Denny Doherty :: Watcha Gonna Do

Watcha gonna do? - often heard when people appear to be shit out of luck or otherwise down and out. But this time it was the title of Denny Doherty’s first solo album after The Mamas and the Papas quietly disbanded in 1968 following the release of The Papas & The Mamas. Mama Cass had found solo success with “Dream a Little Dream of Me” while Papa John released his own country rock opus John, The Wolfking of L.A. and his ex-wife (the band’s other Mama) Michelle began a successful acting career. As for Denny, he said to Rolling Stone’s Ben Fong-Torres in 1971, “I just sat around, and in the interim I got a thing from ABC/Dunhill President Jay Lasker saying I owed this amount of money for no project. So I said ‘Whatever’s right,’ and did an album.” As is the case with most cult albums, Watcha Gonna Do was recorded so the man could get his money.

The big question though was how Denny’s robust voice would fair without his former bandmates rich harmonies? Though a Canadian native, Denny instinctively turned to an American inspiration for his solo debut — country-and-western; which by 1970 was becoming the go-to muse of rock musicians who were going back to the land and finding their roots. Gram Parsons’ famously deemed it “cosmic American music” (though he later infamously denounced country-rock as a “plastic dry-fuck”) and Denny found himself in good company amongst The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds and his former partner John Phillips.

Paired with ABC/Dunhill’s staff producer Bill Szymczyk they gathered an ad-hoc group of Los Angeles’ finest studio musicians including staff writer Eddy Fischer along with Eric Hord on guitars, Gabe Lapano on piano, Bryan Garofolo on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, and the “Big E” himself: Buddy Emmons on pedal steel. Denny’s label mate Barry McGuire sat in acoustic guitar and harp while Jimmie Haskell added accordion and string arrangements. The band was then complimented by an eight-person vocal chorus giving the group a full and rich sound on the album. Szymczyk later said of the sessions “It was almost like a Grateful Dead thing: ‘Come on, let’s all play and make a record.’”

Denny Doherty :: Watcha Gonna Do  

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