Steve Boone: Hotter Than a Match Head

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Submitted by Don Graham

Do you believe in magic? Steve Boone does! The bass player for one the 60’s top bands, The Lovin’ Spoonful, has had enough magic in his life to make a believer out of him. Steve lived the dream of playing with a hugely successful rock band, their first 7 singles were top ten hits and  continues to perform with a revamped version of the Spoonful to this day. He also has lived life as a sailor, a studio manager and an author.

Just last week ECW Press released ‘Hotter Than a Match Head, Life on the Run with The Lovin’ Spoonful’, a book written by Steve Boone with the immeasurable help of Tony Moss.  But it really wasn’t a young Steve Boone’s dream as a lad to be any of those things.  John Stephen  Boone  was born into a military family  at Camp Lejeune. North Carolina, where his dad Emmett Boone Jr was doing air and sea rescue for aviators training at the base. Young Steven was earmarked to be a Marine and in fact “the future Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps” in some folks minds.  Steve seemed to like the idea and would have likely followed that path but for a near fatal car wreck in 1960 while getting a lift in a friend’s car. The wreck left Steve with multiple broken bones and a long convalescence on his hands. Unable to get around, his mom bought him a Gibson LGO guitar to pass the time. His brother Skip, who would play a big part in Steve’s future in music, taught him a few chords. Steve played in his brother’s band, which included a drummer named Joe Butler, making some dollars while going to school. Joe Butler would end up being the drummer in The Lovin’ Spoonful and in fact still is today. Steve travelled around and eventually ended up in New York City right in the middle of the music explosion in Greenwich Village.  He  met John Sebastian who had teamed up with a guitarist from Toronto, Canada named Zal Yanofsky who had been in a band called the Halifax Three with future Mamas and Papas’ singer Denny Doherty and in the Mugwumps with Sebastian,  Doherty and Cass Elliot. Sebastian,Yanofsky and Steve jammed and they all  liked what heard. “We all had similar tastes in music and it was a natural fit”. Later that night they visited the apartment of Erik Jakobsen who would eventually produce the Spoonful. The next night Steve went to the Night Owl, a small club on West 3rd Street where he had an evening that changed his life. That night on stage at The Night Owl was John Sebastian playing with a young up and comer named Tim Hardin. Later John played with Felix Pappalardi, Buzzy Linhart and  Fred Neil . The night was magical.

As chronicled in the book The Lovin’ Spoonful was named after a line in a song by Mississippi John Hurt called Coffee Blues. John Sebastian had played with him and he described their music as John Hurt meets Chuck Berry and someone suggested The Lovin’ Spoonful as a band name. It was NOT about drugs as was the popular opinion but rather about coffee. The group first recorded for Elektra Records in early 1965, and agreed in principle to sign a long-term deal with Elektra in exchange for a $10,000 advance. But  Kama Sutra Records had an option to sign the Lovin' Spoonful as recording artists as part of a previously signed production deal, and they  exercised that option once they learned about  of Elektra wanting t to sign the band. The four tracks recorded for Elektra came out later on a compilation record called What’s Shakin”?

Working with producer and Night Owl friend Erik Jacobsen, the band put out their first single, the Sebastian-penned "Do You Believe in Magic", on July 20, 1965. "Do You Believe in Magic" reached No. 9 on the Hot 100, and the band followed it up with a series of hit singles and albums throughout 1965 and 1966, all produced by Jacobsen. The Lovin' Spoonful became known for such folk-flavored pop hits as "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice", co-written by Steve Boone, which reached No. 10, and "Daydream", which went to No. 2. Other hits included "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" (another No. 2 hit) and their only song to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100, "Summer in the City" also co-written by Steve.  Later that year, the No. 10 hit "Rain on the Roof" and the No. 8 hit "Nashville Cats" completed the group's first seven consecutive Hot 100 hits to reach that chart's top 10. The only other 1960s act to achieve that feat is Gary Lewis & The Playboys.

Arguably the most successful pop/rock group with jug band and folk roots, The Lovin' Spoonful members termed their approach "good-time music". At the peak of its success the band was originally selected to perform on the television show that became The Monkees. They would have had to change their name and do other people’s songs. They respectfully declined the offer.  Good call.

I reached Steve at his home in Florida and when the male voice answered I almost asked “Can I talk to your dad?” Steve sounds and has the enthusiasm of ,a young man, full of energy  and eager to share his amazing stories. I asked Steve about that night at The Night Owl when he saw Sebastian and Fred Neil and others perform.  “That night was a life changing night for me. I tried to describe it in the book but I’m not sure I could put it  in words. It was like an epiphany. It was just a small smoky bar with a little P.A.  and guys who had barely rehearsed but to me it was like Carnegie Hall and the band sounded like they’d rehearsed for weeks. When Fred Neil opened his mouth and sang “The water is wide, I cannot cross over….”  It was otherworldly. The most amazing live show I had ever seen. Just about everybody on the stage that night went on to be famous. Timmy Hardin with Reason to Believe and other great songs; Felix was a founding member of Mountain and produced Cream and The Youngbloods first album, Fred Neil with ‘Everybody’s Talking’ from Midnight Cowboy and course John with us in the Spoonful.   It was then and there that I knew I wouldn’t be going back to school but would be continuing with my music. What a night.”

I asked Steve what set the Spoonful apart from the rest, why were they so hugely successful so fast.?“ First of all we had great songs. We had melodic songs with hummable melodies. And the lyrics were relevant for the time and well crafted. We had great chemistry as a band. In bands you may not always have the most technically superb bass player or drummer or guitarist but when the chemistry works the band as a unit is unstoppable. And in our band we had Zal Yanofsky. To me he was a huge part of our success because of his large stage presence and his playing, which I always thought was underrated. But on stage, live, he was the focal point. Joe was great but he was behind his drums, I stared at my shoelaces and John, the consumate musician, was concentrating on what he was playing. But Zally had a smile as wide as the Mississippi and always looked like he was having a blast. There was nowhere else he’d rather be.”

The Lovin' Spoonful Inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of FameThe Lovin' Spoonful Inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of FameJohn Lennon called the Spoonful his favourite American band. Paul McCartney and Steve sat backstage and talked bass guitars one night at Shea Stadium. “Paul and I were talking about basses and I said I liked his Hofner violin bass . He handed his to me to try but was it left handed. He said he would send me a right handed one when he got home. If you read this Sir Paul, I ‘m still waiting.”

In March of 2000 the ultimate honour was bestowed upon the band. They were welcomed into the coveted Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. “We were eligible in 1991 and after 8 years of being rejected we were accepting of the fact that we might not get in. Then on the 9th attempt we were honoured.  Jann Werner of Rolling Stone said something to the effect of “now they’re letting jug bands into the Hall of Fame”  and all I could think was Werner doesn’t like us…. but The Beatles do.”

Like all famous entertainers or bands you wonder what kind of legacy will be left behind? How will people remember The Lovin’ Spoonful?  “I think the best example I have of our legacy came one night not long ago sitting at the meet and greet/autograph table after a Spoonful show.  A Vietnam Vet came up to get an autograph and said. “ Man I was in a rice paddy in ‘Nam with bullets flying all around me and death a real possibility. I was sitting there and humming your song  “Daydream” . So thank you for that!’  Wow, what an awesome testimony.”

Steve spoke fondly of the other members the Spoonful. “John and I are still good friends . I visited with him at his home in Woodstock not long ago  and  we sat around with a couple guitars and jammed. We recorded it and I have it here on a disc and one day? Who knows. I’d loved to finish it, there’s some good stuff on it.”

“Joe and I go back to before the Spoonful. All the way back to our days with my  brother Skip’s band The Kingsmen.  I think I’ve known Joe longer than anybody outside my family. We’re like brothers and like brothers we sometimes fight.  No, I take that back. We ALWAYS fight. But at the end of the day I love Joe and he loves me. We are tied together forever.”

“Zally, Zal, Zalman.  I love this guy. He would call me Stebun, but if it was serious, as it was on a couple of occasions he would call me Boone. His spirit was so  bright and through it all Zal  was a constant bright light even in the darkest of times. I’m so grateful for his presence in the band and my life. And I’m so glad he was around long enough to be with us at the Rock “n” Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.  He never got his due but he IS in the Hall of Fame. “

Indeed the four members of The Lovin’ Spoonful will always be tied together. Like NHL coach Fred Shero said to his Philidelphia Flyers hockey team while they were on the verge of a championship. “ Win tonight and you will walk together forever.” And The Lovin’ Spoonful were winners and will walk together forever.

These days Steve Boone is a man comfortable in his own skin, a man with a great mix of gratitude and ambition. “My life is good right now. If I could be anybody in the world right now I’d be Steve Boone cause Steve Boone’s a pretty lucky guy. They say we don't always have all we want but we have what we need. Although right now I feel like I have all that I need AND want! But a bestselling book would be nice!"”

So if you want an insight into those heady days of rock and roll and the life after the fame you need to get a copy of this book and read it cover to cover. This is a great read and very well written with incredible detail. It will put to rest the impression of Steve Boone as the quiet member of The Lovin’ Spoonful forever.


Order your copy today. You’ll be glad you did.