John Sebastian & Woodstock
On one of those summery days in 1969, John Sebastian stopped by our shop to tell us that he was going to a large outdoor music festival near Woodstock, New York, a town which had been known for artists of all kinds living and working there since the 1920s. I don’t think that he, or I, or anyone else had any inkling at all as to what that festival would become, or would come to mean to a generation of music fans and musicians in the decades to come, let alone the political impact of it all. The invitation to come along was offered with the prediction that a fine time would be had by all, but for reasons that are lost in the mists of time I thanked John profusely but declined. Like they say, If you remember the '60s you weren’t there.
John Sebastian and I are old friends, going back to the early 1960s, before either of us had made a name for ourselves. For you younger enthusiasts John’s band, The Lovin’ Spoonful, later had the number one hits "Do you Believe In Magic” and "What A Day For a Daydream”, both still in the public eye (and ear). And there were more hits, and songs and TV and movie themes that he wrote that have lasted as well. John was living here in Greenwich Village, where he had grown up. His father, also John Sebastian, was one of the world-greats of classical harmonica playing and being a virtuoso on that instrument is just one of the tremendous aspects of stellar musicianship that the John we know today has.
I was maybe 15 or 16 years old and coming in from Brooklyn to The Village, as it was then and still is called, to get all the information I possibly could about guitars and banjos, how they had been made and by whom, and which were the great ones new and old. There were many places to do that in this area: D’Angelico had his shop nearby; there were other guitar makers in the neighborhood; and there were several old pawnshops around, as well as a world of musicians. John and I met briefly around 1962-3 at a store called Fretted Instruments, one of the earliest true guitar stores anywhere, right next door to the world-famous Folklore Center and run by Marc Silber, who became my mentor in this business. I can’t recall much about that first meeting with John but something must've clicked because by 1969, by which time I had become the go-to person for top-flight guitar repairs in New York (this was just before I opened my first real store), John had already become a musical legend, a regular customer and a good pal, and part of the regular crowd of guitar nuts and guitar makers hanging around our corner of Carmine and Bedford Streets. This included Michael Gurian, Lucian Barnes, Eugene Clark, and musicians of all stripes. John has been a close friend and a great customer for the entire time since; hard to believe that was over fifty years ago.
As it turned out, Woodstock was Woodstock, and John’s performance of “Younger Generation “ and “I’ll Paint Rainbows All Over Your Blues”, wearing his iconic tie-dyed jacket, became part of the Woodstock movie and Woodstock lore and are recalled fondly to this day. John and his lovely wife Catherine, a noted photographer, are great friends of mine and we get together whenever and wherever we can. John is still performing to thrilled audiences (and he still has the most engaging stage persona I’ve ever seen) and I've maintained my repair shop here on Bleecker Street, by appointment, where people like John and other luminaries of the guitar world, and all my regular customers and new friends, come to get their treasured instruments looked over and looked after. And of course, I’m also still buying and finding new homes for nice stuff for all of you.