Text of Interview with Scott McKenzie and John Phillips.
Conducted by L.A. Johnson. Tuesday, August 15, 1995. Stage 10, Paramount Studios.
JOHNSON: Let’s talk about the song San Francisco. What inspired you to write that song?
PHILLIPS: Scott inspired me to write the song. We were doing the Monterey Pop Festival, which I produced with Lou Adler, and the town of Monterey was sort of frightened by the thought of two hundred and fifty thousand hippies coming
McKENZIE: Sort of frightened?
PHILLIPS: Sort of frightened. Yeah. You tell it, Scott. You have that thing you do.
McKENZIE: Well, they were terrified. I was hanging out with John and Lou and going up to Monterey. John was on acid most of the time, and he gave a speech to the property owners and the fathers and the mothers and all the relatives of the town.
PHILLIPS: The police chief.
McKENZIE: [Laughs] The police chief.
PHILLIPS: The mayor.
McKENZIE: In which he tried to convince them to hold the pop festival there. And he did, somehow. I don’t know how he did that. During this time I figured that we ought to do a song which was really written to the young people who, obviously, were coming to California that summer, and would really descend on Monterey if this pop festival happened.
PHILLIPS: But the idea was that they would come in peace to the pop festival
McKENZIE: John took it from there.
PHILLIPS: Which they did. There was not one arrest during the whole pop festival.
McKENZIE: Tell him how you got the idea for the imagery.
PHILLIPS: Because I intended to sing it myself, but Scott did it. [Laughs]
McKENZIE: [Laughs] That’s the way it goes. He fell asleep in the studio
JOHNSON: Oh, really?
JOHNSON: What was the inspiration for the imagery and how did you get the lyrics? What were you thinking?
PHILLIPS: Actually, I was thinking of the Olympics and the wreaths that the people wore.
PHILLIPS: Garlands, yeah.
McKENZIE: When I recorded that song, some friends of mine, all who happened to be initiated by the Maharishi and were meditating all over the place, went out and picked wildflowers in Laurel Canyon and wove garlands of flowers and I wore them on my hair and sang the song. Now there’s a bit of trivia.
McKENZIE: It’s the only song I’ve ever recorded in four takes.
JOHNSON: Where did you do it? What studio? What was the situation? Who was there?
McKENZIE: We did a soundtrack at Western.
McKENZIE: And the vocals at another studio, wasn’t it?
PHILLIPS: The German guy’s.
McKENZIE: German guy?
McKENZIE: German guy? I don’t know.
PHILLIPS: I think it’s called Sound Factory. I’m not sure, though.
McKENZIE: I think John Phillips
PHILLIPS: And we did some overdubs there also, on it.
McKENZIE: Yeah. Didn’t you throw up after I finished?
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] That was before you started.
McKENZIE: [Laughs] While I was singing. I don’t know.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, well, I was asleep in the corner and you snuck in and sang the vocal.
McKENZIE: [Laughs] I knew it was something like that.
JOHNSON: So you wrote it and produced it?
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Lou and I produced it, put it together, co-produced.
JOHNSON: Right. Because Lou was the producer for The Mamas and The Papas at that time?
PHILLIPS: That’s right. Yeah.
JOHNSON: Can you talk about your relationship. Where did you guys meet and how did you come to become fast friends all these years? Where did that begin?
McKENZIE: Ramsey Alley in Alexandria, Virginia. I think I was about fifteen and John was twenty-five.
McKENZIE: [Laughs] He was having one of his famous two-week-long parties or something. I don’t know. I don’t know how I ended up there. But he was sitting in the corner of a room with a guitar and I said, "Hi. How you doing?" He says, "Can you sing?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "Sit down and sing this part." [Laughs] And that’s what he’s been doing ever since, telling me what part to sing.
McKENZIE: It’s true. That’s a true story.
PHILLIPS: It’s sort of a passion of mine. If people can sing, I think, "Well, let’s sing something. You sing this part and I’ll sing this part."
McKENZIE: He’s only three years older than I am, and he had been singing since he was a kid and wanting to have vocal groups all over the place. He knew from the time he was about ten-years-old. We were in several vocal groups together in Alexandria. You know, the local kids on the corner, the doowop. Although, we were more jazz - tried to be more jazz. We loved the, what, The Hi-Lows?
PHILLIPS: Hi-Lows, Four Freshmen.
JOHNSON: Let’s talk about that. What were your musical influences, growing up?
PHILLIPS: Well, I guess it started with - let’s see, what was her name? The-
McKENZIE: The Modernaires?
PHILLIPS: The Modernaires, yeah. Paula Kelly and The Modernaires. The first time I heard those kinds of chords sung. And I always liked the sound of men and women singing together, like in church or at work or whatever. I always thought that kind of very moving. That’s what we ended up with The Mamas and The Papas, as a matter of fact, to get that choral blend like that. I really admired The Hi-Lows’ harmony and The Four Freshmen’s harmony and Modernaires, people like that. So we started off that way. And that’s what eventually led to The Mamas and The Papas’ sound. But at first, when we first started working, we worked at Canada’s gayest and largest supper club, the Elmer Casino in Windsor, Ontario.
McKENZIE: [Laughs] It’s now a drug rehab.
PHILLIPS: It’s now a drug rehab.
McKENZIE: It really is.
PHILLIPS: It should have been then.
McKENZIE: We wore costumes. We’d do like three production numbers every night. This is the old time nightclub stuff.
PHILLIPS: Let’s don’t be talking about the headliner. [Laughs]
McKENZIE: Yeah. We wore costumes. They had different themes.
PHILLIPS: Canadian mounties, usually.
McKENZIE: Canadian mounties, who knows.
PHILLIPS: Ice skaters.
McKENZIE: Sometimes we had to wear mittens and stocking caps and pretend like we were ice skating around the stage with all these chorus girls. And then we’d do our own twenty minute act of music that was sort of like The Four Lads and The Four Freshmen.
JOHNSON: What was that group called?
McKENZIE: The Smoothies.
PHILLIPS: The Smoothies. And the fellow who named it was Charles V. Ryan, who was also our manager and who was in the original group, the Smoothies, who sang "Three Little Fishes" and "Itty Bitty Pond." [Laughs]
McKENZIE: [Sings] "And you’re an old smoothie."
PHILLIPS: And you’re an old smoothie, yeah.
JOHNSON: So where did that lead you after Ontario or wherever it was?
McKENZIE: Almost into the Detroit River.
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] Yeah, because Scott kept - we were supposed to be singing "Scarlet Ribbons" every night. And the owner of the club, the cigar-smoking Al.
McKENZIE: Al Seagull.
PHILLIPS: Al Seagull.
McKENZIE: Mr. Seagull. [Laughs]
PHILLIPS: A real tough guy. Detroit tough guy. And he said, "This song," something about his daughter and the song?
McKENZIE: I don’t remember.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Something like that. His daughter had died and that was her favourite song. He didn’t want it sung in his club any more. And we said we were artists and we’d sing whatever we wanted to sing, at any time.
McKENZIE: [Laughs] Oh boy.
PHILLIPS: And he said, "We’ll see about that." And we went out and we sang it, and he was right. We didn’t sing it again.
JOHNSON: Where does folk music fit in with the influences in your music becausethen you did the folk circuit?
PHILLIPS: Well, we started off, we grew up in Virginia. And that was really our - what was around us all the time. We were drawn to jazz, because we were sort of beatniks, really, rather than hippies, or whatever, flower children [laughs]. So we wanted to sing modern harmonies, like Lambert, Hendrix and Ross. Dave Lambert did a lot of our arrangements for us, as a matter of fact. I don’t know if you remember Dave, the father of bebop, he’s called. He met an untimely death on the New York throughway, changing a tire. On the way to a recording session a car got behind him and rear-ended him. So at that time we were The Smoothies. [Laughs] And we had always played guitars and banjos and things, and Scott and I, the survivors of The Smoothies, Bill Cleary and Michael Boran, threw the whole thing up in the air and said forget it. Bill still works with us as a consultant and so forth. And what is Mike doing?
McKENZIE: He’s an English - last thing I knew, he was an English teacher and had about twenty-seven kids.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. He was the funniest guy in the whole group, and played piano and all that stuff. So we decided we would be a folk group. We put an ad in the local newspaper, The Village Voice, for banjo/guitar players. A fellow, Dick Weissman showed up, answering the ad.
McKENZIE: The professor.
PHILLIPS: The professor, yeah. And he turned out to be about the world’s virtuoso banjo player, and still is.
McKENZIE: As a matter of fact, Pete Seeger would say that.
McKENZIE: Because Pete used to send - I believe I’m right on this. He used to send tapes to Dick for his opinion and everything and they would get together and talk -
McKENZIE: And play banjo together. More than one airport, they’d sit on the luggage carousel or whatever and take out their banjos and play together.
JOHNSON: So you were in the Village during the transition from the beatnik era into the folk era?
JOHNSON: What was that like? What was the cultural, political scene likeduring that time?
PHILLIPS: God, who remembers?
McKENZIE: I remember everybody as trying to be very practiced at being anarchists, and yet living comfortably.
McKENZIE: But I don’t know. I went to the Gaslight Cafe and I think it was Hugh Romney who later became Wavy Gravy. I don’t know.
McKENZIE: He was reading some poetry. This is how hip I was. You were there that night.
PHILLIPS: What night?
McKENZIE: We went to hear Hugh Romney and I didn’t know that after everyone, I mean, after someone read a poem or something, the way you applauded was like this [snaps fingers], because it was in the basement of an apartment building, and the tenants would complain if everybody clapped. So I’m sitting there and I’m trying to be really hip. I’m about twenty-years-old, squeaky clean white, I mean, just came down the river in a bubble. And Hugh Romney finishes this [imitates deep voice] thing, and me, the young, cool dude there, sitting there, I go [claps loudly].
PHILLIPS: And I’m going - [laughs].
McKENZIE It was like, you know. [Laughs] Everybody turned and looked at me and everything.
PHILLIPS: It’s never been the same, ever since.
JOHNSON: But I guess people think back to the time of the Village as sort of the early days of what became a major movement from the beatnik to the hippies, so there had to be some spark of creativity.
PHILLIPS: I think it already happened, really.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. As The Journeymen, which we became, Scott and Dick and I, we did three albums for Capitol and our first job was at Folk City, Gerdes’ Folk City in the Village. And it was with Dylan and Lightnin’ Hopkins. It was Dylan’s first job in New York, also, and our first job, and Lightnin’s about four hundredth [laughs] job in New York. I remember Dylan borrowed twenty bucks and never paid it back, and [laughs] -
McKENZIE: But he used it well.
PHILLIPS: And you tuned Lightnin’ Hopkins’ guitar for him.
McKENZIE: Something like that.
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] He couldn’t tune the guitar.
McKENZIE: I could tune a guitar really well.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Scott was a master tuner.
JOHNSON: That’s very good. Erik Darling said that’s his whole struggle with a twelve-string is to keep it in tune.
PHILLIPS: Oh yes. A twelve-string’s almost impossible.
McKENZIE: I’ve never known anybody could tune a twelve-string right. A couple studio players, but -
PHILLIPS: Well, now that they have good electronic tuners, it’s a lot easier.
McKENZIE It says it’s right. But it doesn’t sound right.
JOHNSON: So we got an idea of John’s influences. What were your musical influences, Scott?
McKENZIE I hate to be uninteresting again here, but it’s pretty much the same. That was one of the things that attracted us to each other was that we liked almost exactly the same music. We both wanted to sing. We both loved groups. We both - I think John was really more enamoured of women and men singing together. I hadn’t really thought that much about it. But I loved The Modernaires. I love harmonies. I still do. I’d rather sing in a group than myself any day.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, groups are a special breed from a single performer.
McKENZIE: I am not a group singer. I’m a human being!
PHILLIPS: Yes. [Laughs]
JOHNSON: There’s a lot of conflict having groups. I know a lot of people -
McKENZIE: Oh, boy.
JOHNSON: And you, John, having a major group, The Mamas and The Papas. How was trying to hold that together? Was it a challenge?
PHILLIPS: Well, one doesn’t try to hold Cass and Denny and Michelle together. [Laughs] It’s a useless task to start with. You just sort of stay out of the way and let things roll as they can.
McKENZIE: Oh, God.
PHILLIPS: By majority vote, they thought. [Laughs]
PHILLIPS: I did all the arranging and write the songs and all that and slowly get my way.
McKENZIE: Ooh, that should be interesting.
PHILLIPS: That’s the best way to get it done.
JOHNSON: Can you talk about The Mamas and The Papas and give us a little history of how that group came to be?
PHILLIPS: Well, after the Kingston Trio sort of came in and boosted, not traditional folk music, but commercial folk music, the whole folk music thing died right after that and just became persona non grata in the music field. We had resisted going in the pop field for years and years because you couldn’t do anything intelligent in it. It was all, [sings] "Venus, goddess of love - " that kind of stuff, and bobby socks with blue jeans. We just didn’t want to sing that. The only thing that we could sing was jazz. So we did that. And then when The Beatles came along and sort of opened this whole new door of song writing, where you could express personal feelings - when I first tried to sell "Monday, Monday" or "California Dreamin’" and things like that to publishers in the Brill Building, Scott and I together, and we had a guitar, I think. They would say, "Who wants to hear a song about a state? [Laughs] Where’s the girl interest in this? Who wants to hear a song about a day of the week? Come on, get out of here." And this happened in the whole building. It was nine floors. And we persisted and it just sort of came around.
JOHNSON: So publishing, in that point, for you, as a songwriter, that was the endeavor? Writing songs and having other people cover them?
PHILLIPS: Yeah. We would do almost anything to survive at that time. We were living on a pound of bologna, a loaf of bread and a jar of mayonnaise each week.
McKENZIE: Where’d you get the mayonnaise?
McKENZIE: You never told me about the mayonnaise.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, we had about thirty bucks a week from Charlie Ryan to -
McKENZIE: It was rough. Everybody pays their dues in this business. Somebody asked me the other night - it was Bobby Kent - he says, "Who gets all the dues?" You always hear this about paying dues, but who gets them? Who’s holding them?
PHILLIPS: Who gets the dues?
McKENZIE Yes. Yes. It’s the Musician’s Union or what? Somebody has a lot of dues. So yeah, you’re trying to get your songs sold and recorded and record them yourself. Especially in those years, because singer-songwriter was - John was one of the first ones. There wasn’t any such thing. Not in a big scale. So if you were a songwriter, you just had to record with somebody else.
PHILLIPS: Because traditionally, songwriters can’t sing. And that holds true in my case, also. [Laughs]
McKENZIE: You’re a fine singer.
PHILLIPS: I’m a fine singer in a group sense. But as a soloist, I don’treally like it.
JOHNSON: Well, then Bob Dylan proved that to be wrong too, right?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, right. Of course, Bob doesn’t sing. [Laughs] Bob talks the song.
McKENZIE: Yeah. Well, he does something right, yeah.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. He has the great ability to give the mental picture of it through grunts and groans and elongated verses and things like that.
McKENZIE: John’s always been bitter because he didn’t have a pretty voice. He’s got a great voice. He’s a great singer. This is nonsense.
PHILLIPS: If you want to hear a few numbers I’ll -
McKENZIE: Not that great a singer. [Laughs]
JOHNSON: Let’s talk about "California Dreamin’" specifically, and how you were inspired to write that song, the history of it.
PHILLIPS: Well, Michelle gave you her version of how it was written?
PHILLIPS: I hope our versions [laughs] coincide. It’s my recollection that we were at the Earle Hotel in New York and Michelle was asleep. I was playing the guitar. We’d been out for a walk that day and she’d just come from California and all she had was California clothing. And it snowed overnight and in the morning she didn’t know what the white stuff coming out of the sky was, because it never snowed in Southern L.A., you know, Southern California. So we went for a walk and the song is mostly a narrative of what happened that day, stopped into a church to get her warm, and so on and so on. And so as I was thinking about it later that night, I was playing and singing and I thought "California Dreamin’" was what we were doing, actually, that day. So I tried to wake Michelle up to write the lyrics down that I was doing. And she said, "Leave me alone. I want to sleep. I want to sleep." "Wake up. Write this down. You’ll never regret it. I promise you, Michelle." "Okay." Then she wrote it down and went back to sleep. [Laughs] And she told me up to this day, she’s never regretted getting up and [laughs] writing it down. Since she gets half of the writing of the song for it.
JOHNSON: For writing it down?
JOHNSON: That’s exactly the story she told us.
PHILLIPS: Is it?
JOHNSON: Exactly. Yeah.
PHILLIPS: Oh, wonderful girl.
JOHNSON: She left out the good part about the church and walking that day. She didn’t tell that part.
PHILLIPS: No. All she had was tennis shoes and the socks, and a tank top and jeans or something. It was bitter cold.
McKENZIE: Earle Hotel.
PHILLIPS: Earle Hotel, yeah. Right on Washington Square.
JOHNSON: She said it was cold. She did. She said she was homesick.
PHILLIPS: The whole idea, [laughs] New York just completely turned her off. She’d never been there before.
McKENZIE: You shoplifted a -
PHILLIPS: Probably. I shoplifted everything. I still do.
McKENZIE: A cooking - remember that? We had a suite at the Earle Hotel and it had a kitchen, but no stove? [Laughs]
PHILLIPS: I shoplifted a stove?
McKENZIE: Well, not a whole stove.
PHILLIPS: A hot plate.
McKENZIE: We walked in and I did something like this [motions] and you took a hot plate and walked out.
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] I lifted the hot plate.
McKENZIE: Yeah. And we were able to heat up our bologna andmayonnaise, which I didn’t know you had.
McKENZIE: That means a lot, you know.
JOHNSON: So after writing it down, what was the history of the song after that?
PHILLIPS: A few nights later I was at a party with Marshall Brickman, who later became a screenplay writer. That was the first person in The Journeymen - no, the second person. Denny Doherty was the first. And then - no, no. Marshall was the first. That’s right. Marshall was the first and -
McKENZIE: It was you, Dick and me, and then it was Marshall and you and Michelle.
PHILLIPS: And Michelle, right.
McKENZIE: And then it was Denny, you and Michelle.
PHILLIPS: Right. Exactly. And Marshall went on to write Annie Hall and all that. There’s a very funny story about Marshall. If you have a moment, I’ll tell you.
PHILLIPS: We were rehearsing on Broadway at Nola Studios, I think it’scalled. A very famous rehearsal studio spot. And Marshall played guitar and banjo and twelve-string and something else, some other instrument he carried. And he was walking across the street in the snowstorm after rehearsal, it was just right at that biting time of night, around five o’clock, and he couldn’t find a cab and the wind came around the corner and bit you, you know. And he saw his reflection in a mirror of a store, and he thought to himself, "My parents didn’t immigrate from Russia for me to do this."
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] That’s what he said. And he never played again. I mean, he played, but he never - changed profession entirely as of that moment. That was the thought that made him do it.
JOHNSON: I guess he thought writing was gonna be the money-making part. He was right.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Well, he’s excellent. I just saw him last summer, as a matter of fact.
McKENZIE: Sleeper . He did Sleeper.
PHILLIPS: My daughter’s getting married, Chynna, September ninth, out in Long Island, and Marshall’s coming to the wedding. So it’ll be fun.
JOHNSON: I think we were talking about what happened to the song.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Well, I’m went to a party at Judy Collins’ place, and I sang the song there and it was not at all the same kind of version as The Mamas and The Papas, with Hal Blaine on drums and Larry Nechtal on piano, Joe Osborne on bass and me playing sort of rhythm - it was finger picking, Carter Family style. Everyone liked it very much and it was a nice song. Then we got to California with it and I guess it was Lou Adler’s influence, really, because he got Joe and Larry and myself into that mode of playing that country folk rock. The feeling of the song changed from sort of a lament and just sort of a, you know, I don’t know what to call it - a dreaming song, that kind of thing.
JOHNSON: Well, it became an anthem. It became much more.
PHILLIPS: I guess. If I could tell you how many people have come up tome and said, "Oh, you’re responsible for me being in California, you know." [Laughs] I mean, thousands and thousands and thousands, literally, probably three or four today, so far, as a matter of fact.
PHILLIPS: So I should have some kind of recompense for this sort of thing.
McKENZIE: Don’t you get royalties from all those people?
PHILLIPS: I’m not sure. And then after writing "San Francisco," also - I’m really a guilty guy.
McKENZIE: A lot of people claim they lost their virginity to "Monday, Monday" in the back seat of a car.
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] I don’t know how that works. But -
McKENZIE: I swear. I’ve heard that a lot.
JOHNSON: Michelle talked about one of her best memories of "California Dreamin’," a strong memory brought back when she saw Forrest Gump . She remembered watching a Bob Hope show from Vietnam and there was a pan of the audience and some soldiers held up a sign on TV and it said, "California Dreaming." Do you remember that?
PHILLIPS: No, I don’t remember that. But every time we sing "San Francisco" - that was sort of a coming home song for the soldiers, for San Francisco was a home port, coming back from Vietnam. Scott always dedicates the song in every show we do, to MIA’s and the families and the veterans themselves, who came back. There’s a great response from the audience, to welcome these guys home again, who never really got welcomed home after all.
JOHNSON: Yeah. We still carry that, I think. The movie does.
PHILLIPS: Oh. I think it carries it very well, too.
JOHNSON: But that feeling in America is still unresolved, I think.
McKENZIE: Yeah. Always will be.
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.
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.
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.
McKENZIE: Boy, that’s some acid. Whew, man.
PHILLIPS: Well, we did supplement along the way. [Laughs]
PHILLIPS: Was that the question?
JOHNSON: I forgot the question.
McKENZIE: It’s a great answer, whatever it was.
JOHNSON: Something about moving to California.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Oh, so we got to California. Everyone we had known in the Village, before we left for the islands, was in California. [Laughs] I mean, Crosby was here. McGuinn was here. McGuire was here. I don’t know, thousands of people who were singing in the Village when we left, were now making records in California.
McKENZIE: There was a reason for that too, because recording studios in New York were really uptight. They were so inflexible in terms of union control, and you couldn’t sit down behind the control board and -
PHILLIPS: That’s right.
McKENZIE: Very strict, very strict. And out here, everybody was so laid back. It’s a tradition. And you can come in and sit down at the control board and fiddle around. Nobody really cared.
PHILLIPS: Fiddle the EQ and stuff.
McKENZIE: And everybody worked together and you’d spend twenty-four hours in the studio and everybody sort of overlapped. It wasn’t this strict compartmentalisation that there was in the New York scene. I think that’s why a lot of people had to come out here.
PHILLIPS: Even when we came back to New York, with doing your album, we recorded with Scott after we did "San Francisco" as a single. I sat down at the board, like I felt I was supposed to. And they said, "Don’t touch anything!"
PHILLIPS: "Or I’ll call the union." Lou was there with us also, Adler, and he called Clive Davis, who was president of the company, and Clive came down and said, "I can’t do a thing about it. I’m sorry. [Laughs] That’s the way the union is here. You can’t touch the board." It was a big drawback to the whole creative process.
McKENZIE: That’s why a lot of people came out here.
JOHNSON: Plus the weather was warm.
McKENZIE: The weather was nice. That’s true. Yeah.
JOHNSON: That helps. We have a clip of you performing on The Beat Club.
McKENZIE: Yeah. [Laughs] One of my many live performances. [Laughs]
JOHNSON: Have you seen that recently?
McKENZIE: I’ve never seen it.
JOHNSON: We’ll have to show it to you.
McKENZIE: I swear.
JOHNSON: His Beat Club performance.
McKENZIE: They did some kind of - I remembered doing it, believe it or not. I was sitting down, right?
JOHNSON: Right. On the steps.
McKENZIE: I couldn’t stand up. It was in Germany. I remember that. I couldn’t - I was so loaded. They took me and they sat me down on the stage and I lip synched it. It was very embarrassing. I wasn’t in very good shape.
PHILLIPS: We were at the George V Hotel in France, in Paris, and there were five thousand kids outside going, "Scott McKenzie! Scott McKenzie!" And pelting the hotel with flowers and things like that. So I said, "Scott, I have this great idea. Put on a white robe and we’ll walk to Rome. By the time we get there we’ll have thousands and thousands of people following us." And I couldn’t find him, and finally I opened a closet door and there was Scott, huddled - "I’ll never forgive you for this. I’ll never forgive you for this." He was really thrilled about being a star.
JOHNSON: It didn’t work for you, huh?
McKENZIE: No. [Laughs]
McKENZIE: No, it didn’t.
PHILLIPS: Now we tour Germany and they run the bus off the road to get his autograph. And they say, "I would never know you’re the real Scott McKenzie."
McKENZIE: That’s true.
JOHNSON: Can you tell us the history of the song "Me and My Uncle" that you wrote?
PHILLIPS: Yeah. I guess I could. It’s just related to my brother, my older brother. His name was Tom and when he was eighteen-years-old, it was 1941 in December and the bomb - I mean, the war started, Pearl Harbor and all that. He was a senior in high school and they had the buddy system and he and eighteen of his school mates joined the Marine Corps together and they said, "We’ll stick you in the same company, the same platoon." He was the only one who came back after that. Five or six year stint he did in the Marine Corps and he fought all the battles in Iwo Jima, Saipan, all that stuff. The whole time, he should have been having social experiences and meeting people and what was he doing? He was killing Japanese. So when he got back, he never could adjust to being a regular member of society again, or just working the rest of his life. I always felt terrible for him, for that. And somehow I related, I don’t know how this happened, but "Me and My Uncle" came to mean Tom and myself, somehow.
JOHNSON: You never recorded that. Who did?
PHILLIPS: I just recorded that for the first time ever. It’s coming out in September, or by Thanksgiving, anyway. Grateful Dead did it. Glen Campbell did it. Judy Collins did it. Everyone. But I never did it. I didn’t know I’d written it, as a matter of fact. There was a party after a concert in Phoenix, Arizona, and everyone was in Scottsdale, and McGuinn was there and Judy Collins. A lot of people had done this thing. There was a little tape recorder there. I was drinking tequila and I woke up in the morning and there was no one there except the worm and myself were still there. Everyone else had gone. I had a terrible hangover and so I left, finally got on my airplane and got out of there. About six months later I heard the song on a Judy Collins album. I said, "Nice song." And then it said J. Phillips underneath it and I got a check for it. So I called up Judy and I said, "It’s not my shtick. I never wrote that song." [Laughs] And she said, "Yeah. I have the tape of it, John, of you writing it that night at that party." And she sent it to me and sure enough. There it was. [Laughs] It was like a spontaneous song. It never was edited or revised. Did it all at once.
JOHNSON: What was it that Michelle said? He turns tragedy -
JOHNSON: Yeah. Michelle said that you turn tragedy into publishing.
PHILLIPS: Yeah, at a very young age.
JOHNSON: Can you tell us a little bit more about your inspiration for song writing? Is that a true habit of yours?
PHILLIPS: No, no. [Laughs] No, it’s not. It’s a true habit of Michelle’s.
PHILLIPS: Michelle’s very witty. Summing up everything in one line, a one-liner. I think she said it for the first time about five years ago, actually, at a dinner party. Oh yes, John, the greatest vocal arranger has also mastered the art of turning tragedy into publishing. So since then, it’s sort of spread around everywhere.
JOHNSON: Well, it’s gonna be spread around a lot, because we put it in theCD-ROM.
PHILLIPS: [Laughs] She’s done it again, see. [Laughs] Those are the happy times in my life, the songs.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. Not the tragedy. If I told you the tragedy parts, we’d all sit here and cry.
JOHNSON: Right. Can you speak a little bit more about Roger McGuinn and The Byrds and your relationship to them and other groups in Los Angeles during that period?
PHILLIPS: Actually, we became much closer to the English groups than the American groups. I don’t know how that happened, but we were much closer friends with The Beatles and The Stones, for instance, than we were with The Byrds or gosh -
JOHNSON: The Buffalo Springfield?
PHILLIPS: Buffalo Springfield. And Morrison. I knew Morrison quite well, but I didn’t know the other guys in the group or anything. But John and Paul and Ringo and Mick and Keith and all that. We were all like best buddies. And it was always that way.
JOHNSON: Did you have any relationship with The Beach Boys at all?
PHILLIPS: Well, I did. Brian and I were neighbors in Bel Air and his daughters and my daughter, Chynna, as the story goes, sang together as children and sang for us all the time, for Brian and I, and we’d say, "No, don’t sing it this way, not that way." Eventually went on to become Wilson Phillips and sold about nine million copies [laughs] of their first album and retired. Brian was always sort of a strange duck, off in his own thing. He would come to the house at a party. I would have a party whenever The Beatles were in town. They’d all gather up at my place and we’d sing and do things. And Brian would take water glasses and fill them each according to a scale, and he’d play the water glasses. He tuned them up and played them. He was good at it. [Laughs]
McKENZIE: He could also hit a softball farther than anybody.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. He’d hit a softball further than we’d ever seen in our lives.
McKENZIE: All get together and play softball. I don’t know where it was. Somewhere. I guess it was in one of the canyons or Beverly Hills or something.
McKENZIE: And he could hit a softball across a whole field, a street -
PHILLIPS: And over the house
McKENZIE: Across the street. I mean, a softball.
PHILLIPS: It was incredible.
McKENZIE: I never saw anything like it in my life.
JOHNSON: Could have been a baseball player. A lost career there.
PHILLIPS: He probably would have been a great baseball player, as a matter of fact.
JOHNSON: Lost career. What did you think of the movie Forrest Gump?
McKENZIE: I thought it was the most wonderful movie I’ve ever seen in my life, or the most wonderful movie I’ve never seen in my life. [Laughs]
JOHNSON: Do you have any thoughts about the movie Forrest Gump that you can share with us?
PHILLIPS: I really loved Forrest Gump. I thought it was like Steinbeck. It was real Americana to me. I related to it very heavily, to my own life and I just loved every part of it. I knew I would from the first time I heard of the project, and the first publicity blurbs of it and everything. I just knew it was my kind of movie. I was so thrilled that two of my songs were in it, which I didn’t learn until after it was released even, as a matter of fact. I was so pre-sold on the movie, anyway, when I saw it I loved it. Every part of it. I liked his relationship with the girl and when he was being chased by the boys and his braces flew off and he started running. The whole thing was just magic for me, all the way through. And that [sings] "And shrimp boats are coming." Which [laughs] remained in my mind when I see the movie, because of the shrimp business.
PHILLIPS: [Sings] "The shrimp boats is coming. Their sails are - "
JOHNSON: One more question about the Monterey Pop Festival, because the song was inspired by that and it was one of the first major festivals, I think, that had a social consciousness to it, because it was basically done as a benefit.
PHILLIPS: Yes. It was a non-profit organization . It still is and still has - well, there had been very good revenues from the movie. See, what we did, we called acts all over the world that we thought were the right acts for the first pop festival in history. We told them that no one was getting paid. All they would get would be the expenses from where they were, expenses while they were in Monterey, and plane tickets to their next job. And for that they signed away all their recording rights and movie rights, and every right to any income from it, and it all went to the Monterey Pop Festival fund, which still exists and still gives out scholarships and supports old rock and rollers and sick people in the music industry and things like that.
McKENZIE: Earthquake relief, the Free Clinic.
PHILLIPS: Earthquake relief and we built the Free Clinic in L.A. The one in San Francisco, also. Lou’s mostly responsible, Lou Adler, for really handling all the ins-and-outs of getting these things together. After the concert itself, I was so exhausted. Michelle was a great part of that concert also. Should have been a co-producer, actually. She worked night and day for months. The only real down side of Monterey Pop Festival is that we were the closing act of the whole festival. It took us three months to put it together and we had no rehearsals or sang at any time during that three-month period. Denny was in the islands and he showed up ten minutes before we were supposed to go on stage. We thought he wouldn’t show up at all. I thought we sounded really bad that night, which was a letdown for me, because after all the work we put into it, I wanted it to sound wonderful and it didn’t.
JOHNSON: We’ve looked at a lot of clips from different performances. You did the Ed Sullivan Show.
JOHNSON: Do you remember that experience and what that was that like?
PHILLIPS: Oh, that was the most fun of anything in the world. [Laughs] Cass would never stop - Ed had this sort of stop and go memory. And he’d say, "Another music group, for God’s sake, help me." And he’d say it’s up to us, you know. Who are you? And without moving his lips. [Laughter] "Help me, for God’s sake." And Cass would say things like, "Sure, Ed. One thing is, we’re tired of following that little mouse." [Laughter] He was just a hilarious guy.
McKENZIE: But he had a pain killer problem. [Laughter] He did. He really did. He had a bad back and he had to take a lot of pain killers.
PHILLIPS: He was the nicest guy in the world. Bob Prector, his son-in-law, was the producer of the show. He sort of got us through all this, and he was wonderful. Then, when I think Ed retired after twenty years of doing the show or something, they wanted to do promos for his last year of doing the show. Cass said, "We congratulate you, Ed, on these twenty years. I hope you only do one more." Which Bob blew up and came out of the office screaming at Cass, which didn’t help. Cause Cass didn’t care who screamed at her.
McKENZIE: She was used to it.
PHILLIPS: She was magic.
McKENZIE: I was just gonna ask you if I could say one thing about what this music means, because when you mentioned about young people not having lived during the Sixties. John alluded to, earlier, especially this thing about Vietnam, but it’s true in other areas also, what this music means to the people. When we go to Europe, I spend a lot of time in East Germany and talk to people there who tell me how much the music means to them and that it was freedom music to them. They were visited by the secret police, stazi police, who told them to renounce their membership in fan clubs and stop listening to the music or they’d go to a jail. They actually had jails, mind prisons over there, and I’ve been to one. Being mindless, I wasn’t required to stay. And then in South America, the same thing was true. The music was considered revolution music. And here, this isn’t just true for "San Francisco," my song, John’s song, I sang. It’s true for all of it. For Vietnam vets, it was what kept them going, in a lot of ways, for years, dreaming of coming home. They still come up to me. I carry a bronze star that a vet gave me, a combat patch that a vet gave me. I’ve talked to two POW’s who told me how much it meant to them. I just think it’s important that the young people - maybe some people our age don’t know it either, realize that whether we intended to be that much a part of what was happening - I didn’t. I didn’t have any idea I was gonna sing a song that would mean that much to anybody. But I did. And that music is in the hearts of millions of people all over the world, and it represents freedom and dying for freedom, or doing what they thought was right and now they think it’s wrong. It goes very, very deep into our collective psyche, and the world’s collective psyche. It’s amazing. It still amazes me and I still talk to someone almost every time we perform. Someone will come up to me and thank me, some vet. It’s amazing.
PHILLIPS: Yeah. It’s always sort of a show-stopping song, when Scott sings it, and it’s usually a standing ovation for it. People would cry. It’s incredible.
McKENZIE: But I mean all of the music. All this music. And not just the music that was in Forrest Gump , but all the music in Forrest Gump applies. But I mean the music that all these artists have done. Some of them are dead now and some of them aren’t. I’m not sure about us.
McKENZIE: Somewhere in between. I don’t know if anyone else has said that.
JOHNSON: No. They haven’t.
McKENZIE: It’s really true and it really means that much to a lot of people.
PHILLIPS: We didn’t realize, for one thing, that the music went worldwide. We thought it was in L.A. [laughs] and New York and maybe Chicago. But now we tour all over the world. We tour Brazil, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong. Everyone knows the songs, all the songs, everywhere we go. And they sing them in their fantastic way of singing, whatever country it is. And they know all the lyrics, the words, the background, the whole thing.
JOHNSON: And it does speak to peace and love.
PHILLIPS: That’s why they know it and that’s what they relate to it and that’s what they get from it.
McKENZIE: And they get help from seeing us and other people from that time, that are performing. It’s just absolutely amazing. And it’s true. It’s true.
JOHNSON: When John first played you the song, "San Francisco," can you speak about that? When you first heard the song, what were your feelings about it? Do you remember that?
McKENZIE: [Laughs] I don’t remember it as a process. I think John and I talked about the idea of a song for a couple of weeks, at least, and then he just sort of sat down and went into his own position, whatever it was, and wrote the song. In about twenty minutes.
PHILLIPS: About twenty minutes, yeah.
McKENZIE: And I loved it. We just started singing it around his house and everywhere. We’d go into Lou’s office. "Here, listen to this." That’s like the old days. In New York, when we first went there, you’d stop on a street corner and sing for an agent or a producer or anybody. We were just thrilled with it.
PHILLIPS: But the thing was, the first time Lou heard the song, he said, "God, I’ve got to hear this song immediately." And we went in the studio the next day, I think, and recorded it, which was a Tuesday. And by Friday it was on the radio and by Monday it was a hit. [Makes exploding sound] It went all over the world.
JOHNSON: Number one.
PHILLIPS: Very strange.
JOHNSON: I think we’re finished. Thanks, both of you.
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