John Phillips was in a number of folk groups including the Journeymen, a trio with Dick Weissman and Scott McKenzie but it never connected with the public despite being signed to Capitol Records. He formed the New Journeymen with future screenwriter Marshall Brickman and a young model and singer named Michelle Gilliam. The group did not last long but John and Michelle started to write songs together and formed a close bond before marrying. Cassandra Elliot came from Baltimore and sang in the New York's off-Broadway theatre scene for a while before joining a folk trio called Triumverate, then the Big 3. They had some recording success before evolving into Mugwumps, with Zal Yanovsky, John Sebastian, and Denny Doherty. Despite promise the group failed to deliver but the voices of Denny and Cass were a delight. John Phillips decided to reactivate the New Journeymen with Denny Doherty and Michelle, and Denny introduced them to his friend Cass Elliot. In 1965 The Magic Circle were formed with husband and wife, John and Michelle Phillips and friends Gilliam Denny Doherty, and Cass Elliot and moved to California. The group wanted a better name and took Mamas and Papas, after the girls expressed a fun desire to be Hell’s Angel, Mamas. Lou Adler signed them on the spot and their debut single, "California Dreamin'," was a chart success.
The Mamas and the Papas was the first band to utilize folk, rock, jazz, pop, and radiant harmonies. Support in the studio was provided by the ‘Wrecking Crew’ made up of seasoned session musicians like Glen Campbell (guitar), Eric Hord (guitar), and P.F. Sloan(guitar); Bud Shank ( flute), Larry Knechtel (keyboards), Joe Osborne (bass), Hal Blaine (drums). Sunshine pop was orchestrated by John Phillips and their second single was also taken from their first album and “Monday Monday” became another international success.
They were a hippy band and true to form lived together in a commune. Their life styles and recording sessions were reportedly heavily drug-laden. The era of free love took its toll on the group as Michelle and Denny harboured a secret love affair which eventually caused the band to break up. In 1966 Jill Gibson replaced Michelle Phillips. She was a singer/songwriter who had performed on several Jan and Dean albums. Despite being a reasonable performer some fans were disgruntled with the substitution and Michelle rejoined the line-up after Michelle and John had reconciled. The group recorded their third album Deliver, which became a huge hit, including hit singles with "I Saw Her Again" and "Words of Love," then "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Creeque Alley," and "Look Through My Window.”
By this time however Denny was drinking heavily and their personal performances started to falter. Cass Elliot fell out with John in 1967 and ostensibly quit the band, although she did contribute to the groups’ fourth album. The Mamas and Papas broke up in July 1968 but were reformed again in 1971 and released their final album People Like Us.
Meantime Cass Elliot started a very successful solo career and toured the U.S. and Europe, becoming popular with hits such as "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and "It's Getting Better." Cass Elliot died of a heart attack in 1974.
John Phillips also had a moderate solo hit in 1970 with "Mississippi." The singer died in 2001.
Denny Doherty had a solo hit in 1974 with the standard "You'll Never Know."
He went on to host a popular variety show in Canada and died in January 2007. Michelle Phillips gave up singing and became a movie and TV actress. The Mamas & the Papas were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000. Succeeding incarnations of The Mamas & the Papas toured small venues nationwide with the most notable included John Phillips, his daughter Mackenzie Phillips and Spanky McFarlane (Spanky and our gang). Scott McKenzie had also appeared in the lineup for a short time but none of the incarnations had the spirit and impact of the original group that John Phillips helped to build. John Phillips wrote “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)," which gave Scott McKenzie an enormous hit. He also was instrumental in bringing Crosby, Stills & Nash together.
Worth a listen
California Dreamin' (1965)
Monday, Monday (1966)
I Saw Her Again (1966)
Words Of Love (1966)
Dancing In The Street (1966)
Dedicated to the One I Love (1967)
Creeque Alley (1967)
Dream a Little Dream of Me (1968)
Do You Wanna Dance (1968)
Make Your Own Kind of Music
It's Getting Better
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) (1967)
Crosby, Still and Nash
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