Singer-songwriter Scott McKenzie, best known for his 1967 hit ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’, died on Saturday at his home in Los Angeles, aged 73. He had been suffering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder which causes the immune system to attack the nervous system.
McKenzie was born Philip Wallach Blondheim in Jacksonville, Florida in 1939. He moved to New York in 1960 with one of his early bands, doowop group The Smoothies, who recorded two singles for Decca. In was in New York that McKenzie took his stage name after people struggled to pronounce his real surname.
He then formed folk band The Journeymen with fellow Smoothie John Phillips and banjo player Dick Weissman, with whom he recorded three albums before the group split in 1964.
After the split, McKenzie declined an invitation from Phillips to join his new band, The Mamas And The Papas, instead choosing to go solo. However, the two remained close friends, and Phillips wrote and produced McKenzie’s ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)’, which was released in 1967 – a song inspired by the Monterey Pop Festival, which Phillips co-organised.
The song went to number four in the Billboard Hot 100, as well as number one in the UK and various other countries, selling a total of seven million copies worldwide. It became an iconic song of the ‘flower power’ movement, as well as the unofficial anthem of the 1968 ‘Prague Spring’ Czechoslovakian uprising. McKenzie dedicated every performance of the song in the US to veterans of the Vietnam War, and performed the song at the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in 2002.
Although he released two solo albums, ‘San Francisco’ was McKenzie’s only significant hit as a solo artist. In the 80s, he replaced Denny Doherty in The Mamas And The Papas for a number of years. He also wrote songs for other artists, including The Beach Boys.