Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Hudson Valley Guitar Show in Mount Kisco, NY. While not as big as the shows I have attended in the past at Five Towns College on Long Island this show had its share of enticing vintage and custom guitars.
In addition to the rather pricey vintage models there were some more affordable axes from recent years. I was tempted by a Telecaster from Virgil’s Vintage Guitars. It was an old Tele body rescued with a third party neck and pickups. It looked like a 1950’s model but only cost $600.00.
The highlight of the show was what was supposed to be a masterclass by guitarist Jimmy Vivino regarding reading musical charts. I was delighted that since Vivino found out that his old friend John Sebastian would be there he turned this masterclass into a rare musical experience.
Jimmy Vivino is best known from his tenure with Bruce Springsteen’s drummer Max Weinberg‘s The Max Weinberg 7, house band for Conan O’Brian’s show. Vivino did most of the arranging, despite Weinberg being credited as the musical director. And, Vivino stayed on as band leader after Weinberg departed the show.
John Sebastian got his start in the Greenwich Village folk music coffee house scene of the 1960’s. The Mamas and the Papas’ hit Creeque Alley gives this shout out, “In the coffee house Sebastian sat and after every number they passed the hat.” He played harmonica on Fred Neil‘s album Bleeker and McDougall and if you get the chance to hear it you will hear some of the best (black, white, or otherwise) blues harp you have ever heard. You have probably heard his harmonica playing on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young‘s Country Girl from the album Deja Vu.
From the coffee house circuit Sebastian went on to found the Lovin’ Spoonful. Along with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and others this band formed the soundtrack to my youth with hits such as Daydream and Summer in the City. Before I became a teenager John Sebastian had launched his solo career. I fondly remember his first solo album and his performance memorialized on the soundtrack album of the Woodstock festival.
Vivino and Sebastian comfortably reminisced about pivotal folk and blues musicians they knew and played with in the past. I enjoyed hearing stories about Jim Kweskin Jug Band alumnus Fritz Richmond, Harmonica legend Paul Butterfield, The Band drummer and vocalist Levon Helm, and Texas blues master and link to the past Lightnin’ Hopkins. They also spoke of vintage guitars like the Ibanez “lawsuit” guitar owned by slide guitar master Earl Hooker and played by South Side Chicago guitarist Magic Sam on a You Tube video from the Ann Arbor blues festival as well as some of the Chicago guitars like Kay which were clearly budget models yet were nevertheless used to devastating effect by some of the great Chicago blues musicians.
Here is a clip of Sebastian and Vivino performing a Lightnin’ Hopkins song with the help of Woodstock based guitarist Pat O’Shea.
Sadly, I was one of the younger participants in the show. When Vivino looked out to the audience to give advice to young musicians, he saw none in attendance. He wanted to tell them to form bands and write songs about what pissed them off, but, he was preaching to the choir. The future of the guitar and indeed of real organic music does not look promising.