Over four decades the contributions of John Sebastian have become a permanent part of our American musical fabric, and he's coming to Asheville's Wortham Center for Performing Arts on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
His group The Lovin' Spoonful played a major role in the mid-'60s rock revolution, but what leader, singer and songwriter Sebastian had in mind was actually a counter-revolution.
The Lovin' Spoonful did like nobody before or since, putting their first seven singles into the Top 10. This was unprecedented, and utterly unthinkable at the height of Beatlemania. At first they'd taken older material from blues, country, folk and jug band sources - what we now term "roots music" - and made it sound modern. Then, in a series of original songs composed and sung by John Sebastian, they did the reverse, creating thoroughly modern music that sounded like it contained the entire history of American music. Which it did.
You know the songs by heart: "Do You Believe In Magic?" "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice." "Daydream." "Younger Girl." "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?" "Summer In The City." "Rain On The Roof." "Nashville Cats." "Six O'Clock." "Darling Be Home Soon." "Younger Generation." These songs did more than simply answer the British invasion, they carried the musical tradition into the future.
After leaving the group he founded, he bore witness to another turn of the musical zeitgeist with his performances at massive festivals like Woodstock and its English equivalent the Isle of Wight. He had been involved in music for films (most notably Francis Ford Coppola's You're A Big Boy Now and Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily) and Broadway, but when producers of a TV show called Welcome Back Kotter commissioned a theme song in 1976, Sebastian's "Welcome Back" became a chart-topping solo record.
Throughout the '70s and '80s he continued to record and tour, pleasing old fans and winning new ones. There's no telling how many aspiring musicians have been nurtured by his instruction books for harmonica and guitar, but he aimed to inspire an even younger audience with the publication in 1993 of the delightful children's book JB's Harmonica. The '90s also saw John return to the group format with the J-Band, a contemporary celebration of his jug band heritage. The acclaim the group received was gratifying, but bittersweet. The group's albums contain some of the last recorded performances of blues pioneer Yank Rachell and washtub/jug virtuoso Fritz Richmond.