Music News & Reviews

Ladling up some laid-back tunes

The Lovin’ Spoonful’s biggest hit, 1966’s ‘Summer In the City,’ was a break from the band’s usual feel-good sound.
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s biggest hit, 1966’s ‘Summer In the City,’ was a break from the band’s usual feel-good sound. COURTESY PHOTO

During its brief heyday, The Lovin’ Spoonful garnered a reputation for laid-back, feel-good tunes that paired perfectly with the flower power movement of the 1960s.

But the band’s 1966 song “Summer in the City” — the Spoonful’s biggest hit — strayed from the formula, with its urban-centric lyrics, traffic noises and a musical coda featuring a moody descending bass line.

“I took piano lessons as a kid,” said Steve Boone, who came up with that bass line. “And one of the things my teacher taught me was to work out bass fingers on the left-hand side of the piano. So I would always noodle around that way, and it kind of came from noodling around on the piano, then translating it to the bass guitar and then to an organ.”

That early interest in music was inspired by his brother.

“I observed the early-’50s music scene because my brother, who’s six years older than me, had a rock band in 1954, and he was doing things like opening for Elvis,” said Boone, who performs with The Lovin’ Spoonful at SLO Brewing Co. on Wednesday.

While he was in awe of music from the age of 9,

Boone planned to join the military until an injury suffered in a car wreck made him ineligible. Because of that, he was in Greenwich Village at the same time as future band mates John Sebastian, Zal Yanovsky and Joe Butler.

The band was active for only a few years — from 1965 to 1969 — but it left enough of an impression to make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted The Lovin’ Spoonful in 2000. Melding rock and folk, the American band took advantage of the lessons taught by British bands that stormed the United States during that time.

“In 1963-64, most recording artists worked under the thumb of a producer and a record company,” Boone said. “And so you essentially just went into the studio and were told what do to and what song to sing and how to sing it. But The Beatles and some of the other British groups that constituted the invasion were known for being able to go into the studio and essentially make the record for themselves by writing their own songs and controlling the arrangement.”

Guided by the Brits, The Lovin’ Spoonful penned their own hits, often mixing up the formula, recording jug band, folk, pop and rock songs.

“One of our stated goals was to try to sound different on every single,” Boone said. “We didn’t want to be captive to the record company telling us to sound just like the last single.”

The band’s first seven singles — including “Daydream,” “Do You Believe in Magic?” and “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” — were all top 10 hits. But its biggest was “Summer in the City,” the band’s only No. 1 single, which has survived the test of time.

“It’s been recorded by about half a dozen big-time artists, and it’s been sampled by even more,” Boone said. “So there was something in that basic figure — beyond the words and melody — that was very influential or long-lasting.”

While the entire band has regrouped a couple of times since 1969, lead singer and songwriter John Sebastian hasn’t really been with the band since the 1960s.

“He really has expressed just about zero interest in doing anything with the Spoonful,” Boone said.

Still, Boone and Sebastian have recently been writing songs together as a duo.

“John and I have never stayed out of touch,” Boone said. “We’ve always managed to be good friends. And whenever I can get a couple of days, I drive up to Woodstock and we kick around musical ideas. For some reason, he and I can pick up a guitar and be jamming in minutes, like we hadn’t stopped playing together for even a day.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.