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Lovin’ Spoonful

The Lovin’ Spoonful is an American pop rock band of the 1960s, named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. When asked about his band, leader John Sebastian said it sounded like a combination of “Mississippi John Hurt and Chuck Berry.”

Career

Formation and early years (1964-1965)

The band had its roots in the folk music scene based in the Greenwich Village section of lower Manhattan during the early 1960s. Sebastian, who grew up in contact with music and musicians, was the son of a much-recorded and highly technically accomplished classical harmonica player. He had reached maturity toward the end of the American folk music revival that spanned from the 1950s to the early ’60s. Sebastian was joined in the Spoonful by guitarist Zal Yanovsky from a bohemian folk group called The Mugwumps, playing local coffee houses and small clubs (two other members, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, would later form half of the Mamas & the Papas.) Drummer-vocalist Joe Butler and bassist Steve Boone rounded out the group.

The group first recorded four tracks for Elektra Records in early 1965, but elected to sign with Kama Sutra Records that same year. The Elektra tracks were released on the 1966 various artists compilation LP What’s Shakin’ after the band’s success on Kama Sutra.

Pop success (1965-1966)

Working with producer Erik Jacobsen, the band released their first single, the Sebastian-penned “Do You Believe in Magic”, in August 1965. The Lovin’ Spoonful played all the instruments on their records, with the exceptions of the orchestral instruments heard on their soundtrack album You’re A Big Boy Now and some later singles. Additionally, aside from a few covers (mostly on their first album) they wrote all their own material.

“Do You Believe In Magic” became a Top Ten hit in the US, and the band followed it up with a series of hit singles and albums throughout 1965 and 1966, all produced by Jacobsen. The Lovin’ Spoonful became known for such folk-flavored pop hits as “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice”, which reached #10, and “Daydream”, which went to #2, on the Hot 100.” Arguably the most successful pop/rock group to have jug band roots, nearly half the songs on their first album were modernized versions of jug band standards. Their popularity revived interest in the form, and many subsequent jug bands cite them as an inspiration. The rest of their albums featured mostly original songs, but their jug band roots showed up again and again, particularly in “Daydream” and the lesser-known “Money” (which missed the Hot 100), featuring a typewriter as percussion. Other hits were “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind” (another #2 hit) and “Younger Girl” (which missed the Hot 100). Their only song to reach #1 on the Hot 100 was “Summer in the City”, on 13-27 August 1966. Later that year, the #10 hit “Rain On The Roof” and the #8 hit “Nashville Cats” completed the group’s first seven consecutive Hot 100 hits to reach that chart’s top 10. The only other 1960s act to achieve that feat is Gary Lewis & The Playboys.

Lovin’ Spoonful members termed their approach “good-time music”. In the liner notes of “Do You Believe in Magic”, Zal Yanovsky said he “became a convert to Reddy Kilowatt because it’s loud, and people dance to it, and it’s loud”. Soon-to-be-members of the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead were part of the West Coast acoustic folk music scene when The Lovin’ Spoonful came to town while on tour. They credited The Lovin’ Spoonful concert as a fateful experience, after which they decided to leave the folk scene and “go electric.”

At the peak of its success the band was originally selected to perform on the television show that became The Monkees, and also gained an added bit of publicity when Butler replaced Jim Rado in the role of Claude for a sold-out four-month run with the Broadway production of the rock musical Hair. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s song “Pow!” was used as the opening theme of Woody Allen’s first feature film, What’s Up, Tiger Lily. John Sebastian composed the music for Francis Ford Coppola’s second film, You’re a Big Boy Now, and The Lovin’ Spoonful played the music for the soundtrack, which included yet another hit, “Darlin’ Be Home Soon”. Both films were released in 1966.

Personnel changes (1967)

In early 1967, the band broke with their producer Erik Jacobsen, turning to Joe Wissert to produce the single “Six O’Clock”, which would hit #18 US.

Yanovsky left the band after the soundtrack album You’re a Big Boy Now was released in May 1967, primarily due to a drug bust in San Francisco, in which he was arrested for possession of marijuana and pressured by police to name his supplier. As a Canadian citizen and fearing he would be barred from re-entering the U.S., he complied. He would later open a restaurant in Canada, the immensely popular Chez Piggy in Kingston, Ontario. The restaurant is now owned and run by his daughter.

Yanovsky’s replacement was Jerry Yester, formerly of the Modern Folk Quartet. Around this time, perhaps coincidentally, the band’s sound became more pop-oriented.

This new line up of The Lovin’ Spoonful would record two moderately successful Wissert-produced singles (“She Is Still A Mystery” and “Money”), as well as the 1967 album Everything Playing. Sebastian then left the group by early 1968 to go solo.

The final years (1968-1969)

The group was now officially a trio, and drummer Butler (who had previously sung lead on a few album tracks) became the group’s new lead vocalist. Up to this point Sebastian had written (or co-written) and sung every one of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s hits; the band now turned to outside writers for their singles, and used a variety of outside producers. The band’s last two Hot 100 entries (“Never Going Back” and “Me About You”) were sung by Butler, and written by professional songsmiths. In addition, “Never Going Back” only featured Yester and Butler’s playing—the other musical parts were played by session musicians, a first for the group.

With commercial success waning, The Lovin’ Spoonful lasted only until early 1969. They split up following the release of their album Revelation: Revolution ’69.

Discography

Studio Albums

1965 Do You Believe In Magic – coming soon 28/04/2012

Compilation Albums

Best Of – Coming soon 02/01/2011

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