Welcome back! Today, Varese Vintage celebrates the early solo discography of singer-songwriter, Woodstock folk hero, and Lovin’ Spoonful founder John Sebastian with the release of Stories We Could Tell: The Very Best of John Sebastian, a new 16-track anthology drawing on the troubadour’s Reprise albums originally released between 1971 and 1976.
A New York native and the son of classical harmonica player John Sebastian Sr. and his wife Jane, a writer, young John fused pop and folk when he joined with Zal Yanovsky, Steve Boone and Joe Butler as The Lovin’ Spoonful. As their chief songwriter penned the era-defining hits still in rotation on oldies radio today: “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” (with Boone), “Summer in the City” (with brother Mark Sebastian and Boone). A solo career might have seemed inevitable, and indeed, in 1968, Sebastian left the group. He didn’t remain idle for long, though. He wrote songs for Murray Schisgal’s Broadway play Jimmy Shine starring Dustin Hoffman and Rue McClanahan, and in 1969, his impromptu solo set at Woodstock became a festival highlight. But few at Woodstock knew that Sebastian’s first solo album was already completed and awaiting release.
A contractual snafu led MGM Records (distributor of the Spoonful’s label, Kama Sutra) to claim ownership of the album, and in fact MGM released a version of the John B. Sebastian album in 1970. Reprise, to whom Sebastian felt he was rightfully signed, was forced to sue MGM. When the smoke cleared, the Reprise edition of John B. Sebastian prevailed, eventually becoming Sebastian’s best-selling solo record. On the album, Sebastian and producer Paul Rothchild of Doors fame revisited his first solo single, the reflective ballad “She’s a Lady,” as well as The Spoonful’s “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and welcomed a variety of guest musicians. Stories includes three tracks from the album: “She’s a Lady,” “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and the single A-side “Magical Connection.”
A further scuffle with MGM led to the ironically-titled Reprise release of Cheapo Cheapo Productions Presents Real Live John Sebastian; four tracks from the live LP (all Lovin’ Spoonful classics) have been reprised on Varese’s new collection. Another studio recording arrived in 1971, The Four of Us. It was a concept album chronicling Sebastian’s meeting with, courtship of, and marriage to his wife Catherine, culminating in the 16-minute title track. That epic is featured here, along with the traditional “Well, Well, Well” as arranged by Josh White, and the soulful single “I Don’t Want Nobody Else.”
Following a hiatus to raise a family, Sebastian returned to Reprise with 1974’s Tarzana Kid. The LP also reunited him with Lovin’ Spoonful producer Erik Jacobsen. Jacobsen and Sebastian covered a handful of Spoonful tunes on this set (and even covered Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken”), but this collection opts instead to include the fine rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo” as well as Sebastian’s own, country-folk of “Stories We Could Tell.”
Sebastian’s recording career was briefly revitalized when a television executive sought a “John Sebastian” type to pen the theme song to Kotter, a proposed sitcom to star Gabe Kaplan and the up-and-coming John Travolta. Sebastian met with that producer, Alan Sachs, and the two men hit it off. Soon, he had written “Welcome Back,” and the show was retitled Welcome Back, Kotter after the sweet and catchy tune. Sebastian’s TV theme topped the Billboard chart in 1976, was very nearly that year’s most successful single (“but just to keep me humble, the song of the year…was ‘Disco Duck’ by Rick Dees,” Sebastian once dryly noted) and spawned an album of the same name co-produced by Sebastian and hitmaker Steve Barri (The Grass Roots). Three tracks from the Welcome Back LP get an airing here: another Spoonful revival (the beautifully rueful “Didn’t Wanna Have to Do It”), the languid “Warm Baby,” and of course, the title song. One non-LP single side is also included on this collection, 1972’s “Give Us a Break.”
Stories We Could Tell contains an eight-page full-color booklet with photographs from the legendary Henry Diltz and new liner notes by Larry R. Watts. Steve Massie has newly remastered all tracks. The Second Disc wants to give YOU the chance to win this compelling and nostalgic collection from one of pop’s most beloved storytellers!
To enter to win ONE OF 15 COPIES, simply LIKE our Facebook page, and head over to Varese Sarabande’s FB page and do the same! Just leave us a comment on the JOHN SEBASTIAN post on our FB page. Let us know: What’s your favorite Sebastian/Spoonful song or memory? Once you like both pages and comment anything you’d like to share about this timeless artist, you’ll automatically be entered to win!
If you’ve entered our previous giveaways and have already liked BOTH The Second Disc and Varese’s Facebook page, you can still win: simply enter a comment on our thread to be entered! Only one entry per person. If you’ve won a Second Disc giveaway in the last 60 days, you are ineligible for this contest. Remember, BOTH FB pages must be “LIKED” and a comment left on our page in order to win!
Don’t have Facebook? We’re not leaving you out in the cold! Just send an e-mail to theseconddisc AT gmail DOT com with the subject line “JOHN SEBASTIAN” plus your name and mailing address, and you’ll also be entered to win!
The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on the evening of Friday, September 8, at which time 15 random winners will be selected. Contest open to all. Only one entry per person either via Facebook or email. All winners at sole discretion of The Second Disc. U.S. residents only, please. This contest is NOT affiliated with or endorsed by Facebook. Winner will be notified the week of September 11 via Facebook and The Second Disc, so remember to check back! Good luck!
Stories We Could Tell is available TODAY at the links below!
- She’s a Lady
- Magical Connection
- You’re a Big Boy Now
- I Don’t Want Nobody Else
- Well, Well, Well
- The Four of Us
- Give Us a Break
- Sitting in Limbo
- Stories We Could Tell
- Welcome Back
- Warm Baby
- Didn’t Wanna Have to Do It
- Younger Girl (Live)
- Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind? (Live)
- Nashville Cats (Live)
- Darling Be Home Soon (Live)
Tracks 1-3 from John B. Sebastian, Reprise 6379, 1970
Tracks 4-6 from The Four of Us, Reprise 2041, 1971
Track 7 from Reprise single 1074, 1972
Tracks 8-9 from Tarzana Kid, Reprise 2187, 1974
Tracks 10-12 from Welcome Back, Reprise 2249, 1976
Tracks 13-16 from Cheapo Cheapo Productions Presents Real Live John Sebastian, Reprise 2036, 1971