Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:27 a.m.
Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, a backstage view.
It's been years since I worked backstage at concerts in the music business, and these days I watch concerts from the front of the stage. But last Sunday, I had
the opportunity to revisit those old environs, and it was rather
nostalgic finding myself there once again. The
opportunity recently arose for America's show with special guests the Lovin' Spoonful at Magic City Casino. I've
mentioned in previous columns my friendship with Steve Boone, the
original bassist for the Spoonful and cowriter of such hits as "Summer
in the City" and "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice." I met him in the early '70s when I was a kid
living in the Virgin Islands and he was escaping on his sailboat down to
the Caribbean in the aftermath of the Spoonful's calamitous breakup.
I had been in touch with Steve frequently since the Virgin Islands days -- especially when he lived in Fort Lauderdale. However, once he left these environs for North Carolina, I lost touch. So when I saw the Lovin' Spoonful were coming down for a show, I knew I had to reconnect. I couldn't locate his phone number or email, and an email to the band's booking agent proved fruitless. So I did the logical thing and sent a note to the band's website. An hour later, I got a call from Steve -- it seems he monitors the mail -- and I was overjoyed. He might be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, but he's also down to Earth and totally without pretense. We caught up on the phone, and I made plans to see him at the show.
My wife, Alisa, and I arrived during their sound check, and Steve spied me immediately. I had the chance to hang out with him and the band -- vocalist Joe Butler, singer/guitarist Jerry Yester, drummer Mike Arturi, and guitarist Phil Smith -- in their trailer and catch up. They're terrific guys and exceedingly friendly, and while they didn't take well to an interviewer's oft-repeated question about when original singer and songwriter John Sebastian might rejoin the group (He's not! Ever, never!), I did enjoy hearing again how Joe helped secure a Greenwich Village apartment for John and Yoko when the Lennons first moved to New York City. Joe offered one particularly amusing anecdote: The Lennons were in the apartment when it was robbed. As one of the thieves was making off with the television set, John objected. "Not the telly!" Lennon pleaded. "I haven't finished watching my program!"
We took our seats in the audience for the Spoonful's set, but once it was over, we returned backstage to chat with the band. When America went on, the Spoonful opted to sit on the stage, and since there were limited chairs, I encouraged Alisa to join them while I peered out from the back. Eventually a chair became vacant, and I took a seat next to Steve. Sitting backstage offers a special vantage point -- you glance at the audience from the artist's point of view and you get to see both the performer's perspective and the crowd's reaction. It's also interesting to observe the dynamic among the musicians. The Spoonful had covered the song "California Dreaming" as part of an oldies medley, and America took note. The song is a regular part of their set as well, but in deference to the Spoonful, guitarist Gerry Beckley walked over to Steve and, grinning widely, showed him the set list with the song crossed out. Steve and Jerry were clearly amused. Ditto when Beckley sprinted over before the encore and asked the Spoonful musicians, "How about joining us for some la las" -- referring of course to that indelible chorus in "Horse With No Name." For me, those were a couple of little inside moments that I will always relish.