1995 Interview

Page 4: The Mamas And The Papas

JOHNSON: Can you talk about The Mamas and The Papas and give us a little history of how that group came to be?

PHILLIPS: Well, after the Kingston Trio sort of came in and boosted, not traditional folk music, but commercial folk music, the whole folk music thing died right after that and just became persona non grata in the music field. We had resisted going in the pop field for years and years because you couldn’t do anything intelligent in it. It was all, [sings] "Venus, goddess of love - " that kind of stuff, and bobby socks with blue jeans. We just didn’t want to sing that. The only thing that we could sing was jazz. So we did that. And then when The Beatles came along and sort of opened this whole new door of song writing, where you could express personal feelings - when I first tried to sell "Monday, Monday" or "California Dreamin’" and things like that to publishers in the Brill Building, Scott and I together, and we had a guitar, I think. They would say, "Who wants to hear a song about a state? [Laughs] Where’s the girl interest in this? Who wants to hear a song about a day of the week? Come on, get out of here." And this happened in the whole building. It was nine floors. And we persisted and it just sort of came around.

JOHNSON: So publishing, in that point, for you, as a songwriter, that was the endeavor? Writing songs and having other people cover them?

PHILLIPS: Yeah. We would do almost anything to survive at that time. We were living on a pound of bologna, a loaf of bread and a jar of mayonnaise each week.

McKENZIE: Where’d you get the mayonnaise?

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]

McKENZIE: You never told me about the mayonnaise.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, we had about thirty bucks a week from Charlie Ryan to -

McKENZIE: It was rough. Everybody pays their dues in this business. Somebody asked me the other night - it was Bobby Kent - he says, "Who gets all the dues?" You always hear this about paying dues, but who gets them? Who’s holding them?

PHILLIPS: Who gets the dues?

McKENZIE Yes. Yes. It’s the Musician’s Union or what? Somebody has a lot of dues. So yeah, you’re trying to get your songs sold and recorded and record them yourself. Especially in those years, because singer-songwriter was - John was one of the first ones. There wasn’t any such thing. Not in a big scale. So if you were a songwriter, you just had to record with somebody else.

PHILLIPS: Because traditionally, songwriters can’t sing. And that holds true in my case, also. [Laughs]

McKENZIE: You’re a fine singer.

PHILLIPS: I’m a fine singer in a group sense. But as a soloist, I don’treally like it.

JOHNSON: Well, then Bob Dylan proved that to be wrong too, right?


PHILLIPS: Yeah, right. Of course, Bob doesn’t sing. [Laughs] Bob talks the song.

McKENZIE: Yeah. Well, he does something right, yeah.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. He has the great ability to give the mental picture of it through grunts and groans and elongated verses and things like that.

McKENZIE: John’s always been bitter because he didn’t have a pretty voice. He’s got a great voice. He’s a great singer. This is nonsense.

PHILLIPS: If you want to hear a few numbers I’ll -

McKENZIE: Not that great a singer. [Laughs]

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]