John Sferra of Glass Harp : 2003-10-08John Sferra co-founded Glass Harp with Phil Keaggy. Along with drums, he also plays acoustic guitar, writes and sings. He has released a solo project called Northbound, and he also maintains the Glass Harp web site. John gave me the following interview in conjunction with my review of Glass Harp's new CD, Hourglass.
Randy: John, thanks for giving us your time. I appreciate it.
John: You're welcome, Randy.
Randy: I saw you play with Phil (with Wade Jaynes on bass) here in Denver at the Gothic Theater about a decade ago. I believe it was the Crimson & Blue tour. Do you recall that?
John: Yes. That was the first concert on the tour. I remember the very first song I counted off. Before I could hit the first beat, my stick got hung up on the rim of a tom tom and went flying right passed Phil's head and into the audience. I was stunned for a moment, then we all cracked up. I enjoyed playing with Wade. He's a rock solid bass player and a good person. We had a good time supporting Phil. We shared a lot of intense musical moments--not like the moment I described above. I'm talking about creative moments!
Randy: Was that your first tour with Phil after Glass Harp broke up in the early 70s?
John: Yes, the first tour since Glass Harp broke up in the 70's. Glass Harp played a few reunion concerts before that and the Crimson & Blue band played several dates the year before.
Randy: It was a real thrill for me when the Carnegie Hall CD came out. Share a little about your memories of playing there as a young musician.
John: There was a lot of pressure playing Carnegie Hall. It's a prestigious venue and of course you want to do your best. We managed to ignore the pressure. The bottom line is to go on stage and be ourselves, and that's what we did. Years ago I didn't think the performance was anything special. After being away from the recording for so many years and growing a lot, I realize it's a good snap shot of the youthful Glass Harp.
Randy: Which Glass Harp songs do you most enjoy playing live?
John: The first one that comes to mind is "Chalice." It just feels good to play that groove. The song has nice dynamics and provides a good vehicle for improvisation. Phil did a great job with the lyrics. Although they deal with human suffering, the melody and rhythm bring a positive upturn to it. There's a positive energy behind it all, one of survival and hope. "You Whisper something" from "Hourglass" is fun to play live. "Voice of God Call Out," "The Image" & "What's in your heart" too. Actually I enjoy playing anything from Hourglass just because they're new. "Look in the Sky," "Changes," "Children's Fantasy," "Never is a Longtime" are all a blast to perform. When you do those songs on stage it's like running a mile or playing a game of one-on-one for an hour. "David and Goliath," the first song of a three-song medley called "The Trilogy" is my "best" favorite. That song is so unique. I think it's off the musical wall. I like that in a song. Our audience digs it too. It's a hard tune to categorize.
Randy: A power trio like Glass Harp needs a solid foundation to prosper. Obviously you and Dan mesh very well, and he says that you inspire all that he plays. I know that he first heard you when Glass Harp opened for The Poppy. Had you heard him play before that night? How exactly did he end up in Glass Harp?
John: I first met Daniel at a teen dance that our groups (The Poppy & Glass Harp) played. They always had two bands at this dance. The Poppy was a good band. I considered everyone in The Poppy a top notch musician. I learned a lot from their drummer Mark Deehr. He had a very precise style and a funky groove. I truly enjoyed listening to The Poppy play the hits of the day. They all wore really cool shoes, too. Just about that time our bass player Steve Markulin left to join the Human Beinz. Phil was the one who first thought of working with Daniel. His voice was, and is, great! He had soul in his voice. His bass playing was perfect as far as I was concerned. We both had a background in playing R&B and we both were influenced by the Beatles' rhythm section as well. Daniel is an aggressive player and that's what I'm into when comes to drumming. Both of us enjoyed complementing what Phil was playing so it was no effort being very attentive.
Randy: You've been friends with Phil Keaggy for most of your life. Does his musicianship still surprise you at times, or are you so in tune with what he's doing that you always know what's coming?
John: I'm in tune with Phil, but he always surprises me. I'm always inspired by what Phil does musically. Many times on stage I'll get a boost of energy from the elation I feel listening to him.
Randy: John, you played with Phil several times before Glass Harp got back together. How long did you go without jamming with Dan Pecchio before the reunion?
John: Not long. Daniel and I worked on a project recording around '78. We stayed in touch. He asked me to join an R&B band he was working with in '86. I joined and we played in "The Motion" for about four years together. That was funny because both of our first groups were R&B groups, and there we were playing Sam & Dave tunes again. Then in '88 Chip Killinger put together the first Glass Harp official reunion.
Randy: I think the Strings Attached live album does a wonderful job of capturing the Glass Harp magic. Did you sense that it was a special night as the band was playing? Comment briefly on that concert and recording.
John: It felt special from the first note. I also knew we had a lot of musical ground to cover that evening. I was hoping for as near perfect a performance as possible. It wasn't perfect but I felt real good about what we did. The precarious part was staying in sync with the orchestra. If we messed up we could take 40 other musicians with us. Thanks to Isaiah Jackson, the conductor of the Youngstown Symphony, that didn't happen. God blessed us with a nice recording from that concert. Grace was the key.
Randy: What gear are you using these days?
John: My concert drum set is a 2002 5 piece Yamaha Birch Custom Absolute series. It's bright red wood in color. I have a 6" metal TAMA snare drum and 4 1/2" metal vintage Ludwig snare. Zildjian 12" new beat Hi-Hats , 16" Paiste crash, 18" Zildjian China boy, and a Zildjian 21" Rock Crash /Ride. My other sets are: 4 pc.Yamaha custom stage, 1967 4 pc. Ludwig set (This is the set I used back in the early Glass Harp days), I have a 4 piece Purecussion compact drum set I use for rehearsals and light gigs. I also have a Yamaha electronic set I use in my home studio. Guitar-wise, I've been using a 1970 Martin D28 acoustic. I just got a Taylor 515 CE acoustic that I played at our last concert. It's my favorite now!
Randy: Would you mind telling us a little about your spiritual journey?
John: I'm very enthusiastic about this life given to us. The opportunity to Love and to receive Love. Knowing that I move, live and have my being in God is a wonder and comfort. The challenge to survive at all levels in this life is an adventure and it's made attainable by Grace. A long, long time ago, three wise and experienced men traveled many miles to search out an ideal embodied in a human being. This person they sought connected all of us together, and to the Spirit of the Designer of everything. Knowing God is a part of all life is what makes me enthusiastic and gives hope.
Randy: When I hear, "Knowing God is a part of all life is what makes me enthusiastic," it sounds a bit pantheistic. Of course, I realize it could be taken a few ways. Do you mean God is part of all life because He's the Designer of all living things?
John: Yes. Also, maybe all of creation is within God. God is so huge, there is nothing outside of God. God breathed life in to creation. It's fun for me to think about these things, but of course I don't claim to know. "I Love all Life" is about our connection to nature and each other as humans. The Holy Spirit connects us to God and each other. Christ brings the Holy Spirit.
Randy: Thanks for expanding on that, and thanks for sharing with us. I appreciate it very much, and look forward to many more great Glass Harp moments.
John: You're welcome, Randy. Thanks.