Wednesday, 29 July 2015

THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL STORY


THAT SPOON, THAT SPOON, 
THAT LOVIN’ SPOONFUL 

 Album Review of: 
‘ORIGINAL ALBUM CLASSICS: 
THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ 
 by THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL 
(Sony Music, 2011) 

 THE MAGIC’S IN THE MUSIC, 
AND THE MUSIC’S IN ME’ 

In a coffee-house Sebastian sat, and after every number he’d pass the hat. There was music in the cafés at night, and revolution in the air. There’d been Folk music on the charts before. There’d even been what they called the Hootenanny fad. Traditional songs by the Kingston Trio and the Highwaymen once topped the Pop charts, and the Rooftop Singers took twelve-string guitar onto mainstream radio by adapting the 1929 Folk-Blues “Walk Right In”. But suddenly there are new possibilities. The English invasion shook the American music scene literally to its folk-roots.

What was to become the Spoonful came together in Greenwich Village in 1964. Centred around John Benson Sebastian. Born 17 March 1944, he was a local boy, son of a classical harmonica player who cut singles for Cadence in the 1950s. ‘You hear a cat practicing in the next room six hours a day, and you gotta pick up something.’ Neglecting NYU college work, John was soon backing Judy Collins or Jesse Colin Young on stage, or playing mouth-harp on sessions for Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, the Even Dozen Jug Band and others. He’s there on Tom Rush’s 1965 Elektra album. Through such studio connections, producer Erik Jacobsen encouraged John to put a group together to record his own songs. 

First link was to guitarist Zalman ‘Zally’ Yanofsky, a ‘tall Russian Jew’ born in Toronto (19 December 1944). Zal said he’d once lived in a Laundromat for seven months. In fact, he’d been one of the folky Halifax Three, and briefly with John Sebastian in the Mugwumps, alongside future Mamas & Papas Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty. John and Zal were there, in Cass’s front-room, to watch the Beatles US TV-debut on ‘Ed Sullivan’. A nudging prompt to them that to be a proper electric beat-group, they need a rhythm section. So they found a rhythm section.

Joseph Campbell ‘Joe’ Butler (born 16 September 1943 in Glen Cove, Long Island) was one of the few non-jazz drummers in the Village and Steve Boone (23 September 1943, North Carolina) – who claimed to be related to frontiersman Daniel Boone, was a rhythm guitarist in search of a group. His brother, Skip Boone played bass with Autosalvage, a unit who benefitted from Frank Zappa’s patronage. Steve and Joe were both versed in the rigours of Long Island dancehall bands, from the Sellouts to the Kingsmen. While John and Zal came out of Village Folknik sensibility. John and Zal were freer, looser, bluesier. Steve and Joe were harder, tighter, faster. Together, it made for a unique synergy.

Taking their collective name from a Bluesman John had backed onstage – a Mississippi John Hurt lyric from “Coffee Blues”, all four Spoonfuls share an extrovert sense of zany humour, and what ‘Village Voice’ journalist Richard Goldstein calls ‘longhaired striped shirt roundglasshiphugger dirty-booted uniforms.’ Together, they take elements of traditional Folk and a smattering of Blues with a streamlined jug-band sound melded into cohesion by pouring on what ‘Melody Maker’ termed an updated ‘heavy blood-bucket Rock ‘n’ Roll’ topping. What they produce got termed ‘Good-time Music’, an East Coast riposte to California’s vibrant Folk-Rock scene.

At the time it seemed everyone else in the States was doing the Beatles thing, while the Spoonful were among the first few to devise a genuine American variant to the English invasion. They inhabit a big goofy Gosh-Wow cartoon image that’s never allowed to impede their musical interactivity. Yielding seven successive American Top Ten singles plus three more in the Top Forty between 1965-67. In the UK there were only two Top Ten hits – “Daydream” at no.2 and “Summer In The City” three months later at no.8. “Nashville Cats” never got higher than no.26 while “Darling Be Home Soon” stalls at no.44, but their visibility was always greater than this suggests.

Never as glacially cool as the Byrds, or as menacing as the Stones, to me, at the time – with the Byrds and The Mamas And The Papas, they were easily part of a trinity of American groups who were turning the world around on its axis. Disarmingly sweet, fox-footed lyrics eliding with delightful summery harmonies, joyful jangles and tingling tambourine, ‘brandywarm, doghonest, moonpure’ (Goldstein again). And that’s surely enough? John Sebastian might never have been at the poetic-intellectual edge of Paul Simon or Dylan, but he was a supreme Pop craftsman and an unashamed homespun romantic. At his best when mood-capturing – the sweat-sweltering compression and urban tension of “Summer In The City” – their only American no.1, or the sweet rural idyll of “Rain On The Roof”, onomatopoeic guitars shimmering sympathetically like speed-filmed opening flower-petals as strolling lovers sit out the summer rain-shower in a convenient barn.


SOMETHING’S HAPPENING AND IT’S 
GETTING CLEARER EVERY DAY - 
STIFFNESS IS DISSOLVING’ 
 (Peter Stampfel liner-notes to ‘Do You Believe In Magic’) 

Lillian Roxon, a journalist who wrote up the burgeoning music scene for the ‘New York Sunday News’ drafted a detailed account of the group’s formative earliest days in her ‘Rock Encyclopedia’ (Grosset & Dunlap, 1971). For her, ‘the Lovin’ Spoonful was Liverpool – in Manhattan. Our own little moptops, born, bred and raised right here in the streets we walked each day, hanging around outside the coffee shops, playing in the basket houses, making a nuisance of themselves in Izzy Young’s ‘Folklore Centre’.’

They play the Greenwich Village ‘Night Owl Cafe’ situated on the corner of 118 MacDougal and West Third Streets, just down from ‘The Café Wha?’ and ‘The Gaslight Café’. A venue celebrated in their instrumental “Night Owl Blues”, entered through the marquee into a 75x20ft concert room with a stage so miniscule Joe has to play his drums on the floor. But it wasn’t always good. Initially they go down so poorly with the finger-poppin hipster folk-purist audience that club-owner Joe Marra takes them aside and tells them to go practice.

Zal and Joe happen to be sharing a room at the Albert Hotel – a few blocks north of Washington Square, where they also stash their instruments, getting sweet-talking Denny Doherty to distract assistant manager Miss Feldman when they’re unable to scrabble the rent together. When they strike up rehearsing there, Miss Feldman complains that angry residents are upset, but helpfully suggests they use the hotel-basement instead. So they take the freight elevator all the way down. Which is where they locate the magic, there was Voodoo in that basement, despite the cockroaches and seeping drip-drip-drip of toxic water. Volume screwed so high they were shaking plaster from the ceiling.

The group’s first recordings – from 1965, were issued by Elektra as part of their pioneering ‘What’s Shakin’’ compilation album, designed to expand the label’s previously elitist catalogue into the more experimental end of the new Rock wave. There were four Spoonful tracks, a curious version of the Coasters “Searchin’” – already covered in the UK by the Hollies, Chuck Berry’s “Almost Grown”, plus two Sebastian originals, “Don’t Bank On It Baby” and the virtual group manifesto “Good Time Music”. Set to a kind of ‘Hi-Heeled Sneakers’ twang, John autobiographs about how ‘I’ve been listening to my radio, for two or three years’ and the music’s so doggone bad it’s offendin’ to his ears, until ‘them kids come over from the Mersey river’ and make him ‘think about the Blues, and start all over again.’ Its energetic ‘all I want is a guitar, a harp and drum, just to set my soul on fire’ was quickly lifted by folk-rockers the Beau Brummels, to became a ‘Billboard’ no.97 hit as the group’s fifth single.

After Jac Holzman’s near-miss at signing them to Elektra – the Spoonful came out of the deal with new amps, they ink to Kama Sutra, a distinctive label launched in mid-1965 by Artie Ripp and distributed through MGM. One-time member of the Folkie Plum Creek Boys, Erik Jacobsen had cut two albums for Mercury as banjo-player with the Knoblick Upper 10,000 trio, before switching his attentions to production and management. He soon succeeded in launching the first two Tim Hardin albums. John adds Blues harmonica to “Ain’t Gonna Do Without” on the first, another playful joke on “Hi Heel Sneakers”. While ‘Tim Hardin 2’ was produced by Charlie Koppelman and Don Rubin, the same duo now developing the electric Folk group that Jacobsen had helped build around Sebastian. It was Jacobsen who stumped up the money for their first 45rpm record – his last $790, which was more than well-compensated by the success of “Do You Believe In Magic”. For the group’s publishing was signed to Jacobsen’s ‘Faithful Virtue Music’.


John later illustrates how he took and playfully accelerates the three-chord play-in to Martha & The Vandellas “Heatwave” to arrive at the “Do You Believe In Magic” intro – but he used that as a basis to transform and transfigure it into a joyful eulogy to the appeal and power of Pop Music which ‘makes you feel happy, like an old-time movie’. But more than that, ‘don’t bother to choose, if it’s Jug-Band music or Rhythm and Blues’, it’s about the mystery and magic of explaining that intangible-lure to someone whose never experienced it, ‘like trying to tell a stranger ‘bout Rock ‘n’ Roll’. As Pete Frame perceptively observes in his ‘Melody Maker Rock Giants’ essay, ‘Zal’s guitar, beginning in mellow tones under the second verse, moves into a basic solo which somehow manages to catch fire in a final ripple that just curls your toes up’ (2 February 1974). Do you believe like I believe…? Faced with the Spoonful’s contagious energy-rush, a spectral fountain of notes pouring in golden luminosity, it’s impossible not to believe…

There’s a monochrome concert-movie – ‘The Big TNT Show 1965’ (AIP, Director Larry Peerce) filmed to an enthusiastic audience at the LA ‘Moulin Rouge’ club, consisting of a live series of brief sets with the Spoonful slotted in between a limpid Petula Clark and an electrifying Bo Diddley at his most awesome. There’s a false drum-start as they play in to “Do You Believe In Magic”. As the song falls apart, Zal clown-dances around joyfully, rubberfacing, running on the spot, apparently enjoying the embarrassment, while covering the awkwardness, until they pull back together and start again. Owl-eyed bespectacled John plays autoharp, leaning in close to the mike. The two front-men play off each other with obvious chemistry. They follow it with a note-perfect “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, acquitting the group as both humanly fallible, and effectively targeted. Later in the film the Byrds do “Turn Turn Turn”, already promoting their second American chart-topper, McGuinn getting higher, but that’s what he was aiming at.


The success of the single obviously prompts a tie-in album. And the debut Spoonful LP – ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ (November 1965), features six of John’s songs, one of them a four-way collaboration (“Night Owl Blues”). But stacked up against that are five traditional adaptations – a slap-happy Lightnin’ Hopkins variant “Blues In A Bottle” (‘don’t want no woman, who goes around sniffin’ glue…’), the slow bluesy living-wrong “Sportin’ Life” with John’s cutting harmonica-blowing, “My Gal” (‘my gal she’s drinking old shoe polish, she’ll get drunk just the same’), “Fishin’ Blues” – lifted from the Holy Modal Rounders, and “Wild About My Lovin’”. Then “On The Road Again” tips its hat at Jack Kerouac. Plus one by Fred Neil (“Other Side Of This Life”, later done in a heavier live version by Jefferson Airplane) and a sweetly harmonic “You Baby” from the Mann-Weil-Spector team. First done by the Ronettes in 1964, it’s not the same “You Baby” recorded by the Turtles and The Mamas And The Papas, which is a PF Sloan-Steve Barri song. For a debut album, this covers-to-originals ratio was not unusual, and reflects the balance on the first Beatles albums.

While each of the originals is a gem. “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” – written in the taxi on their way to the studio, was lifted as a single in its own right as late as April 1966 when it reaches no.2 on ‘Billboard’. The humorous storyline finds the narrator torn between his girlfriend with ‘deep blue eyes, cute as a bunny, with hair down to here and plenty of money’ and ‘some mousy little girl’ who’s stolen his heart. The drop-in deep-voice line spoken by her father ‘better go home, son, and make up your mind’ is a device referencing back to Eddie Cochran on “Summertime Blues”.

The album also spun off covers. An opportunistic British version of the title song by the Pack siphons off some of the Spoonful’s Pirate Radio airplay and confuses sales, so that neither record actually makes the UK charts. But “Younger Girl” fares better. Although it’s adapted from a 1930 “Prison Wall Blues” it becomes very much Sebastian’s creation with its aching adolescent yearnings verging on the statutory, ‘should I hang around, acting like her brother? in a few more years, they’d call us right for each other’, with its anguished ‘if I wait I’ll just die.’ Covered by the New Jersey-based Critters its easy-rolling wistfulness takes the song into the UK chart and up to no.38 in June 1966. While Surf-group the Hondells do the same across the Atlantic, taking it into the American hundred as high as no.42.

Some people don’t understand the sixties. Even some people who were there, and should know better, don’t understand the sixties. It was more than just catchy Pop songs, dance crazes, groovy fashions and vinyl records with brightly-coloured labels. It was the meltdown from the stultifyingly repressive conformity of the fifties towards the kind of liberal freedoms we now take for granted. It was the start of all the loosening-up liberational anti-racist, gender discrimination-challenging, tolerant pro-Green issues. Not that the Spoonful were ever explicitly political. They never issued a record denouncing anything or taking a stance on anything. But they were part of it. In their cool relaxed informality and open friendly inclusiveness they were ahead of the social game. To be within the cartoon Spoonful world was to be in a kind of post-Beatnik proto-hippie idyll.

Next, “Daydream” – the lazy-paced eulogy to grooving on a summer’s day, became their biggest UK hit, utilising the same descending bass-line and relaxed vibe as the Kinks “Sunny Afternoon” – no.1 in July following the Spoonful’s no.2 in May. The two records also advocate a shared directionless, Ray Davies adding the political class ingredient of stately home and taxman, while John Sebastian is just a feckless day-dreamin’ boy, and ‘even if time ain’t really on my side, its one of those days for takin’ a walk outside, I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun, and fall on my face on somebody’s new-mowed lawn.’ Of course, attuned to the time, there were drug-connotations teased around the nature of John’s ‘bundle of joy’, but chances are he and Ray were both just lazing on that same sunny afternoon. The other comparison to be drawn must be the beautiful coincidence of “California Dreaming”, like “Daydream”, being written during bleak East Coast winter in thoughts of better times and good climes.

Again there’s a tie-in album – ‘Daydream’ (March 1966), and again, like the first, it carries the tag-line ‘The Good Time Music Of The Lovin’ Spoonful’. Although it’s tighter than its predecessor in that ten of the tracks are Sebastian originals (one with Zal, two with Joe, two with Steve), there’s still ample diversity. As “Night Owl Blues” had closed the first album, so group-composed instrumental “Big Noise From Speonk” closes this one, punningly referencing Gene Krupa’s “Big Noise From Winnetka” and a hamlet in New York’s Suffolk County. For the sole cover Zal takes lead vocal on a raucous retread of Dr Feelgood’s “Bald Headed Lena”, with a laughter-break and gargling solo!

For “Butchie’s Tune” Joe sings smooth lead. “There She Is” is strong guitar-driven Monkees-sharp pop, while there are the sweet harmonies of “It’s Not Time Now” (John and Zal) and “Warm Baby” (much later the UK ‘B’-side of “Rain On The Roof”). The fifties-slanted “Let The Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll” lyrically references ‘Johnny B Goode’. But in many ways the comic highlight has the Doctor prescribing “Jug Band Music” for a number of ailments, with the final verse sending-up Sebastian’s own geeky persona by getting totaled by a Beach Boy while out floating on the ocean. The muscled hunk drags him ‘like a child’s toy’ to the beach where as ‘everybody knows that the very last line’ is to supply that rejuvenating elixir of Jug Band Music. Like “Younger Girl”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” is a delicate yearning paean to teenage love, deservedly a hit too (its understated lyric settling for ‘I would’ve liked you’ rather than ‘loved’ you anyway).


By now, like soft fall-out, the Spoonful influence was reaching out to touch others, including the Beatles whose “Good Day Sunshine” catches the same carefree Spoonful good-time attitude. But by 1967 they’d begun to dissipate their energies by producing other things. At this point, it was almost de riguer for smart film-makers to use Rock music to add a contemporary edge to their soundtrack. Mike Nicholls’ ‘The Graduate’ (December 1967) uses Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Fonda uses a pick ‘n’ mix of definitive counter-culture statements from the Byrds to Steppenwolf for ‘Easy Rider’ (July 1969). Antonioni had the Yardbirds onstage live for ‘Blow Up’ (December 1966), and a Spoonful song playing in the background. And the Spoonful contribute to Woody Allen’s playful cut-up ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?’ (April 1966), with the gloriously ragged “Pow!”. Then Francis Ford Coppola commissions Sebastian’s uneven score for his ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ (December 1966). Adapted from a David Benedictus novel Coppola, who had previously worked on low-budget quickies with Roger Corman, adds coming-of-age counterculture elements to give it a currency-value that results in his first mainstream critical box-office success.

The soundtrack albums – with both films later issued on the same CD, consist mainly of scene-setting instrumentals, lit by orchestral touches, but the original songs are still stand-out. The strongest being the aching separation of “Darlin’ Be Home Soon”. It begins acoustically, deceptively simple, with striking lines about ‘now, a quarter of my life is almost passed,’ and ‘I feel myself in bloom,’ before soaring into one of the few examples of an enhancing orchestration that really works. Tumbling out of the bridge into exhortations to ‘beat your crazy head against the sky, try to see beyond the houses in your eyes’ because ‘it’s OK to shoot the moon.’ Closing with the effectively stilted ‘the great relief of having you to talk to…’

The Henry Ditz photo-sleeve for ‘Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful’ (November 1966) catches a visual taste of the group’s appeal. 4-Eyed John beaming owlishly in sideburns and steel-rim glasses, Zal plucking banjo on the reverse, or wearing cowboy hat – an example of his extravagant headwear often matched to bear-like knee-length furs. Contra-fashion, with no attempt to catch trendy Mod-gear. This, their third full studio album – its title alluding to AA Milne’s 1930 ‘The Hums Of Pooh’, is their first made up of eleven all-originals, and also the last to feature the full original line-up. And it spun off some of their most enduring hits. “Summer In The City” peaked at no.7 on the ‘New Musical Express’ chart – 20 August 1966, the same week the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” took the no.1 slot, with the Beach Boys “God Only Knows” climbing to no.3 beneath it. I was watching the promo-clip on TV, the shimmering New York urban street-heat coming up from the black-and-white film format that preceded video, John’s Hohner Pianet keyboard figure and Steve’s Vox Continental organ overlaid with the sound of car horns – a taped VW Beetle, leading into the jackhammer of Zal riding away on a powerful motorcycle. For the Spoonful, it’s an uncharacteristically powerful track with the energies screwed down claustrophobically tension-tight. John’s writing assisted by Steve Boone, and by brother Mark Sebastian.

Their ornery folksy roots are given free rein to cavort on the album’s first side, referencing ‘Bes’ Friends’ and ‘Darlin’ Companions’ rather than lovers, with Jews harp and Zal’s slide-whistle on hoedown “Henry Thomas”. Zal takes vocal for the thinly-disguised Howlin’ Wolf swampy-riffing “Voodoo In My Basement” and Joe for “Full Measure”. For scratch the boho city veneer, and it’s a country mile from rural down-home. But flip the vinyl and it runs the range of classic Folk-Pop Rock with a Brill Building sensibility, and the clarity of Roy Halee engineering (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). Refusing to stand still long enough to be classified. “Summer In The City” was not also followed by pristine acoustic hits “Rain On The Roof” and “Nashville Cats”, but by Bobby Darin taking his cover of “Darlin’ Companion” into the Top 40 (later covered again by Johnny Cash), with John’s lyric ‘as long as I’ve got legs to stand on, I’m gonna run to you.’

Some later argued that the Spoonful failed to ‘progress’. But that’s very much an of-its-time accusation. Just because the Beatles and Dylan evolved album-by-album, charting new pathways others were expected to follow. A principle that doesn’t necessarily apply during other music phases. Instead, each Spoonful album negotiates a collection of songs, nearly always Sebastian’s, or re-workings of traditional songs, with good humour and practiced ease, from which hit single after perfect hit single could be lifted. John Phillips cheerfully admits that the Mamas & The Papas albums didn’t ‘progress’ either, because they’d started out at such an elevated plane, they didn’t have the scope to take it that much further.

But there are undeniable upgrades. Like “Do You Believe In Magic”, “Nashville Cats” is a jumpy paean to the seductive power of music. ‘Those yellow Sun records’ actually came from Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis, but thanking the maternal parents of those guitar-pickers who ‘play clean as country water’ enables John Sebastian ‘a chance to say a word about’ those ‘mothers from Nashville’, slyly infiltrating that most verboten of expletives. But after their early easy Folk-Rockin’ style, the later less-celebrated tracks – “Six O’Clock” and “She’s Still A Mystery” are more mature works of considerable power. A friendly toss of the head at those who would soon be wearing flowers in their hair.


IT’S REALLY TRUE, HOW NOTHIN’ 
MATTERS NO MAD MAD WORLD, 
AND NO MAD HATTERS’ 
                    (“Coconut Grove”) 

The group break-up was precipitated by a non-musical narcotic event. An August 1967 drug bust in San Francisco results in Zal’s arrest, he was caught in a trap, under threat of deportation – he was still technically a Canadian national, it was lose either way, so he does a trade-off deal snitching on others involved in the city’s drug scene. You don’t do that. You don’t rat on community to the narcs. The rest of the group only caught up through a newspaper report minutes before going onstage for a New York show. It was to be Zal’s last Spoonful gig. With the group ostracized by their Rock peers, he was forced to exit the group anyway, sucking some of the magic away with him. Zal was promptly replaced by Jerry Yester, ex-member of the Modern Folk Quartet, and producer for the Association and Tim Buckley’s ‘Goodbye And Hello’ (Elektra, August 1967). He was part of the original musician’s pool the Spoonful had condensed out of. He recalled working on an early demo of “Warm Baby” with John and Jesse Colin Young. He was about as good as you could get, but the group was never quite the same again.

The cover-art cartoon for ‘Everything Playing’ (September 1967) shows the group on the beach cavorting with various strange green and blue-meanie creatures. By contrast the reverse-photo is primped and fan-mag pretty, hair combed in neat fringes in ways that the earlier line-up never was. Even John wears sensible spectacles. Yet the two lead singles are stand-out, with the wistful “She Is Still A Mystery” catching the haunting feminine mystique with ‘the more I see, the more I see there is to see,’ while the sharp electric chimes of “Six O’Clock” – ‘one of the best intros in the history of rock and roll’ according to ‘NME’s Charles Shaar Murray, defines the restlessness and remorse of lost opportunity, leading into a ‘Summer In The City’ fade.

Elsewhere, Zal’s presence is replaced by more elaborate 16-track arrangements, soul-girl voices on “Try A Little Bit” and a phased-voice sequence to “Only Pretty, What A Pity”. And it’s not a good trade-off. Again there are eleven originals, Steve writes “Forever” – an expansive widescreen MOR soundtrack-style instrumental, Joe writes a patronising “Old Folks” and collaborates with Jerry for “Only Pretty, What A Pity”. John writes the rest, sharing credits with Jerry for closer “Close Your Eyes”. “Money” – a spin-off single, casts a hayseed eye on the group’s ramshackle finances (‘now a piece of paper from me, won’t seem half as flimsy’), set to banjo and tap-tap-tap typewriter clacking. “Younger Generation” explores John’s serio-comic trepidations about impending parenthood – ‘I must be permissive and understanding… all I’ve learned my kid assumes, and all my deepest worries must be his cartoons.’ He would carry this over into his ‘Woodstock’ solo set, where its gushy sentimentality puts it at odds with the hard-rock extremism of the Who, Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane. Times were a-changing. Maybe the hotel “Boredom” hints at John’s disillusionment with touring, ‘I feel about a local as a fish in a tree’? With the line ‘and the ‘Late Late Show’ died long ago, with a few words from a Priest’ recalling a time before cable and 24-hour rolling-TV. Whatever, he hung up his folk-rock spoon and quits the group in June 1968 after ‘two glorious years and a tedious one.’


The Spoonful briefly continue as a trio. With ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (1969) sleeve-billed as ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful Featuring Joe Butler,’ Steve and Jerry Yester’s participation taken on the nod. Joe writes the liner-notes and also features on the front cover-photo running naked alongside a naked woman – her nipples coyly airbrushed out and a strategically-placed lion eclipsing their naughty groinal bits. As a shot at catching the new liberation (think Hendrix 1968 ‘Electric Ladyland’ sleeve), one glance at this cop-out makes it immediately suspect.

Is this still Good Time Music? There’s little trace of the Spoonful’s inspired simplicity. Steve had only ever sung lead on one Spoonful track (“Priscilla Millionaira”), but in the same way that each Beatles album found space for a token Ringo song, Joe’s blander vocals were highlighted on “Butchie’s Tune”, “Old Folks” and the attractive “Full Measure”. Now he’s featured vocalist. Joe writes or co-writes a couple of the numbers with producer Bob Finiz, “The Prophet” and the title-track, but other credits are out-sourced to Turtles-writers Garry Bonner & Alan Gordon, or Ralph Dino & John Sembello – who wrote “Pearl’s A Singer” for Elkie Brooks, and who contribute “Jug Of Wine”, the most Spoonful-sounding track. To the ‘New Musical Express’ reviewer ‘gone are the days of light pleasant songs, now it’s all ‘yea, man, valid statement, take a trip, do your thing’ and, frankly, I don’t like it.’ The writer goes on to call “War Games” ‘a mess of dogs barking, babies crying, guns firing and kids playing,’ it’s a 7:03-minute failed-“Revolution no.9” audio-collage set to a heartbeat pulse and climaxing in full-on nuke apocalypse! But the best-received song is by country-singer John Stewart (who wrote “Daydream Believer” for the Monkees), his “Never Going Back” is the closest thing the set came to producing a hit, peaking at no.73. Afterwards, the group tactfully split.

Erik Jacobsen continued to break new ground with Kama Sutra, a fascinating project with the Charlatans, chart hits with Sopwith Camel (“Hello Hello”), plus the Tradewinds (“Mind Excursion”) and the Innocence (“There’s Got To Be A Word”) – both guises for the Anders & Poncia duo. But after the Spoonful’s demise the label slid into decline, and in 1970 was dumped by MGM to become a Buddah subsidiary. While Jacobsen lifted Norman Greenbaum from playing the ‘Troubadour’ to trans-Atlantic no.1 with the enduring “Spirit In The Sky”.


John Sebastian could have been a Crosby Stills & Nash. He’s there on ‘Déjà Vu’ (March 1970), adding keening harmonica to David Crosby’s title song. As a part of the extended collective they return the favour as the cast of his debut solo album indicates – the credits to ‘John B Sebastian’ (January 1970) lists Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Harvey Brooks (bass), Buzzy Linhart (vibraphone), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel) and others. Paul Rothchild, responsible for Doors and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band albums for Elektra, quit to produce the album. It spun-off a charming hit single in “She’s A Lady” – a brief 1.47-minutes, recalling incidents from John’s Village ‘scuffing days’. Then he made a kind-of comeback in 1970 when he takes the stage impromptu in sunburst tie-dye at the ‘Woodstock Festival’ during a storm – ‘a mind-fucker’ he calls it, and for a couple of years his records sell well and his live appearances draw the crowds, though largely on the strength of his Spoonful back-catalogue. His new material struggles to be as good, rather more like his newly adopted stage persona, it’s too hippie-dippy cloyingly sentimental. Bizarrely he scored a novelty one-off solo no.1 in 1976 by writing and performing the title-song of popular ABC-TV sit-com ‘Welcome Back Kotter’, featuring a young John Travolta.

Zal did one bizarre solo album, ‘Alive And Well In Argentina’ (Buddah, 1968) – the title apparently referencing runaway Nazis! which was co-produced by Jerry. He’d gone on to work with Judy Henske on cult ‘Farewell Aldebaran’ (1969) – on which Zal plays bass, issued on Frank Zappa’s Straight label. Zal toured with Kris Kristofferson, then returned to Canada to set up a restaurant in Ontario. Meanwhile, Joe had joined the Broadway cast of ‘Hair’. The full Lovin’ Spoonful line-up did eventually reunite to cameo in Paul Simon’s underrated movie ‘One-Trick Pony’ (1980), following Sam & Dave on stage in a ‘Salute To The Sixties’ sequence, announced as ‘one of the best-loved bands of all time.’ They do “Do You Believe In Magic” with the unmistakable spark between John and a bearded Zal rekindled.

It’s all a long way from Zal, Denny and Sebastian sat – at the ‘Night Owl’, when after every number they’d pass the hat. For by then, the venue had converted into a poster and button shop, then into ‘Bleeker Bob’s Records’.



LOVIN’ SPOONFUL: 
SPOON BY SPOON 

January 1964 – ‘EVEN DOZEN JUG BAND’ (Elektra EKS-7246) only album they ever issued, with Stefan Grossman and Peter Siegel plus Steve Katz, Josh(ua) Rifkin, Fred Weisz, Pete Jacobson and John Sebastian (as ‘John Benson’). Leading John into subsequent session work, producer Paul Rothchild proved a useful connection (he’d go on to work with the Doors)

18 September 1965 – “Do You Believe In Magic” c/w “On The Road Again” (US Kama Sutra 201) US no.9, in UK on Pye it was selected ‘Spin Of The Week’ by ‘Music Echo’. Collected onto 1977 compilation LP ‘Golden Hour Of Simon Says’ (GH862) alongside ‘Rain On The Roof’, ‘Nashville Cats’ and ‘Darlin’ Companion’ plus Lemon Pipers and 1910 Fruitgum Company. Covered in the UK by The Pack (Columbia DB7702), and revived in 1977 by Keith Barbour (Private Stock PVT125)


November 1965 – ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8050) with side one: (1) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, (2) ‘Blues In The Bottle’, (3) ‘Sportin’ Life’, (4) ‘My Gal’, (5) ‘You Baby’, (6) ‘Fishin’ Blues’. Side two: (1) ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’, (2) ‘Wild About My Lovin’’, (3) ‘Other Side Of This Life’, (4) ‘Younger Girl’, (5) ‘On The Road Again’, (6) ‘Night Owl Blues’ with liner-notes by Peter Stampfel and Antonia. Reaches no.32 on ‘Billboard’ LP chart. CD bonus tracks are ‘Alley Oop’ (the Hollywood Argyles no.1 hit written by Dallas Frazier, with Kim Fowley producer credits), ‘Younger Girl (demo)’, ‘Blues In The Bottle (alt)’, ‘Wild About My Lovin’ (alt)’, ‘Other Side Of This Life (instrumental)’. Fred Neil who wrote Nilsson’s hit ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ wrote ‘Other Side Of This Life’ for his August 1965 debut LP ‘Bleecker And MacDougal’ (Elektra/ Sundazed 5107) on which John Sebastian plays harmonica. Jefferson Airplane do their version of the song on the 1969 live LP ‘Bless It’s Pointed Little Head’. ‘Younger Girl’ is a US no.42 hit for the Hondells, and a UK no.38 hit for the Critters (London HL 10047)

12 November 1965 – “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” c/w “My Gal” (US Kama Sutra 205) US no.10. Covered in UK in 1968 by Glass Menagerie (Pye 7N 17568), later collected onto 1988 ‘Rubble Vol.7: Pictures In The Sky’ (Bam Caruso KIRI 083)


12 March 1966 – “Daydream” c/w “Night Owl Blues” (US Kama Sutra 208) US no.2. In the UK as Pye International 7N 25361 it reached no.2, 12 May 1966, below Manfred Mann’s ‘Pretty Flamingo’

14 May 1966 – “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” c/w “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” (US Kama Sutra 209) US no.2. Song featured on the soundtrack of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie ‘Blow Up’

March 1966 – ‘DAYDREAM’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8051, reissued in 1990 as Castle CLACD194) with side one: (1) ‘Daydream’, (2) ‘There She Is’, (3) ‘It’s Not Time Now’, (4) ‘Warm Baby’, (5) ‘Day Blues’, (6) ‘Let The Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Side two (1) ‘Jug Band Music’, (2) ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, (3) ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, (4) ‘Bald Headed Lena’, (5) ‘Butchie’s Tune’, (6) ‘Big Noise From Speonk’. Reaches US no.10, in the UK issued as Pye NPL 28078 it reached no.8 on the album chart during May 1966. CD bonus tracks include ‘Fishin’ Blues’, ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, ‘Jug Band Music’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘Night Owl Blues’. ‘Jug Band Music’ and ‘Summer In The City’ later featured on 1970 compilation ‘Buddah In Mind’ alongside Lemon Pipers, Captain Beefheart, and Melanie

June 1966 – ‘WHAT’S SHAKIN’’ (Elektra ELK4002/ EUK 250) earliest recordings by Lovin’ Spoonful from 1965, John Sebastian’s ‘Good Time Music’ and ‘Don’t Bank On It Baby’ plus Chuck Berry’s ‘Almost Grown’, and Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller’s ‘Searchin’’. Other tracks by Paul Butterfield Blues Band (including Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’), and Eric Clapton & The Powerhouse. Re-issued March 1994 as Elektra 7559-61343-2, and as Edsel ED249

1966 – “Jug Band Music” c/w “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” (Kama Sutra KA-301X) Canada no.2


23 July 1966 – “Summer In The City” c/w “Butchie’s Tune” (US Kama Sutra 211) US no.1. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 200 it reached no.8 in July 1966. ‘Summer In The City’ revived in July 1977 by girl-group April (EMI Int 535), then as a September 1978 Disco 12” by Evolution (EMI 2849) and as an August 1989 single by Fiction-label alt-Indie band Eat

September 1966 – ‘WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY?’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8053) with side one: (1) ‘Introduction To Flick’, (2) ‘Pow’, (3) ‘Gray Prison Blues’, (4) ‘Pow Revisited, (5) ‘Unconscious Minuet, (6) ‘Fishin’ Blues’. Side two (1) ‘Respoken’, (2) ‘Cool Million’, (3) ‘Speakin’ Of Spoken’, (4) ‘Lookin’ To Spy’, (5) ‘Phil’s Love Theme’, (6) ‘End Title’, reaches no.126 on ‘Billboard’ LP chart. Combined with full ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’ LP for 1991 ‘A Spoonful Of Soundtracks’ CD (Repertoire REP4115, and Sequel NEX CD176)

22 October 1966 – “Rain On The Roof” c/w “Pow” (US Kama Sutra 216) US no.10

November 1966 – ‘HUMS OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8054, reissued in 1990 as Castle CLACD193) with side one: (1) ‘Lovin’ You’, (2) ‘Bes’ Friends’, (3) ‘Voodoo In My Basement’, (4) ‘Darlin’ Companion’, (5) ‘Henry Thomas’, (6) ‘Full Measure’. Side two (1) ‘Rain On The Roof’, (2) ‘Coconut Grove’, (3) ‘Nashville Cats’, (4) ‘4 Eyes’, (5) ‘Summer In The City’. Reaches US no.14. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this album – a big Stateside seller already, shows the Lovin’ Spoonful to be a humorous, good-time group with very strong roots in country blues, which no doubt stems from leader John Sebastian, an old-hand at the blues.’ ‘Darlin Companion’ is covered by Johnny Cash & June Carter on 1969 ‘Live At San Quentin’ LP. ‘Coconut Grove’ covered by Vertigo-label Jazz-Rock band Affinity on their debut 1970 LP. By the late-1980s ‘Lovin’ You’ was used by a Swedish TV condom advert

31 December 1966 – “Nashville Cats” c/w “Full Measure” (US Kama Sutra 219) US no.8, and ‘B’-side US no.87. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 204 it reached no.26 in January 1967

25 February 1967 – “Darling Be Home Soon” c/w “Darlin’ Companion” (US Kama Sutra 220) US no.15. In the UK as Kama Sutra KAS 207 in reached no.44 in March 1967. Their fourth and final UK hit. Orchestration arranged by Artie Schroeck

May 1967 – ‘YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8058) with side one: (1) ‘You’re A Big Boy Now’, (2) ‘Lonely (Amy’s Theme)’, (3) ‘Wash Her Away (From The Discotheque)’, (4) ‘Kite Chase’, (5) ‘Try And Be Happy’, (6) ‘Peep Show Percussion’, (7) ‘Girl, Beautiful Girl (Barbara’s Theme)’. Side two (1) ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, (2) ‘Dixieland Big Boy, (3) ‘Letter To Barbara’, (4) ‘Barbara’s Theme (From The Discotheque’, (5) ‘Miss Thing’s Thang’, (6) ‘March’, (7) ‘Finale’. Reaches US no.160. ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ later covered on ‘Joe Cocker’ 1969, Joe’s second album, and on Slade’s ‘Slade Alive’ March 1972


20 May 1967 – “Six O’Clock” c/w “You’re A Big Boy Now (Finale)” (US Kama Sutra 225) US no.18

September 1967 – ‘EVERYTHING PLAYING’ (Kama Sutra KLP/KLPS-8061) with side one: (1) ‘She Is Still A Mystery’, (2) ‘Priscilla Millionaira’, (3) ‘Boredom’, (4) ‘Six O’Clock’, (5) ‘Forever’, (6) ‘Younger Generation’. Side two: (1) ‘Money’, (2) ‘Old Folks’, (3) ‘Only Pretty, What A Pity’, (4) ‘Try A Little Bit’, (5) ‘Close Your Eyes’. Reaches US no.118. CD bonus tracks are ‘She Is Still A Mystery’ (alt), ‘Only Pretty, What A Pity’ (alt) and ‘Try A Little Bit’ (alt)

1967 – ‘THE BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra, reissued Marble Arch MAL 1115) with side one: (1) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, (2) ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’, (3) ‘Butchie’s Tune’, (4) ‘Jug Band Music’, (5) ‘Night Owl Blues’, (6) ‘You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’. Side two: (1) ‘Daydream’, (2) ‘Blues In The Bottle’, (3) ‘Didn’t Want To Have To Do It’, (4) ‘Wild About My Lovin’’, (5) ‘Younger Girl’, (6) ‘Summer In The City’. An amusingly tepid ‘New Musical Express’ review commends this ‘popular American group’, and says ‘it’s easy on he ears, tuneful, folksy music, with a good-time air about it’

11 November 1967 – “She Is Still A Mystery” c/w “Only Pretty, What A Pity” (US Kama Sutra 239) US no.27

1968 – “Money” c/w “Close Your Eyes” (Kama Sutra 241) US no.48

1968 – ‘THE BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL Volume 2’ (Kama Sutra, reissued Marble Arch MAL 1116) with side one: (1) ‘Six O’Clock’, (2) ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, (3) ‘Lovin’ You’, (4) ‘Boredom’, (5) ‘Full Measure’, (6) ‘Nashville Cats’. Side two: (1) ‘She Is Still A Mystery’, (2) ‘Rain On The Roof’, (3) ‘Old Folks’, (4) ‘Darlin’ Companion’, (5) ‘Money’, (6) ‘Younger Generation’

1968 – “Never Goin’ Back (To Nashville)” c/w “Forever” (Kama Sutra 250) US no.73

1968 – “(Til I) Run With You” c/w “Revelation Revolution ‘69” (Kama Sutra 251)

1969 – ‘REVELATION: REVOLUTION ‘69’ (Kama Sutra KLPS-8073) with Joe Butler (drums, vocals), Steve Boone (bass) and Jerry Yester (guitar, vocals, keyboard). Side one: (1) ‘Amazing Air’, (2) ‘Never Going Back’, (3) ‘The Prophet’, (4) ‘Only Yesterday’, (5) ‘War Games’. Side two: (1) ‘(Till I) Run With You’, (2) ‘Jug Of Wine’, (3) ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’, (4) ‘Me About You’, ‘Words’ with CD bonus tracks ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (single edit), ‘Revelation: Revolution ‘69’ (vocal mix), ‘Me About You’ (single edit). ‘Record Mirror’ says ‘a pleasant, mostly beat-ballad collection, well-produced with some catchy songs’

1969 – “Me About You” c/w “Amazing Air” (Kama Sutra 255) US no.91

1970 – “Younger Generation” c/w “Boredom” (Kama Sutra 505)

1970 – ‘THE VERY BEST OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Kama Sutra KSBS 2013) twelve tracks, first of various compilations, including ‘Greatest Hits’ (Kama Sutra, 1981), ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Greatest Hits’ (Buddah, 1985), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: The EP Collection’ (1988, See For Miles), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: Anthology’ twenty-six tracks (1990, Rhino), ‘Lovin’ Spoonful: Gold Greatest Hits’ (1996, Gold 204) and many others


January 1970 – ‘JOHN B SEBASTIAN’ (Reprise RS 6379/ MGM SE-4654) Billboard no.20. Includes single “She’s A Lady” c/w “The Room Nobody Lives In” US Cashbox no.62. ‘Melody Maker’ says ‘this new album, although slightly flawed, is still full of that whimsical joie-de-vivre which always marked the Spoonful’s best work.’ His subsequent solo albums deserve a separate feature. While his list of collaborations is extensive. He guests on the Doors track ‘Roadhouse Blues’ (on ‘Morrison Hotel’ LP) as ‘G Pulese’, and on Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ LP (1971) tracks ‘It’s Alright’ (guitar) and ‘Saturday Clothes’ (autoharp). He contributes to the ‘Aztec Two Step’ debut LP (1972, Elektra K42118), wrote the title track for the Everly Brothers ‘Stories We Could Tell’ (1972, RCA) and plays guitar and hormonica on it, he also plays harmonica on David Bromberg’s ‘Long Tall Mama’ on 1989 album ‘Sideman Serenade’ (Rounder Records 3110)

1976 – “Welcome Back” c/w “Warm Baby” (Reprise 1349) US no.1. Theme song to TV series ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’. The tie-in LP ‘Welcome Back’ was the last studio John Sebastian album until 1993’s ‘Tar Beach’

1998 – ‘DO YOU BELIEVE IN OUTTAKES?’ (Tenderolar TDR-049) twenty previously unreleased and rare Spoonful tracks, (1-2) ‘Do You Believe In Magic Takes 17-23’ and ‘Darling Be Home Soon’, Bell Sounds Studio NYC 1966-67, (3-6) ‘Didn’t Have To Be So Nice’, ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, ‘Daydream’ and ‘There She Is’ live on ‘Hullabaloo’ 1965-66, (7-8) ‘Do You Believe In Magic’ and ‘Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind’ live on ‘Shindig’ 1965, (9-10) Do You Believe In Magic’ and ‘You Didn’t Have To Be Si Nice’ live on TNT Show, (11-15) ‘Nashville Cats’, ‘All The Stories’, ‘Do You Believe In Magic’, ‘Darlin Be Home Soon’ and ‘She’s A Lady’ John live in California 1973, (16-18) ‘Respoken’, ‘Wash Her Away’ and ‘Girl Beautiful Girl’ alternate soundtrack versions, (19) ‘As Long As You’re Trying’ Zal solo single, (20) ‘Amazing Air’ final Spoonful single

2011 – ‘ORIGINAL ALBUM CLASSICS: THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’ (Sony Music) full five albums – excluding soundtrack LPs, with reproduction original sleeves, plus bonus tracks in CD slipcase


9 comments:

smitty59 said...

You may be my last resort. In the summer of 1966, I heard a version of "Jug Band Music," by The Mugwumps, played on my hometown AM station (1340 WIZE in Springfield, OH). It was after the release of "Summer in the City" and before "Rain on the Roof." I could NOT find it in any music stores in town. I continued to search for a few years, but eventually set the search aside. By the way, it was DIFFERENT from the version released by the Spoonful on LP. In the late 1980s/early '90s, I was a graduate student at The Ohio State University, and one Sunday morning, a British DJ on WLVQ-FM (Q-96) introduced his show by promising to play a rare version of "Jug Band Music" by The Mugwumps" (everyone knew it was the Spoonful) that hadn't been played on radio in years. When I heard it, it took me back to 1966. The DJ said the 45RPM was available at a local record shop in downtown Columbus, but as a graduate student, I had limited discretionary income and was unable to get to that store. A few years later I sent away for a version of the song on the Sidewalk label, produced by Mike Curb, but as I keep seeing in various online posts, that recording is supposedly NOT The Lovin' Spoonful. I've tried a number of online sources, and have had NO luck. Someone went as far as tracking down a copy of a Canadian 45RPM and sending me an MP3 of it, but it was either the Sidewalk recording or the Spoonful's LP version. Another blogger suggested that my hometown station had likely played a promotional record distributed by -- well, whoever -- that might have differed from the version released for sale. I've had no luck tracking down promotional records at all. I even managed to locate a web site that gave me an address for John Sebastian, but he claimed not to recall anything about alternate versions. When I wrote an e-mail to that Columbus radio station, they pretty much dismissed my plight (the DJ's name was Russell [first name; last name escapes me now]). On the station's web site, I DID find listings of dates for the Sunday program this DJ aired, but there weren't many accompanying facts. I did see the Canadian 45 you have listed here, with an "X" at the end of the record's number, but if it' the same version as the one that generous individual sent me an MP3 of, as I mentioned above, that's likely NOT the version I hope to find someday before I die (I'll be 65 in November; I was 15 when I started my search. I'm hoping and praying you may have a positive answer for me. Thanks for reading this rather lengthy missive.

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