COLUMN EIGHTY-SIX, MARCH 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
THE MIRTH, MUSIC, MAGIC OF ZALMAN YANOVSKY
as The Lovin? Spoonful's John Sebastian would lean into the mike to start
crooning Didn't Want To Have To Do It during the Spoonful's height in
the mid-swinging Sixties, some poor girl in the audience would inevitably do it.
She'd let out a heartfelt, lung-felt screech:
lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky, like some completely-wound-up playtoy suddenly let
free to dash across the nursery floor, would take this as his cue to mug wildly
into the nearest TV camera, bounce up and down and toss his trademark ten-gallon
sheriff's hat high up into the lighting rig, often with disastrous results.
word is that fellow Lovin? Spoonful members---John Sebastian, Joe Butler and
Steve Boone---were not very lovin? of this schtick. Need I say more? Zal
Yanovsky was MY kinda pop star.
such strategically-enacted cartoon antics aside, however, those who weren't
lucky enough to be a part of a Lovin? Spoonful audience circa 1966 can still
marvel at the cockamamie genius that was Yanovsky by listening to the guitar
breaks illuminating any of the four-dozen-or-so Spoonful songs to which Zal
contributed his peculiar, fleet-fingered artistry.
Personally speaking, five notes into that Do You Believe In Magic solo made ME a disciple for life. But an absolute wealth of such four-bar flashes of quicksilver, Music City grit exist throughout
were holding the goods
when the feds nabbed them
Spoonful's loving canon of good-time rock.
Mr. Sebastian has frequently gone on record over how his trusty
right-hand guitarist could sound like Elmore James one moment, Floyd Cramer the
next, then play just like Chuck Berry a-ringin? a bell -- sometimes all
simultaneously! And all at the drop
of a single ten-gallon hat.
fact, the deliciously crazed six-string acrobatics Zally laid all over the What's
Up, Tiger Lily? score was only one of many reasons that very first Woody
Allen movie remains the myopic li?l director's absolute best. At least to
these eyes and ears,.
magnificent still was the equally cinematic vision Zal brought to his first and
sorrowfully lone solo album, Alive And Well In Argentina.
This thoroughly bent 1968 concoction kicked off with a decaying rendition
of the Canadian National Anthem superimposed over a chorus of croaking tree
frogs (oh, Canada indeed!). And then dove head-first into a near hour's worth
of true, Yanovskized dementia. Classic maul-overs of Little Bitty Pretty One
and You Talk Too Much, plus a six-minute-plus tone poem entitled Lt.
Schtinckhausen, complete with stereophonic storm-troopers.
1971 re-release of this monumental long-player also included Zal's non-hit
single from the Summer of Love, As Long As You're Here, written by that
ace songwriting duo hot off a couple of Turtles chart-toppers, Gary Bonner and
Alan Gordon. One of the era's
sillier seven-inch single slices of surrealism, the original vinyl disc included
the entire A-side re-spooled BACKWARDS on the flip side.
always was the living, strumming embodiment of any Top Forty funny-farm you?d
care to inhabit. "Is it a
hiiiiiit, or a misssssss?" a chorus-from-hell wailed over and over as the
song faded. Well, both single and album WERE unmitigated misses, it's tragic
smarting over his recent drug-bust-induced departure from the Spoonful, our hero
was obliged to pen his very OWN review of Argentina for the Toronto Daily
bust happened when Zal and Steve were popped holding the goods. The Feds
threatened to deport Zal if he didn't identify his dealer and so Zally
snitched. He was sent packin? straight back to the Great Wide North anyway,
because everybody knows you can't trust the feds. Or Rolling Stone,
either. The Magazine sanctioned the ensuing boycott of all things S-ful. But
alas, despite Sebastian swathing himself head-to-toe in tie-dye at the Woodstock
fest, the band's hip(py) factor was irrevocably doomed and Yanovsky's name
especially remained Bay Area mud for the remainder of that flowered era.
"The band was like a marriage with four people in it," he
later recalled. "As I look back,
I opened the door and they kicked me out." No longer a Lovin?
anything, Zal next tried a couple of things
with Tim Buckley and Kris Kristofferson and then unceremoniously hung up his
guitar almost for good. By the Seventies, he found himself BEHIND the lens for a
change, producing a Canadian afternoon court-TV semi-reality series called Magistrate's
Court before appearing as the petulantly potty-mouthed voice-of-reason
alongside Alice Cooper and Mick Jagger in the scathing 1975 documentary Rock-A-Bye.
In which, among several other things, Zally brought serial swearing to prime
time a full quarter century before those Osbournes.
if there's one thing a musician doesn't just love to do besides playing,
it's eating, and of course Zal went that vice one better by opening up his
very own restaurant inside a landmark Kingston, Ontario livery stable.
Chez Piggy, along with its sidekick bakery Pan Chancho, kept Zally
literally cookin? throughout the final chapters of his tumultuous life. I?m
proud to claim that whilst on the road with the Dave Rave Conspiracy combo, I
had the pleasure of lunching within the fabled walls of Chez Piggy myself.
guitarist at the time had once actually dated Zal's daughter Zoe, Armed with
that information---plus my pledge of undying love for Alive And Well In
Argentina---we relayed a request back to the kitchen as dessert was served.
But Zally never did bless our table. And I had to wait nearly another
decade to spot the man again on late-night Canadian TV. He was hawking his
cookbook whilst most indiscriminately dumping wine all over a shrimp
platter-in-progress. I am happy to
report however that this fleeting appearance demonstrated the man had not lost
one single inch of his Ed Sullivision-era zaniness.
recently, Zal rejoined his former bandmates for their 2000 induction into the
so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which he later described as "a big media
event that's over in two seconds." He then almost accompanied John Sebastian
on a brief tour of England, but t?was not to be. Zal succumbed to an attack of
the heart on his farm on, wouldn't you just know it, Friday the 13th
of December, 2002. It was certainly
a dark, dark day for lovers of good-times AND music the world over.
was not any book anywhere that he followed," eulogized his fellow Canadian and
fellow former Mugwump Denny Doherty, "and he is gone too soon."
But in reality the magical mayhem of Zal Yanovsky will live on, wherever
and whenever one might hear a lightning-brilliant burst of electric guitar in
the middle of some three-minute jug-pop oldie "or see an over-sized cowboy hat
flying high out of the frame at exactly the wrong moment.
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