The Lovin’ Spoonful is coming back to Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater on Friday, April 29, bringing their patented blend of chipper tunes and sunny harmonies—songs like “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” and their number-one smash “Summer in the City.” And if the Spoonful’s sound seems to go perfectly with springtime weather on the East End—it’s no accident. The band got its start right here.
It was in Westhampton Beach that drummer Joe Butler and bassist Steve Boone first met up in the early 1960s, forming a band with local saxophonist King Charles.
“We used to play for the Air Force guys at a real dive called the Palm Terrace,” Butler recalls. “Things would get rowdy and the owner would come running out with his shotgun and fire shots at the ceiling. That would stop the fights cold.”
Boone and Butler got their first electric instruments—a Silvertone bass and Silvertone guitar—at the Sears store on Riverhead’s Main Street—in the “big city.” “We learned our craft playing the clubs around the Hamptons—Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square (until recently, Southampton Publick House), Pinkney’s Inn and a place called the Cottage Inn.”
All that honing of craft and working under stress paid off when Butler and Boone migrated to New York City, where the band got work in the Village right away. It was in the midst of the folk revival, and an electric band was a novelty. “Nobody was doing what we were doing,” remembers Butler, “and we had worked up a repertoire of 200–300 songs.” With the addition of singer and songwriter John Sebastian—who was already a figure in the downtown music scene—and ace guitarist Zal Yanovsky, the band adopted the name The Lovin’ Spoonful (derived from a Mississippi John Hurt song) and hit it big in 1965.
Given the number of songs the Spoonful launched onto the charts, it’s hard to believe how short-lived their early success was. All of their big hits were released between 1965 and 1967, after which John Sebastian left the band—leaving them without their principal songwriter and primary lead singer. The band went on hiatus in 1969.
In 1991, however, Steve Boone and Joe Butler, along with Jerry Yester (who had always been a peripheral member), reunited and began performing as The Lovin’ Spoonful to wide acclaim. For Boone, reconstituting the band, which, if you disregard the hiatus, has been around for well over 50 years, brings a huge degree of satisfaction.
“The audiences are so enthusiastic and appreciative,” Boone says. “We’re allowing a lot of people to visit old memories.” After the show, when the band typically does a meet and greet with audience members, Boone gets to hear from people who relate personal experiences. “Vietnam vets will come up and tell us how our music helped make their year in ‘Nam go easier,” Boone says. “It’s a cool deal to have that kind of feedback.” He thinks of it as a spiritual benefit of keeping the band going.
Another reason to keep the band alive—they’re just so good at what they do. Audiences get to hear those sunny harmonies faithfully reproduced live—no mean feat. And the Spoonful really puts on a show.
Of course, the group loves coming back to the East End. The band’s concerts at the Suffolk Theater—this is their third time playing at the restored Riverhead masterpiece—feel something like a high school reunion. A lot of Boone’s East Hampton High School friends come out, along with people who remember the band from its early days out here. But there are always a lot of new fans as well, and the whole thing becomes a great party. The Spoonful supplies the tunes.
The Lovin’ Spoonful plays Suffolk Theater on Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets $49–$65. Dinner and drinks available from 6:30 p.m. 118 East Main Street, suffolktheater.com, 631-727-4343.