Formed in 1965, this American rock band became a sensation with a unique blend of folk, rock, and pop sounds.
Originating in New York City, The Lovin’ Spoonful was founded by musicians John Sebastian, Zal Yanovsky, Steve Boone, and Joe Butler.
As they explain in an interview published back in 1966 (reprinted below), the band’s name was inspired by a line from a Mississippi John Hurt song — making clear their blues influences.
Their first hit single, “Do You Believe in Magic,” was magic — and reached the top 10 on the Billboard charts. Following this success, they released a string of hit songs like “Daydream” and “Summer in the City.” Their playful and breezy sound was a breath of fresh air during a period dominated by heavier rock and experimental music.
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s success was not without its challenges. In 1967, Yanovsky was arrested and charged with marijuana possession, leading to a messy legal entanglement,t and his subsequent departure from the band. The incident dealt a blow to their reputation and momentum, and the original lineup began to unravel.
By the early 1970s, the band had all but dissolved. Members pursued solo careers, but the original spark was never quite rekindled. Their impact, however, lingered on. Their joyful, good-time music continues to be celebrated as a snapshot of a bygone era.
Singer John Sebastian went on to have a solo career, with one of his tunes being one that almost everyone who watched TV in the 70s would know: the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter.
The Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, cementing their place in musical history. Their sound, influenced by blues, folk, and pop, continues to inspire musicians to this day.
Though their time in the spotlight was relatively short-lived, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s contribution to the American music landscape can’t be overlooked. They brought a fresh and cheerful sound to the charts, and their legacy continues to charm new generations of listeners.
Read on to check out an article and band photos from the mid-1960s — and re-visit some of their hits while you’re here!
Lovin’ Spoonful performance video: “Summer in the City”
Playing on The Hollywood Palace (September 24, 1966)
The Lovin’ Spoonful has a big measure of talent
By Peter Johnson (LA Times) in the Honolulu Advertiser (Hawaii) July 10, 1966
Where in the world did the Lovin’ Spoonful, top rock ‘n’ roll group, ever get their name?
“We got our name from a record by Mississippi John Hurt called ‘I Love My Baby by the Lovin’ Spoonful,’ but it’s also an Ohio expression for the teaspoon of sugar or honey you take after castor oil,” John Sebastian, lead singer on the quartet’s four hit single records, explained.
Sidestepping ready categories of rock ‘n’ roll sound, they have shot to the top of the record sales lists with “Do You Believe in Magic?” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” “Daydream,” and “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”
As a result of their quest for an evolving sound, part of the instrumental backing on their next single record, “Summer in the City,” is an air hammer.
“None of us plays the air hammer — we had to call someone in to do it,” chuckled Sebastian. It is one of the few instruments the group has not tried themselves.
Zal Yanovsky (“Zany”) plays lead guitar and assorted rhythm instruments; Joe Butler plays drums, rhythm instruments, and autoharp; Steve Boone plays piano, organ, and bass; and Sebastian plays guitar, autoharp, harmonica, and “mediocre keyboard instruments.”
The Spoonful met in Greenwich Village, New York, where Sebastian was working as a record studio musician and sometimes vocalist. Yanovsky was touring as a folk singer after a stint of performing in Israel, and Butler and Boone were playing in twist-type bands on Long Island.
After two months of practice, they convinced the manager of the Night Owl cafe in the village to book them, and shortly attracted a devout following.
But they didn’t become a headline act until they opened on the Sunset Strip last year at the same time “Do You Believe in Magic?” began selling. Now the Spoonful, just returned from a European tour, are affluent enough to ignore nightclubs and concentrate instead on college audiences and concerts.
The Spoonful records under the watchful hair-framed eyes of Erik Jacobsen, a tall, thin Mod-garbed twister of dials who coaxes and cajoles them into playing over and over until he is satisfied with their performance.
Jacobsen is a buffer between the group and recording technicians, soothing the Spoonful as an engineer tries to find a microphone missing in a snakepit of cables and soothing the engineers when the group asks for the electronically impossible.
Heads bobbing up and down, synchronized like four ducks, they listen to the recordings between their performances, sometimes glumly, sometimes excited to the point of frantically dancing or pantomiming listeners’ reactions.
Their enthusiasm and versatility have saved them from the rut of classification. With the exception of Boone — described as “the silent marauder” by one Spoonful — all have soloed on their two albums so far.
Musical influences on the Spoonful span a varied field: The Beatles, Jesse Fuller, Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, and Dr. Feelgood and The Interns, to name a few of their roots.
With their varied sources and the differing backgrounds of the group members, their performances generate a flow of new and different material for them constantly. “We have watched too many groups for too long have a hit and then duplicate the sound on following records,” says Sebastian. “It’s instant death.”
The Lovin’ Spoonful live: “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” (’65)
Here’s John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1968 – and the unrelated Lovin’ Spoonfuls cat food from 1974.