Musical Career

From the beginning of her career, Cass Elliot delivered memorable performances. In her work with The Big 3 in 1963 and 1964 she was fascinatingly photogenic, buttressed by her dapper bandmates Tim Rose and Jim Hendricks. While the group never charted with their recordings they did receive wide coverage on television shows and through commercial jingles.

When The Beatles hit the United States, Cass Elliot was struck by the invasion. Still underestimated is her forward-thinking with respect to their sound and the conception of The Mugwumps.  With fellow Mugwumps, Jim Hendricks, Denny Doherty, and Zal Yanovsky, one can hear the evidence of this. The group enjoyed a brief club-centered existence in Georgetown in Washington, DC and in New York. They opened for The Beach Boys in early Fall 1964 and Warner Brothers did pay enough attention to sign them up for a record deal which fizzled in just weeks' time. "Too much before their time" was how Cass described the group. Still, not only was their name and sound memorable but so was Cass' presence in the group--as the only woman and one who appeared wearing things like leopard print muu-muus and bare feet.

After The Mugwumps, Cass went on to pursue a solo career. In late 1964 and for the first part of 1965 she was working with mostly jazz material, although she did lay down a couple of tracks with Mugwumps producer Alan Lorber. One notable performance during this time was a much prepared-for night at Bon Soir, one of the top supper clubs in New York--arranged by former Mugwump producer Bob Cavallo. While many tastemakers in the New York music scene were there, stage fright got the best of Cass and there were not repeat engagements.

In the middle of 1965, Cass joined her cohorts Denny Doherty and John and Michelle Phillips with quite a contingent in the Virgin Islands. There, The Mamas and The Papas really began, with the group getting their big break in Los Angeles in the fall of that year. The next three years were indescribably memorable with a series of hit records, tremendous fame and fortune and a lifestyle that was Epicurean to say the least.

As The Mamas and The Papas fragmented and went their separate ways, Cass pulled it together to present herself as a solo performer and with the release of Dream A Little Dream of Me, her solo career began. She recorded with The Electric Flag and really became the Grande Dame of Laurel Canyon--acting as a catalyst for a number of musical connections and relationships.  She assembled a coterie of musician friends to collaborate on her first solo album and in October 1968 took on an unprecedented gig at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. A physical low point brought this engagement to a screeching halt but she was back on her game just weeks later, recording her first prime time special, The Mama Cass Television Program, for ABC-TV in January 1969.

What followed was, for the time, one of the biggest comebacks in pop music. By the summer of 1969, Cass had returned to the hit charts of both sides of the Atlantic with "It's Getting Better," followed that Fall with "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and then "New World Coming" in early 1970.  She continued her activity as a producer, with a record by The Organ Grinders --having previously produced records by The New Phoenix, Roberta Sherwood and 3's A Crowd.  Cass was also becoming a perennial on television with regular Saturday morning appearances on Get It Together in 1970 and increasing prime time showings on Andy Williams, Rosey Grier, Hollywood Palace, and The Smothers Brothers to name a few.  Her film debut took place that summer as Witch Hazel -  a "Special Star" in the feature film Pufnstuf,  which showcased her acting and singing capabilities.

With the beginning of the new decade, Cass shifted her creative drives to record an album with friend and rock performer Dave Mason and her television career really took off. The Carol Burnett Show, The Julie Andrews Hour and shows such as Love American Style and Young Dr. Kildare made Cass a near-weekly sight on television sets across America.  Her music was a regular part of these appearances.  Cass also played an active and visible role in the 1972 Presidential Campaign of George McGovern.

In 1972, Cass changed record labels and her goal of achieving a more mature and sophisticated approach to her musical material was realized with RCA.  In that year, she released two albums, the second of which was recorded in London.  In 1973, she put together a night club act with Alan Carr who had managed Ann Margaret. Cass played Vegas and other toney night clubs of the day and also managed to cut another live album based on this act while filming her second prime time television special in September, at CBS: Don't Call Me Mama Anymore, The Cass Elliot Television Special.  These later years were also filled with appearances on talk shows and game shows and even the children's favorite Scooby Doo. 

Cass' final year of life was marked with continued honing of her nightclub act and some appearances on The Tonight Show. She completed another set of jingles with Tupper Saussy for Hardee's hamburgers which she had also done the year previously. Her career's capstone was performing for two weeks at The London Palladium in July 1974 and it was in London where she succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 32.

RBC

For more specific and in-depth information on Cass Elliot's recording and television careers, please check out The Discography and The Televisionography on this site.  Also check out a chronology of Cass' career here.