Music has always been in Jim Donovan's blood, and from an early age the Western Pennsylvania native knew he wanted to make a living off of sounds, picking up and mastering several instruments as a young man—most notably, the drums. But his decades-long career has taken his first love in directions not even he could conceive.
From 1990-2005 Donovan served as a founding member of the Pittsburgh band Rusted Root, with Donovan backing up the rock/roots/jam ensemble at the drums on such hits as “Send Me on My Way” and “Welcome to My Party.” The band toured the world, often playing alongside or opening for such legends as Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead and members of Led Zeppelin.
In the early 21st century Donovan opted to leave the band behind to spend more time at home in the Pittsburgh environs with his wife and children. Although he realized a life on the road as a rock 'n' roll drummer was not to be his ultimate destiny, Donovan never gave up on music. Earning an M.Ed. at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania, Donovan soon joined the faculty of the private Catholic university, where he educates students on how to use music to increase wellness, help children with autism and support people recovering from addiction.
Donovan also found a new way to share his musical passions with those who needed some sunlight in their lives. In 1999 he began offering what he calls “transformational” drum circles. Ever a believer in the power of music to bring light and levity, Donovan's unique exercises have helped thousands in the U.S. and Europe learn new ways of living healthier and better connecting with their inner strengths. He has even authored a book on the subject called “Drum Circle Leadership.”
In early 2016 Donovan releases his first solo album in 14 years, “Sun King Warriors,” an effort that melds not only his love of rock but also his intense passion for rhythm, his years of experience as a professor and his time with Rusted Root. Donovan shows off his multiple influences on the disc, from the bluegrass- and country-inflected charms of “Blend Into You” to the '60s rock sound of “I'm Doing Fine,” the reggae-esque “Olalala” and, of course, the percussiveness on “March of the Sun King Warriors.” “Love on Me” treats its subject with reverence in a soulful ballad that shows off Donovan's softer side, before he incredibly switches gears yet again for the African strains of “The One You're Growing Into,” which is reminiscent of the work of Paul Simon's seminal album “Graceland” — and which was written for Donovan’s son Oliver. “The Sunshine” closes out the disc with an ode to love, the greatest of all human experience.
“Sun King Warriors” was produced by Sean McDonald in Pittsburgh, and was financed entirely via crowdfunding. The new songs offer a mixture of rock, Americana sounds and, of course, as Donovan likes to say, “two tons of drums.”
Donovan plays guitar, sings and drums for “Warriors,” and he has recruited musician pals Bryan Fazio and Harry Pepper to back him up on congas and percussion, bassist Kent Tonkin, guitarists Dan Murphy and Kevin McDonald and fellow drummer Joe Marini to round out the ensemble. Donovan says those who come to see himself and “the Warriors” will find a high-energy act that throws caution to the wind “by creating music in the moment with no script” and offering a brand-new take on the rock 'n' roll sound.
Donovan relates how two unexpected trips to the hospital in 2013—for what doctors incorrectly thought were a heart attack and a brain tumor—nudged him to vent his creative spirits, to take command of the moment before it passes by.
“These harrowing experiences made one thing clear to me: Life is short!” Donovan recalls of his trips to the ER, which ultimately showed he was in perfect health. “I realized that there was no longer time to put off the things I knew I wanted to accomplish ‘someday,’ including creating an album from my heart and soul.’ With a new sense of urgency (and purpose) the ‘Sun King Warriors’ project swung into full gear.”
With a clean bill of health, and some personal changes to his lifestyle, Donovan went to work on making “Sun King Warriors” not only his love letter to rock, but also to his family and his own life mission.
“I knew that if I didn’t start soon, my kids might never know this part of me,” Donovan said of the album.
In addition to sharing the joy of music with the world, Donovan believes strongly in the communal efforts that music-making allows for serving those in need. To this end, Donovan aims to redirect some of the positive energy of music into good deeds and helping out the less fortunate. Donovan says that the “Sun King Warriors” project actively supports food pantries in their touring markets as well as provide financial and moral means to such services as The Healing Patch, a charity that provides free grief counseling and other comfort to children who have lost a parent or sibling.
Donovan lives in Western Pennsylvania with his wife Tracey and his three children Tupelo, Ella and Oliver. For more information visit SunKingWarriors.com and follow him on Twitter at @sunkingwarriors.