The Lovin’ Spoonful is coming to play the Suffolk Theater on July 3. This will be a homecoming in many ways, as this legendary folk-rock band has a lot of history on the East End. This is where they got their start.
“I remember going to see movies at that Suffolk Theater, it must have been 1963,” recalls the Lovin’ Spoonful’s drummer Joe Butler. “At the time my band the Kingsmen used to play all over in the Hamptons—Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square, at the Cottage Inn on the road to Springs—I think we even advertised in Dan’s Papers!” At the time they were playing the rock and Motown hits of the day for dancing crowds, and making good money at it, according to Butler.
The core members of the Kingsmen, including Butler and bass player Steve Boone, eventually moved to the city and began playing folk music on electric instruments—Butler says that they were the first band to do that. They added guitarist John Sebastian, changed their name to the Lovin’ Spoonful (a name derived from a song by folk music legend Mississippi John Hurt) and began making hit records. The Spoonful’s fun, catchy songs like “Do You Believe In Magic,” “Daydream,” and “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” were top-sellers in the mid-60s, some of the first folk-rock hits. And their song “Summer In The City” was a number one smash in August of 1966.
Even in the midst of international success, the band never forgot its East End beginnings. Proof of that? The final cut on the Spoonful’s classic 1966 album Daydream is an instrumental called “Big Noise From Speonk.” That’s pretty East End. The band also remained regulars out here, renting a house in North Haven and frequenting the haunts in Sag Harbor with the likes of Mama Cass and Steven Stills.
The members of the band had pretty deep roots on the East End to begin with. Originally from Great Neck, Butler came to Westhampton Beach in the early ’60s while he was serving in the Air Force. It was shortly thereafter that he met Steve Boone, a Westhampton native, and they formed the Kingsmen.
“At the time, we were the only rock act out there,” explains Butler. “We had our pick of gigs.” Butler, who has a vivid memory, remembers one particularly shady nightspot called the Palm Terrace, a place on Riverhead Road where “guys would go to drink and punch each other.” Many a night ended rather badly.
On a happier note, Butler recalls driving to Main Street in Riverhead to make a historically significant purchase. There, at the Sears in downtown Riverhead, he bought his band their first electric guitar and electric bass.
“They were the cheapest you could get. ‘Silvertone,’ they were called,” Butler laughs.
Personally, I was curious about that song “Big Noise From Speonk.” The song’s title had been a mystery to me ever since I learned of it, and that was before I knew there was a place called Speonk.
Butler was happy to explain. “That’s my tribute to the song ‘Big Noise From Winnetka’ by Bob Haggart. I knew Haggart’s son—they were neighbors of ours when I was a kid—and it was this great song where the drummer winds up beating on the bass strings with his sticks. So I wrote ‘Big Noise From Speonk.’” For his part, Butler believes the word “Speonk” was the Native-American imitation of a duck. Anyway, East End mystery solved.
Of the four founding members of the Lovin’ Spoonful, two—Joe Butler and Steve Boone—will be onstage in Riverhead July 3. They will be joined by Jerry Yester, who joined the Spoonful back in 1967—so he may as well be an original member. The audience can expect an evening of catchy, bouncy, fun music from a band that the East End can truly claim as its own.
The Lovin’ Spoonful performs at the Suffolk Theater, 118 E Main St, Riverhead on Thursday, July 3, at 8 p.m. The bar/restaurant opens at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $45. Visit suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343 for tickets.