Musical Proverbial Knee-High
John Sebastian With Jimmy Vivino
The Little Theater White Plains, New York - 12/4/2004
by Ray D'Ariano
John Sebastian's gig at The Little Theater was just about 24 hours ago. Jimmy Vivino played the show with him. Jimmy also plays with Al Kooper in The Rekooperators. Al played the theater without Jimmy and with his other combo, The Funky Faculty, just about a year ago.
The night after that gig I started writing this while leaning against the back wall at the Roseland Ballroom. I was at the farthest point away from the stage where The Disasters were doing the mandatory, "Lay oh lay oh lay oh lay" or whatever the hell that chant is. The front man inquired, "Do you even know what fuckin' punk music is?" He was pissed at the number of 'posers,' the non-authentic punk fans, he felt had infiltrated his audience.
I myself, even in my mid 50's, am very familiar with punk. In fact, I have attended many punk extravaganzas; a few Lollapaloozas', several Warped Tours, a Tibetan Freedom Festival, and many smaller gigs at venues just like Roseland. Do 14 hours in 90 degree heat and humidity at Randal's Island in August. This Sunday night in the November punk scene is cake.
Although I was the old guy there that night the scene was brand new for a lot of the audience. To me it was nostalgic. I'd done it for a decade or more. Done rock and roll, one scene or another since around '63. In over 40 years I've seen and heard it all.
As I looked around the room and saw the kids with all their ink, spiked hair, torn fish net stockings, and piercings, I realized that some of them were in grammar school when I attended my first punk show. They weren't even born when I was The Who's New York promotion man, but that's ancient history. In fact, I was a decade out of the music industry when my kid, who was around 14 at the time, got into this scene. I knew I couldn't fight my his passion for rock, be it punk or whatever. So I drove the kid and his buds to the shows, checked out the scene, and at the end of the night gave them a ride home. I was sort of a punk rock designated driver angle/chauffer. It was win win for all involved.
The kids were my ticket to a world that was not on my radar screen. I got to hear and enjoy Rocket From The Crypt, The Bouncing Souls, NOFX, The Lunachicks, and Rancid. I think they are currently the best punk band in the world, maybe the best live band in the world period.
If truth be told I don't care for a lot of others. A lot of punk bands try so hard to be unique, but just sound like a blur of mediocrity. That's to my ear, not to the young moshing fans who welcome each group the way they welcomed Santa and Christmas just a few years earlier. I thought the scene was just another zany, yet relevant, page in the history of rock and roll.
Anyway, as I was writing this at Roseland two 24/25 year olds dudes wanted to know what I was doing and interrupted me. One guy was skinny and wore one of those knit hats with the ears. He looked like the tall human on Scooby Do. The other guy had a crew cut and was husky, beer in plastic cup in hand. Looked like he'd be at home in the parking lot of Giants stadium for a tailgate.
"You writing a book?"
I stood up and made eye contact with the bigger guy and said, "What's it to ya?" or whatever the hell I said, something stupid like that. I thought they might be trying to mess with me so I got defensive. It was a ridiculous situation to be in, but we continued our conversation.
"Are you a reporter? You got a pad."
"No, you a drinker?"
"You have a beer."
"No, really, what are you doing here?"
"I came to hear Rancid."
"No, really man."
This went around and around for awhile. Then I learn he's Dave from the band Tough Slut or some such jive.
I learned awhile ago that everybody's suspicious of a middle aged guy writing in a note book at a rock show. I guess it's different. I do it to pass the time. I don't mosh so I write. The big guy didn't let up, "Come on dude, what are you writing?"
"I'm writing a review of a John Sebastian show that won't happen for another year."
"Wadda ya mean?"
"I mean right now I don't realize that this will be the beginning of the review, but eventually it will be."
He smiled said, "Cool," and walked off into the crowd.
Al Kooper performing with Jimmy Vivino
It was my idea to book Al Kooper for The Little Theater. I love his work, Blues Project, Blood Sweat and Tears, finding and producing Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing on "Like A Rolling Stone," "You Can't Always Get What You Want," and on and on and on and on and on and on. He became 60 last February so I guess he was still technically 59 when I arrived at the hospitality suite pre-show. Al looked large and heavy. I remember introducing him and The Blues Project at the very same location in the 60's in the big room downstairs. At that time he was skinny as a rail.
I mentioned that occasion to him. Told him I remembered him sitting backstage with a large sketchbook and dozens of colored pens, and I remember him working on a psychedelic drawing. He denied it. One of us was having trouble zeroing in on that particular event on that particular evening, but it happened.
I think Al had brain surgery a few years ago. I think I read that. Funny thing is I remember the psychedelic drawing, but not sure if I read he had brain surgery and if he didn't I don't want to write false stuff about him, but maybe that's why he doesn't remember the drawing, or maybe he was just stoned that night back in the 60's and didn't even remember the day it happened some 30 years ago.
The crowd at The Little Theater that night for Al was for the most part in their 50's. The booking policy of the room is to feature entertainers who will appeal to all us aging baby boomers. Al's band, The Funky Faculty were great and the same age as the audience. They did a few Blood Sweat and Tears things, and some stuff from his solo albums. They did a magical rendition of "Flute Thing" from the Blues Project Days. Al and the band were tight and it was a thrill, after years of hearing them on WNEW-FM, to hear all these great album cuts live.
Al went off on a little comedy monologue riff about how the modern world sucks and how as you get older you can't buy the stuff you like anymore because they've stopped making it. I enjoyed the rant. One guy walked past me complaining, "If I wanted to hear stand up comedy I would have gone to see Robin Williams." I inquired, "Is he in town?" Just for the record Al did not do standup comedy. He sat on his piano bench for the entire thing.
Mr. Kooper, as the Times would say, wrapped it all up with a medley from his Super Sessions era, "You Can't Always Get What You Want/Season Of The Witch, and then and encore of Roy Head's "Treat Her Right." He was sensational and the crowd, with the exception of the guy who left, loved every second of it. Al took some time after the show to meet and greet the fans in the atrium. Then he caught a cab to Manhattan. It was a good night for all concerned.
As I was writing this Rancid were on, the crowd were all in their 20's, and they were having a good time. I thought this may be my last punk show, a thought I've had for many years. The whole scene put The Little Theater, a project and concept I helped design, in the proper perspective. It's a warm intimate place where the rapidly aging Woodstock generation can see great rock stars that got old. Like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member John Sebastian who performed there on December 4, 2004.
John cheerfully strolled out on stage, smiling that trademark smile, and announced how happy he was that he'd be performing with Jimmy Vivino. "He called me up and said, I hear you got a gig in White Plains, and I said, yeah, and he said, I'm off that night and I'm coming." And as if by wizardry there he was, guitar in hand, right next to John.
Jimmy is best known as a member of The Max Weinberg 7 on The Conan O'Brien Show. He also works with the above mentioned Al Kooper when he appears with his other band The Rekooperators. He works with Sebastian as a member of John Sebastian and The J Band, a group that updates jug band music for the 2000's. In addition Jimmy has played with everyone from Dion to Eddie Brigati to Darlene Love to Wilson Pickett and a virtual whose who of rock and roll. He's a producer, he's a musical director, he's the guy! Why Vivino? He's the best, that's it. He knows his stuff and he's a joy to be with. Bit of trivia, Jimmy's the brother of Uncle Floyd (Vivino).
So there they were the legend and the sideman to the stars creating a musical universe with harmonicas, banjo, and guitars. Jimmy's included one he found broken in pieces in the trash somewhere in the Bronx. He had it restored and it was a thing of beauty to hear the awesome notes and tones that he plucked out if it once again.
These two cats were having a ball and entertaining the hell out of each other. At times it was hard to tell who was having the most fun, the twosome on stage or the audience.
John offered up a few Spoonful gems like: "Do You Believe In Magic," "Younger Girl,"and "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind," His voice, like Elton John or Bob Dylan's has changed over the years, he's past 60 now, and it really serves him well when he sang on the American roots and jug band material like "Just Don't Stop Till You're All Worn Out," or his hero Hank Rachel's "Tappin' That Thing." He became a sideman on his own show when his exquisite harp work complimented Jimmy singing and playing lead on some hot blues numbers.
The stories John told between numbers were worth the price of admission alone. Like the one he told about Maria D'Amato. She was the lead singer with the Even Dozen Jug Band and back in the day John was infatuated with her. He took her on a date to see the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. She fell for one of that bands members, Geoff Muldaur., and when they married she became Maria Muldaur. John was crushed, but at least he got a good song out of it, "My Passing Fantasy." He performed it to the grateful audience.
He also explained how the name of his Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame band, The Lovin' Spoonful came from a song by Mississippi John Hurt and the line, "I love my baby by the lovin' spoonful."
This was not a 60's oldies concert. It was a blues, jug band, American roots jam that happened to be hosted by a guy who threw in a few of his former bands greatest hits much to the delight of the crowd.
The final encore was one of those tunes, a little ditty called "Summer In The City." As John and Jimmy rocked out Jimmy playfully pointed out that they had arrived at the point in the tune where it faded out on the record and improvised the ending using the very last portion of Led Zep's "Stairway To Heaven." It worked and the duo enjoyed their second standing ovation of the night.
Jimmy Vivino is a brilliant artist and his dedication and genius allows the music of the past to remain contemporary and important.
John Sebastian is a treasure.