John the Wolf King of LA (1970) is the first solo record by John Phillips, one of the leaders of and primary songwriters for the Mamas and the Papas. It’s a mildly countrified record (largely thanks to Buddy Emmons’ excellent pedal steel work), with several excellent songs, including my favorite, “Topanga Canyon.” Most of the songs dealt with recent events in Phillips’ life, including references to his new girlfriend Genevieve Waite (the sort of freaky “Let it Bleed, Genevieve”) and longtime friend Ann Marshall (the Emmons’ featuring “April Anne”).
Phillips was the primary songwriter and musical arranger of the Mamas and the Papas, and had a major hand in the band’s string of hits. He also wrote “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, the 1967 Scott McKenzie hit, and the oft-covered “Me and My Uncle,” which was popularized (at least to me) by the Grateful Dead. He co-wrote the Beach Boys‘ hit “Kokomo.”
The performances on this record are spectacular. Phillips was backed by an all-star group of musicians, including members of Elvis Presley’s band, including James Burton, among others. Other members of the Mamas and the Papas said that if the band had recorded the material from John the Wolf King of LA, it might have been their best album.
This was one of my turntable mainstays back in the 70’s, and I rediscovered it when it was rereleased a few years ago, with several bonus tracks. It’s not quite country enough to fit squarely in my early country rock sweet spot (in some alternate universe somewhere Clarence White brought his B-Bender magic to this record), but it’s plenty good and, unlike a lot of music of the era, has aged well. It sounds as good today as it did the first time I heard it.