he ABC-TV situation comedy Welcome Back, Kotter premiered September 9, 1975. Gabe Kaplan starred as a teacher who returned to his own high school to teach the toughest students, the "sweathogs." The four leading "sweathogs" were played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Ron Palillo, Robert Heyges and John Travolta, who became an international star while the series was still on the air. Travolta continued to play Vinnie Barbarino even after starring in Saturday Night Fever.
The producer of the series, Alan Sachs, mentioned to his agent that he was looking for a "Lovin' Spoonful/John Sebastian type of tune" to be the program's theme song. The agent, Dave Bendet, also happened to be Sebastian's agent at the time and brought his two clients together. "He was a Brooklynite and I was from Manhattan. We started insulting each other right away and got along great." Sebastian remembers Sachs.
"I wrote a song one afternoon that was just ghastly, and about four o'clock I got annoyed an threw it away. I wrote another song that was 'Welcome Back.'" The producers liked the song enough to change the series' name from Kotter to Welcome Back, Kotter. Sebastian was relieved, as the only word he could rhyme with Kotter was otter.
Like most TV theme songs, "Welcome Back" lasted less than 60 seconds. When public demand for a record became so great that Warner Brothers Television suggested to Warner Brothers Records a single be released, Sebastian wrote a second verse. Although the song does not have the word "Kotter" anywhere in the lyrics or title, the first pressings of the single were released as "Welcome Back, Kotter," to make sure everyone connected the song with the series.
"Welcome Back" applied not just to Gabe Kaplan but to John Sebastian, who was returning to the pop charts for the first time in over seven years. After he left the Lovin' Spoonful, he had one solo chart entry in 1969, "She's a Lady." He recorded a live album, which his record company wanted to release as a Lovin' Spoonful LP. Thinking that just a bit dishonest, Sebastian waited a year-and-a-half rather than let the company put out the album under false pretenses. Finally, Warner Brothers Records came to his rescue and volunteered to release the live album and take care of any legal hassles that would result. He was signed to the company's Reprise subsidiary, which released Cheapo Cheapo Productions Presents the Real Live John Sebastian.
Sebastian, who was born March 17, 1944, in New York City, is still in touch with all the original members of the Lovin' Spoonful. He travels to Ontario, Canada, as often as he can to eat in Zal Yanovsky's restaurant, Chez Piggy's. When he's in Baltimore, John sees Steve Boone. They still play music and write songs together. Joe Butler lives in New York working on "high rent carpentry projects," and Sebastian sees him when he's in Manhattan.
Sebastian's most recent activities find him involved with writing music for animated films featuring popular childrens' characters like Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears. In 1984, Sebastian wrote the music for the NBC-TV movie The Jerk II, a sequel to Steve Martin's The Jerk. Although he declined to take part in a Lovin' Spoonful reunion in 1992, he did reform his old jug band the J-Band two years later, which appeared on Garrison Keillor's popular radio show The Prairie Home Companion.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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