Strummer in the City

Spoonful leader returns to rock’s roots.

“I’m most proud of the people that I’ve played with,” he explained over the phone from his home near Woodstock, N.Y. “I’m very proud to have played with Willie Dixon. And to have had him like it! That’s key, too. I’m proud of playing with Johnnie Johnson (Chuck Berry’s longtime piano player), and getting to know him. There’s not a record of this, but there were two years in New York where I played harmonica with Mississippi John Hurt almost every night. Those experiences — they mean something very special to me.” Still an active and vital musician, Sebastian performs at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center on April 17.

The amiable and ever-hip Sebastian is best-known as a leader of the Lovin’ Spoonful and writer of such groovy time-capsule rock classics as “Do You Believe In Magic,” “Daydream,” “Summer in the City” and “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind.” But his heart is still in the jug-band music, and folk and blues that he soaked up as a young man in Greenwich Village and that informed his work with the Lovin’ Spoonful. Sebastian’s performance here will touch not only on his hits but also on the music that inspired him. “I try to share the musical styles around from one thing to the other and show my roots. That’s part of the package of understanding the Spoonful. I might throw in some Gus Cannon or John Hurt or the Memphis Jug Band or even the Everly Brothers.”

Now in his 60s, Sebastian has survived and thrived where many others of his time have floundered or perished. Much of his success in the industry comes from the example of his father, who was a world-renowned classical harmonica player. “I had an advantage having a musician as a father,” explains Sebastian. “It gave me a perspective that it wasn’t all about those 20 minutes of fame, or about drugs and how much you can ingest, but it was about having a career, and being a professional. When Toscanini wanted to have dinner, he’d call my dad. There are compensations like that where you don’t expect it, and they are great compensations.”

When asked what being inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame meant to him, Sebastian paused before responding. “I was much more excited by somebody like Johnnie Johnson being inducted than my own induction. Those guys at the Hall have to be focused on the guys who started it.” S

John Sebastian performs Saturday, April 17, at 7:30 at Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center, 2880 Mountain Road. Tickets cost $18, call 594-8499 or 261-6200 for more information.

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