Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Kat reviews the book MY MAMA, CASS



Cass Elliot.  She was a singer -- one of the great voices of the 20th century -- who came to fame with the Mamas and the Papas.  As part of that legendary group from the sixties, she hit the charts with songs like "Creeque Alley," "California Dreamin'," "Words Of Love," "Dedicated To The One Love," "Monday Monday," "I Saw Her Again Last Night," "Safe In My Garden," "12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon" and "Dream A Little Dream Of Me."  Cass, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and John Phillips recorded together briefly -- about three years -- before breaking up.  They would come back together for a final album a few years later just to avoid being sued by their label.

Michelle transferred into acting and has many credits -- VALENTINO, DILLINGER, THE LAST MOVIE, KNOTS LANDING, BLOODLINE, LET IT RIDE,  STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, BEVERLY HILLS 90210, etc.  Besides background vocals from time to time (Cheech & Chong's "Basketball Dreams," Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is A Place On Earth," etc.), after the group originally disbanded in 1968.  Nine years later, Michelle released her first and only album VICTIM OF ROMANCE.  I like the album  but Michelle emphasized acting.


Denny was Canadian and went back there.  He has a lousy WIKIPEDIA entry but I know he did a TV variety show in Canada -- he had Michelle on as a guest -- I believe Cass as well. A lot of his music during the 70s didn't get released in the seventies.  In the 80s, he began touring with John Phillips' M&P abomination.  Cass was dead by then, Michelle wasn't ever coming back to the group.  He had his daughter Mackenzie Phillips in the group.  The "had" was not a reference to the sexual relationship between the two that only ended when Mackenzie -- again, his own daughter -- became pregnant.  

Cass and John The Perv tried to have music careers after the group broke up.  Cass was an amazing singer.  But John was the supposed group leader and supposed major songwriting talent.  

The results?

John bombed at everything -- Broadway, solo recordings, film soundtracks and only found any 'fame' after the groups break up in 1981 when became a convicted drug trafficker.  


She notched up 8 adult contemporary chart hits from 1968 to 1973 and 3 top forty pop hits on BILLBOARD (and four on CASHBOX).  She landed three albums on BILLBOARDS top 100 sales chart.

And she toured.  And she did films (PUFNSTUF and the TV western comedy spoof SAGA OF SONORA).  She was on THE TONIGHT SHOW multiple times.  She even co-hosted several times.  She made multiple appearances on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW and other variety shows -- including THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS, THE JOHN DAVIDSON SHOW, THE JULIE ANDREWS HOUR, THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (that's where the clip of her and John Denver singing "Leaving On A Jet Planet" comes from), THE ANDY WILLIAMS SHOW, THE DON KNOTTS SHOW, THE JOHNNY CASH SHOW, THE RAY STEVENS SHOW, THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW, IT'S LULU,  THIS IS TOM JONES, THE ROSIE GRIER SHOW, THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE, DONAHUE, DINAH'S PLACE, AMERICAN BANDSTAND, THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES . . . 

All from 1968 through her death in 1974.  She hosted two specials: THE MAMA CASS TELEVISION SPECIAL and DON'T CALL ME MAMA ANYMORE.  



When they put this show (which ran for two years in the early 70s) on DVD in the '00s, they didn't include the Cass episode.  If you've never seen it or haven't seen it in years, it is on the free streaming service TUBI.


So my point here is that the Mamas & the Papas disbanded in 1968.  Michelle and Cass had careers.  Denny I'm not sure of because it was in Canada.  He did continue to work.  And John Phillips was a complete failure which karma.

Owen Elliot-Kugell is the only child Cass had.  Cass died in 1974 when Owen was seven.


Owen's new book -- MY MAMA, CASS -- is a highly moving attempt by the author to learn more about her mother.  She shares her memories and what she learned from family members and people who knew Cass.  


She sees her mother as part of a long line of strong women on the maternal side of her family.  And that may be why Cass reacted so strongly to "the Mamas."  The band was trying to come up with a name and John Phillips was pushing "The Magic Circle" when, on TV, a Hell's Angel says that they call their women "Mamas" and Cass shouts that they're the Mamas with Michelle agreeing with her.  In other books, it's noted that John then tries to make it The Papas and the Mamas and Cass makes it clear that it's the other way around.


Owen ignores that part but does note her mother's final year was one repeated hospitalization after another and she ponders whether anyone in management was aware of Cass' health issues?  She notes a lot of loans were taken out for Cass tour.  (She would die in London after performing at The Palladium.)   The same management would raid Cass' account to pay for those loans after Cass died.  Owen shares that Cass' estate remained opened and in debt until the CD revolution of the late 80s and 90s.  Only Cass fans buying up her solo albums and her Mamas and Papas recordings on the CD format brought in enough to pay off the debts.  


So why didn't her management team take note that Cass kept having issues.  Twice she was prevented from going on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON.  But twice in April, she was hospitalized.  Once she was there for the taping and is said to have tripped.  I say "said to."  The second time, she was there for the taping and passed out in her dressing room.  I say "said to" on the earlier one because she may have gotten dizzy and that's why she tripped. In a seventh month period she was hospitalized four times, Owen points out.


Cass' heart gave out in London and that's why she died.  Could these hospitalizations been early indicators of heart issues?  Was anyone paying attention to that or was it just "Let's all make a buck off Cass!"


Again, as soon as she was dead, her management raided her bank accounts to pay for the loans taken out on the tour (management was a co-signer of the loans).  And the lie that she died choking on a ham sandwich came from her manager Alan Carr who asked a friend in the press to print that because he said otherwise they would think it was drugs.



Janis Joplin died four years before Cass.  Drugs.  It didn't harm her reputation or Jim Morrison (four years before Cass) or Jimi Hendrix (three years before Cass).


 I question his 'need' to sell the ham sandwich lie to the public.

But I don't question the book.  In fact, I highly recommned MY MAMA, CASS.





Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

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