Personnel: John Sebastian (vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano, percussion), Stephen Stills (guitar, harmony vocals). David Crosby(guitar, harmony vocals ), Graham Nash (harmony vocals), Dallas Taylor (drums), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel guitar, Moog synthesizer), Paul Harris (keyboards), Ray Neopolitan (bass),
Danny Weis (guitar), The Ikettes (background vocal), Buzzy Linhart (vibraphone)
John Sebastian was the guiding force and primary songwriter for the Lovin’ Spoonful*. Of course, few groups can remain together over the long run, and Sebastian quit the group in 1968 to go solo. His first solo album, John B. Sebastian is a classic effort, whose success was deliberately hampered by, not his record company, but a record company he had nothing to do with.
The story is complex. The Lovin’ Spoonful recorded for Kama Sutra Records, which was distributed by MGM. Sebastian recorded the album for Kama Sutra, too, but before it was released Kama Sutra ended their agreement with MGM by the simple expedient of disbanding and forming Buddah Records. MGM was not happy.
Sebastian didn’t pay much attention to this as he gathered a bunch of his old music friends for his first solo record. After the album was recorded, a single, “She’s a Lady” was released, but did poorly. Then MGM made a decision that, since Kama Sutra was no more, they’d be releasing the album on their label. No big deal – except that the insisted it be released as a Lovin’ Spoonful album and insisted that this was to fulfill their contract with the group.
Sebastian balked. He wasn’t a member of the Lovin’ Spoonful (which had gone on unsuccessfully without him), so didn’t feel obligated to stick to their contract. Also, the contract was with Kama Sutra, not MGM, so Sebastian felt there was no obligation in any case. So he went to Reprise Records, who were more than happy to sign him, especially since he was a big hit at Woodstock.
MGM still insisted they owned the album, but in early 1970 – a year late – Reprise was able to get the master tapes and the rights to release it. Shortly afterwards, MGM released it, too, claiming again that the Lovin’ Spoonful owed them an album, and that, since they had released the single, they could release the album, so there.
Reprise sued and the MGM version was taken off the shelves.** But not before they also released John Sebastian Live, which they were forced to withdraw.
But with all this, what about the actual album? It’s some of Sebastian’s best work. “Red-Eye Express” is a fun opener, and “She’s a Lady” is a fine ballad. There are also such gems as “You’re a Big Boy Now,”*** “Rainbows All Over Your Blues,” and several others.
The musicians involved were budding stars, most notably Crosby, Stills, and Nash before they became Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
The album a moderate success, reaching #20 on the charts, but not a major hit. Sebastian continued to record, but never became a major solo star; his biggest hit was the number one hit “Welcome Back” in 1976. And he stuck it to MGM when he named his live album “Cheapo Cheapo Productions Present Real Live John Sebastian.” (The phrase “Cheapo Cheapo Productions” was one of Sebastian’s comments on the MGM live album).
In any case, once you cut through the legal nonsense, John B. Sebastian is an excellent album, an advance on what he was doing with the Spoonful, but still maintaining a similar joyous feel.
*I’ve realized I’ve been writing a lot about the Lovin’ Spoonful and its members lately.
**Not until after my brother bought it, and eventually gave it to me.
***Also recorded with the Spoonful.