Popular Sixties Band The Mamas and the Papas

The way this band came together has everything to do with the saying – if something is meant to happen it will happen. The group members were Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, John Phillips, Michelle Phillips and Jill Gibson.

Coming Together

The first time that John Phillips saw Michelle Gilliam was at the hungy i nightclub in San Francisco. True love for them was a rough path since Michelle was 16 and John was 25 and already married. However he did get a divorce and married his California girl. During this time his group The Journeymen had broken up and he was trying to come up with a new group. He created the group The New Journeymen and included his wife Michelle. Along came Denny Doherty and stepped in as a tenor. Doherty had just broke up with his group The Mugwumps which had included future rock band “Lovin’ Spoonful” member Zal Yanovsky and future Mama member Cass Elliot. Doherty was included in the band and so the three members sang as The New Journeymen.

Finally Doherty arranged for the Phillips to meet Cass Elliot. This was the sixties and one night while tripping on a then new drug LSD they met Elliot who joined in the party. They all wound up vacationing in The Virgin Islands and in the beauty of that setting John Phillips began creating and writing down songs. At first John wasn’t convince that Elliot could sing the right notes and be part of the group. After getting knocked unconscious by a falling lead pipe and winding up with a mild concussion when she started singing again Elliot was finally able to hit that extra note and was accepted into the group.

Recording and the First Hits

Returning from the Virgin Islands Elliot headed straight for L.A. but the others flew into New York. It was so cold there after the islands that Michelle wanted to head for the West Coast. John collaborated with her and they wrote one of their greatest hits “California Dreamin’”. On the West Coast the four members met at Western Recording Studios and Elliot mentioned that their group included both mamas and papas and so their name so the light of day and they officially became The Mamas and the Papas.

Their first Top Ten hit was “California Dreamin’”. After recording their first album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears they practically became an overnight hit. The album was released in March 1966 and besides their first hit included the singles “Monday, Monday” and “Do You Wanna Dance?”

However the group members started fighting among themselves. They had all moved into a big house in Hollywood and this resulted in Michelle and Doherty drifting into a flirtatious affair, Elliot getting resentful and John slowing withdrawing from everyone. The more popular they became the more they partied and the drug use grew. At this time John wrote “I Saw Her Again Last Night”. By the time they entered the studio to record their second album Michelle and Elliot had drifted away to live separately and John and Doherty remained roommates.

Their second album was titled The Mamas and The Papas and included the singles “I Saw Her Again”, “Words of Love” and “Dancing in the Street”.

Trouble on the Horizon

Each member of this group appeared to have their own problems. Elliot kept distancing herself from the group and entertained poets, musicians, writers and bikers in her Laurel Canyon home. Meanwhile John was getting more into drug abuse and starting to diminish his collection of art and fancy cars. Doherty was starting to drink too much and Michelle was flirting outrageously. John insisted they fire her from the group and she was replaced by Jill Gibson until finally Michelle returned to the group and she and John decided to try to repair their relationship. Elliot gave birth to a baby girl named Owen Vanessa in April 1967 but never revealed who the father was.

The Mamas and The Papas could not get over their problems and differences so their last performance together was at the popular Monterey Pop Festival. Elliot had decided to try for a solo career and recorded “Dream a Little Dream of Me”. Since neither Michelle nor John nor Doherty were successful in going solo Doherty talked the group into recording one more album in 1971 titled People Like Us. The album had no single releases and included such songs as “Pacific Coast Highway”, “Shooting Star” and “Pearl”.

Michelle and John had a daughter Chynna and finally spilt up for good. Elliot went on to star in the movie “H.R. Pufnstuf”, various TV programs and her own specials and Doherty released two solo albums. In July of 1974 Elliot had a two week engagement at the London Palladium and got a standing ovation. Tragically on July 29th she was found dead of heart failure in her apartment. The former Mama and two Papas got together to say farewell to their once dear friend on August 2, 1974.

The New Mamas and Papas

In 1982 John, Doherty, Mackenzie Phillips (John’s daughter) and Spanky McFarlane (of Spanky and Our Gang) came together as The New Mamas and Papas. They still play today and have a new generation of fans.

As for the former members Doherty did a one man show called Dream a Little Dream of Me dedicated to his beloved friend Elliot. He died from a second abdominal aortic aneurysm on January 19, 2007. John died on March 18, 2001 of heart failure at the age of 65. Michelle has a successful acting career and remains the only surviving member of the original group.

The Mamas and the Papas music remains legendary and new generations are discovering it keeping their memory alive. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 12, 1998 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000.

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Comments 7 comments

Missy Smith profile image

Missy Smith 14 months ago from Florida

My favorite version of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" I love Mama Cass singing that song. It's one of my favorites.

I know a lot about this story. I am a fan of " The Mamas and Papas," so I watched some documentaries through the years.

To me, Chynna looks like Doherty's daughter more than Phillips, but that's just my observation and opinion.

I think I heard Cass was eating a sandwich when she died of heart failure. I had no particular reason in mentioning that, but I do remember hearing that fact somewhere.

Great article!


always exploring profile image

always exploring 14 months ago from Southern Illinois

I read that Cass choked on a hot dog while lying in bed causing A fib. They made some great songs. I think Cass had the best voice although I liked all their music. I'm listening to Cass sing " Dream a little dream of me. " Great article!


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 14 months ago from london

I know Dream a little Dream of me, but not much more. I did not know or do not remember these ones. Some sad moments in their lives, but the videos sound wonderful. Nice Hub, Gypsy.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 14 months ago from Home Sweet Home

never heard of them, all I know is ABBA, are they the similar groups?


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 14 months ago from Riga, Latvia Author

Glad you enjoyed this Missy Smith. The story about the sandwich was that at first they thought she had choked to death on the sandwich before the actually knew what had happened.

Thank you Ruby. She didn't choke and it was a ham sandwich.

Thank you Manatita. They're part of the oldies bands I love.

ABBA came along long after the Mamas and the Papas. This group was part of the popular groups in the 60s.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 14 months ago from Central Florida

Rasma, first I want to say I love this series. You take me back to such memorable times with each band you highlight.

The Mamas and the Papas were a band that no one has since rivaled. Their sound is unique - and huge. With one guitar, an occasional tamborine and four harmonic voices, the Mamas and Papas were in a league of their own.

Thanks for taking me back.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 14 months ago from Riga, Latvia Author

You welcome Shauna. Glad you enjoyed this. I too love the oldies.

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