The Lovin’ Spoonful lacked the studied cool of folk rock contemporaries like The Byrds (who emerged around the same time in 1965) but consistently delivered a zany grab-bag of pop, blues and jug music.
The heart of the band’s sound was provided by the mellow vocals of their ingenious songwriter and founder member, John Sebastian.
Sebastian gave The Spoonful their name, taken from a line in a Mississippi John Hurt song.
Born into a musical family, Sebastian closely studied traditional music and the blues in his teens and teamed up in the early 60s with Zal Yanovsky. Together they formed The Mugwumps with Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott, later of The Mamas & The Papas.
After The Mugwumps split, Sebastian and Yanovsky persuaded drummer Joe Butler and rhythm guitarist Steve Boone to form The Lovin’ Spoonful. They performed at the Night Owl Cafe in Greenwich Village (New York), where they were discovered.
With their infectious humour, enthralling live performances and endless self-penned compositions, they became an instant hit and collected some celebrity fans, including The Byrds, Bob Dylan and Phil Spector.
A recording contract followed and Do You Believe In Magic? was their first chart success, followed by Daydream in the spring of 1966, which gained them an international audience. Summer In The City was their third release and second million-seller.
Hits cascaded from the group – mostly penned by the hugely talented Sebastian; Nashville Cats, Darling Be Home Soon, You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice, and Younger Girl. He also turned his hand to film scores.
It had actually been the intention in 1965 to devise a zany TV series around the group’s talents by producer Don Kirshner. Unfortunately, The Spoonful proved unsuitable and in the end, the series was made with four unknowns forming the group known to millions as The Monkees.
In 1967, Yanovsky was involved in a drugs bust and left the band. His place was taken by Jerry Yester, whose brother Jim was a member of The Association.
The band tried hard to recapture some of their earlier spirit, but couldn’t quite make it because of the strain of constant touring.
The fun seemed to have gone out of the act and they disbanded gracefully, though in the mid-70s, Sebastian did try briefly – and unsuccessfully – to reform the group.
Yanovsky tried a solo career, with only moderate success, before opening a restaurant called Chez Piggy in Kingston, Ontario.
Sebastian also went solo and enjoyed a variety of successes although never quite repeated his Spoonful days.
By 1969 he had moved to Los Angeles and appeared at Woodstock, playing acoustic guitar amid the notorious downpour.
He had a US #1 hit in 1976 with Welcome Back – the theme to the popular comedy TV series Welcome Back Kotter, before turning to sessions with a variety of top acts, including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Rita Coolidge and Keith Moon.