Zal Yanovsky

Don't be seduced, brothers and sisters: the sirenlike lead guitar of the Lovin' Spoonful is the craft of the late Zal Yanovsky, a man of dubious ideology and commitment to the revolution whose name is synonymous with perfidy.

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Aug 18 2011, 12:00am

Don’t be seduced, brothers and sisters: the sirenlike lead guitar of the Lovin’ Spoonful is the craft of the late Zal Yanovsky, a man of dubious ideology and commitment to the revolution whose name is synonymous with perfidy. The guitarist’s reputation is so seriously compromised in hip circles that Ralph J. Gleason (RIP) has called Zal’s bad-rapping “the biggest underground cancer in the rock scene.” Even today, I bet you Devendra Banhart wouldn’t cross Topanga Canyon to fart toward Zal’s grave, not for all the granola in the world. I bet you Devendra thinks Zal is the ungrooviest.

Hippies loved the Lovin’ Spoonful until the sordid details of the band’s cooperation with law enforcement became public. In May 1966, Yanovsky and bassist Steve Boone were arrested for possession of marijuana in San Francisco, where, as the song says, they “slap on the cuffs and whip out the Crisco.” In the clutches of the Man, jacked up on herb, threatened with deportation to a third-world hellhole (Canada), Yanovsky narked on his dealer. The incident has been widely reported but carelessly researched, and different versions abound. Yanovsky’s obituary in the Independent puts drummer Joe Butler with him at the bust; another account on the web puts Sebastian there. Jamie Malanowski’s “Jailhouse Rock,” from the Oct ‘86 issue of SPIN, makes the story sound much worse: Boone and Yanovsky “were busted in Berkeley for dope. They cut a deal, it seems, and in exchange for not being prosecuted they introduced a narc, not to a dealer, but to a friend, who bought dope from the narc and then was busted.” Boone’s ‘98 interview with Miami New Times contradicts this account: “Boone claims they only revealed to police the name of their contact (who was arrested but never went to jail).”

Former Simply Saucer manager Gary Pig Gold writes in his Yanovsky obituary that, following Zal’s deal with the cops, Rolling Stone “sanctioned” a boycott of the Lovin’ Spoonful. There was a boycott of the band, but it doesn’t seem to have had any connection with that magazine. Neither of the items on Zal and the Lovin’ Spoonful in the first issue of Rolling Stone (November ‘67) mention the bust or the boycott. The first item, “A Ban on Zally?” however, reports that a New York TV host “is attempting to ban a film written, produced, and directed by former Lovin’ Spoonful member Zal Yanovsky” for obscenity. Ralph J. Gleason devoted his “Perspectives” column in Rolling Stone’s second issue to Yanovsky’s defense. In that column, “Like Zally, We’re All Victims,” Gleason claims that the ratted-out dealer publicized the story himself: the dealer “xeroxed copies of the court testimony which disclosed the arrangements between the cops and the Spoonful and sent them to underground papers and other press.”


Yanovsky’s Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction

Turning to the boycott, Gleason describes a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Free Press “urging people not to buy Spoonful records and not to attend their concerts and, to the girls, not to ball them. It didn’t say anything about guys balling them.” So Rolling Stone is free of blame. I am happy to defend Rolling Stone, because it is such a good publication. The current issue upholds the magazine’s longstanding commitment to excellence with articles like “Concert Biz Scores With Groupon Deals” and “Allmans Rock Against Hep C With All-Star Jam.”

Gleason’s plea reached some readers—Rolling Stone letter writer Patty Poe said “That Ralph J. Gleason article about Steve Bone [sic] and Zal Yanovsky realy [sic] put my head back in order concerning the Spoonful”—but Zally’s rock career was terminally fucked. After the 1967 solo single “As Long As You’re Here,” produced by Jack Nitzsche, and the 1968 LP Alive And Well In Argentina, Yanovsky quit music for good. After all that, he moved back to Canada anyway and opened a restaurant, Chez Piggy.

MOE BISHOP

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