The Big Three - Featuring Mama Cass Elliot
The Big Three are an essential part of the musical jigsaw that became the American answer to the 'British Invasion' in 1965. Cass Elliot, Tim Rose and James Hendricks all learned their craft as the Big Three and went on to varying degrees of success after the groups tenure.
Their story has to start with Cass Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19th, 1943, in Baltimore, Maryland. She was given the nickname 'Cass' by her restauranter father, after the Trojan princess, Cassandra. When her sister Leah was born in 1948, Cass began to gain weight, probably as a reaction to her losing her status as the only child. The family moved to Alexandria in 1951 and Cass went to school in Washington D.C.
Interested in the theatre, Elliot landed a part in the play "The Boy Friend", in the summer between junior and senior high, when someone had fallen ill. Cass went down a storm and with applause ringing in her ears, she dropped out of school and ventured to New York. There she appeared in "The Music Man" with Forrest Tucker and then found herself a job singing in Greenwich Village at the Showplace and, "she hadn't even had to sleep with anyone to get it!" Singer Ronny White remembers her as a hat-check girl that sat in with him one night, "Cass sang 'Melancholy Baby' and wiped out the so-called sophisticated New Yorkers who had 'heard everything'. I saw them crying from her rendition of the song, she might have thought she was being camp but she was singing from the depths of her soul." Pleased with what she had achieved, Elliot returned to Washinton D.C., where she enrolled at American University. During this period she met Tim Rose and they begun to sing together.
Born in September 1940, Rose had done his service as a navigator for the USAF Strategic Air Command and on leaving had become a student priest. Cass Elliot once recalled this period, "People say, 'Boy, those must have been tough days.' I lived in a $36 a month apartment that had a John in the hall and was constantly being burglarised. But I had a great time. I worked for $40 a week under the table as a hat-check girl in a nightclub. Singing with Tim Rose, I was making $2 every other night, when the year before I had made $50,000 (!) as an actress."
In 1963, this duo became The Big Three when they met James Hendricks somewhere around Omaha, Nebraska. Hendricks was in trouble with the draft board and needed a way out, so Elliot promptly married him. One of John Sebastian's first ever gigs was as a sideman to Negro baritone Valentine Pringle, at a club in Washington D.C. called The Shadows.
It was here that he met and befriended Cass Elliot, ("There was no avoiding it, you had to lover her.") as the Big Three were on the same bill. Robert Cavallo was the manager of The Shadows and become the Big Three's manager alongside his partner Roy Silver. This management duo set about getting the group a contract and in late 1963, "Winken' Blinken' And Nod" came out as a single on PM Records, as did a self titled album.
The material was mainly in the traditional folk mould but surprisingly for an album of this genre, some of the songs were written by the group members, with Rose's name prominent. A familiar cover included Sonny Terry's "Rider" (recorded by Vince Martin and Fred Neil as "I Know You Rider"). A strange quirk on the Big Three's discography came in 1964, when "Winken' Blinken' And Nod" was issued as a single again, this time on Tollie Records with the flipside being Rose's "The Banjo Song".
During a tour of the campus and coffeehouse circuit, the Big Three recorded a live version of "Nora's Dove" on an American TV show, that still exists. The striking vision of Elliot, overweight for her height by far, with a dark black wig and false eyelashes, flanked by her gargoyles Hendricks and Rose, was ignored when one listened to her superb vocal performance.
The second album, curiously titled, "Live At The Recording Studio", was released alongside FM's "Hootenanny Live At The Bitter End", Which featured the first recordings of Fred Neil. This time there were even more slef contained songs and a few group efforts. The outstanding cover is the haunting antiwar anthem "Come Away Melinda".
After this effort had met with the same apathy as its predecessor, Rose left the group in 1964 and attempted to start a solo career. Before he was turned down by Elektra and Mercury, Rose fell in with producer Erik Jacobsen as Jerry Yester recalls, "Erik decided early on that he wanted to be a producer, so he found Tim Hardin and started making a demo album. He did stuff with Cass, a couple of guys and one of the Big Three, Tim Rose. In fact, we made a rock and roll version of "Tom Dooley" with me singing lead and Cass and Tim Rose and maybe John (Sebastian) was playing harmonica or something. This never came out, he was just fishing, learning how to produce."
Prior to all of this, in late 1963, Zal Yanovsky and Denny Doherty had moved to Washington D.C. The pair had finished with their group the Halifax Three and here they were befriended by the owner of the club, Max's Pipe And Dum. Max gave the pair jobs as bartenders and waiters and allowed them a few sets, as a duo called The Nose, in between the other acts that played there. It was here that they met the Big Three. In 1964, after the Big Three had run its course, just like the Halifax Three, the remaining Big Two joined forces with Yanovsky and Doherty and became the Mugwumps, keeping the same management duo of Roy Silver and Robert Cavallo. With all the new sounds coming from Merseyside, the four moved away from their folk repertoire and tried something new.
The Mugwumps (someone who sits on the fence) played The Shadows (with Bill Cosby opening) and various clubs in New York duriong their brief period together. It was during one of their stays in New York that Sebastian met Yanovsky, which would lead to the formation of the Lovin' Spoonful, although Yanovsky did recall that the pair had previously met when Sebastian played at the Shadows with Valentine Pringle.
With the Mugwumps returning to Washington, Sebastian was called out to join them, although not entirely due to his musical skills as he had a 'gift' to deliver. Sebastian did not stay too long as a Mugwump, however, due to his and Yanovsky's musical bonding getting in the way of their material, "I was playing a blues lick at Zal, and he'd answer and play an Elmore James lick back at me and we were having a jolly good time. But, of course, these arrangements, rather stiff that they were, were not coming off. Roy Silver will never get respect from me cause he took me aside to tell me that I was fired and I told him he was full of shit and making a big mistake. He said, 'Look man, I know where it's at,' and I remember thinking, 'You'll have to realise you don't know where it's at in a few years.' And sure enough..."
Sebastian returned to New York and continued with his session work. Shortly afterwards, The Mugwumps followed him into town on the pretext of recording some demos. They used studio musicians for the cuts and Sebastian had to watch from the booth, infuriated that he was not allowed to join in, as the musicians hired were not up to the job. In an interview recorded shortly before her death, Cass Elliot recalled the experience, "We'd played five sets the night before in a club, then drove 200 miles to go make a demonstration tape. Made the tape and then straight away turned around to the port of our gig. It wasn't really well done, we didn't get to double track it and do a lot of things we would have done."
The tapes were releases, 'apres la deluge', when both the Spoonful and the Mamas and the Papas were at their peak. Cass Elliot's recollection of, "That's the closest I ever got to rock and roll," was quite true as the tapes give the impression of the transitional period the four were going through. The group only had enogu time to put down nine tracts, a mixture of what are now rock'n'roll standards, "Searchin'" and "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover" and original material, "Everybody's Been Talkin'" and "Do You Know What I Mean". Bill Cosby wrote the beautiful "Here It Is Another Day", yet for the single released from the sessions, for Warner Brothers, paired a song by Chris "Yesterday Man" Andrews, "I'll Remember Tonight" with "I Don't Wanna Know", written by John Beecham and David Rowberry.
The A side had a taste of what was to follow regarding harmonies, but the voices are too far back in the mix which leaves the listener confronted with the poor musicianship of the session players. Yanovsky's totally unique vocals are first heard on these recordings where he growls through the rock covers. When all the nine tracks are heard together, one can sense that the Mugwumps were a little ahead of their time. The embryo of the now familiar Mamas and Papas sound is there, if you really search for it, as is some of the wackiness that Yanovsky would contribute to the Spoonful.
As the single flopped, work started to slow down for the Mugwumps and they took what gigs they could as Sebastian explains. "Roy Silver had realized that part of their audience was under-aged kids sneaking in and trying to hear the band. Silver said, "Let's do a show on Wednesday afternoons!" It was a very forgiving audience, they were not street kids who would go, "Ya, yer mothers!" That was the show that Cass Elliot coined the term "teenyboppers", she invented the word!"
Cass Elliot's recollection that. "We were together nearly ten months," is about right and for their final gigs the group ventured into New York City one last time, as Sebastian recalls, "The Mugwumps were all staying in the Albert Hotel and they came into town to play the Peppermint Lounge. It was sort of the last gig, the swansong. They played a real rock'n'roll club and went over like a lead weight. They opened up for Joey Dee and the Starlighters and the Mugwumps, who had been politely received by all of the children of the diplomats, found that in New York the audience would go, 'Get off the stage!' They were essential a folk group, the didn't really hove the roots."
Behind the backs of their friends, sebastian and Yanovsky ahd the idea of forming their own group. Sebastian continues, "Anyway, the Mugwumps died. We all sat around the Albert Hotel for six months. Denny combed his hair and Cass decided she was going off on a solo career. Zally and I were staring at each other saying, "We've blown up a band, what's going to happen to Cass and Denny?' Of course fifteen minutes later everything was fine with Cass and Denny!"
Indeed, not long after the Lovin' Spoonful hit with their first record, Elliot and Doherty had met John and Michelle Phillips and, eventually, they all became the Mamas and the Papas and worldwide celebrities. For the often told story of this band, may I direct you towards the books, "California Dreaming" by Michelle and "Papa John" by John.
After being the prime life-force of the Mamas and the Papas, Elliot left the group to pursue a successful solo career, returning briefly for the contractual necessary "People Like us" in 1971. Away from the group she had her own television sho, enjoyed sell-out performances and recorded six solo albums although each one sold less than the previous one. Her final album, "Don't Call Me Mama Anymore" came out in 1974.
In July of the same year, she came to England and sold out two shows at the London Palladium. On July 29th she died in her sleep of a heart attack, aged only 33, at Harry Nilsson's flat in London. Food had killed her more than any drug. Pictures of her heart were sent to slimming clubs around the world in an attempt to show the true horror of her habit. She lefta legacy of some classic recordings and a favourable impression on the public conscious.
During the Mamas and Papas peak period. Tim Rose signed with Columbia and released his interpretation of Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew", which met with critical and some commercial success. This was tale case especially in the UK where Rose was seen on the Simon Dee Show alongside the Peddlers and heard on John Peel's Top Gear promoting the record. The self titled 1967 album, assembled from several different sessions, featured Rose's husky, low vocal and heavy production work by David Rubinson who said of hi artist. "Tim Rose hits you in the belly. He comes without the trimmings - raw, tough and incredibly straight. His is a brutishly simple sexuality - passion without design. He sings from his gut, and if you hear him at all, he passes straight through your head to the bottom of you."
"Tim Rose" includes his re-working of "Come Away Melinda", and his excellent interpretation of "Hey Joe" (that some say inspired the other James Hendrix) alongside some of his own material and includes top session men including Felix Pappalardi (bass). Bernard Purdie (drums) and Art Butler (piano). His follow up single, "Long Haired Boy" was recorded in England with Al Kooper taking production credits. This was followed by a return to the States for the album "Through Coloured Glasses" which had more self-written songs although one of the better tracks was the Bee Gees' "Let There Be Love".
IN his review of the album for "Beat Instrumental", Mike Clifford wrote, "The sudden presence of Tim Rose has, for me personally, posed an intriguing question. Was there a gap in pop music before he came along? His style is such that it owes nothing to any other performer. His songs are as real as life, he is an artist who tears appreciation out of his audience - he is an individual. And soon to be legend?" Well, unfortunately, no. after his next album "Love, A kind of Hate Story" (produced by Gary Wright of Spooky Tooth) and another self titled album in 1972 (that featured a pre-Police Andy Summers) he came to the UK, where it was presumed he had an audience.
Resident in London, he was rumoured to have been linking up with fellow recluse, Tim Hardin. Nothing was recorded, although the pair did do several concerts together, including one at London's City University on the 7th of November '74, which was described as, "A qualified success." After a final try, "The Musician" in 1975, Tim Rose disappeared from the music scene and has kept a low profile ever since.
Even less is known of James Hendricks. After the Mugwumps, he released a single on the Chattahoochee label before he formed the Lamp of Childhood with Mike Tang, Fred Olsen and Billy Muni. This quartet released three singles for the Dunhill label in 1967. They started with Donovan's "Season of The Witch", that had also been recorded by a "bogus" Mugwumps on Mike Curb's Sidewalk label, the same year. Their second single, "First Time Last Time" / "Two 0'Clock in The Morning" was followed by their last which had the previous "B" side now the "A" and was backed by "No More Running Aroung".
This last song, which Hendricks wrote with Gabriel Mekler (a producer at Dunhill) and M. Takamatsu, that came out on a Dunhill compilation in 1988, showed that the group had some potential and the song is clearly influenced by the Mamas and the Papas.
Hendricks then surfaced again in 1968, with the single, "I Think of You" / "Sunshine Showers" that came out of the Soul City label. Hendricks and Elliot were divorced in 1969, the same year of the release of "Songs of James Hendricks" which was produced by Johnny Rivers who said of Hendricks, "At a time when music has gone to its limit with mechanical, electrical and gimmick sounds, there comes from the Colorado Rocky Mountains a breath of fresh air. In these troubled, materialistic times, there is a great need for songs like those of James Hendricks."
The album is a fine laid back country record with all the songs written by Hendricks. The top Nashville session players of the day all feature including James Burton, Peter Drake, Jerry Reed and Kenny Buttrey. This was followed by a switch to MGM in 1971, for an album and two singles. Hendricks sang on River's album "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1973 and his last ever single, "Long Lonesome Highway" came out on the obscure Starcrest label in 1976.
Nothing was heard of Hendricks until early 1992, when he was in Wilmington, Delaware where he came to preach at a religious service, mentioning the Big Three and the Mugwumps on a flyer adervitising his appearance. Bob Cavallo went on to manage the Lovin' Spoonful, Earth Wind and Fire and Prince. He has also become a producer in the movie business, having a hand in the Robin Williams vehicle "Cadillac Man". Roy Silver managed Bill Cosby then started his own record label. Tetragrammaton, who had Pat Boone on their roster before it folded. Silver's wife owned the Comedy Store on the site of Ciro's, where the Byrds started and it is believed that he worked there. He may have died, as this has been mentioned.
So there you have it. A tragic story in some cases but for a moment in the early sixties, the Big Three were stepping out onto a journey that would see riches for some and rags for the others. Enjoy them in their naivety.
with thanks to Karl Baker
Look out for Simon Wordsworth's biography of the Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer In the Sixties", due for publication soon.
1. I May Be Right
2. Anna Fia [Feher]
(Trad. Arr: Wood)
3. Tony & Delia
4. Grandfather's Clock
(Work Arr: Rose/Bowers)
(Trad Arr: Elliot/Hendricks
/Bowers) Copyright Control.
7. Down In The Valley
(Trad Arr: Rose/Bowers)
8. Wild Women
B. Feldman & Co. Ltd.
9. All The Pretty Little Horses
(Trad Arr: Rose/Hendricks/Elliot
/Butler) Copyright Control.
10. Glory Glory
11. Come Away Melinda
Harmony Music Ltd.
12. Young Girl's Lament
13. The Banjo Song
14. Winken Blinken And Nod
(L. Simon/E. Field)
Silkie Music Pub.
15. Ho Honey Oh
Acuff-Rose Music Ltd.
16. Nora's Dove (Dink's Song)
(Trad Arr: Lomax/Lomax)
Tro Essex Music Ltd.
17. Come Along
(Trad Arr: Campbell/Rose)
19. It Makes A Long Time Man
Feel Bad (Trad Arr: Lomax)
Tro Essex Music Ltd.
20. Sing Hallelujah
21. Dark As A Dungeon
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