Dad Rock: A Word with John Coster - Father's Week on BTR


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Father’s Day is a special time for many dads, especially those who don’t always get to spend much time with their kids. Being a musician has its perks, but certainly among the downfalls include having to be away from your family more than one might intend. When BTR talked to the bassist of Talking Heads Tina Weymouth for Mother’s Week, she admitted that it’s easy to throw a baby in a sitter’s arms and walk on stage, but when they get older and start asking questions, the decision between parenthood and musicianship really needs to be made. Ms. Weymouth’s top priority was obviously her children and she did take time off her career to be there for them. She wasn’t the only musician to ever make this choice, and she surely won’t be the last.

In honor of Father’s Day, BTR had the chance to interview a singer-songwriter who has been performing since the 1970s, worked with countless talented musicians, produced several records for himself and others, and managed to raise three children while doing it all.. John Coster is a folk rock guitar and celtic harmonica player. His music can be described as classic in era, more Dylan-y than Dylan and soulfully poignant. His lyrics run emotionally deep and touch every corner of your heart and mind. His harmonica playing adds a level of movement and excitement that you simply can’t get out of just a guitar. Put Coster in front of a full band and you’ve got a different beast all together. Put Coster at the head of the table, so to speak, and he becomes a father who, like any other parent, just wants their kids to be happy and healthy.

BTR: So you’ve been an active musician for about 35 years it seems, at least since Jacob’s Reunion came out in 1976. How long have you been a dad?

John Coster: (laughs) Well, I guess it will be 30 years on July 19th. My first son, John Jr., will be 30 years old this year, crazy.

BTR: What point in your career were you at when John came along?

JC: When he came into the picture, I was gig-ing a lot back then. I was really doing a lot of clubs, mainly in New England, a little in Boston, and for me, it was kind of a rock ‘n’ roll world, I was all over the Northeast and so when he was born and I was playing a lot, I had to sort of keep that up because a record had just come out.

BTR: When you had to go to shows, did he ever want to or have to go with you?

JC: He did over time, eventually, but he was on his own path since the beginning and now he’s his own musician, so he took a very different path.

BTR: What does he do?

JC: He makes his living as a percussionist, a lot of wold music, but specifically African percussion. He’s a very talented djembe player, and as a day job he plays for an African dance program at the Five College Consortium here in the Massachusetts area.

BTR: How did he get involved with all that?

JC: Well, it was right after 9/11 and I put him on a flight to New Guinea (laughs). He really got into the drumming there, all sorts of percussion but specifically that African djembe, he just loved it and picked it up right away. It’s funny, this sort of thing is supposed to skip a generation but I have John who is his own musician completely, Katonah [23] who is in music business school, and my youngest Alida [21], who is a real music enthusiast. You would think they would resist it, especially because both Susannah[Keith, Katonah and Alida’s mother] and I were so involved in the business, but not quite.

BTR: With both you and Susannah being so musical, did the girls show any musical leanings at a young age?

JC: I didn’t really think about it all that much. I’ve never been one of those fathers who said “Oh, I’m a football player my son is going to be a line backer.” Just because I’m a guitar player doesn’t mean my kids have to be musicians. And I have this feeling that music really calls to people, certain individuals have a certain need for music and it may run in families, maybe it’s genetic, but some people feel really drawn to it. I don’t know that you can control that, I didn’t expect John to be doing so much percussion work and I didn’t have any expectations like that for Katonah and Alida either.

BTR: Obviously something struck them because music is pretty central in their lives, what do you think it could have been?

JC: I think the thing that made the most impact was the people I brought them around. I had them around some very talented and well-known musicians and we exposed them to a lot of music kind of indirectly, almost unintentionally. When they were little, Susannah and I were doing a ton of recordings, they were very young when our duet album came out in 1993 [Dangerous Kingdom of the Heart], and then we were working on her album [Torchlight[, and both of us were just doing a lot of ambitious things.  We were doing projects that weren’t necessarily for us, but good for our careers which of course you need to focus on as well as raising your kids, and I had to go up to Saratoga a lot.,so a few different recording projects going on but no major tours. I don’t even know how some musicians do that, I mean there was no way we could just go and hand the kids off to a babysitter for a whole tour. We just really needed to be around for them at the time, they needed to be in one house going to school, that was it. I remember at one point, the promo team on my record label said, “You have all this airplay out in Colorado, why don’t you go tour there?” Well, because I’m trying to raise my children, buy groceries for them and make music. If we had any sort of tour budget maybe it would have been something to consider, but as it was, I just couldn’t up and leave the kids like that. Financially it wasn’t going to work and I wasn’t going to leave the girls for that long.

BTR: So now that your kids are pretty much grown up and on their own, what are you doing with your career?

JC: I still have to do whatever it takes to survive, but I really want to crank it out now in a way that I haven’t for the past few years. Part of it is my kids being on their own to a large degree, so that does help a lot, but part of it is my sense of the world has changed. I’m not that happy about [how[ the world works these days, I feel like there’s so much deception everywhere but nothing is more honest than a song. You can’t write a song with lies because you can’t perform it while being open and honest with your audience. There’s a kind of understanding that comes through songs, but music really tells us how we feel about it, not how were supposed to feel. So I’ve written a few songs in the last year that really speaks to that and some older stuff is becoming relevant again. Plus, I’m really excited about the world of harmonica gaining momentum. It being such a powerful instrument, it kind of gives people strength. I think that’s important right now and since I’ve put all these years into, I’ve got a good push left in me, and there’s some stuff now I’m doing better than ever before.

John Coster is a proud father and motivated musician who’s passion has leaked all over his enthusiastic children. Look for a new slew of events and recordings from John and check out more from the rest of his musical family as well on John’s bandcamp page at: