Collaborative collisions seem Mason’s knack. Last month, he and Stevie Wonder jammed in the Virgin Islands.
Mason recorded a disc of duets with Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas.
Mason hung out at Elliot’s house in Laurel Canyon in the summer of 1969. She said, “Why don’t we do something together?”
“I came to America at 22,” Mason said, “with a little bag and guitar. I only knew Gram Parsons. I slept on his couch for awhile.”
Parsons infused the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers with country.
Mason played with Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and Derek and the Dominoes (“Layla”) and was briefly a roadie for the Spencer Davis Group, which included future Traffic member Steve Winwood, who dated Christine McVie — the small world thing.
The Dave Mason and Cass Elliot album (often out of print but considered a classic, 1970's Dave Mason & Cass Elliot) is mainly remembered today for the song "Something To Make You Happy" which the two co-wrote and which makes you wish they'd done more collaborations.
I'm a huge fan of the late Cass Elliot and of the Mamas and the Papas and I've reviewed Cass' "The Complete Cass Elliot Solo Collection" which came out in 2005 and at Third our Mamas and Papas coverage has included "The legacy of the Mamas and the Papas" "Musical Roundtable on the Mamas and the Papas, Cas..." "Music roundtable"
They are an important group and one that made a lasting impression. Despite their continued huge popularity, there's not a great deal written about them. Possibly since they broke up before the sixties ended (they came back for one more album after to avoid a lawsuit) and since Mama Michelle is the last surviving member (Cass died in the early seventies, John and Denny died in the 90s), there's less for people to find a fresh focus on. However, I'd argue that it's the groups balance of two women and two men tends to freak people out. For example, look at Fleetwood Mac which, for the world, is the Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham combo. One of the biggest selling groups in the world. The legacy continues because, minus Christine, they're still touring and recording.
But think about how little you read about them as opposed to endless fan doodles on assort male-only groups. And let me be clear that these fan doodles do not reflect public interest. The Mamas and the Papas are huge and remain so. They're part of the Grammy Museum's new LA exhibit. Stephanie Byrd (Daily Trojan) observes:
Major cultural seismic shocks that changed Los Angeles’ image are displayed throughout Kun’s vision of “L.A.’s quaking racial fault lines,” such as the 1965 riots and the 1970 Chicano anti-Vietnam demonstration that turned violent. Notably, though, Kun gives the most significance to the 1969 Charles Manson murders.
“Just look at the evolution of Laurel Canyon folk singers. In the late 1960s, the Mamas & the Papas were singing ‘Safe in my Garden,’ this bucolic, happy song; 1969 and Manson come along, and then the 1970s bring Jackson Browne’s ‘Before the Deluge,’” Kun said. “It’s the end of innocence — innocence and hope to fear and paranoia.”
Now that music stores are mainly online, people may not grasp this, but the Mamas and the Papas were a top tier act. In the seventies as Dion and the Magic Spoonful and Donovan and other huge acts from the 60s moved to the cheap discounts, that didn't happen with the supergroup of the Mamas and the Papas. When a new collection of the same hits were released -- this is going into the 90s -- it's not in the cheap vinyl or the discount cassettes or the $5.99 CDs, it's at full price like any other new release by an active group.
And they forever sale. They have a legacy. And one of the reasons I like to focus on them from time to time is because it's important to keep the legacy alive. Harvey Sid Fisher (Hollywood Today Net) interviewed Michelle Phillips (actress and former member of the Mamas & the Papas) at the end of last month:
The Mamas and Papas lasted about three years, 1965-1968 and sold 100 million albums.
MP: THE TIME HAD COME TO BREAK UP AND EVERYBODY WANTED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. WE DIDN’T WANT TO PERFORM ANYMORE OR LIVE TOGETHER. WE WERE SICK OF IT. CASS WANTED TO GO OUT ON HER OWN AS A SINGLE. DENNY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT HE WANTED TO DO. I WANTED TO ACT. JOHN WANTED TO PRODUCE OTHER THINGS. AND THAT’S WHAT WE DID.
MP: CASS CALLED ME FROM LONDON AFTER HER PERFORMANCE. ‘I SOLD OUT BOTH NIGHTS AND GOT STANDING OVATIONS’.
SHE WAS CRYING ON THE PHONE. SHE WAS SO HAPPY TO MAKE IT AS CASS ELLIOT AND NOT MAMA CASS. THE NEXT DAY I GOT WORD THAT SHE HAD DIED OF A MASSIVE HEART ATTACK.
MP: THEN I KNEW WE WILL NEVER GET BACK TOGETHER BECAUSE THE MAIN FORCE WAS GONE. THE AUDIENCE LOVED CASS SO MUCH. SHE ALWAYS HAD THEM IN THE PALM OF HER HAND. SHE WAS SPONTANEOUS AND HYSTERICALLY FUNNY. SHE HAD A WAY WITH AN AUDIENCE. YOU COULD NOT REPLACE THAT. JOHN TRIED TO PUT THE GROUP TOGETHER AGAIN BUT I REFUSED. I WAS NOT GOING TO BE IN A GROUP CALLED THE MAMAS AND PAPAS WITHOUT CASS. IT WAS OVER.
One of my favorite pieces on the Mamas and the Papas was written in the summer of 2006. I missed it when it went up. I read a little of it (not what I'm about to excerpt) but I was in Ireland dealing with the impending death of a family member. While I was gone, everyone pitched in and filled in for me at my site. July 19, 2006, C.I. filled in with "The Mamas and the Papas (C.I. guesting for Kat)." Again, I glanced at it, I glanced at all the posts that went up, usually I'd grab them all at once, late on a Saturday night, and it would make me less homesick. But when I got back, Maggie kept insisting that I had to make time read it in full. When I finally did, I saw why she had. So here's C.I. filling in for me back in 2006:
Now, one of Kat's favorite CD boxed sets is the Mamas & the Papas' Complete Anthology. So I thought I'd write about that. Kat loves music and it's rare to visit her and not find her listening to some (or to speak to her on the phone and not here it in the background). She actually has everyone of the Mamas & the Papas albums on vinyl. (I think I'm missing the last one on vinyl, People Like Us.) She's also kept her cassette collection.
This collection is an import from England and was actually offered by PBS when they were airing their documentary on the Mamas and the Papas. (I'd love to offer a date on that but all my dates blur.) Like myself, Kat grabbed it at Tower.
So it's four CDs and it covers their career as a group by including every song from the four studio albums they recorded as well as the (I believe now out of print on CD) live album from the historic Monterey pop festival. In addition to that, you get a few solo tracks by each of the four members (Michelle & John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Douherty). You also get two tracks they performed on TV: the Beatles' "Nowhere Man" and Rodgers & Hart's "Here In My Arms." What else? "Glad to Be Unhappy" (another Rodgers & Hart song that never appeared on a studio album).
This is a pricey collection (over seventy dollars) so if you're new to the group, you can probably find a cheaper introduction. What Complete Anthology does offer is "complete." It's all here, as well as outtakes, single versions (when they were different from the album tracks). So if you love their music (I do), this is a way to have all of it in one collection.
Who are the Mamas and the Papas? (In case anyone's asking.) They were a group that hit the charts in 1965. A folk-rock group, a vocal group. "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'" are among their huge hits.
"Dedicated to the One I Love" (which was a hit in 1967) found a new life when Michelle Phillips was guesting (guesting at that point) on Knots Landing in the eighties. (The song was used in the show when she attempts to seduce the married Mac.) They were four White people with a visual look ("hippie" is the shorthand for the look -- freedom, considering what came before, is another view) and with gender integration which was a big deal in those days of boys on one side, girls on the other. You had the "girl groups" and you had the "boy groups" (but the latter's never called that, they're just called "groups"). So you had two women, two men.
They're voices could blend amazingly on many songs. One of Kat's favorites is "Safe in My Garden" (disc two, from the album The Papas & The Mamas). For a similar reason, I enjoy the blend of Cass and Michelle's voices on "Got A Feeling" (first disc, from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears). With Cass' amazing (and powerful) contralto, no one else is going to get as much attention (Cass was very talented) but Denny could also cut loose (such as on "Monday, Monday") and Michelle's soprano (on it's own or as part of the mix) was also a strong part of the group sound.
The group stuck together for four albums (If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, The Mamas and the Papas, Deliver, and The Papas and the Mamas) during the sixties and then came back together (due to the jerks of ABC/Dunhill suing) for People Like Us which no one seems to like. "Shooting Star" was recently featured on a disc that came with a monthly British music magazine and I know a number of members in England were surprised by that (they enjoyed it). For me, the songs that make it from that album (People Like Us) are "Snow Queen of Texas" (which has some of the hallmarks of their vocal blending), "I Wanna Be A Star" (which has some nice bursts that the album often lacks -- vocal bursts, too often, for my tastes, it all blurs and just sort of lingers, the vocals and the melody of the song itself are crisp on this song), and Denny cuts loose on "Step Out."
I could be remembering wrong, but I believe Deliver is Jess' favorite album. (Singles from it were "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Creeque Alley.") ("Look Through My Window was a single before the album was released.) I also enjoy The Papas & The Mamas which isn't widely appreciated. It's more of a mood piece. (Singles were "Safe in My Garden" and "Dream A Little Dream Of Me.")
If you're a Cass fan, you get "Costume Ball" which is rare on collections. If you're a John Phillips fan, you'll probably enjoy one of the three tracks included. Denny's "To Claudia On Thursday" offers some fine vocal work by Denny and others. It's one of four tracks and all are strong. ("What You Gonna Do" isn't included on this collection.) You also get seven tracks where they're providing backup vocals for Barry McGuire.
All four of Michelle's tracks are wonderful (my opinion). They are also all on the recently released expanded version of Victim of Romance -- Michelle's only solo CD and just released in America on CD for the first time. Hip-O Select has that CD which you can also probably get from Amazon but if you order from Hip-O Select you also get a bookmark (photos taken for the album of Michelle). Hip-O Select has also released a two-disc Cass Elliot collection entitled The Complete Cass Elliot Solo Collection 1968-1971. (Kat reviewed it here.) If you're a Cass fan, this is the CD to get. You get thirty-eight tracks. Contrary to conventional wisdom (and an online encylopedia), Cass' solo "Dream a Little Dream of Me" is not the same track from the Mamas & the Papas album (The Papas and The Mamas) -- effects are added, there's a double tracked vocal, additional whistles, etc.. It also includes tracks recorded for albums that didn't make them (such as "Darling Be Home Soon" which is Sunny's favorite track on the compliation; and a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Sisotowbell Lane"). "Different" is from the soundtrack to the film Pufnstuf (which is now out on CD, the entire soundtrack, but this track appeared on CD for the first time via this collection). Cass' daughter Owen Elliot-Kugell writes movingly of her movie in the linear notes and Richard Barton Campbell does a wonderful job tracing both the career and the impact in his essay.
Before she left, I asked Kat which she preferred, the Mamas and the Papas four-disc set or Cass' two-disc set? She went with Cass. Why? She said she'd have to think about it. For me (I'd make the same pick) it's due to the fact that the tracks on Cass' two-disc set aren't readily available. As a result, unless you're a vinyl freak, you probably haven't heard them or haven't heard them in some time. They have a freshness and remind you of how talented Cass was. Her vocal power is often noted (and should be) but it's those moments where she caresses a note or line that demonstrate her gift. She could hit the notes, she had the breath to hold them, no question. But it was her ability to interpret songs, to give them life and meaning, that made her one of the greats. She earned her place in musical history (both as a solo act and as a member of the Mamas and the Papas).
Kat summed up Cass' gift far better than I could:
Listening to this collection, I have to wonder that as well. There really wasn't anyone like her. And no one's come along to replace her. You don't cringe at any vocals here. Cass always sang the song. She didn't oversing it. There were no Olympic leaps to show off. She could have strutted through every song if she'd wanted to. She can hold a note as long as your average diva. Listening to all thirty-eight tracks, you'll realize how many notes she could hit and how a decision was made not to show boat on a song.
The Cass collection is also available at Amazon.
I really do love that piece. And I love it when we get any coverage of Cass and the Mamas and the Papas. Reflecting on a book about Janis Joplin, Dave Masko (Huliq) offers:
She was the original Hippie girl, and her voice purred and rose in a wail that fans said “sent shivers through ya;” with Janis Joplin then swinging her hair and stopping her feet in her legendary Woodstock appearance when she moaned: “Oh, oh, o-oo-wowo-waha honey, tell me why, why does everything go wrong?” It’s hard to believe, writes Ann Angel in the new book “Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing,” but Joplin’s remarkable professional music career “hardly lasted more than three years,” before suddenly, at age 27, she was gone. According to Angel’s new book and Joplin’s official biography at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the legend “found her voice” during the summer of 1962; some 50 years ago when attending the University of Texas at Austin. In turn, the campus newspaper “The Daily Texan,” ran a profile about Joplin in its July 27, 1962 edition with the headline: “She Dares To Be Different.” The story explains how “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi’s to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her ‘Autoharp’ with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”
[. . .]
Angel also writes how Joplin “was calling everyone to hear her sad story, to feel her agony, her longing and pain. With eyes closed, she wrung the blues out of ‘Down on Me.’ She cried into the mic, ‘Everybody in this whole damn world is down on me.’ When the song ended, all eyes were locked on her. In the front tow of the audience, Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas sat stunned, her lips forming just one word over and over and over again: ‘Wow!’ This summed it up – the crowd had never seen or heard anyone like Janis.”
I'm a big fan of Janis. But she's not the original hippie girl. Even Cass and Michelle don't qualify as music's original hippie girl. It was Cher. She was and is a fashion pioneer and, because of that, it's easy to forget when she first set the fashion standard back in 1964 with bell bottoms and long straight hair, fringes and beads and more.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"