Introduction to the Lovin’ Spoonful
The Lovin’ Spoonful is one of the few American bands who successfully weathered the dominant British Invasion in the 1960s. The group was founded by John Sebastian and had actually its roots in folk music. Soon they parlayed their folk-based pop and rock hits into amazing chart successes, many of them Top 10 hits — “Do You Believe In Magic?,” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” “Daydream,” “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?,” and “Summer In The City.” All of the band’s albums were released under Kama Sutra label. Personnel changes and drug busts involving guitarist Zal Yanovsky led the original lineup ending up in disarray, with John Sebastian leaving (and having been replaced by the band’s drummer, Joe Butler, as the new vocalist). But with their commercial success ebbing, the band split in 1969. Ten years later the original group reunited for a one-off show (as part of the movie One-Trick Pony starring singer Paul Simon). The Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Yanovsky died in 2002; Sebastian announced that he had no desire any more to perform with the surviving members. The current line-up is still active in the music scene.
From their beginnings in New York…
First and foremost a pop band, The Lovin’ Spoonful actually had its roots in folk and jug band music in New York’s Greenwich Village, where John Sebastian had been a young veteran for quite some time. He met Zal Yanovsky, who was then playing in his own folk act The Mugwumps (with future Mamas and the Papas members Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty). Sebastian, a son of a virtuoso harmonica player, also played the instrument and in addition to that, had had some experience recording.
Sebastian and Yanovsky soon formed The Lovin’ Spoonful, which was completed with the arrival of other new members Steve Boone (bass) and Joe Butler (drums). They were considered to be signed to Elektra label and had already recorded a few tracks with them. However, they ended up signing with Kama Sutra.
Rise to fame
The Lovin’ Spoonful released their first single “Do You Believe In Magic?”which was written by Sebastian. The single (which was also released on the band’s debut album of the same name) peaked at #9 on the Hot 100, and would be the first of The Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ pop gems. In their debut album, many of the tracks were the band’s updated version of blues standards. Do You Believe In Magic reached its peak position at #32 on the Billboard 200.
The band’s second single “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” was penned by Sebastian and Boone. Issued in late 1965, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” became another Top 10 pop hit (at #10). The single appeared on their sophomore effortDaydream, which also had the title track as another single. “Daydream,” which also showed vestiges of the band’s early jug band origins, almost topped the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10 at #2.
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s success and popularity helped revive interest on jug music. “Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?” was a track from the band’s debut album but was belatedly released as a single in 1966. It went to #2 on the Hot 100. The band also contributed to the soundtrack of the Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
Hums of The Lovin’ Spoonful, their third studio LP, was released in 1966. The band, known for their cheery, bouncy melodies, had a decidedly hard-edged turn on one of the album’s singles “Summer in the City.” The single zoomed to #1, the band’s only chart-topping hit. “Summer in the City” was followed by other smashes “Rain On The Roof” (at #10) and “Nashville Cats” (at #3).
The Lovin’ Spoonful — besides The Byrds — was one of the very few Stateside bands to weather the dominant British Invasion. As you may have thought, they became surprisingly successful, thanks in large part to their highly original songs created by chief songwriter Sebastian.
However, the band’s success was hampered by Boone and Yanovsky’s drug bust in 1967. This put a strain in the band’s image and activity, and later that year Yanovsky left the band. Jerry Yester, former member of the Modern Folk Quartet and producer of the Association, replaced him.
After the chart success…
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s chart performance suffered, and early 1968 Sebastian left to launch a solo career. Butler was relegated into the lead singer capacity. But without Sebastian, who turned in a lot of hits for the band, The Lovin’ Spoonfuls struggled with poor chart performance. They finally disbanded in 1969
A decade later, the original Lovin’ Spoonful reunited briefly for the film One Trick Pony starring Paul Simon. In 1991, only Boone and Butler chose to reform The Lovin’ Spoonful, along with newer members that came and went. The Lovin’ Spoonful is still active up to this day.
The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.