John Phillips (August 30, 1935 March 18, 2001) was an American singer, guitarist, and songwriter. He was a member and leader of the singing group The Mamas & the Papas. He is the father of Mackenzie Phillips, Chynna Phillips, and Bijou Phillips.
Phillips was born in Parris Island, South Carolina. His father was a retired soldier who won an Oklahoma bar from a fellow soldier in a poker game on the way home from Europe after World War I. His mother was Cherokee Indian and met and married Phillips' father in Oklahoma. According to Phillips' autobiography, Papa John, his father was a heavy drinker who suffered from ill health.
Growing up Phillips was inspired by Marlon Brando and other film stars to be "street tough." He formed a small gang of teenage boys, who could not have been too intimidating because they also sang Doo Wop songs. A poor student but likable kid, he was the star of his high school basketball team. He attended college on a partial athletic scholarship, but dropped out and shortly thereafter and married his first of four wives.
Susan Adams was the daughter of a wealthy Virginia family. Together they had a son called Jeffrey and a girl they named (Laura) Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie became an instant teen star when she appeared in the film American Graffiti.
Phillips was a poor husband; he longed to have success in the music industry and traveled to New York to find a record contract in the early sixties. His first band, The Journeymen, was a folk trio. He developed his craft in Greenwich Village, and met his future Mamas and the Papas bandmates Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot there.
While touring California with The Journeymen he met his future second wife, Michelle Gilliam. Their affair finally forced the dissolution of his first marriage. Phillips was married to Michelle Phillips from 1962 to 1970. They had one child together, Chynna Phillips, the founder of the singing group Wilson Phillips.
Phillips was the primary songwriter and musical arranger of The Mamas and the Papas. Early in the band's history, John and Michelle were responsible for writing most of the band's songs. John would often come up with a melody and some lyrics and Michelle would help him complete the lyrical portion of the song. After being signed to Dunhill Records, they had several Billboard Top Ten hits during the group's short lifetime, including "California Dreamin'"; "Monday, Monday"; "I Saw Her Again Last Night"; "Creeque Alley"; and "12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)". John Phillips also wrote "San Francisco", the 1967 Scott McKenzie hit that was to become the Summer of Love "hymn".
The group's popularity rivaled that of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the late sixties. Although the band lasted only several short years with five studio albums, the music is recognized today as some of the greatest pop of the 20th century.
The Phillips became Hollywood celebrities, living in the Hollywood Hills and socializing with stars like Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, and Roman Polanski. The group broke up largely because Cass Elliot wanted to go solo and because of some personal problems between Phillips, Michelle, and Denny Doherty. Michelle had been fired briefly in 1966, for having had affairs with both Denny and Gene Clark, and was replaced by Jill Gibson, their producer Lou Adler's girlfriend for two months. Although Michelle was forgiven and asked to return to the group, the personal problems would continue until the band split up in 1968. Cass Elliot went on to have a successful solo career until her death in 1974.
Phillips released his first solo album Wolfking of L.A. in 1970. The album was not commercially successful, although it did include the minor hit "Mississippi", and Phillips began to withdraw from the limelight as his use of narcotics increased.
Actress Genevieve Waite became wife number three in 1972. Tamerlane and Bijou Phillips entered the world during this union, which was marked by years of mutual drug abuse, infidelity and failed artistic expression. John produced a Genevieve Waite album, Romance Is On the Rise, that was quickly forgotten. Her acting career fizzled. Phillips persevered by writing music for films and Broadway, creating a musical. It was savagely criticized and closed on Broadway during previews.
Phillips began to write and record a new solo album in 1977 when Mick Jagger signed him to the new Atlantic Records imprint Rolling Stone Records. Jagger and Keith Richards would produce and play on the album, as well as former Stone Mick Taylor and future Stone Ronnie Wood. The project was derailed by Phillips' increasing use of cocaine and heroin, substances that he shot into his body, by his own admission, "almost every fifteen minutes for two years". (E! True Hollywood Story, Mackenzie Phillips). Amazingly, he survived, yet everything in his life, including the new album was shelved. Decades later, in 2001, the tracks were released as Pay Pack & Follow. The record is a rich collection of country, rock. Although the album offers a trip back to the 1970s, its dated sound prevented the album from being noticed by the press and general music buying audience.
A drug trafficking conviction in 1981 brought the hot glare of public scrutiny. Phillips and his television star daughter Mackenzie made the rounds in the media, instructing kids and their parents how not to become addicts. This public relations campaign helped reduce his prison time; he bargained down to only a month in jail. Upon release, he re-formed the Mamas and the Papas, with his daughter Mackenzie Phillips, Spanky McFarlane (of the group Spanky and Our Gang) and Denny Doherty. Throughout the rest of his life, Phillips toured with various versions of the group.
In 1986, he published a best-seller, his autobiography, Papa John. He was divorced from Waite in the 1980s. He co-wrote a song for the Beach Boys, Kokomo, which became a number one hit in 1988.
In the 1990s, his years of addiction took hold; he received a liver transplant in 1992. John Phillips died on March 18, 2001, in Los Angeles of heart failure. He is buried in the Palm Springs Mortuary & Mausoleum in Palm Springs, California where he had lived with his fourth wife, Farnaz. He was survived by his five children, and a collection of music which earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A new solo album called Phillips 66 was released posthumously in August of 2001.