Wednesday, February 21, 2007

California Dreamin’ –
John, Michelle, Denny and Cass
they taught us all about California dreamin’, and their music transcends the generations. Here is my (mostly) postcard tribute to their music and their lives, as a group and as individuals.

Watertown, New York – birthplace of Claude Andrew Phillips, John Phillips’ father, son of an English immigrant to Canada and an Irish lass who emigrated to America from County Cork during the potato famine of the 1850s.

Okmulgee, Oklahoma – birthplace of Edna Gertrude Gaines, John Phillips’ mother, a full-blooded Cherokee. Claude and Edna met when Claude came to Okmulgee to claim his winnings in a poker game during his time in the Marines – a tavern.

Parris Island, South Carolina – birthplace of John Edmund Andrew Phillips on August 30, 1935, to Claude and Edna Phillips and brother Tommy and sister Rosemary.

Alexandria, Virginia – where the Phillipses moved when John’s father was stationed at Quantico, Virginia, Marine facility. John was raised here and attended George Washington High School, where he was friends with Phil Blondheim, who later became better known as Scott McKenzie. The two would later join forces with Dick Weissman to form the folk group The Journeymen.

Linton Hall Military School, Bristow, Virginia, near Manassas – where John spent five years of school during his primary school years.

Annapolis Naval Academy – John had a brief career as a plebe before his disinterest in the whole thing inspired him to contrive a viable escape.

Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, Virginia – one of several colleges and universities John attended briefly in an eighteen-month timeframe after leaving Annapolis

Alexandria, Virginia – where John married Susie Adams, and son Jeff and daughter Laura MacKenzie were born.

Havana, Cuba – John’s first “vacation from marriage” location, where he and a friend spent some time playing in cafes before coming back to the States.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

San Diego, California – birthplace of Michelle Phillips’ father, Gardner Burnett “Gil” Gilliam

Long Beach, California – where Holly Michelle Gilliam was born on June 4, 1944, to “Gil” Gilliam and Joyce Leon Poole Gilliam and sister Russell.

Los Angeles, California – where Michelle lived in early childhood and other times during her growing up years

Buffalo, New York – Michelle and family lived briefly (less than a year) right after her mother died when Michelle was five years old.

Mexico City, Mexico – where Michelle and her family lived during five years of her childhood

San Francisco, California -- where John and Michelle met. Michelle was living there after she had left home (by then Los Angeles again); she saw The Journeymen playing live and was smitten by the tall guitar player. He didn't have any trouble falling for her, as well.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – birthplace of Dennis Stephen Gerard Doherty on November 29, 1940. Denny grew up here and formed a folk trio with a couple of friends, and they called themselves the Colonials.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Montreal, Ontario, Canada – Denny’s first stop with the Colonials when they decided to take off for the bright city lights.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada – Another stop for the Colonials

Washington, DC – The Colonials played here later after playing in Toronto and New York.

Baltimore, Maryland – birthplace of Ellen Naomi Cohen (who grew up to become Cass Elliot) on September 19, 1941, daughter of Philip Cohen and Bess Levine Cohen. It is also the port of debarkation for her paternal grandparents, who emigrated from Russia several years before. Born to the spotlight, little Ellen performed "Don't Fence Me In" at the Hippodrome in Baltimore at the tender age of 4.

Alexandria, Virginia – Cass and family moved when she was young; the family lived there until halfway through Cass' high school career. The first half of her high school career was spent at George Washington High School in Alexandria, the same high school attended some years earlier by John Phillips and Scott McKenzie.

Library of Congress, Washington, DC – Cass’ father Philip Cohen owned a deli across the street from the Library of Congress during the last years the family lived in the DC metro area.

Baltimore, Maryland – Philip Cohen moved his family back to their original American roots in Baltimore when Cass was in the middle of her high school years. She attended Forest Park High School and graduated in class of '61, along with several other classmates who would go on to have success in the entertainment field, including Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox, who would later write "Grease", which was based on life at Forest Park High School.

When Cass was a sophomore, planned to go to Goucher, but John couldn't make that rhyme with anything.

Swarthmore College – the college John used with a literary license because it was easier to work into the song "Creeque Alley" than Goucher

New York City – where Cass went to pursue her dream of a career in music and drama (little realizing that in a few years, she would have more of both than she ever imagined)

Albert Hotel – New York – where Denny was living when he met Cass.

Chicago, Illinois – where Cass went with Tim Rose, hooked up with John Brown and became “The Triumverate”. Tim and Cass would later hook up with Jim Hendricks and form “The Big Three”.

Los Angeles, California -- where the Colonials broke up.

Mugwumps – The group formed with some Canadians (Denny Doherty and Zal Yanovsky, who would later form The Lovin' Spoonful with John Sebastian) and some Americans, Jim Hendricks, Cass Elliot and John Sebastian.

Greenwich Village, New York City – The place to be in the early sixties -- folk rock is king, John and Michelle meet Denny, who later introduces them to his good friend Cass Elliott, and John writes “California Dreamin’” and several other songs that would someday become part of the ultimate Mamas and Papas songbook.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

St. John, Virgin Islands – where John, Michelle and Denny and a whole entourage of their friends and other family members (including John's daughter Laura MacKenzie Phillips) decided to vacation in 1965, and Cass followed some time later after the break-up of her current band. They all camped on the beach for awhile before they ran out of money and had to find work and other digs.

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands – Creeque Alley (pronounced “Creaky” and really spelled “Creque”) – where they met up with boarding-house owner Duffy, and, calling themselves "The New Journeymen", Denny, Michelle and John got a job as the house band while Cass waited tables after they talked Duffy into turning his boarding house into a bar. Cass sang along with them from the restaurant floor, and over time, they blended their voices perfectly. When time ran out on their trip to paradise, they all made a hasty exit in the middle of the night and got out of the Virgin Islands just ahead of several creditors.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

San Juan, Puerto Rico -- After leaving the Virgin Islands, Michelle, John and Denny were only able to get as far as San Juan on their limited resources. With only $150 between them, Michelle decided to risk it at a casino, whereupon she made thirteen (or seventeen or eighteen, depending on whose account you believe) straight passes with the dice, which got them more than enough money to get back to the States.

New York City – John, Michelle and Denny arrived back in their old stomping grounds to find it a virtual ghost town, at least musically. While they had been in the Caribbean, the entire rock and folk music scene moved to California. Even Cass had gone west. The clock in this postcard doesn't always say twelve-thirty -- just twice a day, most times.

San Francisco, California – Michelle, John and Denny delivered a You-Drive-It Cadillac from New York so as to have a way to get to the west coast.

Los Angeles, California – Next stop, L.A., you know where that's at, where they reunited with Cass, met Lou Adler of Dunhill Records, and signed a contract. The Mamas and Papas were born, and they all moved into a house on Flores Street and began recording.

Tijuana, Mexico – Soon after signing with Dunhill, the group took a vacation, and while they were in Tijuana, Denny confessed to Cass that he and Michelle had been indulging in a flirtation that had come to fruition – but alas, only once, as it were. One indulgence, however large or small, and it changed the dynamics of the group forever. It would seem that everything was over before it even began.

Laurel Canyon, California – John moved to a house here after finding out about Denny and Michelle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

London, England – June 1966 -- the group’s first trip there, but they went without Michelle, who had officially been "fired" from the group. It was on this trip that Cass first met her idol, John Lennon. Later on that summer, Michelle was officially back in the group.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Monterey, California -- site of the first pop festival. Lou Adler and John Phillips became the organizers of what ultimately became a charity festival and resulted in the formation of the Monterey Festival Foundation, a foundation that still exists today. All the performers save for one (Ravi Shankar) performed for free -- Ravi had already signed a contract and held the organizers to it. This would be the forerunner of Woodstock and others like it.

San Francisco – If you're going, be sure to wear flowers in your hair. To reassure the local officials in Monterey, John wrote the song as the anthem for the Monterey Pop Festival, admonishing the youth to come in peace; his high school buddy and former bandmate with the Journeymen, Scott McKenzie, sang it, and it became a smash hit. It also gave rise to the labeling of baby boomers as Flower Children and spawned the term "flower power". The vast migration of young people to the San Francisco area that summer resulted in what became known as the Summer of Love. Scott and John would remain friends all of their lives.

Hollywood Bowl – The site of the last live concert of the group -- August 1967. Ironically, it was the first place the group performed on stage together after becoming the Mamas and Papas and signing with Dunhill. The Magic Cyrcle has come full circle.

London, England – John embarrassed Cass in front of the British rock and roll royalty (specifically Mick Jagger), and it was the last straw for her. She declared, "This is it! I'm out of here and out of the band!"

Los Angeles, California – John and Michelle’s daughter Chynna was born in February 1968; John and Michelle divorced and the Mamas and Papas broke up, retreated to their separate corners to reconstruct their lives and careers separate from each other, although unbeknownst to them, they were contractually obligated to record another album or two in the next two years.

Malibu, California – Michelle took Chynna and moved there after her divorce from John was final.

Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada -- Breaking with the counterculture stance that Vegas was uncool, Cass scheduled this as the site of her first one-woman show, which turned out to be less than the roaring success she'd hoped to achieve.

The Paladium in London – Cass was performing a two-week one-woman show here when she died. She was playing to sold-out audiences, rave reviews and standing ovations, and those around her said she was the happiest she’d ever been in her life. Once started, the rumor of her death being caused by her choking on a ham sandwich persists unabated, despite the fact that her death was actually caused by a heart attack. As recently as February 2007, TVLand's "Myths and Legends" debunked the rumor yet again.
John said, "Inside she thought she was Marilyn Monroe." She was, John. SHE WAS.