June 1st, 2009

This is how I remember things...

I lucked into this great sounding re-issue on a recent trip to The Big City:


Actually I tripped across it in a used CD store, and I almost mean that literally.  (Future topic reminder:  "literally" used to mean "figurativlly",and vice versa.)  It was in a box of slow moving stock on the floor, languishing with dozens of others marked down even from the usual bargain prices here. 

Now I had always enjoyed the tunes of the Lovin' Spoonful, in fact still have most of the original vinyl.  I never ran out to buy a new Spoonful release, but I always picked them up as cut-outs in bargain bins.  So glancing at the cheerful cover and flipping it over, I was surprised to find that this was not the collection of top forty hits  I was expecting, but a compendium of two complete original albums.

These types of collections are popular with completists and obsessives, so I immediately bought it.  And it's been more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

It's on BMG special projects and contains the complete albums"Do You Believe in Magic" and "Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful".  The strength of the line up is undeniable: 

  1. Do You Believe in Magic?
  2. Blues in the Bottle
  3. Sportin' Life
  4. My Gal
  5. You Baby
  6. Fishin' Blues
  7. Did You Ever Have to Make up You...
  8. Wild About My Lovin'
  9. Other Side of This Life
  10. Younger Girl
  11. On the Road Again
  12. Night Owl Blues
  1. Lovin' You
  2. Bes' Friend
  3. Voodoo in My Basement
  4. Darlin' Companion
  5. Henry Thomas
  6. Full Measure
  7. Rain on the Roof
  8. Coconut Grove
  9. Nashville Cats
  10. 4 Eyes
  11. Summer in the City

Now that's good stuff!

 A healthy helpin' of the catchy summer radio hits, plus a more than generous collection of forgotten or never noticed gems.  The essence of the Spoonful sound is righteously captured here without the weak spots I expected to hear after all these years. So what we get is a tightly professional folk band that has retained enough personality and innovation to sound fresh, and touches of rock sensibilty and edge carefully mixed into a smooth hour and a half of  good times and good music.  These albums, on current listening, are much better quality, all around,  than I rated them at the time.  This is a great collection of roots meets craft material.

John Sebastian was at the time recognized as a top-drawer songwriter of broad palette, and an engaging performer.   Some of you may remember that after the Spoonful disintegrated, Sebastian was invited to play the Woodstock festival as a solo artist, and he did.  More about that later.  This collection demonstrates his literacy and sensitivity in grand style...another reason to recommend this outstanding collection.

Thinking about the Spoonful and my experience as a young man of the Sixties, immersed in the world of popular music, I am reminded of two tales, one tragedy and one comedy.

The first is the tale of Zal Yanovsky.  As the present collection shows, he was a brilliant electric guitar player, a key component of the sound.  He was also the heartthrob of the group, recognizable for his big cowbay hat and equally big toothy grin.  Like several other "key players" in the west coast music scene of the mid sixties, Zal was from Canada (Hoooray!).  He had in fact played with Canadian Denny Dourghety, (Yay!!) soon to be of the Mamas and Papas,

The tragic part relates to the War on Drugs.  Broadly speaking, that's another topic but this, as I understand it, is what happened in this instance .  Zal got busted for pot in California.  This was 1967. He was told that if he did not reveal the neame of his supplier, he would be deported back to Canada, and that would be that for Mr. Rock Star.  So he did name a name, and was deported anyway.  Rightly, wrongly, or whatever, the ratting out was strickly against the hippy code that was more-or less the alternative law of the day.  That was it for Zal.  I remember many years later seeing him on a CBC television show, trying to explain, peppering his sentences with "man", but looking desperate and disappointed.  I seem to recall (I say that often) Rolling Stone magzine calling for a boycott of Zal at the time, but I might be wrong about that.  Anyway, the whole thing is pretty sad.  (Zal had a later career as a restaurant owner back home in Canada.)

The other vignette that comes to mind is the outrageously stoned appearance of John Sebastian in the Woodstock movie.  Now that's a pot-eating grin!  Later, John has recalled the incident as follows, which goes a long way toward explaining how a seasoned pro ends up on a stage in front of a huge crowd, with that oh-so-obvious air about him.
"You have to remember now, I was not being terribly successful at going solo. I was making a nice transition. At a crucial moment, I had to wait a year and a half while two record companies fought over my recording. MGM claiming because the Spoonful still owed a record, that this was something they intended to put out as a Lovin' Spoonful album and me saying this would be incredibly dishonest. There's only one of four members on this thing. Having to wait out that time, I certainly didn't get the feeling of setting the world on fire. But, what did happen is I went to Woodstock as a member of the audience. I did not show up there with a road manager and a couple of guitars. I showed up with a change of clothes and a toothbrush. It just so happened that because most of my friends were musicians I ended up backstage. There was a moment when the stage had filled up with water and it was impossible to put electric instruments onstage. At that time Chip Monck (Woodstock announcer, stage co-ordination) said to me "Look, we need somebody who can go out there with an acoustic guitar and hold 'em (the audience) while we go out and sweep the water off the stage and let it dry up and you're elected." So, I had to run and borrow a guitar from Timmy Hardin and go on. But, it was not anything I had planned for. It was just one of those nice accidents and it resulted in my career then taking another step forward. Now, I was the Summer Concert guy. I played every Summer concert there was. "

Ah, the Lovin Spoonful.  Takes me back.


Zal released a solo album in his post Spoonful days.  It was titled 'Alive and Well in Argentina (and Loving Every Minute of It)".  It is usually described as "crazy" or "zany".  Although it was released on vinyl twice, once by Buddah in 1968 and and again by Kama Sutra in 1971.  Its rare enough that I have never heard it, or even seen it, in either of the two versions.  Keep your eyes open, they look like this:

cover art