Born in Halifax, in 1940, Dennis Gerrard Stephen Doherty grew up with music in the household, and formed his first band, The Hepsters before he was 16. The quartet played loose renditions of folk standards, and for nearly two years packed the local clubs.
His next musical venture was The Colonials, where he was still absorbing the traditional folk music that was prevalent in the Maritimes at the time. When they landed a deal with Columbia Records, they changed their name to The Halifax Three, and released a pair of albums. They enjoyed moderate success with a handful of singles over the next few years, with “The Man Who Wouldn’t Sing Along With Mitch,” “Bull Train,” and “Come Down The Mountain Katie Daly.”
Near the band’s end, they had actually become a foursome when Zal Yanovsky came on board. When The Halifax Three called it quits in late ’64, he and Doherty teamed up again while they were both living in New York to form The Mugwumps. Although that group’s tenure was short, recording only one album, it proved to be a catalyst for not one, but two super groups of the ’60s, when Doherty and bandmate Cass Elliot joined The New Journeymen, which morphed into The Mamas & The Papas, who consistently scored in the charts with hits like “Monday Monday,” “Creeque Alley,” and “California Dreamin’.” Incidentally, Yanovsky’s next project also included ex-New Journeymen members – The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Summer In The City,” “Do You Believe In Magic?”).
Doherty’s time in The Mamas & The Papas not only served up some of pop music’s most memorable hits, but was also filled with controversy and stories of legend – with him having affairs with both Elliot and Michelle Phillips (John’s wife), and wild parties that lasted for days on end and centred around practically every drug known to mankind. It was his fling with Phillips that got her fired from the band in 1966, though her replacement, producer Lou Adler’s girlfriend Jill Gibson, barely lasted two months.
When Phillips returned, The Mamas and The Papas continued until their initial demise in late 1968. Doherty continued to work with his ex-bandmates, performing live with both of the Philips (now seperated) and also appeared on Elliot’s solo album. And although she asked him to marry her, he politely declined.
He released his first solo album in 1971, WATCHA GONNA DO? Largely an experimental fusion of pop and folk with a bit of country mixed in, it included the originals “Gathering of the Words” and “Don’t You Be Fooled,” as well as covers of Hank Sr’s “Hey Good Looking” and a medley of The Beatles’ – “Here Comes The Sun” and “The Two of Us,” and a remake of The Mamas & The Papas’ “Got A Feeling” (loosely based on John Philips’s suspicions about his wife’s infidelity). Only the title track was released as a single, which failed to chart in the US due largely to the fact the record was just a contractual obligation from Dunhill, who didn’t even release the album Stateside. Oddly, though, the album did become a hit in Japan.
He released three singles over the next two years, although none made a dent in the charts – “Baby Catch The Moon” b/w “Indian Giver,” “My Song,” and “To Claudia On Thursday” b/w a re-make of “Tuesday Morning” from the first solo album.
He returned in ’74 with his follow-up album, WAITING FOR A SONG on Columbia. It was predominantly a pop-oriented album that incorporated a small orchestra feel, with the singles “Simone,” “You’ll Never Know,” and “Goodnight, Good Morning,” the cover of The Isley Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Feelin’,” and the Beatles-esque “Together” and “I’m Home Again.” None of the singles made the top 60, but the album was generally well received by the critics, and featured cameo background vocals by both Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot. It would be Elliot’s last appearance on album, as she died shortly after the record was finished.
In 1982, Doherty agreed to a Mamas and Papas reunion, sort of. A series of dates featured him and John Phillips, his daughter Mackenzie Phillips, and Elaine ‘Spanky’ McFarlane, where they toured and performed old standards and new tunes written by Phillips. Although he was always the principal songwriter during the band’s run on the charts nearly two decades earlier, fans generally didn’t accept the group as who they were making themselves out to be, and the reunion went largely unnoticed.
Doherty produced an off-Broadway show called “Dream a Little Dream – The Nearly True Story of The Mamas & The Papas.” Generally well accepted by the critics, it was a narrative of his perspective of the story, primarily done in response to John Phillips’ musical called “Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas.”
Backed by a six-piece group he dubbed ‘The Dream Band,’ Doherty adapted his version of history into a live album in 1992. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM featured music from all of his former groups – The Mamas & The Papas, Halifax Three, and The Mugwumps, as well as new material.
He spent much of the rest of the ’90s laying low, but concentrated on television when he did come out. He played the part of Harbour Master in the CBC children’s show, “Theodore Tugboat,” loosely based on Halifax Harbour. He also served as producer of the show and did many of the main characters’ voice-overs. In ’99, he also appeared on most of that season’s episodes of “Pit Pony,” playing the character of Charley McGinnis.
WAITING FOR A SONG was re-released in 2002 with a new jacket under the title BY HIMSELF, but contained no bonus material.
Filmed just prior to his death, he also appeared on an episode of “Trailer Park Boys” as an FBI agent. Denny Doherty died on January 19, 2007 at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, from a second abdominal aortic aneurysm after going to get the first one removed. His son, John Doherty, was in the Canadian ska/punk band, illScarlett for a brief period.
WAITING FOR A SONG was re-released again in 2008, this time under its original title but with a new jacket, but again contained nothing new or special.