On October 15, 1967, bass player Steve Boone took the Ed Sullivan Show stage for the final time, with his band The Lovin’ Spoonful. Since forming in the basement of a Greenwich Village hotel in early 1965, Boone and his bandmates had released an astounding nine Top 20 singles, the first seven of which hit the Billboard Top 10, including the iconic Boone co-writes “Summer in the City” and “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.”
Little did Steve Boone know that the path of his life and career would soon take a turn for the bizarre, one that would eventually find him looking at the world through the bars of a jail cell. From captaining a seaworthy enterprise to smuggle marijuana into the U.S. from Colombia, to a period of addiction, to the successful reformation of the band he’d helped made famous, Hotter Than a Match Head tells the story of Boone’s personal journey along with that of one of the most important and enduring groups of the 1960s.
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About the Author
Steve Boone is a member and owner of The Lovin’ Spoonful, and performs regularly at concerts across the Canada and the U.S. He lives on the northeast coast of Florida. Tony Moss is a Senior Editor at CBSSports.com in Fort Lauderdale and is the author of A Season In Purgatory: Villanova and Life In College Football’s Lower Class (2007). He lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 3
Do You Believe in Magic?
As Carmine Street changed to Sixth Avenue and West Third Street began, I headed east, passing a fabled outdoor basketball court called “the Cage,” where all manner of past and future basketball greats played pick-up games; a fortune teller, where I was tempted briefly to get a quick reading; parking garages; and of course a pizza shop. I also noticed a small storefront called the Night Owl Cafe that would be featuring some folk artist that night. I glanced in the window and thought, “That room doesn’t look big enough for live music.” But I hurried on, as it was a chilly day and I didn’t want to miss these guys who were expecting me. Suddenly there it was, one of those sandwich-board folding signs on the sidewalk announcing what was going on inside, and in crudely painted letters both on the sign and the overhead awning: the Village Music Hall.
I walked in, and here were these two really different-looking young guys. They both had long hair like mine, but one was very folkie-looking, à la Kingston Trio, with little round granny-type eyeglasses and jeans and a T-shirt. The other one had darker, Jewish features, with long hair all messed up. He’d soon reveal himself to be a funny, outgoing sort but looked like the type of guy you might meet at a Civil Rights march. Clothing-wise, they didn’t look terribly different than me, which was a relief. The wild-looking one shouted out, “You must be Boonie.” I nodded and then the other guy walked over, reached out his hand and said, “Hello, and come on in,” in a real friendly way. I’d just been introduced to John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky.
I put my bass down and we did the name thing and were all talking fast and excitedly. I was already feeling good about meeting these guys. Zalman Yanovsky now there was a name, with a personality to match. His dark eyes, giant smile, nervous chatter and high energy were magnetic. His mannerisms and sense of humor reminded me of a cartoon character, not unlike a Jewish comedian in the Don Rickles vein. Luckily I’d had an introduction into this personality type and offbeat sense of humor via Diana Hirsch, a Jewish girl who was my East Hampton girlfriend in the summer of ’63. I didn’t really speak Zally’s language, but thanks to Diana and her family I understood it.
John, the guy with the glasses, was more reserved and looked eccentric in his own way. In addition to his guitar he had this belt-like strap with about a dozen harmonicas attached to it. Now that was something I hadn’t seen before. He projected a very confident aura.
We seemed to hit it off right away in conversation, not least due to the fact that they had the same musical influences I did: Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Motown, and more recently The Beatles and the rest of the British invasion. John and Zally both had more of a background in Delta blues and traditional folk than I did, but their passion for this kind of music made an uninitiated guy like me interested real quick.
“I’ve been working with this Delta blues singer named Mississippi John Hurt,” John said. This was a name I had heard in conversations with King Charles and some of the musicians who would come through the Cottage Inn.
Zally did his share of name-dropping too, citing some of the performers he knew and had played with while working the folk club circuit. Zally had met John earlier that year at their friend Cass Elliot’s apartment, and they’d both played briefly with Cass in a band called The Mugwumps though John’s building relationship with Zally had become too distracting for the manager of the band, Roy Silver, and John was fired. The Mugwumps broke up soon after. (Some of this history is recounted on The Mamas and the Papas’ 1967 hit “Creeque Alley.”)
But these guys weren’t just trying to impress me with their résumés. They saw a business opportunity here, and made their pitch.
“I’ve got some songs I’ve written by blending the traditional sounds of the R&B records with folk-style guitar,” John said, launching into a tune called “Good Time Music.” The tune sounded familiar to me it was a ringer for the recent Tommy Tucker R&B hit “Hi-Heel Sneakers” but the lyrics were a statement of intent, diminishing the music that was being passed off as rock ’n’ roll in the early ’60s, while simultaneously praising The Beatles, their English brethren and the type of vibe they’d brought to the radio.
Though the song was derivative, I was impressed. These guys had their shit together. When he finished, John said, “All we need now is a bass player and a drummer to pull it off.”
“And some decent amps,” Zally interjected.
“When we saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show we knew this is what’s coming next,” John added.
You could tell these two fellas thought they were on the cusp of a new movement, and it was easy to get sucked in by their enthusiasm. There was talk of producers and managers. John and Zally were just a couple of 20-year-old guys, but they were not going to be content playing covers for a bunch of partygoers. I was impressed. These were serious musicians.
John concluded by asking if I’d like to jam a little bit. “Well, I didn’t come to paint,” I said. That cracked them up, and I opened up my case and out came my ice-box-white Fender P Bass.
I wasn’t too used to jamming without a drummer, but for some reason we seemed to be really clicking on the tunes we picked to play, including some Chuck Berry covers and R&B-type jams. John, who was the Village-bred son of a classical harmonica virtuoso and recording professional (also named John Sebastian, though he’d grown up as Giovanni Puglese), could really lay down a good solid rhythm on the guitar, and would also pick up one of the mouth harps and tear into some great riffs. All the while seeming really concentrated on his playing, without saying much.
Zally, who was from Canada and had played coffeehouses in Toronto before striking out in The Halifax Three and later The Mugwumps with Cass and another future Papa named Denny Doherty, was all over the neck of his guitar. He had this outrageous Guild electric, and was working the whammy bar like it was a gear shift, all the while letting out whoops and grunts as he played. A very excitable guy, but man was he good. I hadn’t seen too many folkies play like that.
What struck me more than anything was that these guys played loud. This of course was before the age of Marshall stacks, when Fender and Ampeg were the standard for guitar amps. Out on the Island we had been using Silvertone amps bought straight out of the Sears catalog, which were much less expensive than Fender or Ampeg and would distort without much encouragement. In my experience you did whatever necessary to minimize the distortion, so it was striking to me that John and Zally were intentionally making their amps sound like fingernails on a blackboard. I would become a convert to this new sound in time.
In spite of all this, I could not have been more fascinated. The more we played, the better it seemed to get, and before I knew it we had spent a couple of hours at the Village Music Hall which, like Zally, I would soon begin referring to as the “Music Tit” just thrashing away. I seem to remember a joint being passed around, which made the session even more enjoyable. A couple of passersby stuck their head in while we were playing, and by the time we put the guitars down a small stir was already erupting on and around West Third Street. People were talking about us.
After packing up I was invited by the guys to a party at an apartment on MacDougal Street just across from the Kettle of Fish, a place I knew as one of the tourist spots to feature real folk talent. I was pretty impressed that these guys knew someone who lived on the street where all the action was in Greenwich Village. Looking back, the rest of that day seems like a dream, or like something a bad screenwriter would dream up out of a need to crowbar a bunch of new characters into a story. Though it seems unbelievable, I really did meet some of the most important people in the Greenwich Village music scene, and in a matter of hours, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s story had begun.
It was during this period of dues-paying that I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself playing with the most influential musician on the planet at that moment. About a week into rehearsals, the phone rang at the Bull’s Head and the voice on the line asked to speak to John. After a short conversation, John hung up and casually said, “That was Bob Dylan. He wanted to know if I could come into the city and play some bass on his new album.” I was a major fan of Dylan’s, so to say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. John had mentioned that he knew Dylan from their mutual time in the Village, and I didn’t doubt it, but to be invited to play on a session showed that John wasn’t just blowing smoke. Since John needed a ride into the city, I was deputized to shuttle him to Columbia Records’ studios in my Austin-Healey. This was getting interesting. We loaded up the Healey with me and John, and brought along my Fender P Bass since John didn’t actually own one.
All the way into New York I was thinking, “This can’t be happening.” Bob Dylan was up there with The Beatles on the short list of music stars I’d like to meet and whose music I was really attracted to, though I kept telling myself not to act too “groupie” about this. Living adjacent to the upper crust in the Hamptons and playing in some of the area’s hot nightclubs, I had met my fair share of celebrities and famous people. I was determined to stay cool. Then again, this was Bob Dylan.
We got to the studio and sure enough, there was His Bobness, wearing an Oxford shirt, blazer and jeans. The producer was the famous Tom Wilson, whose name I had seen on many LP jackets. Tom was a smartly dressed black man and Harvard graduate who had cut his teeth recording cutting-edge jazz players like Sun Ra and had graduated to Columbia staff producer. I had a few casual words with Dylan and Wilson, and did my best to maintain a friendly but businesslike demeanor while John described what he was up to with this new band he was in. There was some talk about the songs Dylan was recording before Bob directed John on what he wanted him to play on these songs. After about an hour of overdubs and not getting what either Bob or Tom wanted, John said, “Why don’t you let Steve take a try at this? He is an actual bass player.”
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 You're a Big Boy Now 1
Chapter 2 Good Time Music 11
Chapter 3 Do You Believe in Magic 31
Chapter 4 Daydream 72
Chapter 5 ...It's a Different World 96
Chapter 6 Pow! 121
Chapter 7 It's Not Time Now 138
Chapter 8 Didn't Want to Have to Do It 163
Chapter 9 Day Blues 178
Chapter 10 Never Going Back 206
Chapter 11 Respoken 246
Chapter 12 Forever 281