John Sebastian confounded his record company in the mid-1970s when he scored a No. 1 hit with the million-selling "Welcome Back," the theme song of a popular TV sitcom.
Sebastian's laidback, easygoing style had brought him success with the Lovin' Spoonful in the 1960s, and as a solo artist he had gone on to weather various musical genres. While he had continued to pursue his craft with moderate success, no one in the record business was expecting him to top the charts again.
"It was a nice thumb wag at Warner Bros. (Records) who had decided I wasn't very edgy," Sebastian recalls, laughing. "It was Alice Cooper time, so it was going to be hard to be me for a few years. I didn't have overly high expectations, so when I had the opportunity to write the theme song for a television show, I jumped at it. To Warner Bros.' horror, people from the Midwest were calling them and saying, 'Why can't we have this as a single; why haven't you made this?' It's one of the things record companies hate. Suddenly, I had their ear again."
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Sebastian’s songs include “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” and others. Sebastian, a founding member of The Lovin’ Spoonful, is a master musician, writer and performer, who remains one of the best ambassadors of American music.
Photo courtesy Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Debashish Bhattacharya performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the MACC’s Morgado Hall. Maui guitarist Jeff Peterson will accompany on a few songs. Tickets are $30 (plus applicable fees).
The lead singer and co-founder of the Lovin' Spoonful, Sebastian was responsible for many pop gems, composing or co-composing a string of hits, from "Do You Believe In Magic?," "Daydream" and "Nashville Cats," to "Summer In The City," "Six O'Clock" and "You're A Big Boy Now."
At a time when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were dominating the American charts, the Lovin' Spoonful perfected a melodic, good-time style that captivated fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
"We wanted to combine country music and blues, and jug band music came into it," he explains. "We had all had experience in a changing folk world, which was veering towards commercial folk music, and we knew that wasn't where we were going. We didn't want to be Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan. I'm most proud that we stayed at a clip with most of our contemporaries and competitors during that time. Spoonful wasn't just getting top 10 records, they were getting top 10 records when the competition was John and Paul and Brian, Mick and Keith."
John Sebastian performs in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Friday. There will be a live auction of a Sebastian-signed guitar to benefit Maui Youth & Family Services. Tickets are $40, $45 and $55 (plus applicable fees). Visit www.mauiarts.org.
Heading out as a solo artist in 1968, Sebastian made an impromptu appearance a year later at the historic Woodstock Festival, playing before 400,000 music fans.
"I went there simply to be a part of several days of music," he notes. "At one point, I was standing onstage with the promoters and they needed someone with an acoustic guitar to hold the crowd so they could sweep water off the stage. So I borrowed a guitar and went on."
Over the years, Sebastian would be called on to accompany a wide range of artists, including Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, the Everly Brothers, Art Garfunkel, Laura Nyro, Peter, Paul and Mary, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt and The Doors, playing harmonica on the band's classic, "Roadhouse Blues."
"Jim (Morrison) had been on a slight decline, and their producer called and said, 'Jim will respect you and he will give you a better side of himself,' " Sebastian explains. "They wanted people he respected so he wouldn't misbehave, and it really worked."
Sporadically releasing albums, he most recently teamed with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman for "Satisfied," a collection of traditional folk songs, mixed with originals. "He and I go back to 1962, when we were in the Even Dozen Jug Band," Sebastian reports. "We really enjoy each other's company."
Performing Friday in Castle Theater, Sebastian says he loves the intimacy of solo concerts. "This is the way I love to work," he concludes. "I really enjoy playing one guy, one guitar."
Maui Pops Orchestra will celebrate film with a program highlighting popular movie scores at 3 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater. Composers represented include John Williams, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Henry Mancini, with music from classic films, including "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Star Wars," along with Walt Disney favorites and the James Bond series. Tickets are $15, $30, $40 and $50, and half price for those 18 and younger (plus applicable fees).
In the late 1920s, the exotic sound of the Hawaiian lap steel guitar was introduced to India by a musician from Oahu named Tau Moe. Eventually settling in Calcutta with his wife during the 1940s, Moe performed and taught Hawaiian music, and made and sold steel guitars.
In time, the steel guitar became a popular element in Indian film soundtracks, and Moe's name would be revered by musicians who adapted the Hawaiian instrument to perform North Indian classical music.
"I met Tau Moe in Laie in 2004, just before he passed away," says Debashish Bhattacharya, who is acclaimed as one of the world's greatest slide guitarists. "I played a concert for him and his daughter, Dorian, who was born in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). I heard the story of Tau Moe from his Indian friend, Garney Ness, who lived in Kolkata and used to play many concerts with him. I have the Selmer guitar that Garney Ness used to play with Tau Moe."
During his first trip to Hawaii, Bhattacharya recorded the album, "Return to the Source," with a number of our musicians, including Alan Akaka, Bobby Ingano, Benny Chong and Jeff Peterson (who will join him at his Maui concert) as a tribute to Moe.
A virtuoso guitarist, Bhattacharya received a Hawaiian lap steel guitar from his parents at the age of 3. A year later, he played his first public concert, which was broadcast nationally on All India Radio.
He remembers being immediately entranced by the instrument's beguiling sound. "It was such a round, warm, clean tone," he recalls.
While Indian music is traditionally associated with the sitar and sarod, the slide guitar, in the hands of masters like Bhattacharya, has become significant.
"Indian music is created as an extension of nature," he explains. "That's why, in the hands of master musician, a creation of music based on Indian traditional raga always attracts millions of music lovers. It doesn't really matter if it is played on a sitar or on a slide guitar. My life is the evidence of seeing people in India and the world exclaiming after a performance that they never thought a guitar can play Indian raga. It started at my first concert at age 4, and it's still happening."
To help him express the full range of Hindustani (North Indian) classical music, Bhattacharya has designed his own unique range of slide guitars. His 22-string Chaturangi enables him to emulate the timbres of a violin, sitar or sarod, while his petite 4-stringed Anandi is basically a slide ukulele.
Three of his instruments are featured on his latest, remarkable recording, "Beyond the Ragasphere," where he collaborates with jazz fusion legend John McLaughlin, bluegrass virtuoso Jerry Douglas and Spanish flamenco-classical guitarist Adam del Monte.
"'Beyond the Ragasphere' is perhaps the result of the longest process in my life of learning, listening and getting attracted to a broad spectrum from Pandit Ravi Shankar to Ray Charles," Bhattacharya explains.
Performing Friday on Maui with his brother, Subashish Bhattacharya, on tabla, the esteemed guitarist often hears how his music has entranced audiences.
"Over the years, I hear from people in many countries that my music helps a lot in terms of healing," he notes. "What I can say. Yes, humbly my music has lots of stories and expression in built. That's what I've inherited from my parents and is taught by gurus."