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Lovin’ Spoonful, The

Lovin’ Spoonful, The

Lovin’ Spoonful, The one of the prime movers in the N.Y. folk-rock movement of the mid-1960s. membership:John Sebastian, gtr., autoharp, pno., har., voc. (b. Greenwich Village, N.Y., March 17, 1944); Zalman Yanovsky, lead gtr., voc. (b. Toronto, Dec. 19, 1944); Steve Boone, bs., pno., voc. (b. Camp Lejeune, N.C., Sept. 23, 1943); Joe Butler, drm., voc. (b. Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., Jan. 19, 1943).

John Sebastian was born the son of a renowned classical harmonica player. Taking up harmonica himself as a child and guitar at the age of 12, he later added piano and autoharp to his instrumental repertoire. Playing early recording sessions for Tom Rush, Tim Hardin, and Jesse Colin Young, Sebastian joined The Even Dozen Jug band in 1963. That band included Maria Muldaur (1974’s “Midnight at the Oasis”), Stefan Grossman, and Steve Katz, who later formed The Blues Project and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

In 1964, Canadian-born Zalman Yanovsky was a member of the short-lived N.Y.-based Mugwumps with singer-songwriter Jim Hendricks, and Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot, who later became half of The Mamas and The Papas. Yanovsky and Sebastian met during recording sessions for The Mugwumps. Sebastian, with the encouragment of producer Erik Jacobsen, formed The Lovin’ Spoonful at the beginning of 1965 with Yanovsky, Steve Boone, and Joe Butler.

Playing regular engagements at the Night Owl in Greenwich Village, The Lovin’ Spoonful signed with Kama Sutra Records in June 1965. Do You Believe in Magic sported a fresh, clean, friendly sound on traditional folk and blues songs and Sebastian originals such as “Younger Girl,” and the near-smash hits “Do You Believe in Magic” and “Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind.” Daydream yielded a smash hit with the title song and contained a number of fine songs such as “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It” and “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.” Between soundtrack albums for Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? and Francis Ford Coppola’s You’re a Big Boy Now, The Lovin’ Spoonful issued Hums, generally regarded as their most fully realized album. Producing a top hit with the summertime classic “Summer in the City,” the album also contained the near-smashes “Rain on the Roof” and “Nashville Cats.” Subsequent hits included “Darling, Be Home Soon,” one of Sebastian’s strongest and most endearing songs, “Six O’Clock” and “She’s Still a Mystery.”

However, in 1966, two members of The Lovin’ Spoonful were arrested on drug charges in San Francisco, and Yanovsky, threatened with deportation, apparently incriminated at least one area resident. He left the group in ignominy in June 1967, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s image was permanently tarnished. Jerry Yester was recruited for Everything Is Playing, which contained “Six O’Clock,” “She Is Still a Mystery,” and “Younger Generation,” but John Sebastian departed the group in October 1968. Steve Boone also left, and Joe Butler reconstituted the group for one final album before dissolving the group in the summer of 1969.

In August 1969, John Sebastian reestablished himself with members of the counterculture with his renowned, stoned-out appearance at the Woodstock Festival, performing two songs. However, he had become embroiled in legal disputes among his former manager, MGM Records (the distributor of Kama Sutra), and his new label, Reprise. The release of his debut solo album was delayed for a time and, in fact, both MGM and Reprise issued John B. Sebastian in early 1970. The best-selling album of Sebastian’s solo career, it was recorded with the assistance of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and contained several good-time uptempo songs, two gentle love songs, “She’s a Lady” and “Magical Connection,” and two songs of communal good will, “How Have You Been” and “I Had a Dream.” He subsequently recorded The Four of Us and Tarzana Kid for Reprise. The latter album included Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo,” Lowell George’s “Dixie Chicken,” Sebastian and George’s “Face of Appalachia,” and Sebastian’s own “Stories We Could Tell,” recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1972. In 1976, Sebastian scored a top pop and easy-listening hit with “Welcome Back” from the ABC-TV situation comedy Welcome Back Kotter.

For the next decade, John Sebastian toured the concert and festival circuit, playing around 100 engagements a year. He worked on the animated movies Charlotte’s Web and The Care Bears Movie, and briefly reunited The Lovin’ Spoonful for Paul Simon’s One-Trick Pony movie in 1980. Since 1991, Steve Boone, Joe Butler, and Jerry Yester have toured as The Lovin’ Spoonful. In the early 1990s, Sebastian hosted The Golden Age of Rock ’n’ Roll series on cable television’s Arts and Entertainment network and recorded instructional harmonica and autoharp tapes for Happy Traum’s Homespun Tapes. In 1993, he joined Shanachie Records with the help of labelmate Stefan Grossman, recording Tar Beach, his first album in 17 years. Sebastian later recorded I Want My Roots for MusicMasters with a jug band dubbed The J-Band.


the even dozen jug band:The Even Dozen Jug Band (1963). the mugwumps:The Mugwumps (1967). the lovin’ spoonful:Do You Believe in Magic (1965); Daydream (1966); What’s Up, Tiger Lily (soundtrack; 1966); Hums of The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966); You’re a Big Boy Now (soundtrack; 1967); Everything Is Playing (1967); Revelation: Revolution ’69 (1968). zalman yanovsky:Alive and Well in Argentina (1969). john sebastian:John B. Sebastian (1970); Live (1970); Real Live John Sebastian (1971); The Four of Us (1971); Tarzana Kid (1974); Welcome Back (1976); Tar Beach (1993); John Sebastian (rec. 1979; 1996). john sebastian and the j-band:I Want My Roots (1996).

—Brock Helander

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