In the summer of 1965, Beatlemania was in bloom and bands from the United Kingdom owned the top of the charts in the U.S. — that is, until The Lovin’ Spoonful released “Do You Believe in Magic.”
And just like magic, the band with the name taken from Mississippi John Hurt’s “Coffee Blues” found its musical beachhead in the midst of the so-called “British Invasion” — placing seven consecutive singles in the Billboard Top 10, including “Daydream,” “You Didn’t Have to be So Nice,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” and “Summer in the City,” which hit the top spot in the summer of ’66.
Their finely crafted tunes resonated with baby boomers and the Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
The band’s leader, John Sebastian, who left the group in 1968, went on to a long and productive solo career, including an impromptu acoustic set at Woodstock the following year.
Sebastian, who turns 70 on Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, will play a solo show Saturday, March 22, at Honokaa People’s Theater. Doors open at 7 p.m. with showtime at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are $40, available in advance at: CD Wizard, Hilo Guitars, Kipuka Smoke Shop and Hilo Music Exchange in Hilo; Taro Patch Gifts in Honokaa; Waimea General Store in Parker Square; Sound Wave Music in Kailua-Kona; and Kiernan Music in Kainaliu. Gold circle seating is $50, available at www.lazarbear.com.
The son of a classical harmonica player and a radio writer, Sebastian grew up in the artistic and musical melting pot of New York City’s Greenwich Village.
“It was outside my front door and it was a wonderful smorgasbord of music that you could hear every weekend,” he said. “Everything from listening to a doo-wop group and realizing years later — that was Richie Havens singing lead. Or a jug band. And within a year, I’d be in that jug band. All of these things were happening at the same time, so it was very fertile.”
In addition to playing guitar, Sebastian is an accomplished autoharpist and harmonica player who made a name as a folk musician and session player before the Spoonful.
“When I was 19, I realized that I had this incredible head start on harmonica listening to my father as he practiced in the house,” he said. “Not that he sat me down and gave me the master class or anything. He didn’t feel any pressure to make me be a harmonica player. Thank God. That’s probably one of the reasons that the instrument had such joy to me, that it was never enforced.”
Most songwriters won’t identify a favorite composition, saying it’s like asking a mother to choose between children. Sebastian has no such qualms, immediately replying: “Do You Believe in Magic.”
“I got a nice compliment from Bruce Springsteen, who worked his way through a crowd one night at a place where we were all having dinner. And he said, ‘John, I just gotta tell you that “Do You Believe in Magic” is the best song about rock ’n’ roll.’ And I said, ‘Bruce, I love it when you say it.’”
Sebastian had no idea that through television, films and oldies radio, his music would be a part of the American cultural landscape almost a half-century later.
“Shelf life had so little to do with what we saw as our job,” he said. “We just wanted that next three months and another shot at the Billboard charts. It was just the process that we were in. There wasn’t any sitting back and evaluating it so much as what’s the next idea. And could we have it really soon?”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.