John Sebastian Biography

17 March 1944, Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, USA. The son of the famous classical harmonica player John Sebastian. John Jnr. is best known for his seminal jug band/rock fusion with the much-loved Lovin’ Spoonful in the 60s, which established him as one of the finest American songwriters of the era. When the Lovin’ Spoonful finally collapsed in 1968, Sebastian started a solo career that was briefly threatened when he was asked to become the fourth member of Crosby, Stills And Nash, but he declined when it was found that Stephen Stills wanted him to play drums. A year or so later he was in a similar position with the formation of Little Feat.

In 1969 Sebastian’s performance was one of the highlights of the Woodstock Festival, singing his warm and friendly material to a deliriously happy audience. His tie-dye jacket and jeans, warm rapport, and acoustic set (allegedly aided by copious amounts of LSD) elevated him to star status. Sebastian debuted the following year with an outstanding solo work, John B Sebastian, evoking much of the spirit of Woodstock. Notable tracks such as the autobiographical ‘Red-Eye Express’ and the evocative ‘How Have You Been’, were bound together with one of his finest songs, the painfully short ‘She’s A Lady’. Less than two minutes long, this love song was perfect for the times, and remains a neglected classic of the era. Cheapo- Cheapo Productions Presents Real Live John Sebastian, an engaging album recorded at four gigs in California, was issued in 1971 response to MGM Records ‘dubiously’ recorded live album from the previous year (the label had also released a hastily deleted version of his debut album taken from second generation tapes).

Sebastian faltered with the uneven The Four Of Us (1971), a travelogue of hippie ideology. At that time he was performing at a punishing rate throughout Europe and America. Tarzana Kid in 1974 sold poorly, but has latterly grown in stature with critics. At this time, Sebastian was working with Lowell George, and a strong Little Feat influence was evident. The album’s high point is a Sebastian/George classic, the beautiful ‘Face Of Appalachia’. Two years later Sebastian was asked to write the theme song for a US comedy television series, Welcome Back, Kotter. The result was a huge number 1 hit, ‘Welcome Back’. The album of the same name surprisingly failed to sell and was soon to be found in bargain bins and Warners and Sebastian parted company.

From this time onwards, Sebastian never stopped working although no new studio material was forthcoming. He accompanied Sha Na Na and NRBQ on many lengthy tours, appeared as a television presenter, wrote a children’s book and among other commissions he composed the music for the Care Bears television series. Severe problems with his throat threatened his singing career at one point. Sebastian declined to be part of the 1991 re-formed Lovin’ Spoonful, although he was, is and always will be the heart and soul of that band. He returned to the studio for the delightful Tar Beach in 1992. Although long-term fans noted that his voice was slightly weaker, the album contained a varied mixture of rock, blues and country. Many songs he had written more than a decade earlier were included, the most notable being his uplifting tribute to Smokey Robinson, ‘Smokey Don’t Go’.

Together with the J-Band, which featured Jimmy Vivino, Fritz Richmond and James Wormworth, Sebastian released the jug band sessionI Want My Roots in 1996. His move towards the old-time music that had originally inspired him was confirmed with another J-Band release, a 1999 live album with Geoff Muldaur in the line-up, although it appeared that Sebastian was taking a back seat with his vocals only appearing on three tracks. His first studio outing of the new millennium was a rough and ready collaboration with David Grisman, released at the end of 2007.

Hardly prolific, but still loved and much respected, Sebastian remains one of the very best American songwriters of the 60s, with a string of brilliantly evocative yet innocent pop songs. It is a great pity that he is not more active in the recording studio.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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