With Yanovsky at loose ends again, the seeds for a rock group with John Sebastian were sewn in January 1965. Joe Butler (drums) and Steve Boone (bass) were recruited to fill out the ensemble. They decided on the name, "Lovin' Spoonful", which was taken from a phrase in Mississippi John Hurt's song, "Coffee Blues".
It wasn't long until the band had won a residency at the Night Owl in Greenwich Village and their producer Erik Jacobsen got them a recording deal with the newly formed Kama Sutra Records. Playing their own brand of folk-rock/good-time music, they enjoyed immediate commercial success. Their first 45, "Do You Believe In Magic", reached number 9 in the U.S. and their debut album of the same name peaked at number 32. The follow-up, "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice" peaked at number 10 and "Daydream", their lazy, laid back celebration of love on a summer's day, was even bigger, reaching number 2 in the U.S. and UK, becoming a million seller. Their second album reached number 10 in the U.S. and number 8 in the UK. They also had four cuts included on the Elektra compilation "What's Shakin'", including one called "Good Time Music".
Their next 45, "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?" peaked at number 2, but this was soon surpassed by what was arguably their finest moment, "Summer ln The City". Notable for its atmospheric streetnoise sound effects, the record topped the U.S. charts for three weeks and made number 8 in the UK. It became their second million seller.
The Lovin' Spoonful went on to appear on the soundtrack of the cult movie "What's Up Tiger Lily" (No. 126 in the US) and their third album, "Hums Of The Lovin' Spoonful", peaked at number 14. "Nashville Cats" would be their last U.S. Top Ten hit, peaking at number 8, while in the UK, it climbed to number 26. They followed this with the heavily orchestrated "Darlin' Be Home Soon", which reached number 15 in the U.S. and number 44 in the UK. It would prove to be their last UK Hit. In March 1967, a greatest hits LP called "The Best Of The Lovin' Spoonful" climbed to number 3 on the U.S. album charts. Their follow-up, "You're A Big Boy Now", their second soundtrack album, was their first taste of failure, peaking at No. 160.
After just one further U.S. hit, "Six O'Clock", Zal Yanovsky left the band, following media coverage of a marijuana bust in San Francisco when he was accused of incriminating others to avoid prosecution under threat of deportation (as he was still technically a Canadian citizen) and the group were ostracised by their rock peers. Zal was replaced by Jerry Yester, a member of the Modern Folk Quartet and friend of the band since its earliest days.
All of the group's energy was soon focused on recording their fourth LP, the very ambitious "Everything Playing". It was the first attempt by a rock band to record an album on the new Ampex 16 track tape recorder. Although the over all sound quality was improved, the sessions could only muster the minor chart makers, "She's Still A Mystery To Me" in the U.S. and "Boredom" and "Money" in the UK and Europe. "Everything Playing" and "The Best Of The Lovin' Spoonful, Vol. 2" could only manage number 118 and 156 on the U.S. album chart, respectively.
When John Sebastian left the group in October 1968, it soon crumbled. He went on to enjoy a reasonably successful solo career and made a memorable appearance at The Woodstock Festival the following year, performing "Younger Generation", which became a highlight of the movie, and "I Had A Dream", which opened the Woodstock album. The following year he appeared with Zal Yanovsky at the Isle of Wight Rock Festival in the UK (Yanovsky was there as part of Kris Kristofferson's band). He too, made solo albums, but none rose above cult success. Meanwhile, Jerry Yester joined his brother Jim in The Association, Joe Butler appeared on Broadway in the rock musical Hair, while Steve Boone faded out of the music business.
In the 1980s, Sebastian reformed The Modern Folk Quartet, but became best known as a producer and string arranger. The Lovin' Spoonful's original line-up did get together in October 1980 to appear in Paul Simon's movie, One Trick Pony. In 1991, a long awaited settlement with their record company inspired Joe and Steve to contact Jerry Yester and start up The Lovin' Spoonful again. After a two month rehearsal in the Berkshire Mts., the group started touring, visiting over 150 cities and countries worldwide and reaching out to a whole new audience in addition to those that have enjoyed their music over the years.
Looking back, The Lovin' Spoonful had two good years and are lovingly remembered by many for their zany image, wild sense of humor and their unique brand of good time music, which combined traditional folk and blues influences with the rock and roll of their era.
In March of 2000, the Lovin' Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
Between decades, Sebastian kept himself quite busy. He released several solo albums; actively toured; wrote a children's book; appeared on TV shows such as NBC TV’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the television program 'Married With Children', Disney specials and broadcast performances. He also wrote the theme song for the hit TV show 'Welcome Back Kotter', which also welcomed him back on the record charts with another top ten hit. Bruce Willis' 1995 film 'Die Hard with A Vengence' turned to Sebastian for its theme song, "Summer in the City". It was during the mid-'90s that Sebastian's old friendship with Fritz Richmond combined with rhythm kings Jimmy Vivino and James Wormworth to form John Sebastian and The J-Band. The addition of Paul Rishell and Annie Raines brought a depth to the band that resulted in a first album, "I Want My Roots".
Sadly, Zal Yanovsky suffered a fatal heart attack on December 13th, 2002, at his farm near Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He was 58.
Although John Sebastian has stated that he no longer wishes to perform with Boone and Butler because of personal differences, the pair, along with Jerry Yester, continued to tour as The Lovin' Spoonful throughout the 2000s. 2016 still had them slated for a number of shows across America and Sebastian was still touring separately.
The Lovin' Spoonful were the backup band on Sonny and Cher's hit 'They're On the Outside'.
Be Sure To Read Gary James' Interview With John Sebastian