Sebastian performing in 1974
|Birth name||John Benson Sebastian|
March 17, 1944 |
Greenwich Village, New York City, New York US
|Genres||Rock, pop, folk|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, autoharp|
|Labels||Kama Sutra, Reprise|
|Associated acts||The Lovin' Spoonful, Even Dozen Jug Band, The Mugwumps, NRBQ, The Doors|
John Benson Sebastian (born March 17, 1944) is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and autoharpist. He is best known as a founder of The Lovin' Spoonful, a band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. His tie-dyed denim jacket is prominently displayed there.
Life and early career
Sebastian was born in New York City and grew up in Greenwich Village. His father, John Sebastian, was a noted classical harmonica player and his mother was a radio script writer. He is the godson of Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz of I Love Lucy). He grew up surrounded by music and musicians, including Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie and hearing such players as Lead Belly and Mississippi John Hurt in his own neighborhood.
One of his first recording gigs was playing guitar and harmonica for Billy Faier's 1964 album The Beast of Billy Faier. He also recorded with Fred Neil on the Bleecker & MacDougal album and Tom Rush's self-titled album in 1965. He came up through the Even Dozen Jug Band and The Mugwumps, which split to form the Lovin' Spoonful and The Mamas & the Papas. Sebastian was joined by Zal Yanovsky, Steve Boone and Joe Butler in the Spoonful, which was named after "The Coffee Blues," a Mississippi John Hurt song. Sebastian also played autoharp on occasion.
The Lovin' Spoonful became part of the American response to the British Invasion and was noted for such folk-flavored hits as "Jug Band Music," "Do You Believe in Magic," "Summer in the City," "Daydream," "Nashville Cats," "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?," "Six O'Clock," "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" and "Younger Girl." The band, however, began to implode after a 1967 marijuana bust in San Francisco involving Yanovsky, a Canadian citizen. Facing deportation, he revealed the name of his dealer, which caused a fan backlash and internal strife. Neither Sebastian nor Butler was involved in the matter, both being away from San Francisco at the time. Yanovsky subsequently left the band and was replaced by Jerry Yester.
Sebastian left the Lovin' Spoonful in 1968 although he and the original band reunited briefly to appear in the 1980 film One Trick Pony starring Paul Simon and Blair Brown. In December 1968 a musical for which he composed the music and lyrics, Jimmy Shine, opened on Broadway with Dustin Hoffman in the title role.
He embarked on a moderately successful solo career after leaving the Lovin' Spoonful in 1968. Sebastian was popular among the rock festival circuits. He had a memorable, albeit unscheduled appearance at Woodstock, appearing after Country Joe McDonald's set, playing songs such as "I Had A Dream," "Rainbows All Over Your Blues," "Darling Be Home Soon" and "Younger Generation," which he dedicated to a newborn baby at the festival. Documentary remarks by festival organizers revealed that Sebastian was under the influence of marijuana at the time, hence his spontaneity and casual, unplanned set. "By the time I got to Woodstock I remained a pot smoker, but there was a natural high there," says Sebastian. "In an interview it is the easy thing to say 'yeah, I was really high,' but it was actually a very small part of the event. In fact, I had a small part of some pill that someone gave me before I went onstage, but it wasn't a real acid feeling." Sebastian also returned for Woodstock '94, playing harmonica for Crosby, Stills and Nash. Sebastian released his eponymous LP John B. Sebastian in 1970, which featured him accompanied by various LA musicians.
Sebastian played harmonica with The Doors on the song "Roadhouse Blues" (which was featured on Morrison Hotel album), under the pseudonym G. Puglese to avoid problems with his contract and to avoid association with Jim Morrison, who had been facing trial charges after the Miami concert incident at the time. He also played on "Little Red Rooster" on the live album Alive, She Cried and on seven songs on Live in Detroit. (Both albums were later re-released, remastered, and repackaged into one single album, In Concert, and included Jim's introduction of Sebastian to the stage on the "Little Red Rooster" track.) He also is credited with playing harmonica on Crosby Stills Nash & Young's "Déjà Vu" from the album of the same name.
In 1976 Sebastian had a number one single with "Welcome Back," the theme song to the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. His only top 40 solo hit, it found new life 28 years later when a sample from it became the hook for rapper Mase's 2004 hit "Welcome Back." More recently he played with John Sebastian and the J-Band, a jug band including Fritz Richmond from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Yank Rachell, an original jug-band leader, and Geoff Muldaur.
Several modern musicians cite him as a large influence. Sebastian is a notable songwriter whose work has been covered by Elvis Costello ("The Room Nobody Lives In"), Dolly Parton, Del McCoury, Helen Reddy, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Bobby Darin, Slade and Joe Cocker; The Everly Brothers, Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffett have all covered "Stories We Could Tell".
Starting in 1978 John wrote the music for the animated special The Devil and Daniel Mouse, and provided the singing voice for the character of Daniel Mouse. In the 1980s Sebastian continued to write and perform music for several productions from Nelvana Limited Productions, a reputable Canada-based animation studio whose more recent output included the TV series Braceface, which starred—and was jointly produced by—Alicia Silverstone, and the same studio which produced The Devil and Daniel Mouse. John wrote and sang the theme song/narration for Nelvana's TV pilot The Get Along Gang. (None of it was kept, however, when DIC Entertainment took over the project thereafter.) Sebastian also composed and performed "Care Bear Countdown," the theme song for Nelvana's Care Bears TV series, along with numerous tunes for the The Care Bears Movie trilogy which preceded it; this consisted of Care Bears Movie 2: A New Generation and The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland.
In later years Sebastian hosted several television programs regarding '60s' music, including paid programs for compilations sets and a half-hour program called The Golden Age of Rock and Roll, which was usually composed of video footage of 1960s bands performing on variety shows. He also hosted a Spoonful retrospective broadcast over PBS in March 2007, talking about various Spoonful numbers in between vintage video clips of the band up to the time he left.
In 2007 Sebastian released a guitar instructional DVD for Homespun Video teaching solo guitar adaptations of eight of his Spoonful hits including "Daydream," "Nashville Cats," and his solo hit "Welcome Back." He has also released an instructional DVD teaching beginning level autoharp. (Sebastian played both harmonica and autoharp on Shanachie's 2002 compilation CD "Man of Constant Sorrow.")
Sebastian and the J Band appear in Chasin' Gus' Ghost, a documentary about the roots and influence of jug band music, which screened in August 2007 at the San Francisco Jug Band Festival and made its film festival debut in October 2007 at the Woodstock Film Festival. In the film Sebastian humorously explains (with musical accompaniment) how his hit song, "Younger Girl", was inspired by Gus Cannon's "Prison Wall Blues." He also performed at the festival with other musicians featured in the film, including Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, Jim Kweskin and David Grisman.
Stories We Could Tell, the title of a novel by British writer Tony Parsons, comes from the Sebastian song. On January 12, 2014, Sebastian appeared on CBS Sunday Morning to talk about his career with and without The Lovin' Spoonful, Eric Clapton, and the Martin guitar.
Original U.S. singles
|Release year||Label/catalog #||Titles (A-side / B-side)||Billboard Top Singles||Cashbox|
|1968||Kama Sutra KA-254||She's A Lady / The Room Nobody Lives In||
|1970||Reprise 0902||Magical Connection / Fa-Fana-Fa||
|1970||Reprise 0918||What She Thinks About / Red Eye Express||
|1970||MGM 14122||Rainbows All Over Your Blues / You're A Big Boy Now||
|1971||Reprise 1026||I Don't Want Nobody Else / Sweet Muse||
|1971||Reprise 1050||Well, Well, Well / We'll See||
|1972||Reprise 1074||Give Us A Break / Music For People Who Don't Speak English||
|1976||Reprise 1349||Welcome Back / Warm Baby||
|1976||Reprise 1355||Hideaway / One Step Forward, Two Steps Back||
Original U.S. vinyl albums
|Release year||Label/catalog #||Album title||Billboard Album Chart|
|1970||Reprise RS 6379||John B. Sebastian||
|1970||MGM SE-4654||John B. Sebastian (exact same album as above, with a different cover)||
|1970||MGM SE-4720||John Sebastian Live||
|1971||Reprise MS 2036||Cheapo Cheapo Productions Presents Real Live John Sebastian||
|1971||Reprise MS 2041||The Four of Us||
|1974||Reprise MS 2187||Tarzana Kid||
|1976||Reprise MS 2249||Welcome Back||
- 1978 The Devil and Daniel Mouse: A Nelvana Story Album
- 1982 John Sebastian Teaches Blues Harmonica Homespun Tapes
- 1993 Tar Beach Shanachie
- 1995 John Sebastian Line
- 1996 I Want My Roots John Sebastian and the J-Band; Music Masters
- 1996 King Biscuit Flower Hour [live] King Biscuit Flower
- 1996 John Sebastian Teaches Beginning Blues Harmonica Homespun Tapes
- 1997 Do What Know? With Jimmy Vivino & The Rekooperators Music Masters
- 1999 Chasin' Gus' Ghost Hollywood
- 2001 One Guy, One Guitar [live] Hux; concert performances from 1981 and 1984, originally broadcast on the BBC
- 2001 Faithful Virtue: The Reprise Recordings Rhino Handmade
- 2002 Man of Constant Sorrow: Instrumental Impressions of the American Heartland Shanachie, as licensed to the St. Clair Entertainment Group.
- 2007 Satisfied John Sebastian And David Grisman Acoustic Disc
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- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame entry for the Lovin' Spoonful.. Retrieved January 5, 2009.
- Graduated from Blair Academy a private all male prep school in Blairstown NJ. Songwriter Hall of Fame John Sebastian biography.. Retrieved January 5, 2009.
- John Sebastian biography at www.johnbsebastian.com. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
- "Billy Faier – The Five String Banjo". December 10, 2009. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
- Sony Legacy Recordings biography entry for The Lovin' Spoonful. From Allmusic biography by Richie Unterberger.. Retrieved January 5, 2009.
- December 13, 1968, (December 13, 1968). "Time Magazine, December 13, 1968,". Time.com. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
- Sonic Boomers. "John Sebastian's Spoonful of Magic" by Charles Bermant. March 26, 2010.[dead link]
- The Doors, Morrison Hotel Remastered Liner Notes, Page 7, David Frickle, 2006
- The Doors Live in Detroit CD Review at www.doors.com. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
- Allmusic entry for The Doors Live in Detroit.. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
- Pop Matters entry for review of Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. In 2009, he toured with Maria Muldaur and her Garden of Joy jug band. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
- "''Chasin' Gus' Ghost'' documentary web site". Chasingusghost.com. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
- IMDB entry for Chasin' Gus' Ghost documentary.
- tim warden. "WIXY 1260 Cleveland Survey 11/29/68". Las-solanas.com. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
- Playing harmonica on one song with Brian Keane, "Wagoner's Lad".
- Official site
- Illustrated Even Dozen Jug Band discography
- Peter Reilly's review of The Four of Us[dead link]
- Chasin' Gus' Chost jug band documentary
- John Sebastian interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
- Interview at classicbands.com