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Mama Cass had a terrible start of her solo career after a debacle in Vegas

Stefan Andrews

The golden days of Cass Elliot, widely known as Mama Cass, were for sure during her time with the famous group The Mamas & the Papas. The group formed in 1965 and was active until 1968. When the band disassembled, Cass embarked on a solo career.

As Elliot had finished recording her 1968’s solo album “Dream a Little Dream of Me” including her most successful solo recording under the same title, she was also preparing for a big solo debut headlining too. The first concerts were planned for Las Vegas, at the luxurious venue of the Caesars Palace.

“I believe that if you truly dig what you’re doing, if you lay it out that way, nobody can not respond. I think my plans are to just build up, not relent for a moment. That’s what rock and roll is. Rock and roll is relentless. That’s what I want to do in Vegas – not let up. Really pour it on. Have a band. Bring music and entertainment and relaxation and highness and everything else to Vegas. I don’t think it’s ever been done there,Cass also stated in an interview for the Rolling Stone on the occasion.

Elliot in 1972

Elliot in 1972

The Las Vegas shows were scheduled two per night and in a duration of three weeks. They were to commence in October 1968, and the singer had a contract for an outrageous sum of $40,000 per week paid by the hotel owners. As it was an important transition in her career, Cass indeed poured in everything for the show. However, nothing went according to the plan.

Publicity photo of Cass Elliot and Johnny Cash from “The Johnny Cash Show”, (1969)

Publicity photo of Cass Elliot and Johnny Cash from “The Johnny Cash Show”, (1969)

Before Vegas, Cass supposedly went on a six-month long crash diet, losing part of her weight. Then, side effects of the diet occurred, and the singer complained to a stomach ulcer, as well as throat problems. Shortly before the concerts, Elliot was confined to bed.

Before the first opening show took place, Elliot was also supposed to rehearse for a full three days with the band that was to accompany her. The singer barely managed to get through one rehearsal before saying she was losing the voice. That is probably the worst thing that could happen to a performer just before a major show. Cass skipped the rehearsal part and rested until the opening night.

For the first show, 950 attendees filled in the Circus Maximus theaters at the Caesars. Some notable guests were musician Jimi Hendrix, entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., and British actor Peter Lawford. Joan Baez and Liza Minnelli were part of the people who supported Cass by sending flowers to her dressing room for the big night. Unfortunately, the situation was looking grim backstage. Cass had developed a raging fever.

Photo of Cass Elliot from her 1973 television special “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore.”

Photo of Cass Elliot from her 1973 television special “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore.”

Despite calling off the show was an option, Elliot felt that it was all too important and she went on performing. In reality, she has gone on stage sick and without proper rehearsals. According to the Chicago Review Press, Elliot quickly began to fall apart during the course of the first show. Her voice was weak and not very audible. The crowd had not looked sympathetic too. Once the concert was through, the singer returned on stage to apologize to the audience, stating, “This is the first night, and it will get better.” Following that, Cass went on the sing the new single, “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and had left the stage while the audience was giving a lukewarm applause.

The second concert for that night, reportedly, was even worse. Many from the audience simply walked out. As show business goes, the worst part comes after such events. The reviews were awful. The Newsweek had been the meanest  in their commentary, comparing the whole event to the Titanic disaster, and writing: “Like some great ocean liner embarking on an ill-fated maiden voyage, Mama Cass slid down the ways and sank to the bottom.”

The show was canceled after only one night, and Elliot went back to Los Angeles for what has been reported as an urgent surgical procedure of Tonsillectomy.

Photo of The Mamas and the Papas performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. From left-Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty, and John Phillips (1967)

Photo of The Mamas and the Papas performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. From left-Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty, and John Phillips (1967)

Aside to the harsh reviews, following the Vegas incident, rumors had instantly spread that Elliot was taking drugs too. According to the biography book about Cass, also entitled “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by writer Eddi Fiegel, the singer had later admitted taking drugs immediately before going on stage. Other accounts also suggested that she took various types of drugs all of the time.

Read another story from us: El Rancho Vegas, one of the biggest resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, was destroyed by fire in 1960 that had started as Harry James and Betty Grable were performing a late show on stage

Despite the Vegas incidents and its consequences, Mama Cass will remain best remembered for her vocals on the Mamas & Papas group hits California Dreamin’ and Monday Monday; her solo Make Your Own Kind of Music remains a memorable classic too. Along with the rest of Mamas & Papas members, she is included into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.