Denny Doherty dies at 66
They Were Collaborators #256


The Mamas and the Papas' Denny Doherty and John Phillips in happier times.

Doherty's New York Times obituary can be found here.

Doherty, a native of my hometown of Halifax who I'd been privileged to know, died at age 66, likely due to kidney failure following an operation for a stomach aneurysm. Doherty's Irish roots were evident in his love of music, and his ability to tell a compelling tale. Especially ones where he could drop names like Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson and Bob Dylan without feeling the slightest bit self-conscious, because these artists had been friends, and the stories were undoubtedly true.

Certainly the Mamas and the Papas were the acceptable face of hippiedom, like a Sears catalog Nehru jacket, and Sullivan show friendly, while their records' mix of Spectorian grandeur and free love have developed an extra patina of age that many of their contemporaries have escaped. But the songs survive thanks to Phillips' inventive musical mind and the way all four members were able to inject distinct personality into carefully calibrated harmony parts, with Doherty's clear tenor a crucial part of what the group described as the "fifth voice" that arose from their blended vocals.

While much of the '70s was spent in a haze of various substances, Doherty turned his life around, succeeding as an actor, with the occasional Mamas and the Papas revival or his autobiographical revue/Mama Cass tribute Dream a Little Dream. He expressed few regrets, and appreciated his front seat at the '60s pop music revolution.

Not bad for an Irish folkie from Halifax.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice post, Stephen. All this time, I never knew Doherty was a Canuck.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a very good post and heartfelt tribute but I have to take issue with the assertion that The Mama's and the Papa's music has acquired a patina age due to being a pop/hippy hybrid if anything I would say that it is its very 'popness'that has spared it from aging like 'real' hippy nonsense such as Jefferson Airplanes White Rabbit.

swac said...

Well, you got me there. I'd definitely rather listen to Ms&Ps than Jefferson Airplane. I guess it just doesn't have the same immediacy for me that a lot of the Motown or Stax music of the period, or British Invasion or Beach Boys recordings still have.

Keep in mind I used to work at an oldies radio station, so maybe my forced exposrue has jaded me on that score. Mostly it just made me hate Gary Puckett and the Union Gap with every fibre of my being (you try hearing Woman and Young Girl every single day of the week).

Mike D said...

the mamas and the papas were a wonderful pop group who had a seemingly effortless yet enigmatic quality. i'd hazard even, that their tunes will be much more enduring than other more 'worthy' efforts of their time.

nice post and RIP good sir.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

I'm with Testify, but they sound as '60s to me as the Airplane, just the Mamas and the Papas were AM and the Airplane was FM. But the magic of that acoustic guitar intro to California Dreaming sucks me in every time. It is that rare thing of beauty: The perfect song. And they had several more fine ones as well, especially the underrated Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon. They may have ultimately been just a singles band, but they were great singles. RIP, Denny.

Brent McKee said...

Of course a generation of younger Canadians (well maybe a decade's worth) known Benny Doherty as "The Harbourmaster" on "Theodor Tugboat", which is sort of like knowing Ringo Starr for being the Narrator (before George Carlin and Alec Baldwin) on "Thomas The Tank Engine."