John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

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John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby GoogaMooga » 05 Nov 2010, 18:45

John Sebastian's voice is shot. Anybody here see him live in recent years? I've never seen him or Lovin' Spoonful live. Here is a revealing excerpt from "Dirty Linen" #84 (October/November '99):

from http://www.dirtynelson.com/linen/84/sebastian.html

John Sebastian
Lovin' Jugful
by Craig Harris

John Sebastian was one of the most successful songwriters of the late1960s and early1970s. The leader, lead vocalist, guitar, harmonica, and autoharp player for New York-based folk-rock band The Lovin' Spoonful, Sebastian enjoyed such top-10 hits between 1966 and 1968 as "Do You Believe In Magic," "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice," "Daydream," "Summer In The City," "Rain On The Roof," and "Nashville Cats."

Launching his solo career with a memorable appearance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, he continued where he left off, singing such self-penned tunes as "She's A Lady" and "I Had A Dream" on his debut solo album. Sebastian's greatest commercial success, however, came with his 1976 single, "Welcome Back" (the theme song, for the television show "Welcome Back, Kotter"), which became a number one hit and sold millions of copies.

Although Sebastian has maintained a low profile since the late-1970s, he's released three memorable albums over the past decade. Tar Beach, his first album in nearly 20 years, was released in 1993 and served as a tribute to the smooth soul sounds that were an early influence.

Sebastian's latest efforts — I Want My Roots (1996) and Chasin' Gus' Ghost (1999) — reflect his love of the jug bands of the 1920s. Although plagued by vocal problems, he compensated for his difficulties by allowing other vocalists to share the spotlight. On Chasin' Gus' Ghost, lead vocals are shared with Geoff Muldaur, Paul Rishell, and producer Jimmy Vivino.

"It's a great thing to have such terrific other voices," Sebastian said by telephone from his home in Woodstock, New York. "My modern day voice is functional, but it's not the exceptional voice that I had in my 20s. I've had to adjust to not having the same range that I had when I was younger."

While the lead singer and instrumental lineup for each tune differs, Sebastian claims that it's a continuation of the trend set by the early jug bands. "This was how the jug band of earlier eras did it," he explained. "Each tune would have a different soloist, a guy who was accompanying on one tune would be the soloist on the next. I didn't plan it this way. The album gained its own energy, and we started to really do things like jug bands do."

While Sebastian's first inclination was to simply call the group "The J-Band," he agreed to the wishes of the record label [Hollywood] to include his name in the credits. "They were really resistant," he recalled. "They explained that they had a hard enough time without compounding it by not mentioning that I was involved."
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Muskrat » 05 Nov 2010, 18:53

A friend saw him a couple of weeks ago. I believe "shot" was (w/reference to Sebastian's voice) the very word he used. So sad; such a great performer.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby GoogaMooga » 05 Nov 2010, 18:54

Muskrat wrote:A friend saw him a couple of weeks ago. I believe "shot" was (w/reference to Sebastian's voice) the very word he used. So sad; such a great performer.


If he comes over here to play, I will still go to see him, for the sake of history.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby di Maio » 05 Nov 2010, 19:21

I heard John Sebastian trying to sing a few years back and was floored at how rough he sounded. It's not unlike what happened to Dylan's voice in the late 80s, except that it's a greater fall.

His live delivery is captured perfectly on the Cheapo-Cheapo Productions live album. The vocals are good and the entire thing is entertaining. I especially like when the whole concert breaks down and he starts basically taking requests to play 50s songs.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby bobzilla77 » 05 Nov 2010, 19:44

Singers are often the first to lose their former glory, followed by drummers. Like athletes, they're using very specific parts of the body at great intensity and these generally tend to break down faster than that parts needed to play other instruments.

I see a lot of old musicians and you almost always have to make allowances for singers in their 50s/ 60s performing material they originally made in their twenties. Some are better than others but almost none are as good as they used to be, whereas many guitar players of the same age still have the same facility.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby whodathunkit » 05 Nov 2010, 19:51

Didn't sound too hot on this......

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..... and that was three years ago. Would hate to hear him having a go at the likes of "Younger Girl" or "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice". Aqualung lives!
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Charlie O. » 05 Nov 2010, 20:29

His voice has been shot for a couple of decades now.

I actually like the way he uses the croak he now has, but yes, it ain't that Spoonful croon no more (as was most painfully apparent when the Spoonful were inducted into the Hall Of Fame).
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Guy E » 05 Nov 2010, 21:59

bobzilla77 wrote:Singers are often the first to lose their former glory...

The human voice can be a fragile thing. At age 56 I find myself having difficulty talking these days. If there's a slight twinge in my throat or any kind of virus going around... I may not have any other symptoms of illness, but I can't really talk. I usually don't notice this until I pick up an important phone call in the morning and discover that the words will not form in my throat. And I have a voice that is meant to be HEARD. Seriously!
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Carlisle Wheeling » 06 Nov 2010, 18:44

di Maio wrote:I heard John Sebastian trying to sing a few years back and was floored at how rough he sounded. It's not unlike what happened to Dylan's voice in the late 80s, except that it's a greater fall.

His live delivery is captured perfectly on the Cheapo-Cheapo Productions live album. The vocals are good and the entire thing is entertaining. I especially like when the whole concert breaks down and he starts basically taking requests to play 50s songs.



Possibly my all-time favourite live album! Overflowing with soul, life, heart... it still makes me smile at the very thought of it.


I saw John live seven or so years ago and I was shocked at the decline in his voice. Probably the biggest fall I've heard. Still, it's great that he's still around and playing.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Thesiger » 06 Nov 2010, 21:29

Carlisle Wheeling wrote:
di Maio wrote:I heard John Sebastian trying to sing a few years back and was floored at how rough he sounded. It's not unlike what happened to Dylan's voice in the late 80s, except that it's a greater fall.

His live delivery is captured perfectly on the Cheapo-Cheapo Productions live album. The vocals are good and the entire thing is entertaining. I especially like when the whole concert breaks down and he starts basically taking requests to play 50s songs.



Possibly my all-time favourite live album! Overflowing with soul, life, heart... it still makes me smile at the very thought of it.


Cheapo Cheapo is an album I've loved for close to 40 years. Every track is an absolute gem and his wonderful warmth and stage presence just puirs out of every groove.

This clip isn't bad either.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby GoogaMooga » 07 Nov 2010, 06:33

I should get the Cheapo Cheapo then, seeing as the Spoonful never put out a live album.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby VRZ Robotz » 07 Nov 2010, 06:45

I saw Sebastian play a free concert in downtown LA some time in the late 80's or early 90's. It was a pretty big deal for me as I have a massive case of hero worship for the guy. I cut out of work on a day I could not afford to do so and risked getting fired for the show. Getting parked and to the right spot was a nightmare. I sat in traffic for more than an hour and just barely made it.

Yes - his voice was already gone. But he still had those songs. The best moment was when he let the harmonica do the singing on Lonely (Amy's Theme).

I'd risk my job to do it again. I love that guy!
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby GoogaMooga » 07 Nov 2010, 06:47

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:I saw Sebastian play a free concert in downtown LA some time in the late 80's or early 90's. It was a pretty big deal for me as I have a massive case of hero worship for the guy. I cut out of work on a day I could not afford to do so and risked getting fired for the show. Getting parked and to the right spot was a nightmare. I sat in traffic for more than an hour and just barely made it.

Yes - his voice was already gone. But he still had those songs. The best moment was when he let the harmonica do the singing on Lonely (Amy's Theme).

I'd risk my job to do it again. I love that guy!


You did the right thing, Davey.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Piggly Wiggly » 07 Nov 2010, 14:03

Davey the Fat Boy wrote:The best moment was when he let the harmonica do the singing on Lonely (Amy's Theme).


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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Charlie O. » 07 Nov 2010, 20:21

Yeah, man. I've not yet passed up an opportunity to see him.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby mantochanga » 07 Nov 2010, 22:14

I saw him at London Astoria in 1994 or so. His voice was ill-suited to sing his own classic songs, but his set was built around the songs he loved on the radio as he grew up. He told wonderful stories and sang the old time country and blues tunes really well. And I agree that the harmonica solo at the end was a highlight - just a little bit of echo and he sounded like three men.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby RoseRunFarm » 13 Jan 2014, 00:37

I've been a John Sebastian fan since the 1960s. Over the past 50 years, I've seen every one of his concerts within two day's driving distance of my home. John is really a sweet guy, just like talking to an old friend. I've caught up with him after several concerts, and he loves to hang out and chat.

The first time I noticed a problem with John's voice was in Pittsburgh in 1989 when he on the Woodstock 20th anniversary tour. He apolozied to the audience, saying that he had a cold. Then at subsequent concerts over the next few years, his voice kept getting worse, yet he continued to excuse it by saying he had a cold, or the air conditioning on his plane got to his throat, or he was plagued by allergies.

People still flocked to John's concerts. An accomplished troubadour, he put on a great show with his tales from the Sixties mixed with his fans' favorite songs. Everyone knew his voice was faltering, but few cared. His concerts were a satisfying, nostalgic trip.

The last John Sebastian concert I attended was in September 2012 in York, Pennsylvania. His voice was so bad that he wasn't able to rescue the concert with his usual repartee. It was painful to watch him on stage, desperately trying to involve an audience that was cringing in silence.

John Sebastian has been my favorite singer/songwriter all my life, but it's time for him to retire. Maybe he could write a book that includes all the wonderful stories he has told us over the years. I'd buy it!
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Carlisle Wheeling » 15 Jan 2014, 14:13

Jan 20th sees the UK release of John B. Sebastian & Four Of Us & Tarzana Kid & Welcome Back & In Concert Dvd.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Sebastian- ... +sebastian

So 4 of the 5 Reprise albums, with the live DVD replacing the very wonderful Cheapo Cheapo Productions Presents...

I already own the first three albums plus this..

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..so I won't be buying. Although if I see it for less than £10 at some point I may pick it up for the DVD.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby Six String » 15 Jan 2014, 16:25

The Loving Spoonful is one of my wife's favorite bands from her youth and one of her favorite concerts was The Loving Spoonful opening for Simon and Garfunkel at the Hollywood Bowl. We have most of the Spoonful on lp but I have just one John Sebastian solo album, John B. Sebastian on Reprise. I never really followed him or the L.S. much outside of the radio hits. Summer In The City was huge and one of my favorite singles from its era. I still love it to this day.

I wonder if artists who begin singing later in their career like Richard Thompson and Dave Alvin get some extended years of use since they didn't use it as much early in their career? I really like Dave and Richard's voices and someone posted on a thread about Dave and Phil Alvin recording together again that Phil's voice is "shot" which is a little surprising but maybe his teaching gig influenced his voice.
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Re: John Sebastian is plagued by vocal problems

Postby GoogaMooga » 15 Jan 2014, 17:05

Six String wrote: but maybe his teaching gig influenced his voice.


I can testify to that. At one point I was teaching seven days a week and I got what is called "vicar's throat" - so I had to take Sundays off. I was greedy for money...
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