When most people think about The Mamas & The Papas, they automatically associate them with the Laurel Canyon area of California. The band formed in Los Angeles in 1965 on the heels of their previous folk music projects. The new bandmates – John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty, and Cass Elliott – were all coming from other projects, so they felt it was important to spend some time ironing out their sound. Once their lineup was established, the group decided that a getaway was in order to write, rehearse, and refine their harmony-heavy artform.
Rumor has it that they, with some hallucinogenic support and influence, got out a globe (or a map, depending on who you ask) and committed to traveling to wherever their fingers landed. X marked the spot and they made arrangements to travel to St. John. Lucky choice!
The band camped at Caneel Bay – grilling their dinners, sipping on coconut cocktails, and snorkeling as often as possible. Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Michelle Phillips wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times. In her letter, she fondly recalled the band’s full moon catamaran trips and coral reef snorkeling adventures. Michelle even credits the resort gift shop for turning her on to her favorite perfume, Cabochard.
With heavy folk backgrounds, the musicians had not spent much time experimenting with electric sound. St. John was the birthplace of their now-iconic folk rock sound that combined acoustic and electric instruments, while building on and showcasing their vocal harmonies.
While there is no evidence to prove which parts of their discography were actually written in St. John, their professional development sabbatical is referenced in their 1967 song “Creeque Alley” (Creque Alley, St. Thomas). Once the group left St. John, they hopped over to St. Thomas and spent a generous amount of time with the legendary Hugh Duffy.
When the band went back to the states, they signed a record deal and grew into the celebrated musical superstars that we know today.
Next time you are out on the water, try putting on some tunes from The Mamas & The Papas and see if you can find the spots that inspired their unique sound.