John Sebastian is one of those names that linger, resonating seemingly from decade to decade. If the name doesn’t sound immediately familiar, his work likely will. In the 1960s, he was the founding member of the Lovin’ Spoonful after leaving the popular folk group the Mamas and the Papas.
The Spoonful was America’s answer to the British Invasion, and the band delivered with both impressive and unprecedented results. The first seven singles all placed in the Top 10. When he left the band he started in 1968, Sebastian went on to do other projects. He was the honky tonk stompin’ harmonica background on The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blue,” which he played under the pseudonym G. Puglese to avoid any record company problems.
The seventies returned with additional success, as Sebastian concocted a number one single “Welcome Back.” The song was also used as the theme for “Welcome Back Kotter,” starring a young, then relatively unknown John Travolta.
Children of the eighties might remember waking up and singing along with “Care Bears Countdown” or “Strawberry Shortcake,” both cartoon themes penned by Sebastian. More recently, fans may have seen him host a number of sixties memorabilia hours or performing with the jug band J-Band. Sebastian has recorded a number of albums with acoustic “Dawg” musical artist David Grisman. His latest album with Grisman, 2007’s Satisfied, has been called “as comfortable as a front porch swing,” according to Elmore magazine.
A noted songwriter as well as a performer, he was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008.
Sebastian is a singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist now going strong into his fourth decade of performing. And much of his music is as relevant today as it was back then.
Sebastian is set to showcase at Walker’s Bluff in Carterville on Saturday, October 10. The Nightlife recently caught up with the legendary musician in a phone musician from his home in Woodstock to discuss the Woodstock Festival and the socially conscious sixties, the power of a perfect song and how he would like his fans to remember him.
NL: There is a lot of 1960s nostalgia coming out nowadays because of the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. What does that time period mean to you?
It is easy to look back now that it has been forty years since it happened. The sixties were just this wild time. You had a lot of things going on, good and bad, music and otherwise. It was an exciting time to be alive and to be alive making music.
NL: You weren’t scheduled to be a part of the Woodstock stage yet you had a very memorable performance. Like when you dedicated “Younger Generation” to a newborn baby. How did that come about?
JS: I was hanging out with some band friends of mine who had a helicopter and we just decided to fly out there .We were just going to be part of the audience. So there we were just standing around in between sets and they needed someone to come up and play. But they couldn’t be electric. It had to be acoustic. So I thought “Why not?” and got up there and performed.
NL: What do you remember most about Woodstock?
JS: Lots of things, but as for the [Woodstock festival] itself, the audience. They were the true stars of the show.
NL: How has your past helped make you the musician that you are today?
JS: I left the Spoonful because I wanted to move on and work with some musicians I had sat in the studio with. When I look back, I am proud of the work I did. I really am. I can look at the Lovin’ Spoonful and say, “Yeah, I was a part of that.” And that’s what the great thing about it. That you can look back with fond memories but still have the desire to grow as a musician and a songwriter. You got to be willing and ready to grow and learn.