1995 Interview

Page 2: Scott and John – Friendship and Influences

JOHNSON: Can you talk about your relationship. Where did you guys meet and how did you come to become fast friends all these years? Where did that begin?

McKENZIE: Ramsey Alley in Alexandria, Virginia. I think I was about fifteen and John was twenty-five.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]

McKENZIE: [Laughs] He was having one of his famous two-week-long parties or something. I don’t know. I don’t know how I ended up there. But he was sitting in the corner of a room with a guitar and I said, "Hi. How you doing?" He says, "Can you sing?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "Sit down and sing this part." [Laughs] And that’s what he’s been doing ever since, telling me what part to sing.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]

McKENZIE: It’s true. That’s a true story.

PHILLIPS: It’s sort of a passion of mine. If people can sing, I think, "Well, let’s sing something. You sing this part and I’ll sing this part."

McKENZIE: He’s only three years older than I am, and he had been singing since he was a kid and wanting to have vocal groups all over the place. He knew from the time he was about ten-years-old. We were in several vocal groups together in Alexandria. You know, the local kids on the corner, the doowop. Although, we were more jazz - tried to be more jazz. We loved the, what, The Hi-Lows?

PHILLIPS: Hi-Lows, Four Freshmen.

JOHNSON: Let’s talk about that. What were your musical influences, growing up?

PHILLIPS: Well, I guess it started with - let’s see, what was her name? The-

McKENZIE: The Modernaires?

PHILLIPS: The Modernaires, yeah. Paula Kelly and The Modernaires. The first time I heard those kinds of chords sung. And I always liked the sound of men and women singing together, like in church or at work or whatever. I always thought that kind of very moving. That’s what we ended up with The Mamas and The Papas, as a matter of fact, to get that choral blend like that. I really admired The Hi-Lows’ harmony and The Four Freshmen’s harmony and Modernaires, people like that. So we started off that way. And that’s what eventually led to The Mamas and The Papas’ sound. But at first, when we first started working, we worked at Canada’s gayest and largest supper club, the Elmer Casino in Windsor, Ontario.

McKENZIE: [Laughs] It’s now a drug rehab.

PHILLIPS: It’s now a drug rehab.

McKENZIE: It really is.

PHILLIPS: It should have been then.

McKENZIE: We wore costumes. We’d do like three production numbers every night. This is the old time nightclub stuff.

PHILLIPS: Let’s don’t be talking about the headliner. [Laughs]

McKENZIE: Yeah. We wore costumes. They had different themes.

PHILLIPS: Canadian mounties, usually.

McKENZIE: Canadian mounties, who knows.

PHILLIPS: Ice skaters.

McKENZIE: Sometimes we had to wear mittens and stocking caps and pretend like we were ice skating around the stage with all these chorus girls. And then we’d do our own twenty minute act of music that was sort of like The Four Lads and The Four Freshmen.

JOHNSON: What was that group called?

McKENZIE: The Smoothies.

PHILLIPS: The Smoothies. And the fellow who named it was Charles V. Ryan, who was also our manager and who was in the original group, the Smoothies, who sang "Three Little Fishes" and "Itty Bitty Pond." [Laughs]

McKENZIE: [Sings] "And you’re an old smoothie."

PHILLIPS: And you’re an old smoothie, yeah.

JOHNSON: So where did that lead you after Ontario or wherever it was?

McKENZIE: Almost into the Detroit River.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs] Yeah, because Scott kept - we were supposed to be singing "Scarlet Ribbons" every night. And the owner of the club, the cigar-smoking Al.

McKENZIE: Al Seagull.

PHILLIPS: Al Seagull.

McKENZIE: Mr. Seagull. [Laughs]

PHILLIPS: A real tough guy. Detroit tough guy. And he said, "This song," something about his daughter and the song?

McKENZIE: I don’t remember.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. Something like that. His daughter had died and that was her favourite song. He didn’t want it sung in his club any more. And we said we were artists and we’d sing whatever we wanted to sing, at any time.

McKENZIE: [Laughs] Oh boy.

PHILLIPS: And he said, "We’ll see about that." And we went out and we sang it, and he was right. We didn’t sing it again.