Folk Rock Inspiration Found in St. John

Folk Rock Inspiration Found in St. John

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. 


7 thoughts on “Folk Rock Inspiration Found in St. John”

  1. Duffy is mentioned at the end of Creque Alley (the musical story of how the group was formed)..

    “Duffy’s good vibrations and our imaginations can’t go on indefinitely….
    and California Dreamin’ is becomin’ a reality”

  2. Just a few observations:

    Originally, it was just John, Denny, and Michele arriving on St John.

    Mama Cass followed a bit later to be closer to Denny, her love interest.

    On St John, they “camped” in one of the bunkers at Cinnamon BayCampgrounds, not at the caneel Bay Resort. (the Caneel Bay Resort, founded by Laurence Rockefeller, is quite staid – there is no way a bunch of freaks camping on the property would have been tolerated!)

    They stayed at Cinnamon Bay for about a month before heading to St Thomas and a gig at Duffy’s in Creque Alley.

    John Philips did not want Mama Cass on stage with the band; she only got the gig because so many paople loved the harmonies she sang while waitressing at the Duffy’s. (It was also rumored that her voice improved after she was accidentally whacked on the head while working one night, expanding her range)

    Allegedly, while on STT, there was an event involving a valice full of drugs and the son of a local political hot shot. The band was given an ultimtum: Leave island immediately or suffer the consequences!

    They only had enough money to get everyone to Puerto Rico where Michele took their last few dollars to a casino and miraculously won enough money to get everyone to Los Angeles.

    And the rest, as they say, is history!

    • Good morning! Michelle Phillips mentioned camping at Caneel Bay in her Irma/Maria reaction letter to the editor published in the New York Times, but many online retellings mention Cinnamon. I imagine the infamous large quantities of “recreational goods” made it a bit foggy.

  3. There is a documentary called ‘Straight Shooter’ about the history of the Mamas and the Papas, very interesting and entertaining, but they (Hollywood) should make a movie!

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