John Phillips, Singer and Guitarist, Died at 65


John Edmund Andrew Phillips died on March 18, 2001 at the age of 65, he was an American singer, guitarist, songwriter and promoter, most notably of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, a landmark event of the counterculture era and the Summer of Love.

Born in Parris Island, South Carolina on August 30, 1935, his father, Claude Andrew Phillips, was a retired United States Marine Corps officer who won an Oklahoma bar from another Marine in a poker game on the way home from France after World War I.

His mother, Edna Gertrude (née Gaines), who had English and Cherokee ancestry, met his father in Oklahoma. His first band, The Journeymen, was a folk trio, with Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman.

They were fairly successful, putting out three albums and several appearances on the 1960s TV show, Hootenanny. All three albums, as well as a compilation known as Best of the Journeymen, have since been reissued on CD.

He developed his craft in Greenwich Village, during the American folk music revival, and met future The Mamas & the Papas group vocalists Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot there around that time. Lyrics of the group’s song “Creeque Alley” describe this period.

In a 1968 interview, Phillips described some of his arrangements as “well arranged two-part harmony moving in opposite directions”. After being signed to Dunhill, they had several Billboard Top Ten hits, including “California Dreamin'”, “Monday, Monday”, “I Saw Her Again”, “Creeque Alley”, and “12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)”.

John Phillips also wrote “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, in 1967 for former The Journeyman band mate, Scott McKenzie.

Phillips moved to London in 1973; Mick Jagger encouraged him to record another solo album. It was to be released on Rolling Stones Records and funded by RSR distributor Atlantic Records. Jagger and Keith Richards would produce and play on the album, as well as former Stone Mick Taylor and future Stone Ronnie Wood.

The project was derailed by Phillips’ increasing use of cocaine and heroin, which he injected, by his own admission, “almost every fifteen minutes for two years”.

In 2001, the tracks of the Half Stoned or The Lost Album album were released as Pay Pack & Follow a few months after Phillips’ death. In 1975 Phillips, still living in London, was commissioned to create the soundtrack to the Nicolas Roeg film The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie. Phillips asked Mick Taylor to help out; the film was released in 1976.

By the end of the 70s, Phillips’ lifestyle caught up with him. He was arrested in 1981 on drug charges, and spent time in prison as a result. After he was released, Phillips formed a new group, The Mammas and the Pappas, and begin touring with minor success.

Yet Phillips’ relentless drug use continued, and it took a toll on the musician’s liver. As a result, he was forced to undergo a liver transplant in 1992, which only delayed his ailing health. In 1998, The original Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.