1995 Interview

Page 7: Virgin Islands and Cass

JOHNSON: Can you talk a little about the California music scene at the time you came out to work?

PHILLIPS: Well see, we went to the Virgin Islands the summer of ‘65, to rehearse and just put everything together. Cass and Denny and Michelle and I and the doctor who played guitar, and Peter Pilafian, who played violin. All these strange people. We took dogs with us and motorcycles and children. McKenzie, my daughter, went with us. She had her own tent on the beach. We were the last campers to arrive and we got the worst camping site. We called it Camp Torture. There was a mosquito bog right behind it. We went across the main island. We had this on St. John. Went across the main island, St. Thomas, and we got a job there, working at a club, Duffy’s - Duffy was a great help to us - singing, and we were trying to sing country pop, folk pop at that time, and we weren’t quite sure how to do it or what to do. One day we heard "Turn! Turn! Turn!" - The Byrds - and they mentioned Jim McGuinn, Roger McGuinn now. Denny said, "We can do that. What’s the big deal?" So we came back to the mainland and got a drive-away car and drove across the country to California and started recording, almost as soon as we got here.

McKENZIE: With my credit card.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs] With Scott’s credit card. That’s right.

JOHNSON: And you weren’t in The Mamas and The Papas.

McKENZIE: No. No.

JOHNSON: But they had your credit card?

McKENZIE: I don’t know how John got my credit card. I never will. He’s never told me. Probably the same place he got the mayonnaise.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]

McKENZIE: He got there. They took my credit card and Denny was me. [Laughs] Denny was a great influence. That’s not surprising that he said we can do that, because he was one of the few white guys who could really sing rock and roll. He could sing it in the Fifties.

PHILLIPS: Yeah, he was just a natural.

McKENZIE: He’s like a flawless singer.

PHILLIPS: He put ear phones on the first time we were together, which was the first time we ever met Cass also. She came to the door, dressed like a mushroom. And Michelle opened the door and said, "Oh, come on in." Must be Cass Elliott.

McKENZIE: [Laughs] Dressed like a mushroom.

PHILLIPS: She was. In this big muumuu thing. And she sat down, it floated all around her.

McKENZIE: That’s really weird, because Cass was from the same town we were, and we never met her in Alexandria, Virginia.

JOHNSON: Really?

McKENZIE: Yeah. She lived like a quarter of a mile from me, and I never met her until New York.

PHILLIPS: Her father had a deli there. I remember her as a little, chubby girl, with the stained apron on, behind the counter. [Laughs] We were sort of infamous in that area, and when she got to New York, she knew who we were, but we didn’t know who she was. And she had met Denny, and Denny said, "I know this girl that sings wonderfully. We should have her over and sing with her." It happened to be that LSD was actually legal at the time. It wasn’t a banned drug or anything. We searched all over the Village and found some contemporary artist who had some and he gave it to us. We were about to take it that night, when the knock on the door came and Cass came in. So we all had it together the same night, for the first time, and I think that formed a bond between the four of us that we just never stopped singing. We just went on and on and on and on, until the trip wore off, which was about four years later.

JOHNSON: [Laughs]

McKENZIE: Boy, that’s some acid. Whew, man.

PHILLIPS: Well, we did supplement along the way. [Laughs]

McKENZIE: [Laughs]

PHILLIPS: Was that the question?

JOHNSON: I forgot the question.

McKENZIE: It’s a great answer, whatever it was.