Longtime area resident John Simon is about as legendary and validated as a rock/pop producer can be. Dig just this handful of credits: Music from Big Pink, The Band (the brown album) and The Last Waltz by the Band; Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin; and Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. Enough said, yes? The rest of the list doesn’t let up much: Leonard Cohen, Gil Evans, Taj Mahal, Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Mamas & the Papas, Emmylou Harris and many other names you know.
Those are just Simon’s production credits. In the great tradition of the Golden Age producer, Simon possesses the full skillset: producer, arranger, composer and player. Of all his vastly impressive performance credits, one really jumps out me: He was the pianist in Howlin’ Wolf’s band in the early ’70s. As a composer, he has written or co-written songs recorded by Cher, Manfred Mann, Tom Scott, David Sanborn, Dusty Springfield and the proverbial Many More.
Enough with the lists. Here’s what gets me: this consummate music person released a dazzlingly sophisticated and imaginative piano pop record of his own, John Simon’s Album, in 1970. With its blend of musical theater forms, delightful piano rags, wildly inventive horn charts and Americana narrative with a light sense of folksy psychedelia, John Simon’s Album should not be news to me, but it is. It stands right alongside Randy Newman’s Sail Away (Simon’s “Rain Song” is as delicate and musical as anything on Newman’s masterpiece, and in exactly the same way), Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle and the work of the rest of pop’s most sophisticated and eccentric auteurs.
A legend above legends, John Simon appears in a rare solo performance at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts at 34 Tinker Street in Woodstock on Saturday, May 14. His performance, titled after his manuscript Truth, Lies and Hearsay, is one in which music meets memoir. Bass player Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff Siegel will accompany Simon as he plays the K/J’s historic 1926 Steinway piano.
The performance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20 general admission, $18 for Byrdcliffe members. To purchase tickets, call (845) 679-2079 or visit www.woodstockguild.org.
John Simon: Truth, Lies & Hearsay, Saturday, May 14, 8 p.m., $20, Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock; www.woodstockguild.org.