John Sebastian is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonicist and autoharpist, best known as the founder of the rock band 'The Lovin’ Spoonful.' Born in New York City and raised in Italy and Greenwich Village, John grew up in a family that worked in the show business. His father, John Sebastian, was a famous harmonicist, while his mother worked as a radio script writer. Throughout his childhood, John was surrounded with musicians, which became a great influence. He grew up in the 1960s, when country music was getting popular among common people. John became influenced with blues and played harmonica in blues music style and also played guitar. Together with other artists, he founded a band 'The Lovin’ Spoonful,' in 1964. In 1965, the band released its debut album, ‘Do You Believe in Magic?’ which became a success. John went solo in the early 1970s and worked in Broadway musicals as a composer. He also released solo albums, such as ‘John B. Sebastian’ and ‘The Four of Us.’
Childhood & Early Life
John Sebastian was born John Benson Sebastian, on March 17, 1944, in New York City, to Jane and John Sebastian. His father was a famous classic harmonica player, while his mother worked as a radio script writer. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Italy and sometime later, the family moved back to U.S.
Seeing his father playing harmonica for hours everyday, John began developing interest in music. As his parents were ardent music lovers, John was introduced to a variety of music genres, such as rock and blues.
Many musicians used to frequent his house regularly, which kindled in him a passion for music.
Greenwich Village was known for its musical vibes, and John saw many struggling and popular musician coming together and jamming around his locality. Watching Lightnin' Hopkins play was one the early inspirations for him.
His godmother, singer-actress Vivian Vance, who was a close friend of his mother, also had a great influence on him. He began learning the harmonica and later learned the guitar. He later began writing his own songs.
He attended a private boarding school in New Jersey and graduated in 1962. He enrolled at 'New York University,' but dropped out after a year, as he had become more serious about a career in music.
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In the early 1960s, during his late teenage years, John developed interest in playing the harmonica. His father played the instrument in classical style, while John adopted a more modern blues style. Owing to his father’s influence, John met artists such as Sonny Terry, who inspired John to embrace the fast growing blues and folk genre.
In the mid-1960s, he worked with several musicians, including Bob Dylan and Fred Neil. Bob even invited him to join his new band, but John declined, as he had laid the foundation of his own band, 'The Lovin’ Spoonful.'
His band was signed by the 'Elektra Records' in the mid-1960s and they recorded a few songs for them, 'Kama Sutra Records' offered a better deal to the band, which they accepted.
The band released their debut single, ‘Do You Believe in Magic?’ in 1965 with 'Kama Sutra Records.' The song peaked at the 9th spot in the 'Billboard Hot 100' and was a huge critical and commercial success. Apart from playing the guitar, John also served as the songwriter, and the single became a huge testimony to his raw talent.
The complete album was released later and became a huge commercial and critical success. The band blended the elements of folk rock with blues and pop, which became the signature style of their early work, bringing them a nationwide attention.
For the next few years, the band enjoyed success with singles such as ‘Daydream,' ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?,’ ‘Darling Be Home Soon,’ and ‘Rain On The Roof.' The band release six more albums back-to-back until 1969. However, things began taking downturn and their magic started fading due internal conflicts among the band-members.
The 1967 marijuana bust in San Francisco had a severe impact on the band. Sebastian had already made up his mind about leaving the band and the incident served as the final nail in the coffin. He left the band in 1968.
In the late 1960s, John embarked on a solo career and one of his first projects as a solo musician was composing music for 'Broadway' musicals.
In August 1969, John made an unexpected appearance at the 'Woodstock Music Festival.' He was asked by the organizers to play the guitar as they needed an acoustic guitar player.
At the festival, John played three songs from his unreleased album. It was also said that he was under the influence of drugs. John later admitted that he was on LSD and marijuana at that time as he was there just to enjoy the show as a spectator.
In 1970, he was signed by 'Reprise Records,' which released his debut album, ‘John B. Sebastian.’ The album became a smashing success. 'MGM Records' also released the same album under their banner. 'MGM Records' later took the album out of the market. However, he could not maintain the success streak, as he could not follow the trend and lost to artists like Alice Cooper. His albums, ‘Tarzan Kid’ and ‘Welcome Back,’ failed to grab attention and John released his later albums on independent labels.
John began trying his hand at different ventures, such as composing for films and television shows, as television presenter, and as children’s book author.
In 2008, he was inducted into 'Songwriters Hall of Fame.'
Back in 2000, 'The Lovin’ Spoonful' was also inducted into 'Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.'
Family & Personal Life
John Sebastian first married Jean Webber in 1961, but the couple divorced in 1966. He then married Loretta Kaye in the same year, only to separate two years later.
He married Catherine Barnett in 1972 and the couple has been together since. They also have 2 children together.
Since the early 1990s, a throat problem has affected his voice, but he still sings occasionally.