#488: She’s Still A Mystery by the Lovin’ Spoonful
Bass player Steve Boone (born on Long Island) and drummer Joe Butler (born on Long Island in 1941) had been playing in a band called The Kingsmen based on Long Island in the early 1960’s. By 1964 their band (not to be confused with the Kingsmen from Washington State who had a hit with “Louie Louie”) were one of the top rock and roll bands on Long Island. Their live sets included folk songs put to a rock beat, pop standards and some new hits showcasing the British Invasion. Steve’s brother, Skip Boone, and several three other bandmates filled out the group. In 1964, Joe and Skip chose to relocate to Manhattan. They focused on writing original material and blending a rock bass and drums with their jug band sound. Three other bandmates chose not to move, except Steve Boone, who joined Joe and Skip in New York City’s Greenwich Village, the nexus of the folk music scene.
By the fall of that year Joe and Skip had formed a band with several other musicians called The Sellouts. This was the first rock band to play in Greenwich Village, the mecca which of folk music in the USA. As they met with positive reviews, among their new fans were John Sebastian (grew up in Greenwich Village and born in 1944 in New York City) and Zalman Yanovsky (born Toronto in 1944). John and Zal were playing in a folk group with Pappa Denny Dougherty called The Mugwumps in Washington D.C. John and Zal hit is off with Skip and Joe and invited them to join their electric jug band, as they needed a bass player and drummer. John Sebastian had grown up in Greenwich Village and was the son of John Sebastian Sr. who was a world renowned classical harmonica player and John Jr. had himself acquired quite the reputation as blues mouth harpist and guitar player and Zally was rapidly becoming a very respected player who just needed an amplifier that went to 11 on the volume scale. Steve Boone had just returned in December, 1964, from a motorcycle trip around England & Europe. Skip and Joe both mentioned that he might be a perfect fit as the bass player for this electric jug band they were looking to start.
The formation of both The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Mamas and The Papas is narrated in the song “Creeque Alley,” a Top Ten hit for The Mamas And The Papas in 1967. Bob Cavallo became the Lovin’ Spoonful’s manager, and Sellouts record producer, Erik Jacobsen, worked with them in the studio. By June ’65 they released “Do You Believe In Magic.” It was the first of seven single releases to each climb into the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band toured almost non stop. They also were openers for The Supremes which gave them even wider exposure.
After their first debut Top Ten hit single, the Lovin’ Spoonful kept the hits coming in the winter of 1965-66 with “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” and “Daydream.” In the spring of 1966 the band released “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It.” The song had originally been recorded by Cass Elliott of The Mamas and The Papas. “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It” was a B-side in the USA for “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind.” But it was released as an A-side single in Canada. The non-charting B-side in the USA climbed up to #6 in Vancouver. It was not a hit single anywhere else in Canada, and got only airplay elsewhere in San Antonio, Texas, and Burbank, California.
In the summer of 1966, The Lovin’ Spoonful had an international #1 hit called “Summer In The City.” This was their only #1 hit in the USA. In Vancouver the band charted two more songs to #1 with “Rain On The Roof” and “Darling Be Home Soon.”
After “Rain On The Roof,” Joe Butler provided lead vocals on “Nashville Cats,” a song that climbed to #3 in Vancouver in January, 1967.
Zal Yanovsky left the Spoonful after the soundtrack album You’re a Big Boy Now to the Francis Ford Coppola film was released in May 1967. Yanovsky’s departure was mostly the result of a drug bust in San Francisco where he was arrested for possession of pot and pressured by police to name his supplier. He was a Canadian citizen and feared that he would be barred from re-entering the U.S., so he complied. The news story led to a campaign to boycott Lovin’ Spoonful concerts as the band was seen by conservative politicians as degenerate. Zal went on to open a restaurant in downtown Kingston, Ontario, in 1979 called Chez Piggy, currently run by his daughter. Yanovsky’s replacement was Jerry Yester, formerly of the New Christy Minstrels of “Green Green” fame. Yester’s brother, Jim, was in a band called The Association who had a series of hits including “Cherish” and “Windy.”
The Lovin’ Spoonful next released “Six O’Clock”. and then “She’s Still A Mystery.”
“She’s Still A Mystery” was written by John Sebastian. The song introduces listeners to the awkward stage of shyness coupled with sexual attraction beginning in one’s youth. The subject of the song is waiting to see a girl he’s never met before, but presumably has been assured he’ll be fascinated with. Their first encounter is described in the second verse: “She smiles your way through a window/You smile right back, she runs away/You wish little girls’d sit still just a little bit longer, longer.” This shyness is just part of the mystery contained in this girl who turns into the woman he loves. At first he thought that he’d understand her completely. But now, he recognizes that understanding someone else is only one part of love. Another part of loving someone is embracing the mystery of who they are. It also means surrendering to the mystery of who they will always be – not only to others, but even to themselves.
The narrator of “She’s Still A Mystery” discovers “but the more I see/the more I see there is to see.” The song accepts that we are each unfolding, changing, emerging throughout our whole life’s journey. We don’t know all of who we are, or who we will become. We have a personality, and we have some essential characteristics, unique to us. But, beyond whatever might be predictable about us, there is mystery and novelty. And that mystery in each of us is part of the surprise of who we are from day to day. We are a mix of the predictable and known, and the mysterious and the novel. Loving the mystery of the one you are in a relationship is a great way to becoming open to who they are as a human being.
In a Psychology Today article titled “11 Ways to Predict Romantic Attraction,” Berit Brogaard Ph.D. writes that a contributing factor to passion and desire for a romantic partner includes “Some degree of mystery surrounding the other person, as well as uncertainty about what the other person thinks or feels, or when he or she may initiate contact…” Not knowing everything about the person who you are romantically involved with adds to the attraction and stems boredom.
“She’s Still A Mystery” peaked at #3 in Vancouver (BC), #4 in Worcester (MA) and Sarasota (FL), #5 in Guelph (ON), Appleton (WI) and Akron (OH), #7 in Green Bay (WI), Rockford (IL), Boston and Toronto, #8 in Vancouver (WA) and Vernon (BC), and #9 in Battle Creek (MI) and Providence (RI), and #10 in Hartford (CT).
Two weeks after “She’s Still A Mystery” dropped off the CKLG Boss 30, “Money” appeared on the record survey.
After “Money” was released, John Sebastian left the Lovin’ Spoonful in 1968 to pursue a solo career. He performed at Woodstock in 1969 and had a #1 hit in the mid-70’s called “Welcome Back.” He also became a session musician on a variety of tracks including “If You Could Read My Mind” by Gordon Lightfoot, “Deja Vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and “Roadhouse Blues” for The Doors. Sebastian has also contributed to soundtracks for a number of children’s TV shows and films including The Care Bears. In 1993, Sebastian authored a children’s book, JB’s Harmonica, about a young bear whose musical aspirations are overshadowed by the talents of his famous musician father. John Sebastian has declined offers to join the reformed Lovin’ Spoonful on tour over the past 26 years.
This left Butler, Yester and Boone to carry on with session musicians to round out further recordings including their #2 Vancouver hit, “Never Going Back” in the summer of 1968. From 1965 to 1969 the Lovin’ Spoonful released seven studio albums and charted ten Top 40 singles onto the Billboard Hot 100. In Vancouver the Lovin’ Spoonful charted 16 songs into the Top 20, and twelve of these reached the Top Five.
After the Lovin’ Spoonful broke up in 1969, Joe Butler initially got a role in the Broadway production of Hair. He continues to play with the band since it’s reformation in the early 90’s and is the lead singer. Jerry Yester went on to be a producer arranger for The Turtles, Pat Boone, Tom Waits and Zal Yanovsky’s solo album in 1973. Yester continues to produce and arrange records for recording artists and performs occasionally as a solo artist, as well as with the Loving Spoonful.
Zal Yanovsky was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Since 1991 the Lovin’ Spoonful has re-formed and often been on tour with Joe Butler, Jerry Yester and Steve Boone the core of the live band. The band recently appeared for three nights in concert in Laughlin, Nevada, in March 2018. From February 24 to March 2, 2019, they were one of the acts performing during the Rockin’ The Caribbean Cruise. Their next upcoming concert is December 7, 2019, at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, New York. Meanwhile, John Sebastian continues to tour as a solo act and has scheduled concerts recently in November 2019, in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
December 4, 2019
Lovin’ Spoonful 50th Anniversary (Three Original Members Steve Boone, Joe Butler & Jerry Yester), The Iridium.com, Washington D.C., March 4, 2016.
Lovin’ Spoonful – bio, Classic Bands.com
Lovin Spoonful – bio, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.com
John Sebastian bio, John Sebastian.com
Cass Elliott with Lovin Spoonful, “Didn’t Want To Have to Do It,” YouTube.com, 1965
Badman, Keith. The Beatles: Off The Record. Omnibus Press, London, 2000.
Berit Brogaard, Ph.D., “11 Ways to Predict Romantic Attraction,” Psychology Today, September 27, 2017.
“CKLG Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 18, 1967.
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