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John Phillips

John the Wolfking of L.A.


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By 1970, post-Manson and -Altamont, the sixties' utopian, communal spirit was nearly in tatters. Emblematic of the dawning decade's imminent descent into myopic navel gazing was John Phillips' solo bow, the parenthetically-titled (John the Wolfking of L.A.), recorded in the wake of The Mamas and The Papas' demise. The album broke with Phillips' pop and folk roots, for as Phillips himself observes, quoted in the liner notes to Wolfking's expanded/remastered reissue (on Varese Sarabande), "My outrageous freewheeling odyssey as the 'patriarch' of a musical family through the sixties was over and I was on my own."

Well, the "freewheeling odyssey" part wasn't quite complete; still to come was a spectacular flameout as a professional junkie, several underwhelming M&P reunions, a sordid, best-selling autobiography, and death (in 2001). Wolfking, then, presents the first blush of Phillips' talent-squandering. Recorded with the proverbial session-player cream (including drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist James Burton and pedal steel whiz Buddy Emmons), the LP is awash in lazy, self-serving songcraft. Phillips, against a backdrop of tepid country-rock Gram Parsons would've disowned, and warbling in a painfully thin voice, details his travels, his stoned exploits and his many sexual conquests, in the process getting in some swipes at former wife Michelle Phillips.

This was at a time when America wasn't nearly so celebrity obsessed as now. Phillips, however, clearly thought the fabulousness of his life would prove fascinating. He was wrong. Wolfking flopped, and with good reason. For not even the new addition of eight bonus tracks -- notably a David Crosby-like acoustic ballad, "Lady Genevieve," and a slinky adaptation of "Black Girl" (aka Lead Belly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?") -- can hide the fact that as a songwriter and vocalist, Phillips, like the era that spawned him, was already on a downhill slide.

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