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The Lovin' Spoonful is an American 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", prompting his friend, Fritz Richmond, to suggest the name "Lovin' Spoonful" from a line in Hurt's song, "Coffee Blues".
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 1960s. Sebastian was joined in the Spoonful by guitarist Zal Yanovsky from a bohemian folk group called The Mugwumps (two other members, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, would later form half of the Mamas & the Papas), playing local coffee houses and small clubs. Drummer-vocalist Joe Butler and bassist Steve Boone rounded out the group.
The group made its first recordings for Elektra Records in early 1965, and agreed in principle to sign a long-term deal with Elektra in exchange for a $10,000 advance. However, Kama Sutra Records had an option to sign the Lovin' Spoonful as recording artists as part of a previously signed production deal, and Kama Sutra exercised the option upon learning of Elektra's intent to sign the band. The four tracks recorded for Elektra 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", on July 20, 1965. Additionally, aside from a few covers (mostly on their first album) they wrote all their own material, including "Younger Girl" (which missed the Hot 100), which was a hit for The Critters in mid-1966.
"Do You Believe in Magic" reached No. 9 on the Hot 100, 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 No. 10, and "Daydream", which went to No. 2. Other hits included "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" (another No. 2 hit) and their only song to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100, "Summer in the City" (13–27 August 1966). Later that year, the No. 10 hit "Rain on the Roof" and the No. 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.
Arguably the most successful pop/rock group to have jug band and folk roots, nearly half the songs on their first album were modernized versions of blues 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 only reached No. 48, in 1968), featuring a typewriter as percussion.
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, "Darling 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 No. 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.
Reunions, revivals, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (1980–present)
The original group (Sebastian, Yanovsky, Butler and Boone) reunited briefly in 1979 for a show at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills for an appearance in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony, which was released in 1980.
In 1991, after a long awaited settlement with their record company, Butler and Boone decided to start up The Lovin' Spoonful again with Jerry Yester. They were joined by Jerry's brother, Jim Yester (vocals and guitar), formerly of The Association, and drummer John Marrella. Sebastian and Yanovsky declined to participate. After a two month rehearsal in the Berkshire Mountains, the group started touring, with Butler now the most common lead singer. Jim Yester left this new grouping by the end of 1992 and was replaced by Jerry's daughter, Lena Yester (vocals and keyboards), who joined in early 1993. Mike Arturi replaced Marrella on drums in 1996, and Phil Smith joined on guitar in 2000, replacing Lena Yester.
The original four members of the Lovin' Spoonful were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 6, 2000. All four original members appeared at the ceremony and performed "Do You Believe in Magic".
Yanovsky died in 2002. Sebastian has stated that he no longer wishes to perform with the remaining members of the group because he wanted to move on when he left the group.
The current group, still led by Butler and Boone, continues to perform.
The band's name was inspired by some lines in a song of Mississippi John Hurt called the "Coffee Blues". John Sebastian and others in the jug-folk scene of the time such as Geoff Muldaur credit Fritz Richmond for suggesting the name. The song "Coffee Blues" is a tribute to Maxwell House Coffee, which he describes, "rapping" in the beginning of the song, as being two or three times any other brand, ergo, he only needs one spoonful to make him feel alright, what he describes as "my lovin' spoonful" in the song.