Maritimer Denny Doherty was a renowned Canadian singer, songwriter and musician. He is most widely known as a founding member of perhaps the most iconic folk group of the 1960s, The Mamas & the Papas.
Born in Halifax, N.S., in 1940, Doherty formed his first folk trio at the age of 19. Named The Colonials, the group played across Canada and, after changing the name to The Halifax Three, signed a recording contract in New York. After the trio broke up Doherty joined Cass Elliot as a member of her group, The Big Three. Inspired by the Beatles, The Big Three recruited Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian and changed its name to The Mugwumps. Although the folky, rocking Mugwumps broke new ground, a record release was not forthcoming and the band split up. While Sebastian and Yanosky went on to form The Lovin’ Spoonful, Elliot and Doherty joined up with fellow folkies John and Michelle Phillips to become The Mamas & the Papas.
Success shone brightly on the group after a move to Los Angeles in 1965. With top-selling albums and singles such as “California Dreamin’,” “Monday Monday,” and “I Saw Her Again,” The Mamas & the Papas were one of the biggest bands in rock ‘n’ roll from 1965 to ’67. The group had nine top-40 hits during this time (six reached the top five) and albums included debut If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, which went to No.1, The Mamas & the Papas which reached No.4, Deliver, which hit No.2 and the compiled-hit LP Farewell to the First Golden Era, which reached No.5.
After the demise of the group in 1969, Doherty recorded two solo albums and embarked on an acting career. He returned to New York City where he played the lead on Broadway in Phillips’ Man on the Moon. In 1978 he went to Halifax to host Denny’s Sho for CBC TV and also continued to act, landing the lead in Paul Ledoux’s North Mountain Breakdown as well as many roles at Neptune Theatre.
The Mamas & the Papas reunited in the early ’80s – apart from Elliot, who passed away in 1974 – with original members Doherty and John Phillips, plus Spanky McFarlane and Phillips’ daughter, Mackenzie. Doherty continued to perform occasionally with the group, squeezing in appearances between theatre engagements such as Fire and The Secret Garden and tapings of the hit children’s TV show, Theodore Tugboat.
In 1999, Doherty also played the role of Charley McGinnis in 22 episodes of the CBC Television series Pit Pony. In 2004, he appeared on Sharon, Lois & Bram’s 25th anniversary concert, 25 Years of Skinnamarink, singing two songs with the host trio: “California Dreamin’” and “Who Put the Bomp?”
Doherty’s final role embraced comedy, appearing as FBI Special Agent Ryan Shockneck in the season seven finale of the Canadian TV comedy series, Trailer Park Boys. Filming was completed just shortly before his death in early 2007. The show was fittingly dedicated to his memory.
Met ‘Mama’ Cass Elliott in New York City in 1964 and formed folk-rock group the Mugwumps.
Doherty and Elliott formed The Mamas & the Papas with John and Michelle Phillips
The group had nine top-40 hits from 1965-67 (six reached the top five).
Recorded top-selling albums and singles such as “California Dreamin’,” “Monday Monday,” and “I Saw Her Again.”
In 1980, Doherty helped reform the group with John Phillips, Phillips’s daughter Mackenzie, and Spanky McFarlane. They toured until 1986.