Sebastian to headline Reel Blues Fest in Noho

John Sebastian
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

NORTHAMPTON John Sebastian may not be the first person who comes to mind when thinking about the blues, but the man known for his pop hits such as "Do You Believe in Magic?" with the Lovin' Spoonful has quite a history with the blues.

Sebastian will be the headliner in a show on Nov. 10 at the Academy of Music to benefit the Reel Blues Fest, an organization that raises money to help both musicians and filmmakers.

Appearing with Sebastian will be Ernie and the Automatics, a blues group comprised of members from Boston and the Peter Wolf Band.

In a telephone interview with Reminder Publications, Sebastian said he was listening to the blues before it became fashionable.

Growing up in Greenwich Village in New York City, music was a key part of his up bringing, he explained. His father, also named John, was a classical harmonica player who also played the blues. His mother was a writer of radio dramas.

Being around musicians such as Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin' Sam Hopkins had a profound effect on the young Sebastian. He recalled carrying Hopkins' guitar case around for a year and half.

"My father said to me, 'As I watched you watch Sam Hopkins leave here, I saw you leave home," he said.

He said that part of his growing up were frequent trips uptown and visiting musicians in their homes. Famed record producer John Hammond's release of near mythic bluesman Robert Johnson's recordings was also a "pivot point" for Sebastian.

Although his greatest fame came with Lovin' Spoonful hits such as "Summer in the City," "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind" and "Nashville Cats," Sebastian has been a busy performer. He scored a solo hit with his theme song for the venerable sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter," and has made albums that have reflected his interest in root music.

Although he is happy to play Lovin' Spoonful music today, Sebastian has been busy with his jug band the J Band since 1993. Jug bands featuring a musician playing a jug and the music reflect country blues roots.

His jug band had included the late Fritz Richmond, the man who gave the Lovin' Spoonful its name. Sebastian remembered that Richmond said the group's music was "Chuck Berry meets Mississippi John Hurt."

Sebastian said his sets vary from audience to audience.

"I know who they are after five minutes. I know who my peeps are," he said.

And he enjoys performing in Massachusetts where he has maintained a large fan base.

"I'm certainly not the first person someone thinks of in the world of modern blues, but I've benefited from the great men who came before me," he said.

For more information about the Reel Blues Fest, log onto