Cass Elliot (Mama Cass), Dave Mason and Ned Donheny – On and On The Story Goes (London 1970)

I was shooting a fashion feature at Vogue and I was interrupted when an assistant from the editorial team came in and said “Excuse me Clive, sorry to interrupt you but we want you to do a portrait of Mama Cass”. I was right in the middle of something and I said “Oh, okay when is she coming”. I loved the track Monday, Monday and in all honestly how many of those Monday morning feelings had I had, being a photographer rock and roller.

I was excited and nervous to meet Cass Eliot as I completely loved her distinctive voice, which had such a clear beautiful bell like tone. She arrived at the studio with her entourage and we immediately hit it off. She said ‘Well hello Clive” and I said “Well hello Cass”. The stylist dressed her in a huge astrakhan coat, which I thought really suited her. She was very relaxed and confident and at ease with herself, but I sensed a distant sadness about her that was filed away somewhere in the background. On hold if you like.

We had such a great time shooting these pictures. After the shoot she said to me “Why don’t you come to the flat and meet Dave Mason (Traffic) and Ned Doheny as we are rehearsing because we are going to cut an album?” I had my cameras, lights and my assistant with me as we’d come straight from the studio and these images later ended up on the album cover. The flat was opposite Mr Chows in Kensington and my house was five minutes away off Kensington High Street. I knew when I set foot in the flat and saw all the guitars that I had a lot in common with everyone.

When I walked in Dave Mason was sitting there playing a 12 string Martin (12 frets to the body). I immediately left the apartment, while my assistant set up the lights and drove down the road and grabbed my identical 12 string Martin guitar and went back with it. When I walked back in with the same guitar Dave looked up and laughed. All the while I was thinking to myself “I’ve got a guitar just like Dave Mason”.

I was lucky enough to have a jam with them which was totally amazing except my guitar playing was not up to their playing. Listening to Cass singing “On and On” with Dave and Ned was mesmerising. They played a really beautiful delicate acoustic version which I still prefer to the live stage version, but then again I will always treasure being with them all in such a close way. As we were all neighbours, we started to hang out, drink and indulge ourselves.and ‘On and On’ is still one of my favourite songs to this day.

When Cass Elliot was leaving to go back to the US I mentioned to her that I loved her custom D45 Martin guitar, inlayed with mother of pearl and had gold machine heads. The guitar had the most beautiful tone that only Martins have. She said to me “Do you want to have this guitar” and I said “Yes” and she gave it to me and I was stunned but gladly accepted it. A little while later I was in New York having lunch with my friend Larry from the William Morris agency and he said to me. “You know Cass died yesterday,” I was just so shocked and saddened to hear it. We lost someone so vibrant and full of life and such a wonderful person. I remember sitting on the terrace in Manhattan watching the sun go down and I thinking, on and on the story goes, as I raised a glass to Cass…Six months later a member of her management team came and collected the beautiful Martin, I gladly gave it back and was grateful for the beautiful time I had playing it.


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