No California dreamin' for Cdn family of Mamas & Papas singer Denny Doherty
TORONTO – There was no California dreamin’ for the family of the late Halifax singer Denny Doherty, who co-founded the 1960s sunshine pop group the Mamas & the Papas.
Emberly Doherty, his daughter, says her mother insisted he leave Los Angeles in the ’70s to escape the local rock ‘n’ roll party scene that sparked his alcohol addiction.
With that, Denny and Jeanette Doherty raised daughter Emberly and son John away from the spotlight in Halifax, Mississauga, Ont., and New York.
And Doherty says that saved him.
“Thank God he got out of California and got away,” Doherty, 28, said of her dad, who is the focus of Sunday’s final “Great Canadian Biographies” instalment on Bravo.
“They say it in the documentary that my mom saved his life. Like, I don’t know what would’ve happened if he had continued down that road. He got out of Dodge.”
“Here I Am: Denny Doherty and the Mamas & the Papas” chronicles the beloved performer’s rise from north-end Halifax to the top of the charts with the band that scored hits including “California Dreamin”‘ and “Monday, Monday.”
Doherty, who died in January 2007, is also seen in the doc telling his life story in his off-Broadway show “Dream a Little Dream,” named after late band member (Mama) Cass Elliot’s first solo single.
He gets candid in the show, dishing on drinking and doing drugs during the group’s heyday and having an affair with bandmate Michelle Phillips, who was married at the time to lead singer John Phillips (Doherty was single at the time of the affair).
Interviewees in the film include Canadian keyboard star Paul Shaffer, Michelle Phillips and Emberly Doherty.
“It’s funny that he was such an entertainer and such a storyteller but really not in the spotlight at all,” Doherty, a theatre actor who is an associate producer on the doc, said recently by phone from her Toronto home.
“He wasn’t interested in the whole fame side of things … so I don’t think a lot of people even realize that he was the lead singer of the Mamas and the Papas.”
Doherty also sings her father’s tunes in the film with some of his pals and loved ones at the Los Angeles studio that the group recorded in.
Mackenzie Phillips, the scandal-plagued daughter of John Phillips who has a long history of drug abuse, is part of the recording session.
“She’s the coolest, sassiest lady. As a kid, I remember always being able to talk to Mackenzie,” said Doherty, whose brother, John, is in the ska/punk band illScarlett.
“She’s really easygoing and down to Earth … she’s just got this drug problem that keeps sneaking up on her and the past that she has to deal with now is extreme, as we now know in much more detail.”
The documentary was filmed before Mackenzie Phillips published her shocking memoir in September, in which she claims she and her father had a decade-long sexual relationship. She also writes that she did drugs with her father, who also had a long history of substance abuse and died in 2001 of heart failure.
Doherty said it was sad to watch Mackenzie Phillips’s troubles unfold in the spotlight as a teen, adding that they stood in stark contrast to her own down-to-earth upbringing.
“People magazine did a ‘Where are they now?’ thing and … everybody else has got rehab and … all these crazy stories, and I had nothing: ‘I like to read. Piano’s going well,”‘ she recalled.
“We had totally normal day-to-day and then dad would go off and do these bizarro things like get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or go see Paul McCartney backstage after his world tour.”