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The Mamas & the Papas

The Mamas & the Papas

The Mamas and the Papas were an American folk rock vocal group that recorded and performed from 1965 to 1968, reuniting briefly in 1971. They released five studio albums and seventeen singles, six of which made the top ten, and sold close to 40 million records worldwide. The group comprised John Phillips (1935–2001), Canadian Denny Doherty (1940–2007), Cass Elliot (1941–1974), and Michelle Phillips née Gilliam (b. 1944). Their sound was based on vocal harmonies arranged by songwriter and leader, John Phillips, an innovator who adapted folk to the new beat style of the early sixties.Cass ElliotCass Elliot had a successful solo career, touring the US and Europe; appearing frequently on television, including in two specials (The Mama Cass Television Program on ABC in January 1969 and Don't Call Me Mama Anymore on CBS in September 1973); and producing hits such as "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and "It's Getting Better". That said, she never surpassed her two Dunhill albums, Dream a Little Dream (1968) and Bubblegum, Lemonade, and ... Something for Mama (1969). None of the three albums she recorded for RCA – Cass Elliot (1972), The Road Is No Place for a Lady (1972), and Don't Call Me Mama Anymore (1973) – produced a charting single.Elliot died of heart failure in London on July 29, 1974, after completing a two-week engagement at the Palladium. The shows were mostly sold out and prompted standing ovations. Her former bandmates and Lou Adler attended her funeral in Los Angeles. Elliot was survived by her only child, Owen Vanessa Elliot (b. 1967).John PhillipsJohn Phillips' country-influenced solo album, John Phillips (John, the Wolf King of L.A.), was not a commercial success, despite featuring the single "Mississippi", which reached number thirty-two in the US. Nevertheless, it continues to enjoy critical favor. Rolling Stone gave it four stars when it was reissued in 2006, calling it “a genuine lost treasure”. Denny Doherty said that if the Mamas and the Papas had recorded the album, it might have been their best. Phillips wrote songs for the soundtrack to Brewster McCloud (Robert Altman, 1970) and original music for the soundtracks to Myra Breckinridge (Michael Sarne,1970) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicholas Roeg, 1976). He also wrote the ill-fated stage musical Man on the Moon (1975) and songs with and for other artists, including most of the tracks on the album Romance Is on the Rise (1974) by his then wife Geneviève Waïte, which he also produced; and "Kokomo" (1988), which was a number-one hit for the Beach Boys.Phillips was lost to heroin addiction through much of the 1970s, a period that culminated in his arrest and conviction in 1980 on a charge of conspiring to distribute narcotics, for which he spent a month in jail in 1981. In later years he performed with the New Mamas and the Papas (see below) and appeared in revival shows and television specials. He told his side of the Mamas and Papas' story in the memoir Papa John (1986), and in the PBS television documentary, Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and the Mamas and the Papas (1988). John Phillips died of heart failure in Los Angeles on March 18, 2001.Two albums were released immediately after his death: Pay Pack and Follow (April 2001), which included material recorded in London and New York with members of the Rolling Stones in 1976 and 1977; and Phillips 66 (August 2001), an album of new material and reworkings that "takes its title from the age Phillips would have been when the album was originally slated for its release". A later archival series on Varèse Sarabande included a reissue of John Phillips (John, the Wolf King of L.A.) with bonus tracks (2006); the sessions he recorded for Columbia with the Crusaders in 1972 and 1973, released as Jack of Diamonds (2007); his preferred mix of the Rolling Stones sessions, released with other material as Pussycat (2008); and his demos for Man on the Moon, released as Andy Warhol Presents Man on the Moon: The John Phillips Space Musical (2009).Phillips had five children: the businessman Jeffrey Phillips (b. 1957) and the actor and singer Laura Mackenzie Phillips (b. 1959) by his first wife Susan Adams; the singer Chynna Gilliam Phillips (b. 1968) of the band Wilson Phillips by his second wife Michelle Gilliam; and the songwriter Tamerlane Orlando Phillips (b. 1971) and the actor and model Bijou Phillips (b. 1980) by his third wife Geneviève Waïte. In 2009, Mackenzie Phillips wrote in her memoir, High on Arrival, that she had been in a long-term sexual relationship with her late father.Denny DohertyDenny Doherty's solo career faltered after the appearance of Whatcha Gonna Do? in 1971. The follow-up, Waiting for a Song (1974), was not released in the US, although a 2001 reissue by Varèse Sarabande gained wider distribution and the album is now available as a digital download. It features Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot as backing vocalists, the latter in what proved to be her last recorded performances. A single from the album, "You'll Never Know", made the adult contemporary charts. Doherty then turned to the stage, making a disastrous start in John Phillips’ Man on the Moon (1975). In 1977, he returned to his birthplace, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and started playing legitimate roles, including Shakespeare, at the Neptune Theater under the tutelage of John Neville. This led to television work, beginning with a variety program, Denny's Sho*, which ran for one season in 1978. He went on to host and voice parts in the children's program, Theodore Tugboat, and to act in various series, including twenty-two episodes of the drama Pit Pony. Doherty also performed with the New Mamas and the Papas (see below). An alcoholic through the 1960s and 1970s, Doherty recovered in the early 1980s and stayed sober for the remainder of his life. In 1996, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.Doherty answered John Phillips' PBS documentary with the autobiographical stage musical Dream a Little Dream (the Nearly True Story of the Mamas and the Papas), which he wrote with Paul Ledoux and performed sporadically, starting in Halifax in 1997, and eventually reaching the off-Broadway Village Theater in New York in 2003. The original cast recording – featuring Doherty and supporting band – was released by Lewlacow in 1999. Denny Doherty died of kidney failure at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, on January 19, 2007. He was survived by his three children, Jessica Woods, Emberly Doherty, and John Doherty. A documentary by Paul Ledoux, Here I Am: Denny Doherty and the Mamas and the Papas, premiered at Halifax's Atlantic Film Festival in September 2009 and screened on the Bravo cable network as part of the Great Canadian Biographies series in February 2010.Michelle PhillipsWhile Michelle Phillips' only solo album, "Victim of Romance" (1977), made little impact, she went on to build a successful career as an actress. Her film credits include "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 include "Hotel," "Knots Landing," "Beverly Hills, 90210," and many others. Phillips published a memoir, "California Dreamin'," in 1986, the same year John Phillips published his. Reading the two books together was, according to one reviewer, "like reading the transcripts in a divorce trial." As the co-writer and owner of the copyright to "California Dreamin'," Phillips was an important contributor to the 2005 PBS television documentary "California Dreamin': The Songs of the Mamas and the Papas."The New Mamas and the PapasThe New Mamas and the Papas were a byproduct of John Phillips' desire to "round out the picture of reform" as he awaited sentencing on narcotics charges in 1980. He invited his children Jeffrey and Mackenzie, both drug addicts living in Los Angeles, and Denny Doherty, an alcoholic living in Canada, to join him at the Fair Oaks Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, where he was undergoing rehabilitation. The children arrived around Thanksgiving and Doherty around Christmas. The idea of reviving the group was born at this time, with Phillips and Doherty in their original roles, Mackenzie Phillips taking Michelle Phillips' part and Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane of Spanky and Our Gang taking the part of Cass Elliot. Little progress was made until after Phillips had been sentenced and served his time in jail. The quartet began rehearsing in earnest and recording demos in the summer of 1981. Its first performances were in March 1982, when it was praised for its "verve and expertise", the "impressive precision" of the harmonies, and the "feeling ... of genuine celebration" on stage.The group toured the United States, including residencies in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but lost $150,000 in its first eighteen months. Phillips called a halt in August 1983 and the New Mamas and the Papas did not perform again until February 1985. They then resumed touring, with concerts in Europe, East Asia, and South America, as well as in Canada and the United States; at their height, they were playing up to 280 nights a year. John Phillips stayed off heroin, but remained addicted to alcohol, cocaine, and pills, as did his daughter. This affected the group's performance, and it was occasionally booed off stage.Doherty quit in 1987 and was replaced by Scott McKenzie (1939–2012). In 1991, Mackenzie Phillips was replaced by Laurie Beebe Lewis, a former vocalist with the Buckinghams who had earlier (1986-1987) temped with the band when Mackenzie Phillips was pregnant. John Phillips dropped out after a liver transplant in 1992 and Doherty returned. Lewis and McFarlane left in 1993, to be replaced by Lisa Brescia and Deb Lyons. The band continued to perform with varying line-ups, including Barry McGuire (1997-1998) and the recovering Phillips, until 1998, by which time, according to one critic, "the jingle singers who sang those fabulous Cass, Michelle, John, and Denny parts were an aural cartoon". In 1998 the lineup was Phillips, Scott McKenzie, Chrissy Faith, David Baker and Janelle Sadler. After Phillips and McKenzie retired permanently from touring, another singer, Mark Williamson, was brought in.Phillips wanted the New Mamas and the Papas to make an album, "but I just couldn't bring myself to commit to it". Varèse Sarabande released the 1981 demos with other material as Many Mamas, Many Papas in 2010. Beyond that, the band is represented on record only by live albums of uncertain provenance, including The Mamas and the Papas Reunion Live (1987) featuring the Phillips-Doherty-Phillips-McFarlane line-up and released by Teichiku in Japan; and Dreamin' Live (2005) on a label called Legacy (not the Columbia-Sony imprint), which features John and Mackenzie Phillips, Spanky McFarlane, and (probably) Scott McKenzie.Later recognitionIn 1986, John and Michelle Phillips were featured in the music video for the Beach Boys' second recording of "California Dreamin'", which appeared on the album Made in the U.S.A. Denny Doherty was unavailable. The Mamas and the Papas' own version of "California Dreamin'" was reissued in the UK and peaked at number nine in 1997. The song received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2001.The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips, as "The Mamas", were ranked number twenty-one on the VH1 network's list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock.In a review by Matthew Greenwald, he stated, "One of the best anthologies of the Mamas & the Papas, A Gathering of Flowers was put together immediately after the group's demise, and gives the listener an excellent overview of one of the most revolutionary and appealing groups to emerge from the folk-rock era. Although it may seem slim at first, with only 20 tracks spread out over two LPs, there is much more to be found. In between most cuts there are not only rehearsals and outtakes, but also interview snippets from John Phillips and Cass Elliot. These interviews create an aural documentary of the group in between great cuts like "California Dreamin'," "Monday, Monday," "I Saw Her Again," and others. Excellent liner notes by Andy Wickham and a generous collection of rare photos top this collection off in grand style." This anthology was never produced on CD but was available on vinyl and cassette tape for many years. Some companies are offering a CDR ripped version of this engaging look into the history of the Mamas & the Papas, normally including the source material to preserve copyrights.The band finally received a box set when the four-CD Complete Anthology was released in the UK in September 2004 and in the US in January 2005. It contains the five studio albums, the live album from Monterey, selections from their solo work, and rarities including their first sessions with Barry McGuire, all in "uniformly excellent" sound. The BBC called it "a treasure chest of pop gold".In addition to the three documentaries (Straight Shooter, California Dreamin',  and Here I Am), Doherty's musical, and the memoirs by John, Michelle, and Mackenzie Phillips, the group is the subject of Doug Hall's The Mamas and the Papas: California Dreamin' (2000) and Matthew Greenwald's Go Where You Wanna Go: The Oral History of the Mamas and the Papas (2002). Cass Elliot is the subject of Jon Johnson's Make Your Own Kind of Music: A Career Retrospective of Cass Elliot (1987) and Eddi Fiegel's Dream a Little Dream of Me: The Life of Mama Cass Elliot (2005). John Phillips' estate has authorized Chris Campion to write a biography of the group's leader, provisionally called Wolfking.Fox acquired the rights to make a film about the Mamas and the Papas in 2000. It was reported in 2007 that "The right script is in the process of being written." Peter Fitzpatrick's stage musical, Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story, was produced by Magnormos in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011 and revived in 2013.


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