John Sebastian and The "J" Band
John Sebastian has been thrilling audiences for nearly forty years. Nearly three decades since the break-up of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sebastian has remained in-demand as a solo artist, studio musician, TV/film scorer and songwriter. After six top ten hits, more than two dozen albums, and performances on stages around the world, it’s interesting to note that Sebastian has tasted his most personally satisfying musical moments in the last five years.
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John Sebastian was born march 17, 1944 and raised in Greenwich Village in New York City. His father was a noted classical harmonica player and his mother a writer for radio shows. "They were both pretty much ‘hip to the jive,’ smiles Sebastian. Sebastian grew –up in a musical and artsy home, often visited by family friends such as Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie. "I remember," says Sebastian, "that at that time, you could walk three or four blocks in any direction and find recording artists ranging from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Mississippi John Hurt playing in the clubs. I was this neighborhood kid following these legends around, carrying their guitars. It was a magical time."
It was during this early era that Sebastian returned from summer camp to find an invitation to join The Even Dozen Jug Band – which also included Maria Muldaur and Steve Katz of Blood Sweat and Tears. After a short but highly visable year, the band broke up. Sebastian later joined The Mugwumps (with Zal Yanovsky, Cass Elliot and Denny Dougherty of The Mamas and the Papas), and after that ran its course, he and Yanovsky joined forces to create an electrified version of this rich roots music.
With the addition of Steve Boone on bass and Joe Butler on drums, "The Lovin' Spoonful" began learning its craft in the nearby clubs of Greenwich Village. Remembers Sebastian, "The cool thing was that the really hip people never heard how bad we were... we got to practice on the busloads of tourists looking for "beatniks in the Village." One night, Phil Spector came down to hear them. "Even though he wasn’t interested in recording us, the very fact that he came down leaked out and the place became a mob scene, night after night."
The group’s name was suggested by Fritz Richmond, a washtub virtuoso who would record with John 30 years later on his CD "I WANT MY ROOTS." Sebastian recalls, "I told him our sound was kind of like Chuck Berry meets Mississippi John Hurt and he immediately chimed in, "Why not call it the Lovin’ Spoonful?’ So, we were named after a John Hurt song."
The Lovin’ Spoonful would become America’s answer to the British invasion and the Beatles, with top ten hits "Do You Believe in Magic," "Summer In the City," "Daydream," "Nashville Cats," "Make-Up Your Mind," "Six O’Clock" and "Younger Generation," among others. During the band’s two year reign, they made three unforgettable albums, and provided the soundtracks to Francis Ford Coppola’s film You’re a Big Boy Now, and Woody Allen’s hit movie, What’s Up Tiger Lily. Thirteen years later, the band would reunite to perform "Do You Beileve in Magic" in Paul Simon’s film, "One Trick Pony."
Two definitive 60’s moments for Sebastian came at the end of one decade – as an unscheduled performer at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 – and at the start of the next decade – at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, when Sebastian "saved the show" by performing an extra ninety minutes in his set until the other bands showed-up.
Between decades, Sebastian kept himself quite busy. He released several solo albums; actively toured; wrote a children’s book; appeared on TV shows such as NBC TV’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the television program Married with Children, Disney specials and broadcast performances; wrote the theme song for a hit TV show – Welcome Back Kotter – which also welcomed him back on the charts with another top ten hit; appeared on Garrison Keillor’s popular radio show, The Prarie Home Companion; and shared stages and studios with artists as diverse as Willie Dixon, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bonnie Raitt, The Doors, Al Kooper, Tom Petty, Phoebe Snow, Les Paul, Graham Parker, NRBQ, and others, and also starred in several harmonica instructional videos. Bruce Willis’ 1995 film "Die Hard with A Vengence" turned to Sebastian for its theme song, "Summer in the City."
It was during the mid-90's that Sebastian's old friendship with Fritz Richmond combined with rhythm kings Jimmy Vivino and James Wormworth to form John Sebastian and The J-Band. The addition of Paul Rishell and Annie Raines brought a depth to the band that resulted in a first album, "I Want My Roots" (MusicMasters/BMG-65137-2.)
I Want My Roots (MusicMasters/BMG) brings John back to the American roots music he first fell in love with as a teenager. It is a tribute to the musicians who invented and re-invented the Jug Band sound – an earthy, foot stompin’ harmonica-wailing, country-blues sound with the rhythms thumped out on washboards and bass played on washtubs and syrup jugs.
Throughout the years, Sebastian has repeatedly carved his own niche in the musical rule books. His inner voice plays a powerful role in his life and guides him well. Today he can be found living in upstate New York with his wife and two children, getting back to his roots....
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