John Sebastian was one of those guys who forever had a smile in his voice. He was one of the main poster boys for 70s peaceniks, folkies, hippies, and even chart worshippers. Remember that grinning gent who wore the tie-dyed oufit at Woodstock? That was him. Remember a band called The Lovin' Spoonful and the armada of hits it produced? Sebastian was captain. Recall a series of solos on Warner Bros. Records? There was a lot of pretty damn good stuff in those LPs. Oh…and didja catch the TV show Welcome Back Kotter? The theme was written and sung by John Sebastian and became a #1 hit. The guy's been a bit more omnipresent than most realize.
What most do not know, however, is that he played harmonica, pseudonymed as G. Puglese, on the Doors' version of Roadhouse Blues for Morrison Hotel, on Little Red Rooster on the Alive She Cried LP, and then on seven cuts in Live in Detroit. CSNY liked the guy so much that he appeared on their Deja Vu album, on the title cut , and, at Woodstock '94, they asked him back to once more ply that famous harp.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Sebastian has released CDs and instructional videos through the 90s and 2000s, and this 2008 DVD is a long-overdue presentation of a small venue gig he did in Iowa accompanied by David Bromberg, another grossly underlauded blues, jug, and roots music great and someone who's sided for John for a long long time. For Sebastian fans, it's a feast; for newcomers, it'll be a great introduction to a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer who never really got the full credit much deserved for contributions to the folk, rock, jug, and good-time music genres.
Naturally, a number of Spoonful hits are featured—Darling Be Home Soon, Nashville Cats, Younger Girl, etc.—along with solo work (Tar Beach, etc.) but so is an outside classic or two, such as Lowell George and Marin Kibbee's (usually song-credited as 'F. Martin') Dixie Chicken, with great Bromberg slide solo work. Between songs, Sebastian often delivers revelatory information about the tunes, frequently humorous, interacting with the audience. The whole show is informal, warm & fuzzy, and accessible, exactly the sort of thing you'd want after a hard day at the office, needing a mellowing shot of humanity and tuneful feel-good. The Spoonful hetman has always been perfect for precisely that and *Live* slots him right back into the spot.
As John himself says, prepping the audience for a backing vocals role, "We really don't need fine voices here!" and that covers the whole feel of this DVD. He isn't 20 any more, that voice isn't always pitch perfect (God knows Bromberg's isn't, but he's always sung in an odd register I find irresistable in the same fashion as Dylan's), but, man o man, can he deliver the magic moment after moment after moment. This DVD is a bit of what might be called sonic scrapbooking, a way to re-live what was, ponder how things age and ripen, and look in on how past heroes have been evolving. It's also more than a little reminder that none of us are all that different from our parents when it comes to aesthetics. As they doted on Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra, passing from year to year well after the heydays, so do we...on wilder times and more rebellious musics. Perhaps it's a ticklish thing to think upon, but, when there's still so much to see and hear, count me in. I'll sort out the Freudian contradictions later.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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