Saturday, January 20, 2007

Denny Doherty Passes On

Denny Doherty, singer, songwriter, and a member of the Sixties vocal group the Mamas and the Papas died yesterday at the age of 66. He had recently undergone surgery for a a stomach aneurysm, following which he suffered kidney failure.

Doherty was born on November 29, 1940 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He began his recording career as the co-founder of a folk group called The Colonials, who changed their name to the Halifax Three after they were signed to Columbia Records. The group broke up in 1963 after meeting with little success. It was that same year that he became friends with Cass Elliot and met John and Michelle Phillips. For the next few years Doherty would be a part of groups that included either Cass Elliot or John Phillips. Finally, in 1965, Doherty became a part of the group initially called The Magic Circle, but which would be re-named the Mamas and the Papas after they were signed to Dunhill Records.

The Mamas and the Papas were a hit from the very beginning. Their first single, "California Dreamin'," reached number 4 on the American Billboard singles charts in late 1965. Their second single, "Monday, Monday," hit #3 on the singles charts. The group was among a number of American artists who blended folk music with rock and pop (other examples being Simon and Garfunkel and The Byrds). And while John Phillips was the group's primary songwriter, it was Denny Doherty who was the group's lead male vocalist on most songs. From 1965 to 1968 the Mamas and the Papas would have a string of hits, many of which hit the top twenty on the singles charts. Unfortunately, while the Mamas and the Papas would see considerable more success than the previous groups to which Doherty belonged, it would not last any longer. Tensions within the group would lead to its breakup in the summer of 1968. The group reunited in 1971 for the album People Like Us (recorded to meet a contractual obligation to Dunhill Records) failed badly on the charts.

For the rest of the Seventies Doherty released two solo albums. He also starred in the Broadway play Man in the Moon, written by John Phillips and produced by Andy Warhol. It only lasted five weeks in 1974. In 1999 he created an autobiographical play, Dream a Little Dream: the Nearly True Story of the Mamas and the Papas, which debuted in Halifax. In 2003 he took it to New York, where it played off Broadway.

In the Eighties Doherty teamed with John Phillips, Phillips' daughter Mackenzie (from a marriage previous to Michelle--she played on the TV series One Day at a Time in the Seventies), and Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane (of Sixties group Spanky and Our Gang) to form a new version of the Mamas and the Papas.

Doherty also had a bit of an acting career. In 1984 he played in the Canadian TV show Windows. As an actor he was perhaps best known for his role as the Harbour Master in the CBC children's show Theodore Tugboat.

Sadly, only one member of the original Mamas and Papas remains alive (Michelle Phllips, on whom I still have a big crush). Cass Elliot died in 1974 and John Phillips in 2001, both from heart failure. If Elliot's death ended any hope of a reunion of the original members of the group, then Phillips and Doherty's deaths certainly do. I remember the Mamas and the Papas from my early childhood. Indeed, along with various Beatles and Monkees songs, "California Dreamin'" is among the earliest songs I can remember. And I have little doubt that Doherty's soaring vocals was a key ingredient to the group's success. He was a gifted singer whose voice complimented the voice of Cass Elliot perfectly. Although he is not often credited as such, Doherty is then an important part of the history of pop music in the Sixties.

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