The Mamas And The Papas

The Mamas And The Papas were a crucial part of the harmony-rich Pop-group movement that swept Southern California in the 1960s. With the mixed voices provided by John Phillips, Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips, astute songwriting and arrangements from Phillips, and musical contributions from some of Los Angeles' finest session musicians, The Mamas And The Papas cut some of the most indelible and durable records of the decade. John Phillips had been active on the New York music scene since 1957. In 1962 he met Holly Michelle Gilliam, who had come to New York to be a model. She started singing with John's group, The Journeymen and soon after, became his second wife. Denny Doherty had been a member of The Halifax Three, which, after two albums for Epic, included future Lovin' Spoonful member Zal Yanovsky. Doherty and Yanovsky joined Cass Elliot and her first husband, Jim Hendricks, to form Cass Elliot And The Big Three. The group later changed its name to The Mugwumps and went electric, with Art Stokes on drums and John Sebastian on harmonica. The Mugwumps recorded one album, which was not released until 1967, and then broke up. Sebastian and Yanovsky formed The Lovin' Spoonful, Elliot fronted a Jazz trio and Doherty joined John and Michelle Phillips as The New Journeymen.

The New Journeymen relocated to California, where they stayed with Elliot and Hendricks, and Cass officially joined the group. Before landing their own recording contract, the quartet did some backing vocals for Barrie McGuire on his "Precious Time" album. The group's first LP of their own, "If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears", contained their first single release, "Go Where You Wanna Go", which failed to chart. A second 45, "California Dreamin'" raced up the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #4 during a thirteen week Top 40 stay in early 1966. It was also a hit in the U.K where it reached #3. A Rock 'n' Roll oddity occurred on the LP, as it was credited to The Mama's And The Papa's, without anyone at Dunhill Records apparently noticing the obvious mistake in grammar. (apostrophe "s" shows possession). The album would go on to top the Billboard Hot 200 chart, becoming the group's only LP to achieve that feat.

Their quartet's second album, "The Mamas & The Papas", is sometimes referred to as "Cass, John, Michelle, Dennie", whose names appear thus above the band's name on the cover. Apparently the same graphic artist was in charge of this album's cover too, as Denny Doherty's first name was spelled wrong. The album was a huge success in America, reaching #4, but was less popular across the pond where it only made it to #24. The problems with having two men and two women in a group became evident when Michelle Phillips acknowledge an affair with Gene Clark of The Byrds. Her husband John had already forgiven her for a liaison with Denny Doherty and had written their next big hit, "I Saw Her Again" (#5) about the relationship. This time John was determined to rid himself of his unfaithful wife and fired her from the group on June 28th, 1966. Singer/songwriter Jill Gibson was brought in to replace Michelle, but although she was a talented vocalist, Gibson was said to lack stage charisma, and was let go from the group after just seven weeks. Michelle Phillips was reinstated on August 23rd, 1966.

Work started in the Autumn of that same year on a third album called "The Mamas & The Papas Deliver", from which the single "Look Through My Window" was released. Not quite as catchy as their first three hits, the record stalled at #24 in America and did not chart at all in Great Britain. A second single culled from "The Mamas & The Papas" LP called "Words Of Love" was quickly issued and became a US Top 40 hit when it rose to #5 in early 1967.

The group's next single, "Dedicated To The One I Love", was released in February 1967, and reached #2 in both the U.S .and the U.K. The follow-up, "Creeque Alley", chronicled the band's early history and became another smash hit, peaking at #5 in America and #9 in England. The strained relationships within the group however started to become apparent when they gave a rather dismal performance at the first Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. They seemed poorly rehearsed and preoccupied with other events going on in their lives. They turned things around in time for their show at The Hollywood Bowl in August, an event that would later be called the pinnacle of their career. The single, "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)", from the group's third album, came in at #20 that same Autumn, followed by the non-album 45, "Glad To Be Unhappy" which topped out at #26. It would prove to be the group's last Billboard Top 40 hit, as "Dancing Bear", from their second album, quit climbing at #51 in America and didn't chart at all in England.

Along with writing much of The Mamas And The Papas' material, John Phillips also penned a song that would be remembered as a sort of theme song of the flower power era in California. Scott McKenzie, an ex-Journeyman, scored a #4 hit in the U.S. in the Summer of 1967 with "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)".

The recording sessions for a fourth album seemed to drag on and on and were filled with dissention and frustration. Eventually the project, along with concerts scheduled for England, were canceled completely and in September, 1967, John Phillips called a press conference to announce that The Mamas And The Papas were taking a break, which they confirmed on The Ed Sullivan Show on the 24th of that month. They did however patch things up to eventually complete the album and release it in May, 1968. Although it sold reasonably well, it became their first LP not to go Gold or reach the Top Ten in America.

In June of 1968 Dunhill Records released "Dream a Little Dream of Me", credited to Mama Cass with the Mamas And The Papas, against the strenuous objections of John Phillips. The record reached #12 later that Summer and reached #11 in the U.K. It was the only Mamas And Papas single to chart higher in the U.K. than in the U.S. A song called "For the Love of Ivy" was issued in July, 1968, but stalled at at #81 on the Hot 100 and did not chart in the U.K. Once again, Dunhill returned to previously recorded material when they released "Do You Wanna Dance" from the debut album in October 1968. It failed to chart in the U.K. and reached #75 in the US. By now the group was hopelessly fractured and decided to disband. John and Michelle split up and officially divorced in 1970.

The Mamas and Papas reunited briefly in 1971 to cut what they would later describe as 'a poor reunion album', "People Like Us". John Phillips would later recall, "It was rare we were all together. Most tracks were dubbed, one vocal at a time." The only single, "Step Out", released in January 1972, could only climb to #81 in the U.S. The album peaked at #84 on the Billboard Hot 200, making it the only Mamas And Papas LP not to reach the Billboard Top 20. Neither the single nor the album charted in the U.K. With their contractual obligations to Dunhill now fulfilled, the band's split was now final. They would be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998.

Cass Elliot's solo career carried on after the success of "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" with two more Top 40 singles, "It's Getting Better" (#30) and "Make Your Own Kind Of Music" (#36). Tours of Europe and America were mixed with television appearances including two specials, The Mama Cass Television Program on ABC in January, 1969 and Don't Call Me Mama Anymore on CBS in September, 1973. But with musical tastes changing, her albums stopped selling. None of her three post-Mamas And Papas LPs, "Cass Elliot" in 1972, "The Road Is No Place For A Lady" in 1972, and "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore" in 1973, produced a hit record. During an appearance on NBC's Tonight Show, she told Johnny Carson that people were using her last single as a Frisbee. Fans were shocked and saddened to learn that Cass died of heart failure in London, England on July 29th, 1974. Some media outlets reported that she had choked to death on a sandwich, a false rumor that persisted for many years. All three surviving members of The Mamas And Papas attended her funeral and expressed overwhelming grief at her passing. She was survived by her only child, Owen Vanessa Elliot, to whom she gave birth in 1967.

John Phillips released a Country flavored album called "John, the Wolf King of L.A.", that included one hit single, "Mississippi", which reached #32 in America during the Summer of 1970. He went on to write songs for the soundtrack to the film Brewster McCloud, as well as contributing tunes to the soundtracks of Myra Breckinridge and The Man Who Fell To Earth. John also wrote a doomed stage musical called Man On The Moon in 1975 and several songs for other artists, including his then wife Genevieve Waite's 1974 album, "Romance Is On The Rise" and the hit single, "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys. Battling a heroin addiction throughout most of the '70s, Phillips was arrested and later convicted on a charge of conspiring to distribute narcotics, for which he spent three weeks in jail. Upon his release, he re-formed The Mamas And The Papas with his daughter, Mackenzie Phillips, Spanky McFarlane (of the group Spanky And Our Gang) and Denny Doherty. Throughout the rest of his life, Phillips performed with several different incarnations of this group. Sadly, John died of heart failure in Los Angeles on March 18th, 2001 at the age of 65, just days after completing recording sessions for a new album called "Phillips 66", the title of which signified that he was in his 66th year. A second LP, "Pay Pack and Follow", recorded with the help of members of The Rolling Stones in 1973, was also quickly issued. John was survived by five children, businessman Jeffery Phillips and actress/singer Mackenzie Phillips by his first wife Susan Adams, singer Chynna Phillips by his second wife Michelle Gilliam, songwriter Tamerlane Orlando Phillips and actress/model Bijou Phillips by this third wife Genevieve Waite.

Denny Doherty recorded an album called "Watcha Gonna Do?" in 1971, and although it contained several quality songs and received favorable reviews, it sold poorly. The follow-up, "Waiting For A Song", was not released in America and only became available for download in 2001. The effort featured Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot as backing vocalists. One single called "You'll Never Know" reached the Top 20 of Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart in the late Summer of 1974. Doherty then turned to the stage, making a disastrous start in John Phillips’ musical Man on the Moon, which opened on January 29th, 1975 and closed two days later, on February 1st, after dismal opening night reviews. In 1977 he returned to his hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he took on Shakespearean roles. Those small parts led to the TV variety program, Denny's Sho, which ran for one season in 1978. He went on to host the children's program Theodore Tugboat, where he voiced the role of The Harbour Master and various other characters. In 1982, Doherty joined a resurrected version of The Mamas And The Papas consisting of John Phillips, his daughter Mackenzie Phillips, and Elaine 'Spanky' McFarlane, which toured and performed the group's famous hits as well as new material. In 1997 he wrote a performed an autobiographical stage musical Dream a Little Dream (the Nearly True Story of the Mamas and the Papas), which reached the off-Broadway Village Theater in New York in 2003. Fans around the world, particularly in his native Canada, were saddened to learn that Denny Doherty died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, on January 19, 2007. He was survived by his three children, Jessica Woods, Emberly Doherty, and John Doherty.

Michelle Phillips also tried to keep her recording career going, but not being blessed with as strong of a voice as Cass Elliot, her only solo album, 1977's "Victim Of Romance" went virtually ignored. She did however carve out a successful life as an actress with the films The Last Movie (1971), Dillinger (1973), Valentino (1977), Bloodline (1979), The Man with Bogart's Face (1980), American Anthem (1986), Let It Ride (1989), and Joshua Tree (1993). Her television credits included Hotel, Knots Landing, Beverly Hills, 90210, and many others. She published her memoir, California Dreamin' in 1986.

John Phillips' name was in the news again in September, 2009 when his daughter Mackenzie appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show for an hour-long interview in which she said her father injected her with cocaine when she was just eleven years old. She also claimed to have had a ten year incestuous relationship with John that ended when she became pregnant and did not know who the father was. She said that her father paid for her to have an abortion, "and I never let him touch me again." Genevieve Waite, John's wife at the time of the alleged abuse, denounced the allegations, as did Michelle Phillips. Chynna Phillips, Mackenzie's half-sister and Michelle Phillips' daughter, said she was told of the abuse in 1997. Bijou Phillips, Mackenzie's other half-sister, said "I do not believe my sister. Our father is many things; this is not one of them." Jessica Woods, daughter of Denny Doherty, said that her father knew of the relationship. Now that John is no longer here to defend himself, the truth may never be known, but the accusation alone has left a nasty stain on John Phillips reputation.

In February, 2016, an updated version of "California Dreamin'" by a German DJ called Freischwimmer topped the Billboard Dance Chart. The original version had made it to #4 nearly fifty years earlier in March, 1966.