MY MAMA, CASS: A MEMOIR by Owen Elliot-Kugell

Shamefully, the death in London of ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot on July 29, 1974, made just a few short paragraphs on page five of the following week’s Melody Maker. She’d just completed a series of concerts at the Palladium near Oxford Circus, the opening night of which MM’s reviewer described as ‘dreadful… a totally depressing evening out’. The heart attack that felled her was misreported as ‘choking on a ham sandwich’, her manager’s idea of a more fitting end to a woman whose generous physique played a macabre role in her too short life.

All of which paints a rather gloomy picture of Cass Elliot but in the almost 50 years since her death she has achieved redemption, of sorts. It’s now acknowledged that Cass, Ellen Naomi Cohen to her family, possessed a fine vocal range and that without her The Mamas and The Papas, the quartet that catapulted her to fame in 1965, wouldn’t have been half as successful had not John Phillips invited her to join the group, albeit reluctantly in light of her appearance. Furthermore, she was a key social networker amongst the musicians that resided in the canyons of Los Angeles in the mid-sixties, instrumental in making introductions that resulted in significant partnerships, most notably John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky who became The Lovin’ Spoonful, and bringing Graham Nash to the attention of David Crosby and Stephen Stills. 

Owen Elliot-Kugell is Cass Elliot’s daughter, an only child. Born in 1967, she last saw her mother leaving JFK airport for that fateful trip to the UK in 1974 and thereafter was raised by her aunt Leah, Cass’s younger sister, and her husband Russ Kunkel, whose CV as a session drummer reads like a list of inductees at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. On hand too as a sort of proxy mother throughout her early years and beyond was Michelle Phillips, now the only surviving member of the Ms&Ps, and it was Michelle who helped trace her father, a bass player called Chuck Day, whose identity was a mystery until the 1980s.

Elliot-Kugell has written an affectionate memoir that does its best to further that redemption but try as she might it’s hard to shake off the feeling that her mother’s greatest moments were with the group she left behind. Albums released before and after the group somehow failed to sell in any appreciable quantity, which Elliot-Kugell invariably blames on ‘poor promotion and marketing’ and there’s a general feeling that Cass never really reached her potential. There were ill-advised career moves, a disastrous appearance in Las Vegas and poor health, attributed to efforts to lose weight, was an issue that never went away. When Cass died she was broke and though her debts were eventually paid off, it wasn’t until the CD era that her estate became solvent.  

It’s a sad story. The first half of the book offers up plenty of family background, followed by the rise and fall of the Ms&Ps and Cass’s subsequent solo career, the information gathered largely from Elliot-Kugell’s talks with many of those who knew and admired her mother. The second half dwells on the author’s childhood and life thereafter, which has had its ups and downs. Included are details of her friendship with the children of other LA musicians, among them Carnie and Wendy, daughters of Brian Wilson, and Chynna, daughter of Michelle and John Phillips, who formed the successful ’90s trio Wilson Phillips. Elliot-Kugell, a singer herself, was unfortunate not to have joined them. She also lays to rest the canard about the ham sandwich – the story was concocted by Cass’s manager to allay speculation that hers was another death from a drug overdose, and in 2000 Elliot-Kugell actually met the journalist who first reported it. “It had been for the protection of my mother’s name and legacy,” she writes. 

Like other children of musicians who’ve passed Elliot-Kugell has found herself accepting awards on behalf of her mother. She was there alongside John, Denny and Michelle when the Ms&Ps were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and in the eight-page photo section there’s a picture of her alongside John Sebastian, Stephen Stills and Michelle when her mum’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star was unveiled in 2022. The book has 262 pages, is set in rather large type and lacks an index. 

        Finally, excuse me while I have a rant. 

        As those familiar with Just Backdated may know, in 2017, through a literary agent, I tried to get a publishing deal for a memoir by Amanda De Wolf, the daughter of Keith Moon, that would have been co-written by myself. It didn’t happen. I was told by numerous publishers that because Mandy last saw her father in 1975 (when she was 12), she ‘didn't know him well enough’ or ‘didn’t spend enough time with him’ to write a book that was substantial enough for publication. In the end I gave up but two years later, with Mandy’s permission, I posted my proposal for the book on this blog*. It has now had 36.6k hits, the second highest number of hits of all the 1,000+ posts on Just Backdated. Many of those who read it, among them no doubt Who fans galore, expressed amazement that the book was never published, which suggests there was a market for it. 

        Owen Elliot-Kugell last saw her mother Cass Elliot when she was seven, and was unaware of the identity of her father until she was 19. With respect to Elliot-Kugell, for all sorts of reasons Keith Moon was far more celebrated than her mother and Mandy’s story, which as well as featuring a father who was rock’s craziest hedonist, involved her overcoming alcoholism, two divorces and a degree of angst with regard to the behaviour Ian McLagan, her mother’s second husband. To my mind, it was at least as worthy of publication as this book. 

        All of the above is not meant as a criticism of My Mama, Cass, merely an observation about the quirks of the publishing world, of which I was once a part. And although it’s unmentioned, there is a morbid Keith Moon connection: the Mayfair apartment where Cass Elliot died in 1974 was the same one where Keith would die four years later. Rant over. 

*https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/moon-girl-my-life-in-shadow-of-rocks.html. For personal reasons, Mandy no longer wishes to pursue the book. 



After her passing, the most regrettable aspect of Amy Winehouse’s life and career is the paucity of recorded material she left behind. All we have to savour are two studio albums, Frank and Back To Black, and a Hidden Treasures CD that collects most of the odds and sods. All three are alongside me as I type this and, counting up, there are but 38 tracks in total. I wish there was more. 

        That the world lost an enormous talent when Amy overdid the vodka in July, 2011, is made abundantly clear in Back To Black, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s sympathetic biopic, titled after her Grammy winning second LP which has been cited as the most important pop record of the century thus far. In terms of grit, taking control and revealing personal issues in song, it’s magnificent and I wonder whether we’d have had an Adele or Taylor Swift without it. 

        I watched the movie last night in the luxurious Light Cinema at Addlestone. Somehow, the Light’s huge, comfortable seats, spaced well apart, and first-class lounge ambience add an extra star to any movie and this one, unfairly disparaged as pedestrian by many critics in my opinion, deserves four or five, not least for the bravura performance of Marisa Abela as the doomed singer, secure in her own talent yet crossed in love by the roguish Blake Fielder-Civil, played by Jack O’Connell, who leads her into temptation. It’s a tragedy, of course, albeit it one enlivened by fabulous music scenes that lead to a scenario that we know in advance will end in tears.

        The film opens warmly, with Amy as a budding star in a family singsong, its purpose to impose the belief that music runs in her veins, inherited from her practical, taxi-driving dad Mitch, played by Eddie Marsan, and her vivacious, supportive nan Cynthia, to whom she is especially close and who once sang professionally, played by Lesley Manville. The song Amy sings, in which she is joined by her dad, is ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra but also by Tony Bennett, and it serves to stress how music from the swing era, not rock or even soul, informs Amy’s musical background and imagination. 

        Thereafter the film closely follows the trajectory of Amy’s career. We see her composing with a guitar on her bed, her boyfriend sending a rough demo of her songs to a prospective manager who interests Island Records and the recording and release of Frank, her moderately successful debut album. It comes as no surprise that Amy is on the lippy side, displeased when advisers suggest she stop playing guitar on stage and concentrate on her singing and bristling, too, at being managed by the same company that handles The Spice Girls, for whom she harbours a haughty disdain. Such is her frustration at a meeting to address these issues that she walks out and heads for the pub where, in what is by far the film’s most riveting scene, she meets Blake whose courtship dance rivals that of those exotic birds we see angling to mate in David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes. 

        On the positive side, Blake introduces Amy to The Shangri-Las, thus influencing her beehive hairstyle, lovingly created by nan Cynthia, but he’s also responsible for leading her astray which in turn explains the three year delay between Frank and Back To Black. This is largely due to Amy’s mind being elsewhere during their pub crawling and drug abuse, and here we see them cavorting in some familiar locations, Ronnie Scott’s in Soho and Camden’s Dublin Castle and Good Mixer among them. It’s a troubled relationship, with Blake more inclined to walk than Amy, and when he tells her he wants to return to his former girlfriend she’s heartbroken, pouring her sorrow into the songs that became Back In Black. The death from cancer of her beloved nan only adds to her melancholy.  

        When the record’s a hit Blake returns. The idea that he’s after her money, as suggested by an odious friend, is dismissed and although things are still a bit rocky, they marry in Florida, much to Mitch’s disapproval. Soon after Blake is imprisoned for assault but while he’s inside he cleans up his act and opts to end it with Amy who’s broken hearted for a second time. With pressure mounting on her to concentrate on her career and the paparazzi on her heels, dad Mitch persuades her to go into rehab but no sooner is she off the booze than she buys that lovely house in Camden Square where she succumbs to the vodka bottle, this time with fatal results. We are left to assume it was all a terrible accident. 

        As Amy, Marisa Abela is in every scene, never off the screen, whether she is singing on stage or in the studio, and her impersonation of Amy’s vocals are uncanny. She captures Amy’s slightly hesitant stage mannerisms to perfection and also looks, wears make-up and dresses like her. Most of the songs we associate with Amy are included in the soundtrack though unless I missed it I never heard ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ which is surprising considering how the relationship with Blake takes centre stage. Perhaps more importantly, she offers us a side of Amy Winehouse for which I was unprepared: a London girl who sang so well it overwhelmed her yet more than anything wanted simply to find a boy who loved her and would give her a family of her own, just like the one we saw in that opening scene.   




My friend Mandy De Wolf, Keith Moon’s daughter, tells me that she has become a grandmother, which means that her father has, in absentia, become a great grandfather. “Our daughter Sam and her boyfriend Nate welcomed lovely little Zoe on October 3, 2023,” she writes. As far as I am aware, Zoe is the first great granddaughter offspring from The Who. I think she has her great grandfathers eyes. 

        Mandy and I have stayed in touch since our aborted plan for her to write a memoir about her life. When it became clear to us that book publishers weren’t interested in our proposed book, in 2019 I posted my synopsis of the book – Moon Girl: My Life In The Shadow Of Rock’s Wildest Star – on Just Backdated, and to date it has received 34,600 hits, making it the second most read post on the blog. This is the link: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/moon-girl-my-life-in-shadow-of-rocks.html

        Mandy also drew my attention to this podcast in which she is interviewed about her life on Billy Brew Radio. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?extid=CL-UNK-UNK-UNK-IOS_GK0T-GK1C&mibextid=w8EBqM&v=544275519750261

    [Unfortunately I cannot seem to transfer live links onto my blog but they work if you copy and paste - CC]


DUANE EDDY – Melody Maker, October 10, 1973

Duane Eddy, who had died aged 86, was the first great solo guitar hero of the rock’n’roll era. Arriving a couple of years before Hank Marvin in The Shadows and Bob Bogle in The Ventures, Duane was the first instrumentalist to motivate young rock’n’roll guitarists in the UK, among them 14-year-old John Entwistle who always cited Duane’s twangy style as his first inspiration. 

        “Clocking the American guitarist Duane Eddy’s propulsive ‘Ramod’ single on Radio Luxembourg, Entwistle became an instant convert,” writes Paul Rees in The Ox, his authorised Entwistle biog. “By rote, he learned the sax parts to Eddy’s 1958 album Have Guitar Will Travel.” Later, Rees explains how John sought to emulate Duane Eddy’s trademark ‘twangy’ sound in the bass solo on The Who’s ‘My Generation’. 

        Duane’s records, alongside those by Elvis, Buddy and the Everly Brothers, were among the first I ever owned, and my favourite was ‘Because They’re Young’, a more melodic slice of twang that I always thought Joe Meek had in mind when he wrote ‘Telstar’ for The Tornados. 

        I got to meet Duane when I interviewed him in Los Angeles in September, 1973. He was one of those strong silent types, as I recall, a no-nonsense guy, a man who thought carefully before he spoke, a gentle giant. A loquacious interviewee, he reminded me a bit of the character James Coburn plays in The Magnificent Seven. 

There was no specific reason for interviewing Duane Eddy. He wasn’t about to release a new record or play a concert. I somehow knew he lived and worked in LA – as a music publisher as it happened – and thought he’d be an interesting subject. In the same week I interviewed Iggy Pop, quite the opposite in every way, and the two interviews appeared side by side in Melody Maker – “Los Angeles Report by Chris Charlesworth”! – issue dated October 10, 1973. Here, word for word, is my piece about Duane. 

The first real guitar superstar of the rock and roll age sits in an office no larger than a bathroom on North Vine off the Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a music publishing office and he’s there to listen to songs, to cast his experienced eye over good and bad, and reject or accept according to their worth.

There’s a stand-up piano behind his crammed desk, a tape player to his right and, apart from some papers, little else. There are no gold records on the wall, none of the plush furnishings you come to expect in music business offices and no indication that the man behind the desk was voted top guitarist in the world year after year during the late fifties and early fifties. His name isn’t even on the door.

His name is Duane Eddy, and his rumbling, twangy guitar blasted out of every juke box in the land 12 years ago. Just what contribution he made to worldwide sales of the instrument is incalculable; how many budding guitarists he influenced is anyone’s guess. 

His hits, in case you don’t remember, included ‘Rebel Rouser’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’ and ‘Because They’re Young’. They were all on the London/American label, the outlet that spawned so many of his contemporaries and accounted for a high percentage of my record collection in pre-Beatle days. 

Duane was casualty of the Liverpool boom. After The Beatles, his records stopped selling and now he’s more involved with publishing and production, although he plays concerts occasionally and plans a working trip to Britain in the near future. He has fond memories of the UK and hopes to be playing in Britain before the end of the year.

Stretched out on the swivel chair behind his desk, he talks slowly and knowledgeably with the air of a man who’s seen everything, summed it all up and formed unshakeable opinions. He’s a big guy whose firm wrist greets my handshake and a smile escapes his lips only when something is genuinely funny. The greased quiff from the fifties has been replaced by a shortish Beatle-cut and he’s wearing a short but tidy beard.

His last project, about which he’s most excited, is the production of an album by Phil Everly, who’s a close friend from way back. He’s made no recent records of his own, though he did play on the Phil Everly sessions, and it’s more than two years since he stopped performing regularly. 

“The records stopped selling and that had a lot to do with my decision to stop recording,” he drawls with a wry smile. “There was nothing exciting happening for me. There was a lot of acid rock and that’s not my type of thing. What I was doing wasn’t of any interest to anybody but me and the few people involved. Now things are changing around and acid rock doesn’t seem as popular as it was. People want the old records and they might just want some new records by the old people, as they’re getting tired of hearing the same stuff again and again. I’d prefer to do some new stuff in the same style but more updated.”

Duane notched up eight gold records and a few British silver ones during his heyday. It all started in a studio in Phoenix, Arizona, when Lee Hazlewood, the producer and a long time friend, decided to make some instrumental records. Hazlewood knew Duane played guitar and brought him in to make a record called ‘Moving And Grooving’ which was released by a small Philadelphia label called Jamie Records. It made the fifties in the charts and encouraged Duane to go back into the studio and make ‘Rebel Rouser’.

“We did the Dick Clark Show playing ‘Moving And Grooving’ and ‘Rebel Rouser’ but we had to find a number to finish with. One of the guys in the group, Al Casey, had written a song called ‘Ramrod’ and we did that. The show was on Saturday night. One the Monday morning we had 100,000 orders for the record. We went back in and produced it very quickly.

“That was a hit and they all followed on after that. Then there was ‘Cannonball’, ‘Detour’, ‘The Lonely Ones’, ‘Some Kind Of Earthquake’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’, ‘Because They’re Young’, ‘Guitar Man’, ‘Peter Gunn’. It’s quite a list and I can’t think of them all.

“I toured from the time ‘Rebel Rouser’ came out – 1958 – until the time The Beatles got very big in 1964.  It was frantic all the time, just like Beatlemania expect that it was rock-mania. The crowds in the US were very vocal, screaming and everything, and it was a real surprise when I played in London for the first time. I got up and did my show and half way through there was dead silence. They were actually listening and there was polite applause after every song. We thought we were doing very poorly until the end of the show when we discovered how wrong we were. They were stamping and yelling for ten minutes and pulling the place apart.”

In 1964, he says, England had her revenge on America. “When I was touring England about 80 per cent of the charts were American records. In 1964, when I did another tour, the charts were reversed. I was pleased for them. It was only fair. The American had had their own way for too long.”

So, Duane came off the road and rested after six years of hard work. He made the odd album and played the odd concert anywhere in the world, wherever and whenever he felt like it. He tried acting in a couple of Westerns, did a few TV shows and took things easy. Hard rock, with its accompanying drug scene, was the final blow. 

With a kind of father-like concern, Duane has much respect for today’s guitarists. He still considers he was the best guitarist in his day – in his particular field.

“I believe I won one of those polls not too long ago, just a few years ago, when I shouldn’t have,” he says, grinning. “There was a lot of good guitarists around in those days, but I had the hit records and my name was the best known. I certainly think I was the best guitarist at the time, but it depends on how you judge it. What I did on guitar nobody else could do as well, but it becomes a very subjective thing. I can’t play one lick of classical music. Segovia is the man I would consider the best in that field, but there are several others that other people might choose.

“Chet Atkins* is probably the best all-round guitarist in the world. When you get into the jazz field there’s Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery and countless others, and there’s no way to measure who’s better than another. When you get among the best in any field, they can all do the job,

“I had a lot of imitators, who could probably do some things better than I could, but instead of doing those things they tried to copy me. They were coming in on my terms and they got nowhere. I remember The Shadows, who were an excellent group, and they didn’t try to imitate me, and The Ventures who were also an excellent group. They’re still going, selling thousands of albums.”

Duane has much respect for Eric Clapton. “The guitar solo he did on George Harrison’s ‘Something’ was one of the finest guitar solos I have heard anywhere. [He was wrong there. George played it but I didn’t wish to correct him – CC.] But Cream did not impress me at all. They were just a jazz trio with the volume turned up full blast so you had to stand 20 feet away to even begin to hear what they were playing. I know a lot of guys who just jam and I felt that’s what they were doing basically. 

“I guess Clapton has gone the same way I did, tired of doing the same things over and over again. Once you have established a great sound and great style, you find it difficult to know what to do next. He probably just enjoys playing for himself now.

“I miss doing the shows and that’s why I’m hoping this visit to England is going to come off. There’s the nostalgia thing going now, and the kids don’t even remember the records I made. I believe I could make it for a second time if I put my mind to it. I don’t want to sound conceited but if I really concentrated on it I could do it again. I’m torn between record producing and concerts, and while I still like to play a concert once in a while I need to find something more challenging.”

Today Duane still plays his guitar “two or three times a week” for his own amusement. He’s been playing nylon stringed guitar to develop his technique, but he still cherishes the old Guild that the firm made for him and which he was pictured playing countless times. “I have between 18 and 20 guitars at home, all different types. I don’t say I play them every day but I’ll play with some young singer/songwriter to help him along. I’ve never been a singer myself. I tried but it didn’t work too well.”

Duane has lived in Los Angeles for the past eight years, although he was born 35 years ago in Arizona, where it all started for him. He has stayed away from the rock and roll revival shows that are being promoted in the States this year, partly because he wants to do something new, and partly because he feels the old rock and rollers are being exploited by promoters.

“I don’t think there’s any harm in the rock and roll revival shows but there are people making a lot of money out of it right now, just the same as before. They are hiring these groups for two bob a night, as you’d say in England, getting them out there to do their old hits and packing in 20,000 people to see them. They make 60 or 80 thousand from a concert which has cost them five to ten thousand to put on. The ones I’ve done I’ve been well paid for. I didn’t really do it for the money but for the fun of the whole thing.

“I’ve been waiting for something new to be started by the old people but it hasn’t happened yet. I think rock and roll is a type of music, like country or blues or jazz, that will assume a place for itself for ever more. One day they will have a rock and roll chart like they have country or soul charts, or easy listening charts. I think this will happen over the next year or two. When rock and roll started they said it wouldn’t last, but it’s 1973 now.”

* I interviewed Chet Atkins while I was in LA too, again for no specific reason besides wanting to talk to him and thinking MM’s readers might be interested in reading about him. That interview appeared in the November 24, 1973 edition