John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock
John a “few” years ago

John Pilla’s internet footprint is a small one and what there is is usually associated as a guitarist with Arlo Guthrie. The reason I am doing a piece on John is because he played with Arlo at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

Incidental references

There are some incidental references such as that made by Dr Eugene Beresin from a June 2012 Psychology Today post: “Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I spent a number of years working as a member of the grounds crew for the Philadelphia Folk Festival. As a teenager, I went to the Philly Folk Song Society, frequented the Main Point, and took guitar lessons from John Pilla, who backed up Doc Watson and Arlo Guthrie among others. In fact, I bought my first real guitar through John who got it from Fred Neil. John said it was an old beat up 1935 Martin, but I found out much later it was really made in 1956.”

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

All Music dot com

John’s AllMusic credits are also mainly associated with Guthrie, but not just as a guitarist. Pilla has also done photography for albums (e.g., Eric Andersen), engineered albums (e.g. 3 Penny Needle), and produced many of Arlo Guthrie’s albums. The site has a similar description of John’s discography.  And an news article from years ago: John Pilla, also a native Philadephian, has, in his nine years as a guitarist, evolved from rock ‘n roll player to one of Philadelphia’s finest folk guitarists. John, who is also a songwriter, has just made a record with Doc Watson (who performed at Central last year) and it due to be released shortly. Previous to his becoming a solo performer and his work with Doc Watson, John was a member, along with Jerry Ricks, of the Johnson City Three. Locally, John has appeared at the 2nd of Autum, the Second Fret, and the Main Point, where he is now appearing with Doc Watson.

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

Here is John playing with Arlo and Doug Dillard. John is in the foreground.

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

Bethel Woods

To read more about the Guthrie band at Woodstock, follow this link to Wade Lawrence’s WoodsTALK blog. Apparently, John died in 1988 of a heart attach, but if anyone has any more recent or expanded information about John, please comment below or email to

John Pilla Guitar Woodstock

Guitar Woodstock, 

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14 thoughts on “John Pilla Guitar Woodstock”

  1. John has worked with several notable artists since Woodstock. He produced several Chaka Khan tunes and ventured into heavy metal. It’s not my thing and I can’t remember the bands, but he did some notable work. I was privileged to hear a bit of a rock opera that he produced. Patty La Belle sang the lead and it was quite powerful.

    1. You must be referring to a different John Pilla. The John Pilla we are talking about here was Arlo Guthrie’s producer, arranger and most importantly his best friend. John was working with Arlo right up to the end of his life when he died of a heart attack while waiting for a heart transplant in 1988.

  2. The third member of the trio was Jay Roseman. John once quipped at the Main Point that I had been every where he stopped for a drink of water for several years!
    At one of the Philly Folk Festival he introduced me to “the guy who was replacing Chad Mitchell.” I was so focused on John, I barely caught John Denver’s name.
    Of his compositions I will always remember “Do You Know What It’s Like to be Lonely.”
    He introduced me to Doc, John Hurt and Arlo.
    I will never forget him!

  3. Late one Sunday night, circa 1968-70, on Gene Shay’s Philly radio show “Folklore”, John led a performance of “(In the) Big Sur Country” in the studio. I think it might have been a weekend when he was backing someone at the Main Point (Doc?), and after hearing a few bars, I recorded it with a mic in front of the radio, to my old Sears reel-to-reel. The tape’s long lost, but it was a beautiful performance, as I recall. Anybody else record it, who might still have a copy? John was a Philly legend around that time. I still wonder if that was him playing one of the Martins in Zapf’s one time …

  4. Small world… I’m from Philly and met John, a dear friend, when I was 15. He was often backup guitar for Doc Watson and others at the Second Fret. I went to every Philly Folk Festival since the Society’s first! Joel Schulman was one of the founders. I was married to Jay Roseman, who grew up next door to Gene Shey.
    John had heart disease, needed a transplant, lived with my sister and b-I-law, docs at HUP, died while awaiting a new heart. John was wonderful, extremely talented and he’s sorely missed.

  5. 1st Arli concert I attended was 1970 Mesker Amphitheater Evansville, IN. Linda Ronstadt opened for Arlo. John was in his band that night. Much later ca. 1979 John appeared with Arlo on WCVB channel 5 on the program 5 All Night Live in Boston. They came on well after midnight. John was quite a flatpicker.

  6. I first learned of John in the mid ’60’s when he backed up Eric Anderson at the Main Point. A year or two later, when I started working there, John had become a regular, even when he wasn’t performing. I no longer live in the Philly area,and only learned of his passing about 10 or so years ago.

  7. A reprint of a 1993 article about Doc Watson in the current Acoustic Guitar (Sept/Oct 2020) brought back memories of my 1st year of grad school at U Penn (1965-66.) While there I attended a Doc Watson performance with John Pilla playing backup at a small venue on the corner of Walnut & 40th, a half block away from my apt. An unforgettable live experience of both musicians’ skills!

  8. Does anyone know where I might get a copy of John’s song “Do you know what it’s like to be lonely”. He wrote it when we were living together in 1068 or 69. I had it in a hand write song book and can’t find it. Was it ever published? I miss him so.

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