John Sebastian might not be one of the most immediately recognisable names in rock history, but he was a key player in some of the 1960s and 1970s most important records and events.
Sebastian remains best known for his stint as lead vocalist for The Lovin’ Spoonful, the 1960s folk-rock troubadours who landed major hit singles with ‘Do You Believe in Magic’ and ‘Summer in the City’. Representing the link between the beatnik culture of the early ’60s and the evolution towards hippie ideals in the latter part of the decade, The Lovin’ Spoonful were one of America’s top bands during their brief four-year run.
Once Sebastian left the group in 1969, he quickly stumbled his way into another major milestone in rock and roll history: The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. Sebastian attended the festival as a spectator, but when strong winds and rain wreaked havoc on the performance schedule, Sebastian was pulled out of the crowd, given an acoustic guitar, and asked to play a few songs to stall for time. Sebastian was allegedly high, either on marijuana or LSD or possibly both, but his performances of songs like ‘Younger Generation’ and ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ were heartfelt enough to connect with his fellow hippies.
Sebastian’s solo career never matched the success of The Lovin’ Spoonful, although he did manage to score a number one hit in the US with the song ‘Welcome Back’, the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter. But Sebastian kept himself occupied, using his multi-instrumental skills to his advantage by guesting on some of his fellow rock star’s records. Armed with a harmonica and recalling the blues roots of his musical style, Sebastian wound up being featured on two of 1970’s biggest rock albums.
The first was The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, where Sebastian used his harmonica skills to add a distinctive colour to ‘Roadhouse Blues’. The Doors were struggling with Morrison’s instability following his arrest for indecent exposure in Miami a few months prior, with Sebastian and bassist Lonnie Mack coming in to try and kickstart the band’s creativity. The nebulous jam that the group had been kicking around came to life, but Sebastian had to be credited under the name ‘G. Puglese’ due to contractual issues.
Just a month after Morrison Hotel was released in February of 1970, Sebastian and his harmonica made another appearance on an all-time classic album. That would be Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young‘s Déjà Vu, which came out in March of 1970. Sebastian played the haunting and otherworldly harmonica parts on the album’s title track, showing off his range on the instrument. Within a few months of each other, Sebastian recorded hard-edged blues and psychedelic folk rock on harmonica, and it wasn’t even his primary instrument.
Check out his contributions to ‘Roadhouse Blues’ and ‘Déjà Vu’ down below.