biography john phillips

Biography of the singer, John Phillips

John Edmund Andrew Phillips was born on August 30th 1935, in Paris Island, S.C., the son of a military man and a housewife. From an early age, he showed great musical talent, learning to play piano and guitar. In high school he formed several rock and roll bands with friends, and knew early on that music was the only career for him.

On the completion of his education in the late 1950’s, John headed for New York and met two other singers, Dick Weissman and Scott McKenzie. The three formed a folk group called The Journeymen. The Journeymen toiled in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village for several years, playing their own original music and the hits of others, but folk groups were a dime a dozen at that time, and John started to feel that they would never be noticed. During this time John also met his first wife, Susan. They had two children together, Laura, who would later be known as MacKenzie, and Jeffrey.

The Journeymen often played at a coffeehouse called the hungry i. That is where, one day in the early sixties, John met a model named Michelle Gilliam. He discovered that she could sing, and fell in love almost instantly. John was 26, and Michelle was just 17. He left his wife and children, and he and Michelle were married on December 31, 1962. A year later, they met folksinger Denny Doherty and began talking about a musical collaboration. The only sticking point was Denny’s good friend Cass Elliot. Denny insisted that Cass be included in any of their projects, but John, ironically, did not feel her voice would “blend in.” John changed his mind after Cass impressed him with a high note, and The Mamas and the Papas were born.

The group moved to Los Angeles, feeling that their sound might be better appreciated in California. They were right. Soon The Mamas and the Papas were discovered by producer Lou Adler, and on October 1, 1965, the group was signed to Dunhill Records.

Over the next few years, John Phillips became a hit machine. He wrote or cowrote many of The Mamas and the Papas' songs, and arranged wonderful versions of other artists’ songs for the group to cover. He and Adler were especially effective at choosing material for and bringing the best out in Cass, who became known for her beautiful but saucy ballads.

On February 1, 1966, The Mamas and the Papas hit Number 1 on the charts with “California Dreamin’.” It was followed by other hits such as “Monday, Monday” and “Go Where You Wanna Go.” Their album “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” stayed on the charts for longer than any Beatles album, aside from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” John’s old friend Scott McKenzie had a huge hit with John’s song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair),” a rather laughable (to many critics) paean to the California lifestyle. Indeed, John and his band mates weren’t just musicians, but symbols of the hippie movement. Their long hair and outrageous fashions were copied by young people across the nation.

There was, unfortunately, the proverbial dark side to the money and fame. John was almost constantly unfaithful to Michelle, who he now shared a daughter, Chynna with, yet he became enraged when he found out that she had slept with Doherty. This news also upset Cass, who had been in love with Denny for years. John also began experimenting with drugs, and soon he was in the throes of addiction. John and Michelle divorced in 1970, but were forced to continue working together because they had a contract with Dunhill that had to be honored. In 1971, a sub-par effort, “People Like Us,” was released to little interest, and the group broke up. Michelle became an actress, starring on “Knots Landing” in the 1980’s. Denny dropped out of sight for over a decade. And Cass, after a successful solo career, died of a heart attack in 1974, at the age of 33.

After the Mamas and the Papas broke up, John’s life went into a tailspin. He was hooked on heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and alcohol. He admits in his autobiography, “Papa John” that he often got high with his teenage daughter, MacKenzie, who was now a star on the television series “One Day at a Time.” Finally, a drug bust in the early eighties pushed him and his wife, Genevieve Waite, into drug therapy. In recent years he has claimed sobriety and toured with a new version of the Mamas and the Papas—himself, Denny Doherty, MacKenzie, and Spanky McFarlane.

Written by Kelly Wittmann

Title: Biography of the singer, John Phillips
Description: Biography of the singer, John Phillips. The leader of the Mamas and the Papas was a musical genius who fell into the pit of drug addiction.

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