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Welcome Back: Edsel Reissues John Sebastian’s Reprise Catalogue, Adds Previously Unreleased Live Concert DVD

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John Sebastian - EdselEdsel is saying “welcome back” to John Sebastian with the recent release of a quartet of albums in one deluxe package: John B. Sebastian, The Four of Us, Tarzana Kid and Welcome Back.  Edsel has bundled these releases, representing the Lovin’ Spoonful founder’s complete Reprise studio recordings, with a live concert DVD making its very first appearance anywhere.  In Concert: John Sebastian Sings John Sebastian was broadcast by the BBC in October 1970, months following the release of John B. Sebastian.

New York native Sebastian fused pop and folk when he joined with Zal Yanovsky, Steve Boone and Joe Butler as The Lovin’ Spoonful, and as their chief songwriter penned the era-defining hits still in rotation on oldies radio today: “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” (with Boone), “Summer in the City” (with brother Mark Sebastian and Boone).  A solo career might have seemed inevitable, and indeed, in 1968, Sebastian left the group.  He didn’t remain idle for long, though.  He wrote songs for Murray Schisgal’s Broadway play Jimmy Shine starring Dustin Hoffman and Rue McClanahan, and in 1969, his impromptu solo set at Woodstock became a festival highlight.  But few at Woodstock knew that Sebastian’s first solo album was already completed and awaiting release.

A contractual snafu led MGM Records to claim ownership of the album, and in fact MGM released a version of the John B. Sebastian album in 1970.  Reprise, to whom Sebastian felt he was rightfully signed, was forced to sue MGM.  When the smoke cleared, the Reprise edition of John B. Sebastian prevailed, eventually becoming Sebastian’s best-selling solo record.  On the album, Sebastian revisited his first solo single “She’s a Lady” as well as The Spoonful’s “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and welcomed a variety of guests including all three members of Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as CSN drummer Dallas Taylor, Buzzy Linhart on vibes and The Ikettes on backing vocals.

Another studio recording arrived in 1971, The Four of Us.  It was a concept album chronicling Sebastian’s meeting with, courtship of, and marriage to his wife Catherine, culminating in the 16-minute epic title track.  Produced like its predecessor by Paul A. Rothchild of Doors fame, Sebastian enlisted Dallas Taylor, Mountain’s Felix Pappalardi, CSNY bassist Greg Reeves, The Turtles’ Johnny Barbata and the Esso Trinidad Steel Band to play on The Four of Us.  In addition to his new songs, the album featured a traditional tune (“Well, Well, Well”) arranged by Josh White and a cover of Clifton Chernier’s “Black Snake Blues.”

Following a hiatus to raise a family, Sebastian returned to Reprise with 1974’s Tarzana Kid.  The LP also reunited him with Lovin’ Spoonful producer Erik Jacobsen.  Jacobsen and Sebastian co-produced this set featuring contributions from Toto’s David Paich, Little Feat’s Lowell George, Ry Cooder, Buddy Emmons, Emmylou Harris, David Lindley, The Pointer Sisters and even Phil Everly.  On Tarzana Kid, Jacobsen and Sebastian revisited The Spoonful’s “Sportin’ Life” and “Wild About My Lovin’,” both of which had appeared on the Spoonful’s first long-player, as well as Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken.”  Alas, Tarzana failed to chart, and Sebastian found himself at odds with Reprise.  That would soon change.

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Written by Joe Marchese

March 7, 2014 at 09:58