John Klingberg, American Bassist, 1945-1985


John Klingberg is well-remembered by his friends, bandmates, and fellow musicians, many of whom shared their memories in a TalkBass forum thread begun in 2007.

1963-1964 - Steve Hall, Berklee roommate

John and I shared a dorm room during our first year at Berklee (1963-1964) and then shared an apartment during our sophomore year. The apartment was around the corner from the school on Hemingway Street. It was on the top floor of a six story building. Amazingly hot during the summer months.

I left Boston after our second year of school (summer of 1965), I believe that is when John left school also. I burned out after going five semesters in a row with no break. Unfortunately, I eventually got drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. When I returned to Boston in 1968, I met John and his girlfriend. She seemed like a very nice person. They were living in an apartment on the edge of the ghetto (Roxbury). I remember John telling me that the front door to the building was made with bullet-proof glass. The world had changed a lot during the three years that I was absent from Boston.

After a while, John and Robin and the guys with Van Morrison's band moved to Woodstock. My wife Kathleen and I drove to Woodstock and spent a day or two there. A beautiful place. I was tentatively offered the guitar chair with the band but I decided that I was so close to getting my bachelor's degree that it made more sense to stay in school.

I lost contact with John after that time. I tried to reach him when Van Morrison and the band re-located to the San Francisco area a year or two later. Van Morrison was being managed by Bill Graham's company in San Francisco, and I called several times but couldn't get a phone number or address.

There was no Internet in those days so staying in touch was a lot more difficult than it is now.

I am grateful to have known John. He was a very nice person with a terrific sense of humor.

1963-1965 - Lynn Prior, Berklee classmate and bandmate

Lynn Prior, drummer for Randy and the Soul Survivors and a Berklee classmate, recalls the switch to bass:

I went to Berklee at the same time as John and was Jack Schroer's roommate for the first year. John quickly became one of our group, both socially and musically - he was one of the funniest people I have ever met. He could talk for half an hour about how his family tried different schemes to dissuade him from a music career and we would be gasping for breath the entire time.

There was a very active music scene in Boston at that time and we had many weekend gigs. When we came back for second year, Randy Madison hired Jack, John and guitarist Steve Hall for his group. He already had a drummer so I was left out. After New Year's Eve in 1965, the drummer had a personal problem and I replaced him. Randy and the Soul Survivors rose rapidly on the local scene. We were playing weekends at a bar near the docks, which featured dancing hookers for all the seamen. We went from that to playing at the colleges with past rock stars. They would do their show and afterwards we would play for dancing. When the school year ended so did those gigs.

I remember one afternoon we were talking about how we might be able get more gigs as a rock band and John said "I can play bass." At the time I don't think anyone took him seriously as he had never mentioned it before in two years.

1967 - Roger Baker, Berklee classmate and bandmate

I knew and played with John in Boston. This was after Randy. Our band was then called the Pink Panthers. In the band were also drummer "Bat" Kaddy (who still plays drums in Portsmouth, NH) and sax player Jack Schroer whom I believe introduced John to Van. Jack was from Albuquerque where I now reside. Jack also played with the Pink Panthers. It most have been around 1967 that we played the entire summer at the Crown and Anchor in Provincetown, Mass (seven nights a week and a matinee on Sunday!). I actually have a live recording (on mic in the room) of a set we did there. We were scheduled to do a recording in New York but it never happened. John was playing mostly trumpet then doing R&B (James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Reading, Sam and Dave, etc., real R&B). John was quirky, funny, and a great musician. I was sad to hear of his passing.

A story regarding that summer in Provincetown: As this was during the Vietnam War, anyone working in Provincetown that summer had to fingerprinted! We were all concerned about being drafted. One night two state troopers came in the entrance to the club (opposite end from the bandstand). They called the hostess over and were pointing to the band. We were all getting nervous while still trying to play. The hostess came right up to John and handed him a note. He later told me he was about to jump through the plate glass window. The note from the troopers asked if we knew any Herb Alpert songs! We played "Tijuana Taxi" and the troopers left.

1968 - Ted Scourtis, Third World Raspberry founder

John Klingberg and [Renfro] were THE professional musicians of the group, with great resumes and chops. Donny was, at the time, one of the few white drummers that had mastered "Fat Back" drumming, and I believe had played with some of the top R&B cats of the day. John's story was similar, and of course, he went on to play with Van Morrison on Moondance and Street Choir.

1967-1968 - "Mmonty", Boston music writer and musician

I was a writer for a local music mag, also a longtime guitar player, and met John and his bandmates a number of times. An old friend was managing them. One time I visited them in their apartment in Boston, it was a real rat's nest in a very tough section of the city. John was a quiet, reserved young man of gentle demeanor. The cliché at the time, and probably still holds true: if you want a good interview with a band, talk to the bass player...the 'sanest' member of the group. I also recall that John was once a student at berklee, then a very small school in Boston's Back Bay.

I did lose track of John and his band (it was the 60s!) Then, one day, I was in an apartment, in another tough section of the city, a few months later and there was a band living on the floor above. I learned it was Van Morrison and his new band, he had relocated to Boston after leaving his "Gloria" genre behind. I recall they kept going over the same few bars for what seemed a hundred times. I cannot recall the song, but I would bet that Morrison had met John in Boston, and the rest, as the adage goes, is history.

1969 - Shelly Yakus, Moondance engineer

Those guys were really good. If you listen to that record, they had a feel that was raw and finished at the same time, and that's very difficult to do. They weren't trying to do that, it's just what they naturally felt in real life, their natural sensibilities...The guys who played together in that band felt what they felt and it comes across like gangbusters, even 40 years later.

1968-1972 - Wife [anonymous]

John Klingberg married his Boston girlfriend in 1969, and they had two children together. They were divorced in 1972, and she wishes to remain anonymous, but recalls Klingberg's first meeting with Van Morrison, as well as additional information about his style and technique:

Jack Schroer brought Van Morrison over. They went somewhere to play (maybe The Unicorn?), it was during the day, I did not go with them. Van and Jack rang the brownstone bell, John and I went down, Van and Jack were standing on the street, we all said hello, the men left together. Later, when John came back, he said he got the gig. He did not have to "work his way in," Van heard him play and that was that. John had a slightly dragged out, slightly behind the beat way of playing that Van was looking for. [11]

John was not doing studio work when I was with him. Before Van, he and Jack and Collin took any work they could get, which included playing the "standards" out of fake books in nightclubs. John did not use a pick or his thumb, he pulled the thick bass strings with his index and middle finger, he would lose the callouses on his fingertips, which meant he would have to play with painful bloody fingers. He never complained, just shrugged. (They were flat wound strings, by the way.) As his finger came off the plucked strings, it would hit the string above, which functioned as a 'stopper'. But there is a slight vibration of the 'deadener' string because of this and it changes the sound of the bass. I remember it quite clearly. The stopper string vibrated very slightly and made a wonderful sound.

I remember when he hadn't played for some months, he came home from a gig with huge blisters on his fingers from the thick wrapped bass strings. He didn't complain and he went right out the next night and played the gig with those blisters.

One time, John was on his way to a gig and he opened his bass case and his bass had no strings. Mike Winfield borrowed them for a gig and didn't tell him. Everyone was in their early 20's, so especially idiotic, but John wasn't that mad, even though he had no spares. There was another bass player in the building and John borrowed his strings and went to the gig.

I never saw him practice, but he never lost his chops. It is unexplainable, but it's true.

John had a slightly dragged out, slightly behind the beat way of playing that Van was looking for. Maybe because Van sings the same way? John called this "fatback" cannot be learned, it is innate in some musicians, just as it is in some singers, which is why those kinds of singers need a really solid rhythm section to ground them and keep the tune going.

Van disliked musicians who left him "no room"...I remember he once said (and he was a very quiet man, rarely spoke when he was not singing) that he got rid of an excellent piano player because "he played too many notes." (An aside, Van had such a strong Irish accent that it was difficult to understand a word he said, not that he said much...until he started singing and then his words were clear. His voice was amazing, the band would practice at his house in Woodstock on top of Ohayo Mountain Road and he would just stand there and start singing, no microphone, this amazing voice would fill the room.)

I doubt John was inspired by anyone in particular. He wasn't at all 'thoughtful' about music. He liked all different kinds of music and introduced me to some that I had never heard before or even considered listening to. R&B, real R&B, not the smooth synthetic stuff called R&B today. Early James Brown (Live at the Apollo) and even old big band stuff, Count Basie was one of his favorites. Traditional jazz, not avant garde stuff. He liked Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, obviously. He loved Miles Davis, especially Sketches of Spain. He took me to see Miles Davis at a tiny jazz club in Boston. He liked Hendrix and Cream and the usual 60s music, but he also liked music that not too many young people listened to back then.

The fact that he played in nightclubs way back when the musicians were from all different races and colors, back when different races of people never mixed, made him intolerant of any kind of racism. I so loved that about him.

1967-1968 - Don Renfro, bandmate

Don Renfro was a close friend of John Klingberg's and best man at his wedding. He lived with Klingberg and the rest of Third World Raspberry in a building on Tremont Avenue in Boston.

The Tremont place had six rooms all on the right side of the building as you walked in the door. They weren't actually apartments. It was an old townhouse of sorts. There were two rooms to a floor. SJ, the rhythm guitar and vocals, and I lived on the top floor. Herbie, the lead guitar and vocals, and John lived on the third floor. Nobody lived on the second floor. The first floor was just a hallway. Then there was the basement. An interesting place were many interesting adventures happened.

Some of the members of the Colwell-Winfield Blues Band used to visit us. Some of them are on the Van Morrison album.

Both bands were in New York City together when we were recording. We were at Columbia Studios. That's were those two tracks come from. We were very close to becoming legends, but things happened. Colwell-Winfield produced an amazing blues CD which is a classic if you can find it. [Collin Tilton and I] played together with Dario, who was the front man of his own band, which played rhythm and blues. Things like "Midnight Hour," "Hold On, I'm Comin'," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," and similar songs like that.

The usual groups in those days had two horns, guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and the vocal. The vocal always a swell-headed, egotistical tyrant. But Dario was great, and the band was great. There were a few bands like that around Boston, but very few were really good.

Moose was the keyboard player and the vocalist when we did our warm up songs for Dario. He was the keyboard and vocalist for The Colwell-Winfield Blues Band. The album is Cold Wind Blues. You will hear one of the greatest blues bands that ever came down the pike.

1970 - Tom, nephew

John Klingberg was my uncle on my mom's side. He was the youngest of four, having two older sisters and an older brother. The family was raised in McKennery, IL. My grandfather (John's father) told me that John was very gifted as a musician at an early age. He sent John to Berklee to study his passion. There was some kind of falling out between John and his mom and dad, perhaps during the Van Morrison years. The family was very conservative, and while he was successful with Van, that 'evil rock and roll hippie music' may have tainted the relationship. His father was a successful inventor during the beginning year of plastic development. You can look up some of his inventions by Googling Arthur Klingberg. While he holds several patents, he was by no means a wealthy man for the effort. And sending John to Berklee was probably costly to the family. This may be why his father and family distanced themselves from John.

Around 1970, he and Jack Schroer, visited our family while on tour during the promotion of the Street Choir album while in Detroit. My best friend and I ate dinner with them. We both remember looking and touching (and smelling) John's leather jacket, and Jack's sheep's wool vest as seen on the album. We were starstruck. He gave me the album, and I still have it to this day, though the groove are worn down.

My grandfather and mother visited John and his girlfriend in New York around 1982. I guess the wounds hadn't healed, as they came back somewhat upset at his living situation. Later around 1983 or 1984, John called our house and I was able to speak with him for a brief time.

My mom told me he had passed away around the timeframe indicated. I wish I had the opportunity to know him better. I'm very proud to be related. And as a musician myself, I often think that we may have more in common.

1971 - Roger, nephew

John was always known as Uncle Jackie to us, not really sure why. Anyway, I last saw him, his wife, and their new baby in 1971 when he came out to Arizona to visit his parents and my mother. I was not yet 10. He had given me a Harmony Starburst guitar that he had used, which I had for many years. He had come out a few more times up until he passed, but I was overseas at the time.

He grew up in McHenry, Illinois, the last house he lived in with his parents was located in a neighborhood called Mineral Springs.

As Tom mentioned, his dad was Arthur Klingberg and his mother Margaret Klingberg. As far as musical talent in the family, John was the only professional level musician there was that I'm aware of. Tom didn't let on but I've been told he played drums very well in school. I've played drums and bass in a local garage band but I'm really a hack at it. None of the talent flowed this way.

1975 - Joe Wolvek, fellow musician

In the summer of 1975, I was living off-campus at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Through a sax player I knew, I met a guy named Axel Koch. He had a nice house with a studio in the basement, further east on the Island. I used to go out there to play (I'm a guitarist). While there, I met John. He was a really sweet guy. I was very young at the time and I was blown away that I was playing in what was really my first band with the guy who'd played on Moondance. He was so helpful and encouraging to me. He told me that I should move to Boston and play in an R&B band. Which I promptly did! Actually, I went to berklee College of Music upon arrival, and over the next several decades, played in various blues, R&B, funk, original rock, and god only knows what else bands. I met a lifetime's worth of friends over my last 45 years here and have built my life here. In large part, thanks to John! I look back on him more than fondly.

1978 - "lbjacobs9m", New York City neighbor

In 1978, I think it was John Klingberg who was my neighbor on Second Avenue and 28th Street walk-up apartment in Manhattan. He told me he had played on the Moondance album with Van Morrison. He was down and out, had been sick (collapsed lung), and was trying get back into the music world, but ... it was tough. He was working as a mover and had lots of money problems. The night we both were robbed, he told me Paul Schaefer from The David Letterman Show had called to see if there was anything he could do to help. He was moved by the gesture. I think they stole his trumpet? He was a good guy, gentle soul.

1978 - Bobby R, fellow hospital patient

In 1978, there were few treatment options for addiction. Klingberg checked himself into Charles Post Addiction Center on Long Island, in an attempt to treat his alcoholism. There he met a fellow patient who remembers him well.

I had the pleasure of meeting John at certainly a low time in both of our lives. It was approximately 1978, and we were then in what was referred to as a psychiatric hospital. You must understand at that time that was the early days of alcohol and drug rehab. It was called CK Post. He told me (humbly) about his horn playing and his bass playing with Van Morrison. We got to know each other. I remember one night we snuck down to the basement and found an old piano. Although He explained he wasn't a piano player, he played basic blues {and was pretty good!). We sang blues together (nervously and rushed), hoping we weren't making too much noise. He was a great man. I personally eventually got my act together, sorry that his life had to be so hard.

1981 - Ken Sari, Woodstock friend

Klingberg returned to Woodstock sometime in the late '70s, and friends helped him stabilize his life, especially Van Morrison's former band manager and his wife, as well as Mike Winfield and his wife Barbara.

My wife and I lived near Woodstock for a few years (West Saugerties) and were friends with John and his [last] girlfriend and her six children. They were together for a year or so before attempting to move to Austin with two of her daughters. Before his departure, I spent several evenings with John talking about music and being a musician for Van Morrison.

A little tidbit...He messed up one note during the recording, and was very embarrassed having to sit through the playback with the band and the sound engineers many times so he can re-record that note at the right time. He seemed to be a real perfectionist and proud of his talent. He also shared with me that during concerts at large venues with Van he used to stand behind the stack of speakers so he wasn't so 'visible' to the crowd. He really didn't like being in the spotlight.

I wish I spent more time with him.

1980-1981 - Michael Kassor, Woodstock friend and neighbor

My name is Michael Kassor, in 1980-81, I lived a half-mile away from John in the hamlet of West Shokan, in the town of Olive; approximately ten miles south-west of Woodstock. I first met John when I was 14 years old, and after all these years I still remember how cool it was to hang-out with John. Because of these wonderful memories, I have periodically done internet searches to learn more about him, which happily, have led me to you today.

I know you all understand, while my personal recollections of John remain strong, the passing of 30 years have made dates a little cloudy; here are some of the things I remember:

During the years 1980-81 (maybe late 1979-1982?) he shared a small two-story house at 7(?) High Point Mountain Road with a woman named Carol W--, (on the corner of High Point Mountain Road and Watson Hollow Road) in West Shokan, NY. Their house was next door to the house of my best friend and brother, Wade Gurian. (The house is still there, and looks relatively the same, although it's been greatly refurbished over the last decade.) While the times they were a-changin', Wade and I were wild young adolescents, still very much in the crazy time warp of Woodstock. We would go to John's house to hang-out, party, and barbecue. It was safe place away from our parents, who - I must say - were very, very, opened minded compared to most parents. In fact, I remember one time my dad, who was of the "older generation," coming to pick me up and staying to have a drink on the front porch with John!

To Wade and I, John was always very kind and giving, he would share whatever he had even if he didn't have a lot. He would play trumpet for us, frequently accompanied by a Van Morrison record or tape. I remember singing songs such as "Caravan" and "Into The Mystic" while John tooted away or played an electric bass without an amplifier. Great, great memories; here was I, this kid, singing with John Klingberg who had actually played on the albums! Ken Sari was correct in saying that he was stickler for the right note(s). I recall him chiding himself, even when we were just fooling around. Physically, at this time, he still looked like he'd just walked off the inside of a Van Morrison album: he was thin with long blonde-reddish hair parted to one side, a handle-bar mustache, face slightly drawn with eyes that sparkled when he was happy. He wore cowboy shirts, the kind with snap buttons, had a pair of bell-bottom jeans, and cowboy boots. While John had many personal challenges, some of which he shared with us, he NEVER forgot about his children. In hindsight, they might, might have been what some people would call “regrets”? However, with us, perhaps because we were young, he tried to play a positive note, and I don't remember him saying specifically "I regret," etc. only, "I made some mistakes." He showed us photographs of his two children. His son is in photo with him on Van's record so I remember those. Also, he showed me a few photos of bands he had been in, other musicians, and women; maybe his wife? Sadly, I don't have any photos of him with us at this time. I only wish I had taken some.

A good story about John: When we were too young to drive, Wade and I used to do a lot of hitch-hiking, mostly to and from Woodstock. John and Carol would frequently give us rides or pick us up. One winter, we were hitching back from Woodstock on Wittenberg Road (a back route that leads from Woodstock to Boiceville) when we got caught in a blizzard. I mean, it was a snowstorm of tremendous proportions - NO exaggerations, you couldn't see more than a foot in front of you and in a matter of a few minutes and inch or two of snow was already on the ground. We had to link arms so as not to lose each other! So, while one of us felt the shoulder of the road with a foot the other one had his thumb out vainly trying to flag down a ride. We were almost struck by several vehicles. Then, seemly out of nowhere, a station wagon pulled over - it was John and Carol! Yes, we're saved! "Well," John said, "I have some plywood in the back but, if you can crawl in underneath! We got home all right, balancing the plywood on top of our heads but, let me tell you, it was a hairy ride! Man, did he save our butts that day! (Thanks again John, we'll never forget you for that one!)

A few other things: The last time I saw John, I was hitching to the high school. I was going there for my physical exam for football season and he picked me up in that white van. When I sat down on the floor of the van, my shorts got soaked with dog piss. He was very sorry, but we both had a good laugh. This must have been late summer 1981-1982.

To John Klingberg: You are still loved, very much missed, and will never be forgotten by those you touched.