John was Ron Olesko’s guest artist on the May 10, 2009 program of “Traditions,” the long-running (and excellent) folk music show Ron alternates hosting with Bill Hahn of WFDU.FM. This “Mother’s Day” visit included live performances of “See Alice,” “The Gift,” “Joshua,” and “The Folk Singer’s Sweet Bye-and-Bye” from John’s latest CD, “Side Effects.” In addition to these songs, John performed the Jimmie Rodger’s classic, “Mother, the Queen of My Heart,” in honor of his own late mother, and mothers everywhere. Over the course of the past year, John was contacted by Fred Pape, one of the members of “The New London Trio,” a group John belonged to during the mid-60’s. Fred had sent John a CD of some of their old songs, and–for a touch of folk nostalgia– Ron played “Chilly Winds” and “Make me a Pallet on Your Floor” from this old recording John had not even known existed! This was John’s third appearance on “Traditions,” the show on which he introduced his 9/11 ballad, “Remember Me.” Ron was kind enough to describe John as “a marvelous songwriter in the tradition of Tom Lehrer.” This website will soon be posting a podcast of the program, so please be on the lookout for it. (In the meantime–for those not yet familiar with John’s music–samples may be heard by clicking on either of the two CDs pictured below.)
John Sprung’s tribute to folk singers who have passed on to their final reward, “The Folk Singer’s Sweet Bye-and-Bye,” (from his latest album, “Side Effects,”) is the Number One song in sales on CD Baby among songs in the Political Folk category. No, not quite the “Billboard” or “Cashbox” charts, but the latest CD baby sales charts for the “Political Folk” category (which lists the top 477 CDs), reported “Side Effects,” “weighing in” several months ago at number 39. As of the 08/17/09 survey, the album is now number 2 in sales, trailing only Holly Near’s latest album. John is most appreciative for the many people world-wide who have supported his new CD. It was his hope that “Side Effects” would be available to listeners on a broad scale, and he is very pleased that CD Baby has provided this opportunity.
John has been singing and enjoying folk songs for as long as he can remember (which is longer than he cares to remember). The child of camp-director parents, his earliest memories included the songs of Woody Guthrie and Josh White.
On August 15, 2008, John’s new CD, “Side Effects,” (c)2008, was released on Fraternity Records. Full details on this album of newly composed and recorded songs appear elsewhere on this site. Copies of this CD, are available through John’s on-line distributor, CD Baby at http://cdbaby.com/sprungjohn2 as well as John’s earlier CD, “Remember Me and Other Songs, (c) 2004, at www.cdbaby.com/sprungjohn. Samples of songs from both CDs may be heard on CD baby, Amazon and iTunes. (Make sure to check for discounts when purchasing more than one copy of either CD from CD Baby.)
John’s songs have been played on many folk-oriented stations across the country, most recently by Rich Warren on November 29, 2008 as part of his long-running program, “The Midnight Special.” Rich played “Social Insecurity” and “The Folksingers Sweet Bye-and-Bye.” Rich reprised “Sweet Bye and Bye ” on his December 27th program, as part of a tribute to folk artists who died in 2008 (e.g John Stewart, Davy Graham, Artie Traum, Nick Reynolds and Odetta) .
On November 15th, Walt Graham’s “Acoustic Connections” Veteran’s Day program played the “The Glory of Their Times,” from “Side Effects.” Walt used the song title as the name of this excellent commemorative program.
Earlier, the September 13th “Acoustic Connections” featured three songs from “Side Effects,” “The Gift,” “Social Insecurity,” and “Remember Me.” Walt was kind enough to refer to “Side Effects” as “John’s great new album,” and played “The Folksingers’ Sweet Bye-and-Bye” on his September 20th show, which was a “theme” program consisting of songs in which various folk musicians paid homage to the people who went before. The three most recent shows can currently be “downstreamed,” by going to WSHU.org and hitting up “Acoustic Connections.” Fans of folk music will never be disappointed when tuning in to this fine show.
“The Glory of their Times,” was written as a tribute to the veterans of World War II. This moving song had its first play by veteran folk-singer and host, Oscar Brand, on WNYC’s “Folksong Festival.” Oscar, after listening to “Side Effects,” responded, “It’s a good CD, and just right for air play.” John was fortunate to introduce his earlier CD on Ron Olesko’s shhow “Traditions,” on WFDU.FM, in 2005, and has been invited to be Ron’s guest on “Traditions,” as well, where he will discuss “Side Effects,” and will play both live and recorded cuts from it. Please watch this website for time and date. Ron played John’s satirical song, “Social Insecurity,” on his October 26, 2008 show. This cut pokes fun at President Bush’s late-lamented plan to permit some of an individual’s social security dollars to be diverted to private investment accounts. “Side Effects” was recently praised on WESU.FM (88.1) as a “good album,” with “Joshua,” singled out as “a nice topical folk song.” Look to this posting for updates on air play.
As for how all this began, after an unsuccessful attempt to learn the guitar at age seven, John contented himself with the ukelele until finally picking up the guitar the summer after high school. After a stint as a member of a high school “doo-wop” group, John and two college fraternity bothers at Alfred University (Bob Levine and Mike Weiner), formed a trio soon to be known up and down the fabled southern tier of western New York as the “Five minus Two.” (“Get it?”)
Playing at local hotels, radio shows and campus functions, and for such diverse audiences as the Hornell Rotarians and the Wellesville Junior Nurses Association, the group hit its performing zenith at New York’s “Bitter End” shortly after graduation. Early the next year, the trio opened for the Brandywine Singers at a concert held at their alma mater. Later that year, they recorded two songs for Roulette Records, one of which was a civil rights song called “He Was My Brother,” composed by the then unknown Paul Simon. John swears it was released, and has posted a reward for anyone owning a copy. After the group broke up for such disparate and mundane reasons as (1) one member’s having to repeat Experimental Psychology in order to graduate, (2) another entering Law School, and (3) in John’s case, an inability to avoid the draft. John (an abject failure at college R.O.T.C.) was somehow commissioned an officer in the United States Air Force. Throughout his years in the service during the Vietnam-era (in which he inflicted casualties on neither side), John continued to hone his folk-singing skills. Both as a single and in a series of long forgotten trios, he played numerous night clubs and folk venues along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including “Trader John’s,” “The Gulf Winds,” “The Edgewater,” and (now it can be told) “The Jefferson Davis Junior College for Women.” During this period, John was proudest of a children’s concert he did for rural Mississippi’s Head Start Program, which was itself in its infancy.
Since that time, John has played a goodly number of public gigs and private parties in and around the New York area, including “Y’s,” and many performances at children’s schools . He has shared the stage with, among others, Happy Traum, Lynn Lavner, the New London Trio*, and the Flagstaff Singers. He has played at Brooklyn College, Western Connecticut Teachers College, the summer Borough Hall Concerts, Cousin Abe’s, BMW’s, the Eastland Folk Festival, a reunion night at the old Loews Kings, the Montauk Club, Vox Pop, and (all too many) street fairs. He has twice appeared at the Hurdy-Gurdy Folk Music Society’s “Zeke’s Place.”
(*Speaking of “The New London Trio,”Â trio member Fred Pape (see photo gallery) recently contacted John after viewing this website.Â They have exchanged music, photos, and family updates.Â Fred is alive and well, and living in Alaska with his lovely wifeÂ in a log cabin he is proud to have built.)
John’s 1998 concert recording “John Sprung…Still Live at Zeke’s Place” was released in 2000 on Folklaw Records Â© 2000 andâ€”according to ASCAPâ€”recently went “tin.”
In 2002, John first appeared as Ron Olesko’s guest on the radio show “Traditions,” on WFDU-FM.Â As mentioned above, he had a return visit with Ron on the occasion of the release of “Remember Me and Other Songs,” in May, 2005, and–most recently–a second “Mother’s Day ” appearance on May 10, 2009.Â Â On this most recent program, John gave four live performances from his latest CD, “Side Effects.” Over the years, John been fortunate toÂ have had his songs played on many commercial as well as affiliate stations of National Public Radio across the country.Â John is a lawyer in his “day job,” but tries not to let it interfere with his folk-singing. He picks and sings in what he describes as “a variety of styles and abilities.”
Â His repertoire consists of a combination of traditional and composed folk, and folk-oriented songs, both funny and sad; As a performer, John strives to combine music from the great folk song-bag, with songs of his own composition. All in all, John is an untraditional traditional folksinger. John is particularly interested in tying songs to the periods in which they were written, believing that folk songs provide an excellent barometer of the times they reflect. His goal is to help keep folk music alive, something he hopes “Remember Me and Other Songs” and “Side Effects” will, in their own small way, contribute to.
By simply clicking on the icon for the CD cover, you can “one-stop-shop” and order either “Side Effects,” or “Remember Me and Other Songs” (or both). If you do so (which we earnestly hope), please let us know what you think by e-mailing your comments to this website. John reads and responds to all correspondence, and welcomes hearing from fans.
John’s new CD entitled “Side Effects,” was released on August 5, 2008. The CD was recorded on Fraternity Records, with assistance from the same outstanding back-up musicians and vocalists who accompanied John on the two tracks included on last year’s “Fraternity Records’ 50th Anniversary CD.” The album includes eleven newly written and recorded songs, plus, from the “50th Anniversary CD,” is an updated version of the 9/11 song, “Remember Me,” and “The Glory of Their Times.” (“Glory” is a tribute to the veterans of World War II, which was introduced on Oscar Brand’s “Folksong Festival,” and which John performed at the televised 2007 Memorial Day tribute for the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum in New York City.) All in all, thirteen songs–a bakers dozen!
The album contains an eclectic mix of songs inspired by the folk process, including an original urban blues (“Understand the Blues”), a Broadway parody (“No Time for a Song”), a nostalgic remembrance of the many late folksingers who live on in our memories (“The Folksingers’ Sweet Bye-and-Bye”), and “See Alice,” a humorous tribute to the men’s product which (to paraphrase the old deodorant ad) truly “takes the worry out of being close.” Other songs address issues both topical and timeless, ranging from the war in Iraq (“Joshua”) to unrequited love (“Shorthand for Good-Bye”). “The Gift” is an elegy to the many challenges that enable us to reap the benefits of reaching beyond ourselves, and “All Counts for Twenty” is a rueful smile to the benefits of taking the long view. “Social Insecurity” is a humorous analysis of the late (but not) lamented plan to privatize Social Security, and “The Second World War Home Front Movie Blues” salutes those “heroes” of the silver screen whose celluloid bravery inspired us all as kids. On a somber note, “The Ghosts of Columbine” looks at one family’s tragic descent from teen-age sweethearts in the days of “doo-wop” into the personal hell of their adulthood.
As with his last CD, “Side Effects” will be available through CDbaby, and may soon be sampled here as well on the CDbaby website.
As discussed more fully in the “Hear John on the radio” post, Walt Graham, host of WSHU-FM’s “Acoustic Connections,” played the following three songs from Side Effects” on his September 13, 2008 show: “The Gift,” “Social Insecurity” and “Remember Me.” (Walt’s most recent three shows are available for downstreaming by going to the WSHU website.) Please watch this space for updates.