Singer, entertainer, and master instrumentalist John McCutcheon returns to the Sebastiani Theatre on Monday, Jan. 14. He has played the venerable movie house on a Monday in January for the last 20 years or so. This year, he is touring in support of his new album, “To Everyone in All the World: A Celebration of Pete Seeger.”
Reached by phone at his home outside of Atlanta, Georgia, McCutcheon was excited to talk about Seeger, his tour, his guitars and, yes, the Beatles.
When McCutcheon was a little banjo player, his mom sat him down to watch the news reports of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He also saw footage of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary singing on those same steps.
His mom was a social worker, so the politics of the day were nothing new to McCutcheon, but the music - folk music - was. He soon purchased Pete Seeger’s 1963 album, “We Shall Overcome,” and his life took on a new meaning.
“The songs I learned when I was young affected me in a very profound way,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon became a folk musician. He mastered the banjo, which led to fiddle, guitar, hammered dulcimer, and a slew of other acoustic instruments. His connection to Seeger grew stronger and, over the years, McCutcheon got to know and even play with him a few times.
Seeger’s wife, Toshi, was a particular favorite of McCutcheon’s.
“Pete was a dreamer,” said McCutcheon, of the folk legend who died in 2014 at age 94. “He was the kite, and Toshi held the kite string.”
McCutcheon’s new album celebrates what would be Seeger’s 100th birthday. Of Seeger, McCutcheon has said, “He gave us songs to fill our throats and our hearts.” The album features many well-known Americana musicians, with credits for such performers as Suzy Bogguss, Bryan Sutton, Tim O’Brien and others among them.
McCutcheon performs about 90 shows a year around the U.S. His stop in Sonoma is part of a tour of Northern California that includes breweries, town halls, high schools and churches.
When asked about the selection and number of stringed instruments he performs with, McCutcheon said that he brings along “whatever Delta will let me check. It’s more than you have in your band.”
While talking, McCutcheon mentioned more than once how blessed he is and how much he loves his job. When asked which band he wishes he could have been in, he wasted no time: “The Beatles.” He remembers where he was on Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles made their first American TV appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“It was like, ‘Where were you when Kennedy was shot, or on 9/11. It changed my life,” he said.
McCutcheon talked about hearing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for the first time. He was with his buddy, and they listened through both sides of the record in stunned silence. When the last chord of “A Day in A Life” faded away, he turned to his friend and said, “Master tapes are being thrown away all over the world.” He recognized the album to be nothing short of a game changer.
He also remembers hearing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” for the first time, being played on a jukebox. “What is THAT?” he recalls saying to himself.