New York home to rock's greatest, the best and the worst of all worlds lie under its roof.

Printed in Eye Magazine May 1968Article written by Lillian Roxon Illustration by Michael Foreman

Lovin’ Spoonful (and general)

Lovin Spoonful Album Cover

From Lillian Roxon’s article in Eye:

Joe Butler of the Spoonful, who loves it and is shamelessly sentimental about it, stayed there long after he could well afford to stay elsewhere. Its very squalor played a big role in his life and that of the other three in the group. “It inspired us because it made us frightened of poverty,” he said.

Those were the days when the hurricane eye of the rock scene had not yet started its subtle shift away from London back to the United States and when not being English was the kiss of death to young musicians.

Two of those kissed-by-death musicians, young, penniless, unable to find work that paid anything like real money around the Village, had taken a dank eight-by-ten room at the Albert mainly to store their instruments. It had the single bed in it which, when divided into springs and a mattress, provided a place to sleep for two.

Every day at midday the two others in his group would arrive and the four would play in that small room until late into the night.


At this stage, thankfully, because there are so many versions and no one is really interested anymore in the “real” one, legend takes over. And there is not a teenybopper anywhere in America, or possibly the world (is there?), who does not know that the four were the then still-unknown Lovin’ Spoonful, that the noise of their rehearsals drove the neighbors to complain, that Miss Feldman bounded up to investigate, that the boys told her without rehearsals they would not be able to find work and money to settle the already overdue rent, and that, after some discussion, it was agreed the four could practice anywhere – the basement even – so long as they did not disturb the neighbors.

For the benefit of the very few who don’t know, the basement became a rehearsal room, the Lovin’ Spoonful a top group as a result of the long hours spent there, and America, thanks to the Spoonful and others they inspired, once more a potent force in the field of popular music.

Joe Butler walked around, regarding it all with a sweet tenderness. “They were very good to us here,” he said….

Obituary, December 16, 2002:

Now, it was the early 1960s and Doherty and Mr. Yanovsky were hanging out in the basement of New York’s Albert Hotel singing their songs. Doherty said the place was a dump but it was a dump where dreams came true.

“I remember Zalman came in one day and sang Do You Believe in Magic and I thought it was nice. I didn’t see him again until the song was a hit,” he said with a laugh.

Doherty said there was no way he could have known that The Lovin’ Spoonful’s first single would hit No. 9 on the Hot 100. He just thought it was a catchy little song.

“You can’t tell if something is going to be a hit, but you can tell if something is a good song,” he said.

“Do You Believe in Magic” was just one of the hit tunes created in the hotel in the city’s lower east side.

“Here we were, in a hotel, in a basement with the ceiling caving in and what was coming out of there was gold. They were mining for gold down there,” Doherty said.

As recounted in Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encylopedia:

There had been an attempt to change all this but they had failed. And the Spoonful, with all their talent, weren’t that good, weren’t clicking or jelling. The story goes - and it’s such a legend now that everyone has forgotten what’s true - that they were at the Night Owl and terrible, and that Joe Marra, the owner, told them to go away and practice. Zally and Joe had a room at the Albert Hotel then, mainly to store equipment. When they rehearsed there, there were complaints. So Miss Feldman, the assistant manager, suggested the basement. And that was it. The group made it. The basement became a shrine; and no musician feels he’s a musician unless he’s stayed at the Albert and rehearsed among the pools of water and the cockroaches. The Albert became the hotel and the Spoonful became the group that eventually turned the hurricane eye of rock away from Liverpool and London to New York and Los Angeles (and later San Francisco).

As recounted in Turn! Turn! Turn!: The ‘60s Folk-Rock Revolution by Richie Unterberger:

“1963 was the year that the Halifax Three broke up, the Journeymen broke up, the Big Three broke up, everybody broke up,” says Doherty. “It seemed that everybody came off the road after the Kennedy assassination, and folk music was sort of over. Zal and I wound up playing as two-thirds of a surf trio, just instrumental stuff. By the time we got back to New York, Cass had broken up with the Big Three (a group that had also included two folk-rockers in the making, Tim Rose and James Hendricks). Everybody was sort of bivouacked at the Albert Hotel” - famous for harboring on-the-way-up and down-and-out musicians throughout the 1960s.

It would not be until well into 1965 that Sebastian and Yanovsky’s group, the Lovin’ Spoonful, would begin to release records. Before that, they’d have to do their rock ‘n’ roll apprenticeship in rehearsals in the dank Albert Hotel basement, as well as gigs in Village clubs.

“When we were looking for the rhythm section,” says Erik Jacobsen, who was heavily involved with the group as its producer-in-waiting, “Joe Butler was playing drums in the Sellouts, who were managed by Herbie Cohen [also manager of the Modern Folk Quartet, Judy Hensek, and Fred Neil). We had a drummer that we jammed [with], and he was good, but we were I guess [going through] the same kind of thing as when they got Ringo in the Beatles. You know, ‘we need a guy, a little more energy, a little more extroverted, a little more appealing, who could sing as well.’ Because we wanted to do harmony. So they went over to see Joe, and I think they were not that hot on him, generally speaking. Zally and Joe almost never got along.”

But Butler soon convinced them both how badly he wanted to be in the group, and - quite literally - just how much rock ‘n’ roll blood he was willing to spill for his chance Continues Jacobsen, “We had Joe come over to the Albert Hotel, set up in the upstairs ballroom for the rehearsal, and he came in. They were playing some kind of hard-hitting tune. He broke the drumstick, right toward the end of the song. He was playing on a cracked cymbal, a big cymbal with all the little holes and metal rivets for them, which are very sharp on the top. He started hitting it with his hand, keeping beat, and the final chorus, his rivets were just slicing into his hand. Blood started to fly. The buys were like, ‘Whoa-oa? Stop, stop!’ He had proved his mettle big-time by continuing under such painful circumstances. I guess they decided, ‘This guy’s okay.’ “

Taking its name from lyrics in a song by bluesman Mississippi John Hurt (whom Sebastian had worked with in the Village), the Lovin’ Spoonful spent much of early 1965 playing at the Night owl Cafe. The Night Owl, a narrow room of about 75 by 20 feet with a stage so small that Butler had to play on the floor, was the Spoonful’s equivalent to the Byrds’ residency at Ciro’s, giving the musicians time to refine their sound and develop material as they lobbied labels for a recording contract. When they weren’t at the Night owl, they were rehearsing at the Albert Hotel, where they lived in a single room that also included all their instruments, dodging the rent by having their friend Denny Doherty sweet-talk the female bookkeeper. Since fending off the Spoonful’s bill collection at the Albert hotel, Denny Doherty had decamped to the Virgin Islands with John and Michelle Phillips.

From Echoes Of The Sixties by Marti Smiley Childs, Jeff March:

The four members of the Spoonful, along with Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, all roomed that icy winter at the rickety Albert Hotel, where they rehearsed in the basement. “We lived on tuna fish and ice cream.....