Hurdy Gurdy Man
“Hurdy Gurdy Man” is a song by the Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan. It was recorded in April 1968 and released the following month as a single. The song gave its name to the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which was released in October of that year in the United States. The single reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and number 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
Donovan wrote “Hurdy Gurdy Man” while in Rishikesh in India, where he was studying Transcendental Meditation with the Beatles. It also features an Indian influence with the use of a tambura, a gift to Donovan from George Harrison, who also helped write the lyrics. The song may have been influenced by “Green Circles“, a psychedelic 1967 song by Small Faces. The similarity is in the melody of the descending verse, the strange vocal delivery, and the topic of being visited by an enlightened stranger. In 2012, Donovan revealed that he had become friends with Small Faces in 1965.
The hurdy-gurdy is a mechanical string instrument that produces sound by a hand-crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to those of a violin. Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents—small wedges, typically made of wood—against one or more of the strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic stringed instruments, it has a sound board and hollow cavity to make the vibration of the strings audible.
Most hurdy-gurdies have multiple drone strings, which give a constant pitch accompaniment to the melody, resulting in a sound similar to that of bagpipes. For this reason, the hurdy-gurdy is often used interchangeably or along with bagpipes, particularly in Occitan, Aragon, Cajun French and contemporary Asturian, Cantabric, Galician, Hungarian and Slavic folk music.