press did it for him. As such, it seems a little unfair to simply say that this footage shows just how inept Donovan was compared to Dylan. To be sure, it does do exactly that, but can anyone tell me who wouldn’t come off looking inept in a songwriting contest with one Bob Dylan? Slim pickings, my friends, slim pickings.

Maybe Donovan shouldn’t have picked up the guitar at all, but if you were in the presence of Joe Montana as an aspiring young quaterback, wouldn’t you be tempted to show him how you throw a football?

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