Waiting For a Song
Everybody says at one time or another "Oh, so and so is a great friend of mine." Sometimes they're exaggerating a bit, and sometimes they're telling the truth. But if loving someone, knowing them for twelve years singing with them for five or six years and sharing bad times and glorious ones don't cover the ground of close friendship, then the definition of friend escapes me.
But enough about that. That's personal and has nothing to do with the very evident fact that Dennis Gerard Stephen Doherty has one of the great voices and finest musical tastes of our generation. Present company excepted of course.
When the Mamas and Papas were formed in August 1965, it was Denny's voice that created the sound of such million-sellers as "Monday Monday" and "California Dreamin'"
Since then I, along with many others, have been bugging Denny to get off his duff and give us more of his voice and talent.
Finally he's done it! When I first heard the initial tracks I prostrated myself at his feet on Sunset Boulevard begging to be allowed to sing backgrounds. Another fan of "The Demon", as we call him, a beautiful young girl named Michelle Phillips, also pleaded to be included. With typical Doherty reserve he flung us into his car and whisked us straight away to the studio where he kept us under lock and key until we got it right. We did.
Most important, he did.
At last Denny's got an album that any exceptional artist would be proud of -- and that's what he is, exceptional.
I know most liner notes are supposed to tell the reader where the artist was down, how much he weighted, and wheter he was singing from birth. But I'm writing this and I said what I wanted except for one thing -- he's made a super album -- listen and hear for yourself. It was a long time coming -- but tell me what things aren't worth waiting for.
Every generation has its singers. With his smooth voice, Denny Doherty captured the dreams of the '60s generation in folk-rock anthems like "California Dreamin'" and "Monday Monday". His transcendent tenor also led The Mamas and The Papas to their place in Rock and Roll history.
Born in 1940 and hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Doherty began his vocal forays as a boy singing for household deliverymen. At 15, he took a date at a concert in a hockey arena, sang Pat Boone's "Love Letters In The Sand," and brought the house down.
In the early '60s he formed a folk trio, which began as The Colonials, was rechristened The Halifax III, and achieved a modicum of success before falling apart in 1963. The following year, Doherty helped found The Mugwumps, America's first folk-rock group. Then, after singing with John and Michelle Phillips in a progressive folk trio called The New Journeymen, he brought in Cass Elliot and the foursome exploded as The Mamas and The Papas. Following a series of top ten hits and great fame and fortune, The Mamas and The Papas called it quits in 1968. Doherty continued to enjoy the good life in the ensuing years and recorded a country-rock album, Whatcha Gonna Do, in 1971.
Although The Mamas and The Papas had briefly reunited that same year, the days of the fantastic four had long ceased by the early '70s: John Phillips was freefalling into substance abuse and dabbling in the theatre world; Cass had moved on to a successful solo career in music and television; and Michelle was beginning to make a splash in movies.
In 1973, Doherty linked with British producer Jeffrey Kruger and famed songwriter-producer John Madara ("At The Hop") for what would become a most historic set of recordings on Kruger's Ember label. Kruger says he "always admired Denny's voice" and was "absolutely thrilled" for Doherty to be the first North American signed to Ember's new alliance with Paramount Records.
Recorded in 1973 and 1974, Waiting For A Song, with Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips singing background vocals, was the closest there would ever be to a mid-seventies reunion of The Mamas and The Papas. Kruger reveals: "That was Denny's doing. We just heard one day, 'Hey guess what? Cassie and Michelle are coming in to do backups!'" The album's historic nature is underscored by the fact that it contains the last recordings (May 15, 1974) made by Elliot before her tragic death two months later. In fact, Elliot wrote the album's original liner notes, eerily dated July 1974. She died on July 29th.
Part of the album's historic nature also derives from the musicians who participated in the sessions. Although not documented, memories corroborate that Hal Blaine, Joe Osborne, Jimmy Keltner, David Foster, Michael Melvoin, Larry Knechtel and David Paich were all involved.
The album is a marvelously assembled collection of standards, pop-fare and original material. Doherty says, "It's a very eclectic bunch of songs with some strange arrangements. I picked them because they were pleasing." He calls it "signature for the time." Melvoin agrees, "We did what was au courant at the moment."
Well-produced and flawlessly arranged, Waiting For A Song stands as an example of the powerful combination of great voices and good material. Boasting numbers by a veritable "Who's Who" of seventies songwriters (Hall & Oates, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Larry Weiss, The Addrisi Brothers and Gary Osborne), the recording stands the test of time even three decades hence.
Of all the songs on the album, Doherty's interpretaion of "You'll Never Know" is the most stirring. It was issued as the first single and went to #13 during its 12-week stay on the Adult Contemporary chart in the summer of 1974; Doherty performed it on The Tonight Show at the time. Having worked with Denny in his days as a Papa, Melvoin emphasized Doherty's musical heritage ("I quote 'Monday Monday' in the song's arrangement") and maximized the cooperation with Michelle and Cass. "There are little touches," he says. "I was doing what I could to make that association...again!" Like Cass Elliot, Doherty could infuse an old standard with contemporary verve and he proves it on this number.
John Madara still believes that the cover of a different sort of standard--'The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"-- is the album's strongest recording. Says Madura, "I think it's a hit single even today." He adds, "It's something that would hold up. It has that ageless sound."
Doherty hearkens back to the sound of The Mamas and The Papas' heyday in his rollicking version of "Give Me Back That Old Familiar Feeling," with strong backing vocals by Cass and Michelle. They sound as if they are attempting to conjure their glory days with lyrics like, "Give me back that song we sang in harmony..." The song was written for Glen Campbell by Bill Graham, and years later, in 1984, The Whites took the tune all the way to #10 on the country chart. But it is all of Doherty's treatment that Graham has said, "Denny's beautiful voice and Cass and Michelle's harmonies made the hair stand up on the back of my arms!"
For the album's second single in the UK, Denny covered England Dan and John Ford Coley's 1972 international hit, "Simone." Describing Doherty's version of his song as "more bouncy," upon learning of this recording decades later, Coley said, "The buttons would have been bursting off my shirt had I know that Denny recorded a song I had written!"
Doherty has an especial and unrelated memory of "Simone": "I know it's about a girl, but there's a guy I knew, called Bobby Simone. I met him on a trip East and he wound up coming back to California with me. We just became buddies, started hanging out, partying together and the party went on about three years. And when the part was over, I remember one day seeing Bobby standing in the doorway looking down at Los Angeles. I was saying, 'Bob, the party's over.' And there was a tear running down his face and it was like he was very sad. I just kept thinking, 'Simone, why do you cry? Don't you know you've got a life? Get out of here, the party's over, man!"
Another reference to the party is found in Rick Sandler's "Southern Comfort." Sandler, who played piano for this track, claims the song was about him, but Doherty maintains that it was self-descriptive of his own circumstances in the early seventies as well: "Me and Janis Joplin!" In fact, the song seems illustrative of the actual sessions. "I do remember Michelle and Cass being at one of the sessions," Sandler reminisces. "As I recall, they were partying pretty hard!"
"It Can Only Happen In America" is the only self-penned tune on the album and it rings as an autobiographical ode to the country wherein Doherty found such immense success. He has performed the song again in recent years and agrees it is the most personal piece on the album.
Notwithstanding the stature of his material, it truly is Denny Doherty's voice that carries Waiting For A Song. "The thing that is most important about his songs and his singing is the essential honesty of his vocals," says Melvoin. "JUst hearing him and me together on the early verses of 'Lay Me Down' -- it sounds so right, so current and so believable." Michelle Phillips adds, "I think Denny is the psychedelic Frank Sinatra. He has a style of phrasing that is so unique and so rich. And he has amazing intonation." Unfortunately the album's fate is an all too familiar tale of the recording industry. The album, released only in Canada and Britain, has been long buried. Doherty's voice, his record, and his promising solo return were drowned in the din of various commercial events, with the purchace of Paramount by ABC Records and business decisions that ultimately concluded in a lawsuit filed, and won, by Kruger.
In the years after Waiting For A Song, Denny married again, returned to Canada and he and his wife reared two of his three children. In 1978, he hosted a Canadian television variety program called Denny's Sho. And in 1981 he and John Phillips reconstituted "The New Mamas and Papas" with an array of lineups -- its most memorable including Phillips's oldest daughter, Mackenzie, and 1960s pop veteran "Spanky" MacFarlane. The group existed in some fashion through the 1990s although Doherty stopped singing with them in the late 1980s. Since then, he has devoted himself to theatre, and created his one-man show, Dream A Little Dream of Me -- The Nearly True Story of The Mamas and The Papas. Doherty is alos seen regularly on the children's television show Theodore Tugboat and the hit Canadian television drama Pit Pony.
As Denny sums it up: "I'm a bluenoser that didn't become a machinist, but got up and sang on a dare. I chose to run off with the circus to become a gypsy, as it were." Michelle Phillips agrees: "Denny knew that singing was what he wanted to do with his life -- there was never any question in his mind as to what he did best. He has absolutely one of the best tenor voices in rock and roll."
Waiting For A Song confirms that!
--Richard Barton Campbell,
Reissue Produced by Cary E. Mansfield,
Richard Campbelland Gregory Rice
Recorded at Western Recorders
and Sound Labs, Hollywood.
Engineered by Joe Sidore and John Boyd
Digitally Remastered by
Dan Hersch, DigiPrep, Hollywood
Notes by Richard Campbell
Original album notes by Cass Elliot, July 1974
Art Direction by Bill Pitzonka
Additional photos courtesy of
Gregory Rice and Richard Campbell
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Varese Sarabande Records/Varese Vintage
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Special thanks to Denny Doherty, Michelle Phillips,
Owen Elliot-Kugell, Richard Addrisi, Dick Bartley,
Devlin Baskiel, Dave Booth, Marty Boratyn,
Marc Christiean, John Ford Coley, Judy Collins,
Byron Davis, Pat Downey, Kevin Elliot, Rich Esra,
Brian Giorgi, Bill Graham, Paul Grein, Chris Hicks,
Pete Howard, Bill Inglot, Steve Knapp, Steve Kolanjian,
Howard Kruger, Jeffrey Kruger, Paul Ledoux,
Paul Lichtenstein, John Madara, Kim Mansfield,
Stephanie J. Mansfield, Steve Massie, Andy McKaie,
Mike Melvoin, Marc Miller, Herb Nanas,
Christopher Nickens, Jerry Osborne, Mike Palesh,
Clay Pasternack, Mike Ragogna, Jerry Reuss,
Dale and Eleanor Rice, Dan Richardson, Lee Rudnick,
Warren Salyer, Rick Sandler, David Scherer, Dan Seals,
Joe Sidore, Karen Swenson, Sharon Weisz,
Mary Wekser, Sharon White
(England Dan Seals & John Ford Coley)
2. Children of My Mind*
3. You'll Never Know
(Mack Gordon and Harry Warren)
Paramount single 0286; AC #13, 1974
4. Together +
(Richard Addrisi & Donald Addrisi)
5. It Can Only Happen In America
(Denny Doherty & H. "Bud" Fanton)
6. Southern Comfort
7. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
(Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil & Phil Spector)
8. Goodnight and Good Morning
(John Oates & Daryl Hall)
Paramount single 0286(B); 1974
9. Lay Me Down (Rock Me Out To Sea)
10. Give Me Back That Old Familiar Feeling
11. I'm Home Again
(Tim Martin & Walt Maskell)
Produced by John Madara and Jeffrey Kruger
Background vocals by Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips
Arranged by Mike Melvoin
*Arranged by Thomas C. Sellers
++Arranged by Mike Melvoin and Thomas C. Sellers
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