John Sebastian and David Grisman, who will perform together this weekend at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, have both helped to form the landscape of American music. They are key figures who came out of the folk revival of the ’60s, and both played important roles in the injecting the raw sounds of traditional American music into pop culture.
Sebastian’s work as composer and lead of the influential mid-60s band the Lovin’ Spoonful was particularly important, as the Spoonful’s “electric jug band” sound, debuting in 1965, introduced the world to folk-rock. Sebastian penned hits like “Daydream” and “Nashville Cats,” which seamlessly joined the world of scruffy, acoustic roots music to the polished, electrified world of rock and roll, an idea that was soon taken up by other artists—most notably Bob Dylan.
Similarly, it was Grisman who helped bring the sounds of rural bluegrass music onto the rock airwaves, playing mandolin on the Grateful Dead’s roots-music-inspired masterpiece American Beauty from 1970, the album that gave the world the bluegrass-tinged favorite “Friend of the Devil.” Grisman’s collaborations with Jerry Garcia, John Hartford and James Taylor have given him widespread recognition as a force of American folk music, and his mean mandolin playing gets people out of their seats and dancing.
Recently, Sebastian and Grisman have come out with a CD called Satisfied, a collection of acoustic duets, and they are having a blast playing shows all over the country.
Dan’s Papers caught up with Grisman to talk about his musical story, and what we can expect from the show this weekend.
You play a lot of instruments. Can you talk about how different instruments are expressive in different ways? For example, does the mandolin have a personality that’s different from the piano? How so?
Instruments don’t have personalities. Musicians do. Having said that I will say that when a musician bonds with an instrument that he loves to play, his musical personality is made more complete.
Can you talk about playing with John, and what you’re looking forward to about the show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center?
John and I have been musical compadres for over half a century. I always look forward to playing with him as we both are students of traditional American styles and we both are composers. Those two perspectives make for a very fertile collaboration! We also enjoy hanging out.
What drew you to folk music?
It was real! Traditional music that real people made in their homes and learned from their families grabbed my attention in a big way.
How would you describe your relationship with music? Is it spiritual? Cathartic? Celebratory?
All of the above in varying degrees at different times. Music is as close to religion as I get.
Can you talk about your early musical influences?
My earliest influences were music I heard on the radio and my dad, who had been a professional trombonist earlier in his life. He got me started on piano when I was 7. I got to experience the birth of rock and roll listening to the top 50 records of the week on the radio during the mid 1950s—everything from Elvis, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis to Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Frankie Lymon. Later on came traditional folk music and bluegrass.
See David Grisman with John Sebastian at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach on Saturday, October 18, at 8 p.m. For tickets or more info, visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500. Tickets are $75, $65 and $55.