Folk singer Scott McKenzie, whose hit 'San Francisco' soundtracked the flower power movement, dies aged 73

 

Adam Sherwin
Monday 20 August 2012 16:19
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Scottish musician Ian Anderson (left) of Jethro Tull and Scott McKenzie performing during a 2004 concert in Bremen
Scottish musician Ian Anderson (left) of Jethro Tull and Scott McKenzie performing during a 2004 concert in Bremen

Scott McKenzie, the folk singer who provided a global anthem for the 60s “flower power” movement, has died aged 73.

McKenzie’s 1967 hit San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) soundtracked the “hippie” scene’s demands for free love and an end to the Vietnam war, and was adopted by freedom movements around the world.

The singer, who had been suffering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disease which affects the nervous system, was found dead in his Los Angeles home by a neighbour on Saturday. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack last week.

Inspired by California’s Monterey Pop Festival, the North Carolina singer recorded his counterculture anthem wearing a garland of wildflowers while friends meditated on the studio floor.

The song, written by John Phillips of the Mamas & The Papas, promising a “love-in” for new arrivals to San Francisco’s burgeoning hippie scene, which spawned bands including The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, reached number 4 in the US Billboard charts.

But its sentiment proved even more popular in the UK, where it topped the chart. No marijuana-tinged “Summer of Love” gathering in Hyde Park was complete without an airing.

But the song was also adopted by protestors against totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe and was widely played during the 1968 Prague Spring uprising in Czechoslovakia.

McKenzie was invited to perform his song in East Germany after the fall of Communism in 1991. He was shocked to learn that citizens could once have been imprisoned by the Stasi for listening to the song.  “Many of these people adopted San Francisco as their personal anthem of hope and freedom. It is very humbling,” he said.

Although the song was a hit at the peak of the anti-Vietnam protests, McKenzie dedicated every American performance of the track to Vietnam veterans, and in 2002 sang at the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

McKenzie, born Philip Wallach Blondheim, never repeated the chart success of “San Francisco.” He claimed not to like his own voice and when fans set up a website in his honour he said: "I can't imagine anyone having the slightest interest in me."

However he understood the legacy of his music on a generation, and left a message on the website: “When San Francisco was first released in the spring of 1967 my country was in chaos. Already reeling from political assassinations, we were bitterly divided over the escalating war in Vietnam and haemorrhaging from acts of hatred and violence, many of which were in reaction to non-violent civil rights demonstrations and protests.

“Even when so many of us had lost hope, when the summer of love had turned into a winter of despair, our music helped keep us alive and carry us forward into a world we had hoped to change. And so it still does.”

Mackenzie Phillips, John Phillips’ daughter, named in tribute to her father’s close friend, tweeted: “For those of you who don't know him. Please google Scott Mckenzie. We have lost one of the best voices of our time. And a kind sweet man. He carried me home the day I was born.”

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