The Lovin’ Spoonful is coming back to Riverhead to play at the historic Suffolk Theater on July 7. In doing so, the group known for such tuneful chart-toppers as “Summer in the City,” “Do You Believe in Magic,” and “Daydream” is once again returning to the place it all began for them.
When the definitive history of rock music on the East End of Long Island is written, The Lovin’ Spoonful will have an important place in it. Because, while the band eventually rose to prominence in the New York City folk scene of the mid-1960s, the real core of the band formed in Westhampton. That’s where bassist Steve Boone—a graduate of East Hampton High School—got together with drummer Joe Butler, who at the time was in the Air Force, stationed at Westhampton. The pair comprised the rhythm section for a popular East End dance band of the time called The Kingsmen.
“Part of the swift success of The Lovin’ Spoonful was the readymade rhythm section,” says Steve Boone. “By the time we got together with John Sebastian, Joe and I had been playing together for three years—and we were very good together.” Once Butler and Boone joined forces with singer/guitarist/songwriter John Sebastian and lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky, their readymade rhythm section was all set to power Sebastian’s catchy songs onto the charts with dizzying speed. How fast did the band hit? In the winter of ’65, the unknown Spoonful was holed up rehearsing at the old Bull’s Head Inn in Bridgehampton (now the Topping Rose House). By the summer of ’65, their song “Do You Believe in Magic” had gone to #9 on the Hot 100.
As they shot to fame, the band continued to frequent the East End. “For a while, John rented a large property in North Haven,” recalls Boone. “We used to like Sag Harbor as a placid alternative to East Hampton.” Sag Harborites still recall spotting Sebastian and fellow folk-rocker Mama Cass walking around the village.
Meanwhile, the hits kept coming—including such gems as “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” and “Darling Be Home Soon”—but internal tensions and some unfortunate legal situations (i.e. Boone and Yanovsky’s marijuana arrest) tore the band apart. Sebastian left to go solo in 1968, and was replaced by Jerry Yester, who had been the band’s uncredited keyboard player from their earliest days. The band’s activities slowed dramatically in the ’70s.
In recent years, however, the group has experienced a renaissance. Butler, Boone and Yester head up a lineup that gets rave reviews everywhere they play. “The audience reactions are so positive, and Joe and Jerry’s vocals are stronger than they’ve ever been,” says Boone. That’s critical: many of The Spoonful’s beloved songs feature bright, appealing vocal harmonies, and it’s a treat to hear them live.
The band’s annual Suffolk Theater show is one of the band’s favorites, according to Boone. It’s not just the hometown feel and the many longtime friends in the audience—it’s also the space itself. “Our favorite venues to work in are restored theaters [like Suffolk]. You have the architectural beauty, and they’re not too big, so the audience gets quality sound.”
Coming back also gives Boone the chance to revisit some of his childhood haunts. Downtown Riverhead is where he and Butler bought their first electric guitars, at the Sears store. Boone sometimes tries to get out to East Hampton as well, but the traffic often forces him to turn around. On July 7, though, the traffic will be headed the other way—to see The Lovin’ Spoonful at the Suffolk!
Lovin’ Spoonful plays Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main Street, Riverhead, on Friday, July 7 at 8 p.m. Doors, bar and restaurant open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $50 – $65, for more info visit suffolktheater.com