John Sebastian's First Solo Album Improves With Age (Amended to clarify was cut from tape and is AAA)

Simon split from Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield broke up. So did The Youngbloods, The Lovin' Spoonful and of course The Beatles. Yes, many '60s groups remained together, like The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead, but as the tumultuous '60s came to a close, others fragmented with leaders going solo.

Sensing a trend, the always on top of the situation Reprise Records signed Neil Young, Jesse Colin Young (original name, Perry Miller, born in Queens, NY) and John Sebastian. Young even got his own label: Raccoon Records, but sadly, the distinctive promise of The Youngbloods never fully materialized and Jesse Colin Young's later output, while still sturdy, faded from view.

John Sebastian's Reprise debut, released in 1970 two years after he split from The Lovin' Spoonful, was his solo recording career peak, boosted by his unplanned, spontaneous Woodstock appearance, though this album was recorded in 1968. The release was delayed with his former label MGM (Kama-Sutra) and Reprise in a legal war over release rights. It was actually released for a short time on MGM but the delay worked to Sebastian's benefit when he appeared at Woodstock and a photo showing him singing to the throng was included in the gatefold packaging.

The album reached #20, which while a pretty good showing, didn't pack the musical or hit-making punch of "Summer in the City", "Do You Believe In Magic" and the other Lovin' Spoonful hits that to this day resonate deeply with boomers (and others).

Sebastian without the goofball guitarist Zal Yanovsky let his sentimental side dominate his songwriting much like McCartney's poppy softness overwhelmed without Lennon's acidity. So when this album was released in 1970 as things in the "flower power" culture seemed to be heading south, it sounded a tad mawkish. No wonder it sat on my shelf rarely played for almost 50 years! Though when I pulled it out to compare to this reissue and played it first, all of its considerable musical and lyrical goodness and especially its unabashed sincerity returned in fine focus.

Some of the songs like "She's a Lady" and "You're a Big Boy Now" are under-appreciated classics and others like "The Room Nobody Lives In" and "How Have You Been" that felt in 1970 unbearably sentimental now provide a welcome balm in today's razor wire world. The small gesture of a turtle saved from the Long Island Expressway seems larger and more generous today.

Then there's the superb musicianship including guest turns by Stephen Still, Graham Nash, Buddy Emmons Harvey Brooks, Dallas Taylor, Buzzy Linhart and others, as well as superb production by Paul Rothchild the former Elektra producer who'd by then gone independent and arrangements by Paul Harris (who has impressive arranging credits and later was a member of Stills' band Manassas) that enchant after repeated plays. "Rainbows All Over Your Blues" with Emmons on psychedelic pedal steel is guaranteed to pick you up.

The sound is also quite good, not surprising with an engineering team that includes Bruce and Doug Botnick among others, and by today's low standards you could say the sound quality is positively stellar. There are actual dynamic contrasts!

The original pressing mastered by Bob Ludwig when the tape was fresh can't be beat. However this reissue does a good job of trying to reproduce the original rather than reinventing it. The original tape was the source. A spokesperson for Exhibit Records told me Kevin Gray cut using the original tape, but on the Music Direct website it credits Steve Hoffman at Stephen Marsh Mastering/Cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and pressed at RTI. KEVIN GRAY CLARIFIED THIS, TELLING ME THIS IS AN AAA REISSUE. HE CUT FROM TAPE.

The difference between the original pressing and this very fine sounding reissue is analogous to the paper stock used on the original versus what's used on the reissue. The reissue's paper (including the "the tie dye" insert) is a high quality, smooth opaque stock, while the original's has a somewhat gritty, "grippy" texture. The reissue's tonal balance like the cover's color balance is "spot on", other than the loss of some top end, which is to be expected from a 50 year old tape but the reissue sounds overly smooth with softened, somewhat homogenized transients. Still it's a well-done reissue. However, given that Discogs has mint original copies for sale at $5.99 you have to wonder why this title was chosen for a reissue, though if you want a pristine copy pressed at RTI, there's something to be said for that too.

Music Direct Buy It Now

saronian's picture

Favorite songs -
"Darling Be Home Soon" Son
"John Sebastian Plays Villa-Lobos/ Tcherepnin Concertos for Harmonica" Father

robertaich's picture

As interesting as you made this title sound, your direction to discogs struck me as the way to go. A M-for $10. Thank you!

Spin33tymes's picture

I was able to pick up an original copy of "John B. Sebastian"
for 8$ at a shop in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. A one hour drive for me, but many record shops to feed my collecting! Thanks for the article. Discogs is great, the shipping costs are a bit much out of the U.S. Thanks again!

Mark Evans's picture

After reading your article I wanted to hear this recording. I found a copy today at Oak Park Records for $4. You are so right, RL STERLING makes for a fantastic trip.

Chemguy's picture

For $4. M- condition. At a used store.

Very pleased.

sandyu's picture

This is probably not the time/place to get into it in deep detail, but the Spoonful broke apart because of dope. One of 'em, I forget who, turned snitch. While everybody remembers the tie-dye peace'n'love from those days, everyone forgets the fear and loathing. But it was truly an era of both at the same time.

mschlack's picture

@Sandyu, I heard years later from someone who was a roadie for the group that they got caught with weed at customs and JS threw Zal under the bus. I feel like it was a reliable source, but hey, you never know.