Lovin’ Spoonful/John Sebastian (updated)

The Lovin’ Spoonful’s first 7 singles all hit the top 10!  They were part of the Folk Rock and Country Rock era that started in the mid 1960s.

Zal Yanovsky (guitar), Joe Butler (drums), John Sebastian (guitar) Steve Boone (bass)

This is how we were introduced to The Lovin’ Spoonful.  Their 1965 single, “Do You Believe In Magic” (#9), made you feel good.  They sang:  “Believe in the magic of a young girl’s soul, believe in the magic of rock & roll, believe in the magic that can set you free”.

The band called it “good time music”.  There was nothing else quite like it on the radio.  The songs were written by lead singer John Sebastian.  The band’s musical influences were Folk, Jug Band, Country, and Blues.  It came out as a unique mixture of Rock & Roll.  Their name came from a song by Mississippi John Hurt called “Coffee Blues”, and referred to a “Lovin’ Spoonful” of Coffee (which is different than many guesses about the origin).

The string of Top 10 hits that followed were…”You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” (#10), “Daydream” (#2), “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” (#2), “Summer In The City” (#1), “Rain On The Roof” (#10), and “Nashville Cats” (#8).  The last five of these six were all from 1966.

I remember that in 1966 The Beatles were asked if they had any favorite American Bands, and they said “The Lovin’ Spoonful”.  Since they were a favorite of mine, it stuck with me, and I’ve always suspected that Paul McCartney wrote “Good Day Sunshine” because he liked “Daydream”.

“Nashville Cats” is a straight-forward salute to country music and the “thirteen-hundred-and-fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville”.  The Lovin’ Spoonful caught some grief for the line “yellow Sun records from Nashville”, because Sun Records was a Memphis studio.  I’m guessing it was simply too hard to make “yellow Sun records from Memphis by way of Nashville” fit.

The Lovin’ Spoonful had more country flavored songs on their albums, including “Lovin’ You” and “Darlin’ Companion” which were recorded by Johnny Cash.

The influence of The Spoonful has far outlasted their career.  They only had three more hits…”Darling Be Home Soon” (#15), “Six O’Clock” (#18), and “She Is Still A Mystery” (#27), all in 1967.  Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian left the band, and it disbanded in 1968.

Here’s their best Greatest Hits collection…well worth it!  (Click or zoom to enlarge the song list.)

John Sebastian plays guitar, auto-harp, piano, and harmonica (his dad was a classical harmonica player).  John was friends with a lot of other musicians, so he and his harmonica made guest appearances on “Deja Vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and on “Roadhouse Blues” by The Doors…among many others.

After he left The Lovin’ Spoonful, we lost track of John Sebastian.  Then in 1970 at a record store in Memphis, we spotted this album:

After previewing a whole bunch of recent albums at a listening station, we thought the best one was John B. Sebastian.  Information wasn’t readily available like today, and we didn’t know he had an impromptu performance at Woodstock prior to this release.  If you liked The Lovin’ Spoonful, this album was a good follow up.  We still enjoy many songs off this one, like “She’s A Lady”, “Red Eye Express”, “Rainbows All Over Your Blues”, “Magical Connection” and more.  The album did fairly well, peaking at number 20.

John’s solo career never really caught fire, but he continued to write songs and perform.  One tune he wrote was the theme song for a popular TV show, “Welcome Back Kotter”.  It was the show that introduced John Travolta.  “Welcome Back” became a #1 hit for John Sebastian.

There’s a song of his that deserves special mention.  He wrote and performed “Stories We Could Tell”.  It’s about musicians being on the road.  Why do they put up with all the hassles?  They do it so they can “sit back on a bed in some motel, and listen to the stories we could tell.”  It’s a great song that’s been covered by Jimmy Buffett and Tom Petty.

Here’s the cover of the best collection of his solo recordings.  It includes most of his John B. Sebastian album, and a good selection of the rest of his solo work.

The most recent recordings we’ve purchased by him are from a 2007 album he recorded with David Grisman, Satisfied.  We selected two instrumentals, “Walk Right Back” (the Everly Brothers song) and “EMD”.  They’re beautiful guitar and mandolin duets.

Update:  The music of The Lovin Spoonful was saluted at an autism charity event in Los Angeles on February 29th, 2020.  It was the first time John Sebastian, Joe Butler, and Steve Boone had played together since being inducted in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twenty years ago.  Among other songs, they played their #1 hit “Summer In The City”.  There were a total of 30 Spoonful songs played by all the musicians who joined in on the tribute.

A long list could be made of 1960s bands that had Top-40 hits for just a short time. Only a few of them were as influential as The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Okay, had to attempt the list:  Gary Lewis & The Playboys (the only other group to start with 7 top 10 hits), The Zombies, The Box Tops, The Association, The Yardbirds, The Searchers, The Dave Clark Five, The Byrds, The Classics IV, The Beau Brummels, The McCoys, The Turtles, The Mamas & The Papas, The Happenings, The Cyrkle, The Buckinghams, Buffalo Springfield, The Rascals, The Monkees, Steppenwolf, Spanky & Our Gang, The Animals, Peter & Gordon, Chad & Jeremy, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Mindbenders, The Troggs, Herman’s Hermits, and more.  I tried not to include one-hit and two-hit wonders, or bands that had Top-40 hits into the 1970s.

Many of these groups had great songs and were popular and influential, such as The Byrds.   The truth is, the average life-span of a 60s rock/pop band was short.  I believe all of these groups had hits for a span of one to four years.  Despite the short careers, many of them, like The Lovin’ Spoonful, are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

2 Replies to “Lovin’ Spoonful/John Sebastian (updated)”

  1. I saw The Spoonful on a double bill with Simon & Garfunkel at Yale Bowl, in 1967. Zal Yanovsky had left and was replaced by Jerry Yester. Some of their best songs were hits for other bands: “Younger Girl” by The Critters, and “Good Time Music” by The Beau Brummels. Others, like “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It”, “Coconut Grove” and “Rain On The Roof”, should have been hits but weren’t. I’ve also seen John Sebastian as a solo act a few times.

  2. Hey, I was at that ’67 concert at the Yale Bowl as well — still have the Spoonful’s promotional booklet that was handed out that day. A thunderstorm was threatening, and the guys in the band kept getting zapped by static-electric discharges from their guitars. I was totally bummed that Zal wasn’t there — he’d just parted company with the band — but it was a terrific concert never-the-less. John used to play in several small clubs in DC when I was at GW University a couple of years later. They and he have left an indelible and upbeat imprint on my life, and my musical inclinations — still play their old vinyl LPs — all of them — on my turntable, routinely.

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