Guitarist on "Welcome Back, Kotter"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by ElectroVibe, Apr 1, 2018.

  1. ElectroVibe

    ElectroVibe Suspended

    Mar 2, 2013
    Have you ever heard that the guitarist on Welcome Back Kotter theme was the guy from the Lovin' Spoonful, the singer's original band? There is a rumor that the song was actually written about the guitarist and for the guitarist, after being shunned by the music community for several years. He had reported some musicians for drugs in the 1960's, or something along those lines.

    I don't know if this is true but it's interesting. What do you think?
  2. 48thStreetCustom


    Nov 30, 2005
    Considering John Sebastian was on acid when he played Woodstock, I doubt it's true.
  3. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    Interesting theory. But it looks like Zal Yanovsky from the Lovin Spoonful didn’t play on that track nor had much to do with John Sebastian after the late 60s. It was reported at Yanovsky grassed up his dealer in exchange not being deported from the US on drug charges himself (he was Canadian).

    I never knew this but he was in Kris Kristofferson’s touring band at one point.
  4. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Yes, John Sebastian, lead singer, primary songwriter, and one of two guitarists in The Loving Spoonful wrote "Welcome Back Kotter". At the time the show was on, he said he was approached to write the theme, and put it together really quickly, like in fifteen minutes. Never heard that other story, and I've paid attention to Sebastian since '73.
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  5. ElectroVibe

    ElectroVibe Suspended

    Mar 2, 2013
    If he were to use his buddy Zal in the session, do you really think he would admit it publically? Personally I think the electric guitar sounds suspiciously like Zal, which is why I tend to believe the rumor.
  6. StudioStuntz


    Jul 19, 2015
    According to Wiki:

    John Sebastian – vocals, guitar, harmonica, autoharp, piano
    David Hungate – bass
    Richard Bell – piano, clavinet
    Jeff Porcaro – drums
    Jeff "Skunk" Baxter – pedal steel guitar​

    Welcome Back (John Sebastian album) - Wikipedia

    Regarding the song:

    TV producer Alan Sachs wanted a Lovin' Spoonful-like theme song for a new ABC sitcom entitled Kotter. Sachs's agent, Dave Bendett, also represented Sebastian and arranged for a meeting between the two.[citation needed]

    Initially, Sebastian had considerable difficulty with the lyrics since including the title character's name didn't lend itself to a sufficient number of obvious rhymes.

    Instead, Sebastian decided to focus the lyrics on the idea of the series' premise of Kotter returning to the very place he grew up and having dreamt of leaving to do something positive.[citation needed]

    The producers liked the resulting song so much that they changed the name of the series to Welcome Back, Kotter.
    Co-produced by Steve Barri and Sebastian, the song eventually sold over one million copies.[citation needed]

    The song originally had one verse, meant for the TV series.

    Because of the popularity of the show, Sebastian, in the single version, added a second verse to the song, as well as an instrumental section featuring a harmonica solo, before he resumed finishing up the verse, as well as the repeated chorus and coda to finish the song.

    The single version would eventually be used during the closing credits of Welcome Back, Kotter.[citation needed]

    Some final season episodes have played the entire song, less the instrumental section, as the closing credits rolled.

    Welcome Back (John Sebastian song) - Wikipedia

    Some song info from Songfacts:

    Welcome Back by John Sebastian Songfacts

    I was working on a project and our teamster, (who would have been in his thirties at the time) was a cop that was also moonlighting as a limo driver told us around 1992 , that he was driving the Lovin' Spoonful to a concert (from the airport?), when they started lighting up joints on the way.

    He said instead of driving them to to the venue, he drove them straight to the police station instead.

    We all believed him then, but I since have read that one of the band mates was responsible for the bust.

    I tried to figure out why he would say that and the only logical explanation I came up with was he was trying spread the story around that he was such a mean and dedicated cop/ex-cop, he even busted a band called The "LOVIN' " Spoonful, during the 'Summer Of LOVE ', so don't mess with him....?
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
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  7. ElectroVibe

    ElectroVibe Suspended

    Mar 2, 2013
    Very interesting. So, are we to assume that John himself played the lead? You would think that at least Skunk Baxter would be a lead guitarist, but he's only listed as pedal steel. Before you posted this, I was thinking that there was a chance John found another lead guitarist who could play in Zal's style. But really? He would be that exact? But according this John is the only possible player. Sorry, but it looks fishy. I don't believe John would have played lead guitar like Zal. I don't think Baxter would have either. But it's all just speculation.
  8. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Inactive

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I'm curious. This seems really important to you.... unusually so. Are you Zal's nephew or something? I'm being sarcastic, of course. But you are going way out if your way to defend the honor of a guitar player you have never met and shouldn't care about.

    What gives?
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  9. StudioStuntz


    Jul 19, 2015
    I do love their music, but have no idea either, as I'm not familiar with anyone in the band enough to spot their individual style.

    However, take into consideration that the more talent one has, the more one can sound closer and closer to emulating someone else.

    Case in point, it was either session drummer Jim Keltner (or another) who was being asked to play Ringo-type fills ala Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day In the Life on a lot of his subsequent sessions.

    Something else to consider is how much did JS tell the others what and how to play it. If he had a large say, that could explain why John could duplicate his style.

    The speculation continues...

    Aside from that, here's an early take of Daydream with studio chatter and early lyrics, which you and other fans here have probably already heard.

    Any idea who Sebastian is talking to?

  10. ElectroVibe

    ElectroVibe Suspended

    Mar 2, 2013
    No, I am NOT defending his "honor". I don't know anything about the man. But I really liked his playing with the Lovin Spoonful. Then one day I was listening to the theme song and noticed a similarity.

    The way I see it there are two possibilities. (1) John used him in the session, but didn't announce it because he didn't want anyone to know that the "stool pigeon" was with him. (2) John found another similar player.

    What do YOU think happened?

    Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with what John did if he did use Zal secretly on the session. He was a friend of his, and a friendship that close is certainly understandable. Some people might even think that what Zal did was the right thing because he helped the police. I have no real opinion on that, though.
  11. D M C

    D M C Oh good god, this again?

    Feb 19, 2015
    North America, Earth
    Ooo. Conspiracy! Me rikey!
  12. ElectroVibe

    ElectroVibe Suspended

    Mar 2, 2013
    If you really don't understand where I'm coming from, maybe I can help you understand the thought process that led me to this question.
    1. Listen to Lovin Spoonful's "Do You Believe in Magic" and pay attention to the lead guitar.
    2. Consider that Zal was shunned by the music community for ten years, by the point in time where Welcome Back Kotter started.
    3. Listen to the Welcome Back Kotter theme and listen to the lead guitar. Listen to the lyrics.

    Seriously, I don't know how anyone else wouldn't come to this same question. Especially if there is NO lead guitarist listed on the session credits.
  13. inanimate_carb


    Aug 11, 2016
    Someone could always ask Hungate...
  14. Purdie.
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  15. D M C

    D M C Oh good god, this again?

    Feb 19, 2015
    North America, Earth
    I know, right?!? Russia???
  16. I thought it was Sebastian playing the lead on an old walnut Gibson Melody Maker. I can't remember where or when I saw the picture, but he had a denim shirt on and was playing. I think the album cover had a different shot of him wearing the same shirt. The part is pretty simple as far leads go, so it's unlikely he'd need the services of Larry Carlton. He might have simply overdubbed it himself in the studio. Just a guess.
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  17. This thread takes me back. This song is the first 45 I ever bought.
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  18. I could swear that I saw Sebastian play the Theme From Welcome Back Kotter on (maybe?) Saturday Night Live - where he flubbed the intro and asked for a Mulligan, live on the show. Of course he got it - but at that time he was playing his autoharp, holding it closely to his chest.
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  19. StudioStuntz


    Jul 19, 2015
    AHHHH...I can't stand being humble any longer...I playd the electric guitar on it, OK? (notice I spelled guitar intentionally wrong).

    I guess one way to narrow it down would be to compare the timeline of when Kotter was recorded and when Zal was in Canada.

    But wait...after I just listened to it from the picking standpoint, that arpeggiated, broken-chord, finger-style picking has been around and popular long before the Kotter tune existed (that is what we're talking about, right?)

    Therefore, guitarists and songwriters would have had plenty of time to copy, learn, and adapt it into their style long before 1976, or even 1965 for that matter.

    It's a great guitar part, as is the rest of the instrumentation.

    Meanwhile....back to the guitar:

    Here's Sebastian sort of playing a not so elaborate version of it in spots on electric, for a 1970 Gordon Lightfoot tune:

    Dylan did ask John to join his new electric touring band after the 'Bringing It All Home' album, but he declined.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
  20. Pirate Captain

    Pirate Captain Elitist Jazz Snob ********

    Dec 22, 2016
    David Hungate...Jeff Porcaro. Man, it's hard to find an album in the 70s/(early)80s that DOESN'T have at least one member of Toto playing on it.