From left to Right: Holly Michelle Gilliam Phillips/ April 1944; Cassandra Elliott/ September 1943 – July 1974; Dennis Doherty (Canadian) November 1941 – January 2007; John Phillips August/ 1935 – March/2001
Video: Live Shindig 1965 – I Call Your Name
Video: Monterey 1967 – California Dreamin’
1. California Dreamin’/ Dunhill 4020/February 1966/ #4
2. Monday, Monday/ Dunhill 4026/March 1966/ # 1 (3)
3. I Saw Her Again/ Dunhill 4031/ July 1966/ #5
4. Look Through My Window/ Dunhill 4050/ #24
5. Words of Love/ Dunhill 4057/ December 1966/ #5
6. Dedicated to the One I Love (great version)/ Dunhill 4077/ March 1967/ #2 (3)
7. Creeque Alley (Gary’s favourite)/ Dunhill 4083/ May 1967/ #5
8. Twelve Thirty (Young girls are coming to the Canyon)/ Dunhill 4099/ September 1967/ #20
9. Glad to be Unhappy/ Dunhill 4107/ November 1967/ #9
10. Dream A Little Dream Of Me/ Dunhill 4145/ #12 (Mama Cass with the Mamas & the Papas)
The name of the band was inspired by a daytime television talk show. Before the group recorded their debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, the band was known for a short time as “The Magic Circle”. Wanting an easier name to remember, they were sitting around their house (which all four band members initially shared) brainstorming on a new name. Someone switched on the TV and a talk show was on with a Hells Angel. The first thing they heard was: “Now hold on there, Hoss. Some people call our women cheap, but we just call them our Mamas.” Cass jumped up and exclaimed, “Yeah! I want to be a Mama!” Michelle chimed in that she wanted to be a “Mama” too. John and Denny looked at each other and John said, “Papas? Okay, problem solved.” And the band had a new name.
In interviews, former band members confide that their recording sessions (and lifestyles) were usually heavily drug-laden, with large reserves of marijuana and other popular 1960s drugs on hand. They even admit that their young children, also usually present at recording sessions, openly witnessed their drug activities.
John Phillips had married Michelle Gilliam back on December 31, 1962, long before the formation of the band. Early on in the band’s history, when they were still “The Magic Circle”, Michelle and Doherty began an affair in 1965. They were able to keep it secret from the other two band members for quite some time. During a trip to Mexico, Doherty revealed his affair to Elliot, who was furious (since she was secretly in love with Doherty). Soon afterwards, John Phillips caught Michelle and Doherty in the act and moved out of the house.
John could not stand to live with Michelle afterwards and so moved back in with Doherty. At this point Michelle fled into the arms of Gene Clark of The Byrds (friends and rivals of The Mamas & the Papas). After one concert where Michelle blew kisses to front-row-seated Clark, John said he could not stand to perform with Michelle any longer. Consulting both their attorney Abe Somer as well as their label Dunhill Records, the band then drafted a formal statement kicking Michelle out of the group in June 1966.
At this point they hired a new band member to replace Michelle, Jill Gibson, girlfriend of their producer Lou Adler. Gibson was already a singer/songwriter who had performed on several Jan and Dean albums. In fact, she had once been involved with Jan Berry for seven years before becoming romantically linked to Adler. Gibson was however not known as a strong singer, but learned to sing Michelle’s parts within three weeks while the band was in London, England. Jill Gibson’s vocals are featured on the band’s second album The Mamas & The Papas, except for two tracks that include Michelle. Gibson’s most important asset, however, was that she was a good replacement for Michelle: long blond hair, slim figure, pretty face, good voice, etc. Shortly after recording and touring with Gibson, it became apparent that some fans were not happy with the substitution while others did not mind. Afterwards, largely due to John, the band reintroduced Michelle to the line-up in late August 1966. Gibson received an undisclosed lump sum for her part and later would admit to feeling betrayed by John Phillips.
Michelle and John reconciled and bought a home together in Bel Air, while the band tried to forge ahead. Things seemed fine for a while (at least they pretended they were). The group recorded their third album Deliver, which became a huge hit, and during this same time Denny was drinking heavily trying to forget Michelle. He still had a hard time seeing her back with John. Eventually the band closed the first ever Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, but performed dismally. John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Lou Adler organized the festival, and according to interviews with the members of the group, they were all so caught up in the festival they never got around to rehearsing. That, combined with Denny Doherty’s last minute arrival from Canada, created an unmemorable performance.
The band tried to work on another album (to which they were contractually bound). After making no progress, they decided to take a trip in October of 1967, to Europe to spark their creativity. While in England at a party thrown by Dunhill Records, their record label, Elliot was talking to Mick Jagger. John approached them and made an insulting remark about her in front of the guests. Disgusted and humiliated, she stormed out of the party and quit the band. Their record company released a Greatest Hits compilation as a stopgap measure. Cass was contractually bound for the band’s next LP, and therefore appeared on The Papas & The Mamas, the group’s fourth album.
The band broke up in July 1968. In a rare interview, after the group’s break up, with Rolling Stone magazine, Cass admitted she wanted to go solo and that this is what had caused the official break up of the band.
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.” In reviewing their contracts, the record company decided the band owed them one more album. After about a year apart, the band regrouped and released their final album People Like Us in 1971. They disbanded in 1972.
After the final break-up, Cass Elliot had a successful solo career, touring the U.S. and Europe, becoming popular with hits such as “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “It’s Getting Better”. The three albums she recorded for RCA, (Cass Elliot, The Road Is No Place for a Lady, both released in 1972 and Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore, released in 1973 contained singles, but none hit the charts.
She had many successful appearances on American variety shows, including the highly popular Carol Burnett Show. She also starred in two U.S. prime-time network TV specials – “The Mama Cass Television Program” airing on ABC in January, 1969 and “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore” airing on CBS in September, 1973. Cass also appeared on the CBS game show Match Game in 1973.
While on tour with her solo act, Elliot died of a heart attack on July 29, 1974, in a London flat owned by Harry Nilsson. She had just performed for two sold-out weeks to audiences at the London Palladium in the UK. The night before she died, she had called Michelle in L.A. to tell her how thrilled she was about getting standing ovations. Michelle Phillips says that Cass Elliot “died a very happy woman.” Her former band mates and Lou Adler all attended her funeral in Los Angeles.
John Phillips continued to write songs for solo performers and other acts. Perhaps his best-known effort outside of The Mamas & the Papas was as co-writer of the Beach Boys’ #1 hit “Kokomo“.
In the 1980s, John reunited with Denny Doherty and formed The New Mamas and The Papas, with his daughter Mackenzie Phillips and Spanky McFarlane (of the group Spanky and Our Gang). After some initial success, Doherty dropped out of the band in 1987 because he was discontented with John’s drug abuse. The band continued to prosper and John’s old friend Scott McKenzie replaced Denny until 1991 when John Phillips began to show signs of liver failure and became very ill. Mackenzie Phillips also continued to struggle with drug abuse and was permanently replaced by Laurie Beebe, former vocalist of re-formed group The Buckinghams in 1991. John Phillips dropped out of the group after a liver transplant in 1992 and Doherty reclaimed his original position with McKenzie replacing John on the front line until the break up of the band in 1994. Throughout the rest of his life, Phillips toured with various versions of the group playing smaller venues, reunion shows, and TV specials. He died of heart failure on March 18, 2001.
His final album, Phillips 66, was released posthumously in August 2001. John’s version of The Mamas & the Papas’ story is told in the American PBS (Public Broadcasting System) TV special, Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas.
Denny Doherty had a solo hit on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1974 with a rendition of the standard “You’ll Never Know“, and went on to host a popular variety show in Canada.
In response to Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas, Denny produced his own stage musical Dream a Little Dream (the nearly true story of The Mamas and The Papas). It featured music from the group and focused on his relationship with Mama Cass. It was, he said, to “set the record straight.”
In the 1990s, Denny was the producer and host of a popular children’s TV show in Canada, Theodore Tugboat — a kind of Thomas the Tank Engine for vessels in the Halifax Harbour.
Denny Doherty died on January 19, 2007, at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, from kidney failure following surgery on an abdominal aneurysm.
After the unsuccessful release of an album in 1977, Victim of Romance, Michelle Phillips went on to a successful acting career, appearing in the 1973 movie Dillinger, 1979’s Bloodline, the 1980 Sam Spade tribute/spoof, The Man with Bogart’s Face, American Anthem in 1986 and Let It Ride in 1989.
She also had a successful run in television drama, including Knots Landing and Beverly Hills, 90210.
As the last surviving original member of The Mamas and The Papas, and the copyright owner for the song “California Dreamin”, Michelle was a major contributor to the 2005 PBS Television Special California Dreamin': The Songs of The Mamas and the Papas.