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Scott McKenzie

The voice of a generation of psychedelic folk-rock hippies through chart-topping anthem `San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’, SCOTT McKENZIE had less than the obligatory Warhol-ian fifteen minutes’ worth of fame – more like three, and it proved to be the proverbial albatross around his neck after its initial success in summer 1967.
Born Philip Wallach Blondheim, January 10, 1939 in Jacksonville, Florida, his diaper years were spent in Asheville, North Carolina, until his father died in ‘41; his mother relocated many times and finally settled in Alexandra, Virginia, just after WWII; she’d left young Phil in his granny’s care and with a handful of other guardians until she was finally reunited with her boy.
McKENZIE’s singing career could be traced as far back as the late 50s, when he and his new buddy, JOHN PHILLIPS, were part and parcel of college outfits The Abstracts and The Smoothies; the latter issued a few pop singles. In 1961, and with the folk revival now on the horizon, the pair turned professional with The JOURNEYMEN, an all-singing trio made up by third member, Dick Weissman. After only three LPs, the L.A.-based act disbanded, with Phillips forming The New Journeymen and then The MAMAS & THE PAPAS.
Cutting a few flop 45s (`Look In Your Eyes’ and `There Stands The Glass’) for Capitol Records did little to encourage the buying public, and it wasn’t until Scott relocated to Los Angeles that his luck changed dramatically. Keeping his association with songwriter/producer PHILLIPS, he recorded the aforementioned “San Francisco” 45 and the rest was indeed flower-power history. The record also inspired a flux of young hippies to head west for ‘Cisco and try out a different peace-loving culture, or weed as it’s sometimes referred to.
Meanwhile, McKENZIE rose again into the Top 30 by way of a second hit, `Like An Old Time Movie’ (another JP song), although the poorly-received parent LP, THE VOICE OF SCOTT McKENZIE (1967) {*6}, peaked at only No.127. Opening with his two aforementioned hits, there was also room for a spate of folk-rock covers: The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’s `It’s Not Time Now’, DONOVAN’s `Celeste’, and two by TIM HARDIN: `Reason To Believe’ and `Don’t Make Promises’.
By the time he’d re-emerged in 1970 from his Joshua Tree desert abode, things had totally dried up, and his much-derided cactus-rock effort STAINED GLASS MORNING {*4} didn’t win over any new friends, although it did feature guitar work by RY COODER, and an array of top-shelf session players, Bunk Gardner (of The MOTHERS OF INVENTION), Rusty Young (of POCO), Craig Doerge (on keyboards) and BARRY McGUIRE (on harmonica); it’s saved only by `Yves’ and possibly the title track.
Scott subsequently moved from his Palm Springs residence to Virginia Beach in 1973 and continued to work in drug education, helping people to become aware of its dangers. He later surfaced in a re-formed MAMAS & THE PAPAS (more than a few times) and went on to co-write 1988 chart-topper `Kokomo’ (with JOHN PHILLIPS, MIKE LOVE and Terry Melcher) for The BEACH BOYS. In 2003, Scott’s spent time in Germany recording a folk special for PBS; he still dedicated every performance of `San Francisco’ to Vietnam war veterans. Sadly, on August 18, 2012, Scott died after suffering a few years in hospital battling against Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease that debilitates the nervous system.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Sep2015

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