Do You Believe in Retro?

In 1970 Steve Boone, onetime bassist for the Lovin' Spoonful, went down to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, bought himself a sailboat, and made it his home. For three years he sailed around the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. He lived frugally and ate mostly brown rice and fresh vegetables purchased at local markets. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War grew bloodier, Led Zeppelin topped the album charts, Watergate began to make headlines, and other members of the Lovin' Spoonful struggled with marginally successful solo careers.

"It was," recalls Boone, "a good time to get the hell out of Dodge."
Today, almost 30 years later, Boone wants to make a comeback. He and two other members from the band's early lineup have been touring as the Lovin' Spoonful for years, playing old hits such as "Do You Believe in Magic," "Summer in the City," and "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" But Boone has other plans as well. He's been writing new songs for the first time in years, and he thinks today's musical climate is conducive to the Lovin' Spoonful's cheery brand of folk-rock. He'd like the old band to start playing new songs. He's even picked out a new band name: Spoonlight.

"I kind of looked at the charts around the country, and for whatever reason, I think there's a renewed interest in folk music," says Boone, who lives with his wife, Susan Peterson, in Fort Lauderdale. "And the Spoonful was one of the first folk-rock bands."

During the socially and politically turbulent '60s, the Lovin' Spoonful -- which included Zalmon Yanovsky on guitar, Joe Butler on drums, and John Sebastian on harmonica and lead vocals -- made happy-go-lucky music with upbeat rhythms and catchy melodies. At the core of the band were Sebastian's whimsical lyrics ("I'm blowin' the day to take a walk in the sun/ And fall on my face on somebody's new-mowed lawn") and Yanovsky's electric guitar. From 1965 through 1967, the Lovin' Spoonful released seven Top 10 hits. At the height of its popularity, in 1966, the group provided the music for two soundtracks: Woody Allen's spy spoof What's Up, Tiger Lily? and Francis Ford Coppola's debut film, You're a Big Boy Now. The band members make an appearance in Allen's comedy wearing their trademark turtleneck sweaters and pudding-bowl haircuts.

The 53-year-old Boone has less hair today, but he's as tall as ever: a surprising six-foot-four, considering that old band photos downplay his height. He's a frequent sight at the Independence Brewery, where he and his wife are known to the staff and have personalized mugs that hang above the bar. A native of North Carolina, Boone speaks with an amiable drawl and has a friendly, easygoing manner. "I'm a pretty contented person," he says over a beer at the Brewery.

Boone's old band was a product of the mid-'60s, a fairly innocent period characterized mainly by modish fashion and the sounds of gentle psychedelic pop. Along with the Lovin' Spoonful, acts such as Donovan, the Association, and the Mamas and the Papas (with whom Yanovsky once played) topped the charts with wistful ballads and catchy ditties. But the times were certainly a-changing. As the years progressed, the hippie movement grew increasingly political and eventually changed from a subculture into a full-blown counterculture. By 1967 even the hit singles on the radio had a darker hue: "Hey Joe" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Light My Fire" by the Doors, "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield.

"We made it a point to avoid ideology," Boone says of his band. "People tried to enlist us to support this cause and that cause, and we resisted, mostly because we felt that the music we were doing was good-time music. It was intended to be uplifting and not necessarily a political statement."

The Lovin' Spoonful broke up in 1968 for a number of reasons. Zalmon Yanovsky had already quit in 1967. (After a few years, he left the music business completely, returned to his native state of Ontario, Canada, and opened the highly successful restaurant Chez Piggy.) He was replaced by guitarist Jerry Yester, who had worked with the Association. Soon after, Sebastian, the group's principal singer and songwriter, left to pursue a solo career. He played Woodstock in 1969 and eventually wrote and performed music for TV shows, most notably the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter.

Some might say the band's popularity began to fade as early as 1966. In May of that year, Yanovsky and Boone were arrested in Berkeley, California, for possession of a small amount of marijuana. They had been attending a party hosted by someone Boone identifies only as a "friend" with ties to the music business. Yanovksy was on shaky ground with the police: Not only was he a Canadian citizen, he was the most outspokenly political member of the band, and his father was known to hold communist views. According to Boone, the police made the two musicians an offer they couldn't refuse: Turn in the "friend" who sold them drugs, or Yanovsky would be deported to Canada.

"And that kind of choice is really no choice at all," Boone sighs. The music press reported that Boone and Yanovsky set up a meeting between their drug contact and an undercover narcotics agent, but Boone claims they only revealed to police the name of their contact, who never even went to jail after being arrested.

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