John Phillips, co-founder, songwriter and musical architect of the Mamas and the Papas died of heart failure on Sunday morning at 8:15 a.m. (PST) at UCLA Medical Center. He was sixty-five-years-old.
Phillips is best known as the Mamas and the Papas’ chief songwriter and vocal arranger, having arranged and written or co-written several Top Ten hits during the group’s short lifetime, including “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday,” “I Saw Her Again Last Night,” “Creeque Alley” and “12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon).”
Phillips had been in ill health for the past few months, suffering various ailments, including a stomach virus that affected his kidneys. In 1992 he received a liver transplant, and a few years later, underwent hip replacement surgery.
Phillips began his career in the early 1960s with the folk group, the Journeymen, which included singer Scott MacKenzie, for whom Phillips later wrote and produced the hit single, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).” After marrying Michelle Phillips in the early Sixties and meeting future group members Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty in Greenwich Village, the four eventually re-located to Los Angeles, and formed the Mamas and the Papas, and were soon signed to Dunhill Records by producer Lou Adler.
Although the group only lasted two and a half years, their records and Phillips’ vocal arrangements were revolutionary, as he fused his love of the vocal stylings of legendary jazz/pop ensemble Lambert, Hendricks & Ross with Adler’s laid back West Coast production approach. The group is also well known for their inter-group romantic entanglements, which threatened their existence throughout their short run.
Perhaps John Phillips’ crowning achievement was the organization and production of the Monterey International Pop festival, which he shepherded along with Adler. Monterey Pop served as an unofficial “coming out party” for the new counterculture. True to Phillips’ organizational, leadership and diplomatic genius, he and Adler were able to pacify both the staid residents of Monterey as well as the hippies. In a sense, this was an extension of what he did with the Mamas and the Papas, a band that was not only embraced and appreciated by young people and proto-hippies, but by their parents as well.
According to Michelle Phillips, “We broke up when there wasn’t anything left in the pitcher. I think that in the two and a half years that we were together, there was so much created, that there just wasn’t anything left.”
Following the band’s demise and his subsequent divorce from Michelle Phillips, Phillips recorded an excellent solo album, Wolfking Of L.A., which was a low-key forerunner of the singer-songwriter genre. Phillips’ also wrote a minor classic for the Grateful Dead, “Me & My Uncle”, which graced the band’s concert repertoire well into the Nineties.
After dabbling in film music and Broadway in the early-mid Seventies, Phillips renewed his friendship with the Rolling Stones, and began recording a new solo album with various Stones members, including a production team of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Phillips told RollingStone.com in 1998, “They were the producers, and the real drive and the thrust behind the album, and it was an unexpected kindness and friendship that Mick and Keith showed for me.”
Due to the Stones’ commitments to Atlantic Records at the time, as well as Phillips’ and Keith Richards’ own escalating drug use, the album was shelved. It remains one of rock’s holy grails, and according to a spokesman for Phillips, the album, titled Pay Pack and Follow, is due out in the U.K. in May on Eagle records.
Following a well-publicized drug addiction and narcotics trafficking arrest in the early Eighties, Phillips cleaned up, and eventually took to the road with a re-vamped version of the Mamas and the Papas. In 1988, he co-wrote the Beach Boys’ hit, “Kokomo.”
In recent years, following the marriage to his fourth wife, Farnaz, Phillips kept a low profile. According to reports, Phillips had just completed a new solo album, titled Slow Starter.
Phillips is survived by his wife Farnaz; and daughters Mackenzie, an actress; Chynna, a member of Wilson Phillips; Bijou, a pop singer and actress; sons Jeffrey and Tamerlane; stepdaughters Atoosa and Sanaz. No funeral or memorial arrangements have been made at press time.