Joe Butler and Steve Boone look back on an amazing Lovin’ Spoonful legacy

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Two founding members of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Lovin’ Spoonful explore the sixties folk rock quartet’s formation in New York City, earning their stripes in sweat-drenched clubs, the pitfalls of playing one-nighters in the twenty-tens, if they ever grow weary of the same setlist, cross-generational audiences, sweet Georgia influences, and a dose of good time jug band music. In the accompanying still all is definitely well for drummer-backing vocalist Joe Butler, rhythm guitarist-songwriter-frontman John Sebastian with protruding muttonchops, bassist Steve Boone in a copper turtleneck sweater, and cigarette-cradling, cowboy hat-wearing lead axeman Zal Yanovsky in 1967, possibly taken in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Photography by Henry Diltz / Corbis via Getty Images

The day before the Lovin’ Spoonful headlined an outdoor concert at the Sasser Flea Market & Antique Mall in Sasser, Georgia [about 20 minutes northwest of Albany], on September 18, 2010, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers sat down to chew over their long career with Albany TV station Fox 31 News on the since-cancelled Good Day live program.

Original members Steve Boone [bass, songwriter] and Joe Butler [drums, rhythm guitar, and lead vocals after John Sebastian’s exit] represented the innovative swingin’ sixties quartet during the morning appearance with host China Sellers.

Recalling their formation, Boone said, “There were two members who were folk music guys [Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky], while two of us [Joe and I] were from rock bands in Long Island. We hooked up in New York City in early 1965, and six months later we were out touring with our first hit record.”

Butler, clearly the outgoing spokesman for the Spoonful, quickly admitted, “It’s always fun to play, and it’s probably more fun than we deserve. But the traveling isn’t such fun. It’s heaven to be with people and get their reactions. We’ve been lucky, having airplay right along. It’s a cross-generational thing. There are kids — 12-year-olds, 8-year-olds — mouthing the lyrics. That is always very satisfying.”

The more reserved Boone summed up why the band keeps performing after all these years. “Our motto was always good time music,” said Boone. “If you’re presenting a good time, it doesn’t take an age to enjoy it. There’s something for everyone in our repertoire.”

As to whether or not the Spoonful ever tires of being away from home, Boone felt that “We wouldn’t want to be on the road all year long, since we all have lives outside of the rock and roll world. I plan to spend a lot of the time traveling in the next few years. That’s my goal, taking it easy.”

The host then queried Boone and Butler about the challenges facing bands in the twenty-tens as opposed to the Spoonful’s heyday in the mid-‘60s. Thinking a bit, Butler was very astute as he noted, “Bands today are brilliant studio people, but we got our contract in our day and age because people [i.e. talent scouts] saw us in clubs, and they would see people reacting to us.”

“Sometimes bands have huge hits because they’re great in the studio, yet it takes them awhile before they can get comfortable with an audience and realize the audience is the star of the show. You don’t just sing at them — you sing to somebody about something — and all those things we got past before we had hit records.”

Asked to comment on several of their career-defining hits, the bassist acknowledged, “‘Summer in the City,’ written by John Sebastian, his brother Mark, and myself, is the all-time No. 1 summer song according to Billboard. ‘Do You Believe in Magic’ will stand as one of the rock anthems, especially of the 1960’s era, and John Sebastian wrote that song. Our hits have truly stood up to the test of time.”

Joining the hallowed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, the drummer remains grateful, telling Sellers, “It’s the nicest pat on the backside we’ll ever get [Sellers chuckled]. A kiss and a pat are always welcome because it’s a pretty tough business. Also, we were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2006. It was very gratifying because that organization isn’t just rock and roll — it covers all vocal groups.”

What keeps the Spoonful busy when they’re not touring? Butler was somewhat vague in saying, “We’re writing and working on new music and outside projects. Steve is very creative, and I’m working on something with a singer-songwriter vibe which is kind of growing into a little play or musical…”

Changing course, Butler latched onto another subject — playing the same setlist over and over again. “People say, don’t you get tired of them? To me, it’s like Groundhog Day” [the 1992 comedy starring Bill Murray].

“You get a chance to get it maybe perfect. You never do, yet you get a little closer each time. Most people that have been doing these songs as long as us — it’s always 95 or 96 percent. The challenge for us is to see if we can get it absolutely perfect — right up there at 99.9 percent.”

As the interview drew to a close, the drummer had a nice shout-out to Georgia. “This state has produced so many amazing artists, people that we grew up with that influenced our music,” said Butler. “We were in competition with Motown, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, so we know how good those records were. It’s always nice to come to a state where we feel a connection musically.”

A short promo video then aired featuring live snippets of “Daydream,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?,” “Summer in the City,” and “Do You Believe in Magic.” The discography of the Lovin’ Spoonful unequivocally endures for people not even born during their heyday.

The drummer wasn’t quite finished with the interview, crooning the first verse of “Jug Band Music,” an excellent offering from second album Daydream mentioning Georgia — “Well, we was down in Savannah, eatin’ cream and bananas, when the heat just made us faint; we began to get cross-eyed, we thought we was lost, we begun seein’ things as they ain’t.” Boone and Sellers beamed widely while Butler sang, adding a delightful, unscripted moment to the interview.

Should they come to your neck of the woods, don’t miss an opportunity to see a legendary outfit that successfully juxtaposed pop, folk, blues, jug band, country, and jazz music into a winning formula that countless bands have tried to emulate. Check out their official website for complete tour dates or my accompanying article, “Still Lovin’ You: Charting the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Hit Singles and Essential Songs,” for a more thorough lowdown.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2010, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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