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John Sebastian

A former leader of folk-rock jugband The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL and singer-songwriter JOHN SEBASTIAN (born John Benson Sebastian, March 17, 1944, Greenwich Village, NY) kicked off his rollercoaster solo career by way of a low-key minor hit, `She’s A Lady’, in 1968. Son of classical harmonica player John Sebastian, John Jr. gleaned the instrument (among half a dozen others) from his talented parent before joining local acts The EVEN DOZEN JUG BAND and The Mugwumps; the latter would be the stamping ground for The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL and The MAMAS & THE PAPAS; both would become million-sellers in the second half of the flower-power 60s.
Using his seminal performance at the Woodstock Festival as a stepping stone, 1970 saw the release of his debut set, JOHN B. SEBASTIAN {*7}, a Top 20 record that comprised eleven originals including the said minor hit; the platter was also the subject of a dispute between his old record company, M.G.M., and his new bosses, Reprise. Tinged with a good portion of R&B, nostalgia and country (via `Baby, Don’t Ya Get Crazy’ with the Ikettes, `I Had A Dream’ and `Rainbows All Over Your Blues’ respectively), the set showcased a stripped-bare take of an old Spoonful staple, `You’re A Big Boy Now’.
Not content with losing out, M.G.M. unleashed their own unauthorised follow-up, JOHN SEBASTIAN LIVE (1970) {*4} – in keeping with the artist’s request at the time (and now!), it’s best swept under the proverbial carpet. To counteract this seedy statement of ambiguity, although issued several months later, Reprise and JB released their own concert set as the official follow-up, CHEAPO-CHEAPO PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS REAL LIVE JOHN SEBASTIAN (1971) {*7}. Although it confused and perturbed a few of his loyal fanbase, he still came out smiling, covering as he did a mixture of country, nostalgia and blues from the likes of CARL PERKINS (`Blue Suede Shoes’), The Five Satins (`In The Still Of The Night’), JIMMIE RODGERS (`Waiting For A Train’), LEADBELLY (`Goodnight Irene’), among some olde LOVIN’ SPOONFUL cuts.
Sophomore set proper, THE FOUR OF US (1971) {*6}, was another cocktail of blues, hippie ideology and country-rock, the former genre spawning `Well, Well, Well’ (a version of `In My Time Of Dyin’’) and `Black Snake Blues’; the ambitious 15-minute title track melded a quartet of styles, namely folk, calypso, R’n’R and country-rock. This eclectic formula bombed on his 1974 return, TARZANA KID {*5}, added attractions this time around including hillbilly (`Face Of Appalachia’) and reggae (JIMMY CLIFF’s `Sitting In Limbo’), while his version of `Stories We Could Tell’ (now on the songbook of The EVERLY BROTHERS) and the LITTLE FEAT cut, `Dixie Chicken’, were worth a spin.
On the back of his chart-topping theme to the TV show Welcome Back Kotter, the prophetic and similarly-titled WELCOME BACK (1976) {*5} found him in chart territory once again. Rush-released and therefore tending to sound equally desperate, many of the tracks were plucked and re-arranged from his 60s heyday (examples `Warm Baby’, `Didn’t Want To Have To It’ and `Let This Be Our Time To Get Along’); if one loves TOTO – who were about to explode on to the rock scene – one can listen out for the session players on board, Jeff Porcaro and David Hungate.
For the next two decades or so, JB concentrated on other activities, even going as far as to write a children’s book, soundtrack the TV cartoon the Care Bears and present the odd telly show; he also supported the likes of SHA NA NA and country act NRBQ. Released on Shanachie Records (normally home to Celtic connection acts) and coming seventeen years after his previous effort, TAR BEACH (1993) {*5} found him co-writing with Phil Galdston. Founding a new casual covers jug band, JOHN SEBASTIAN AND THE J-BAND (featuring ex-KWESKIN JUG BAND member Fritz Richmond), subsequent sets I WANT MY ROOTS (1996) {*5} and CHASIN’ GUS’ GHOST (1999) {*6} saw him treading the country-blues nostalgia path. 2007 saw a one-off live set, SATISFIED {*6}, a “retro-grass” collaboration with former JERRY GARCIA associate, DAVID GRISMAN.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Dec2013

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