Dolenz still Monkee-ing around at 67’60s pop star to play Sunday at Corn Palace.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Monkee business has been very good for Micky Dolenz for more than 40 years. Dolenz, the lead singer and drummer of The Monkees, is among the 1960s pop and rock stars who will perform as part of the Happy Together Tour, which will wrap up the Corn Palace Festival concert series at 5 p.m. Sunday.
The concert includes The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and Dolenz.
All the musicians will perform a string of hits before yielding the stage. They reunite at the end for a rousing finish, and Dolenz, 67, said he is enjoying the tour.
“It’s a great bunch of guys and we enjoy hanging out together,” he said during a telephone interview with The Daily Republic.
But he’s also focused on 12 shows that The Monkees will play this fall. Although singer/percussionist Davy Jones died Feb. 29, guitarist/singer Mike Nesmith shocked the music world when he announced he would perform with the other two surviving Monkees, guitarist/bassist/singer Peter Tork and Dolenz, for the first time since 1997.
“We were very surprised,” Dolenz said. “Pleasantly surprised.”
He said the catalyst was Jones’ death, since the three remaining Monkees discussed performing a tribute concert for him. Soon, they realized a short tour was perhaps in order.
When dates were announced, all the East Coast shows sold out in a few hours. More shows, perhaps overseas, also are possible, Dolenz said.
“The Monkees” was a TV series on NBC from 1966 to 1968, while The Monkees was the band that included the four performers. At times, the two were intertwined, while at other times, they were two separate beings.
While the TV series lasted but two seasons, the singles and albums released from 1966 to 1970 have endured and are still played and sold.
The band reformed, recorded and toured from time to time, often with Dolenz and Jones, sometimes also with Tork and, rarely, with Nesmith.
“We’ve never done this configuration before,” Dolenz said during a telephone interview with The Daily Republic. “Mike hasn’t been on the road with anybody, or as a solo artist.”
He said recording new songs is possible.
“You never know,” Dolenz said. “Certainly nothing in the works right now.”
Performing without Jones, his bandmate and friend, will be difficult, he said.
“We were quite close,” Dolenz said. “We had a lot in common, being in the business since we were kids. We did have a lot in common.
“The whole experience is pretty bitter in terms of losing him. That was a shock.”
The Monkees will pay tribute to Jones, whom they all call “David,” with videos and stills of his performances during their concerts.
“We decided aesthetically, and it’s one of the things Mike brought to the table, that in this particular incarnation we wanted to play somewhere that was theatrical,” he said. “You can’t do that in the middle of the day at a fair.”
These “more intimate shows” will still include the hits the band produced in the 1960s, such as “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Daydream Believer,” all of which hit No. 1.
Three other songs landed in the top 10 and four more in the top 20. Dolenz said he’s proud of The Monkees’ output.
“Absolutely,” he said. “They were great songs, written by incredible artists. There was a huge, wonderful stable of songwriters. The songs stand up, and the production was pretty good. I still love singing them.”
“Pleasant Valley Sunday,” written by Carole King, remains a favorite for Dolenz.
King, Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson, all of whom went on to stardom on their own, were among the songwriters who produced early songs for The Monkees.
The rock veteran said becoming a huge star had a lot of benefits, including becoming friends with The Beatles, who allowed them to sit in on recording sessions in England and hosted a party for Dolenz, Jones, Nesmith and Tork.
“They got it,” Dolenz said. “It was John Lennon who was the first to say, ‘I like The Monkees, I like the Marx Brothers.’ ”
He said while he considers himself a music-comedy performer, reports that he and Jones were actors and Nesmith and Tork the musicians are too simplified. All four could play, sing and act.
“My career actually included bands before The Monkees, like Micky and the One-Nighters and The Missing Links,” he said. “I certainly paid my dues playing the clubs and being a cover band.”
A lifetime in show business
He is the son of an actor and grew up in Southern California. Under the stage name Mickey Braddock, he starred in the TV series “Circus Boy” from 1956 to 1958.
In the 1960s, he got his second shot at stardom.
“The Monkees” show was created in the wake of The Beatles’ huge success, although the show had been first pitched in 1960. By 1965, young producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were given the green light. In a year, the band was cast, songs were recorded and the show was ready for air.
The Monkees’ first song, “Last Train to Clarksville,” was released in August 1966, almost a month before the series premiered. It was a hit, and so was the series.
For the first year, all was terrific. Four albums topped the charts and the show was hailed for its bright humor and cheery pop songs. It won two Emmy awards and tons of merchandise was sold.
Dolenz said the foursome was trained in impromptu acting and assisted in learning how play and sing. They were young men learning on the job.
“Which was great, but it would get kind of crazy sometimes,” he said. “We were literally, I’m not kidding, bouncing off the walls.”
They taped the shows, recorded songs for their albums and toured. It was a hectic time, but he said it was also a lot of fun.
But when it was revealed that The Monkees used studio musicians to help on their songs, some labeled the group “The Pre-Fab Four,” a takeoff on The Beatles’ nickname.
“Again, I don’t want to sound smug, when you’re as successful as I was, you frankly don’t give a s—- what other people say,” he said.
Dolenz said the group was “so successful,” with a hit, Emmy-winning TV series, eventually selling more than 65 million albums and singles and playing packed concerts, that critical taunts bounced off them.
“It never bothered me at all,” he said.
Dolenz said people needed to realize then, and still do now, to an extent, that they were four actors and musicians cast in a TV series. The Monkees were “playing” a rock band — they weren’t actually a band, at least not originally.
But as they gained confidence and control, the band eventually toured while playing their own instruments. They produced their own albums and set the course of their career.
Two of the albums that The Monkees produced at that time, “Headquarters” and “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones,” are still highly regarded by fans, including some modern rock and pop stars.
But the hits slowed. When the series left the air after two seasons, Monkee Mania had vanished.
Hendrix and Nicholson
During their brief peak, The Monkees sold millions of records and toured the country.
During some concerts, psychedelic guitarist/singer Jimi Hendrix opened for them.
“Wonderful guy,” Dolenz recalled. “Very nice guy to be around. Very young and quite naïve.”
Hendrix’s wild, highly sexual and creative guitar playing and his blues-rock songs didn’t mesh well with the pop rock of The Monkees. Many of their fans didn’t understand or appreciate Hendrix and often chanted for their favorite band to take the stage.
After “six or eight shows,” according to Dolenz, Hendrix departed from the tour. His career was headed to the top, at least until his drug-related death in 1971.
The Monkees, however, were about to see a major reversal in their fortune.
After two seasons and 58 episodes, the TV show was canceled in 1968.
Dolenz co-wrote and directed the final episode.
“We got tired of doing the same thing,” Dolenz said. “It was very intense.”
A movie, “Head,” was released to scathing reviews and limited ticket sales. It was widely considered a flop, although it still is shown on late-night TV from time to time and is now considered a bit of a cult classic.
The movie was co-written by a struggling actor/writer/director who went on to far greater fame: Jack Nicholson. He also appears in the movie, as do other actors and musicians.
“We loved him. We just fell in love with this guy,” Dolenz said. “Charismatic. A great guy to be around.”
He said they hung out together for months at each other’s homes and on tours. When they decided to make the movie, they spent a loopy weekend at a resort spa with a tape recorder running.
“We were just rambling,” Dolenz recalled. “Jack and Bob (Rafelson) went away and did a marvelous job of putting together this movie.
“We did not want it to be a 90-minute, or two-hour, episode of a typical ‘Monkees’ show.”
The group wanted to “stretch our wings out a little bit,” Dolenz said.
The movie was poorly reviewed and quickly pulled from theaters, but he said that didn’t bother them.
“Not really. By then we had all moved on,” Dolenz said.
He admits it’s a strange, surreal film, but said he is still glad it was made.
“I am. I’m very proud of the work I did on it,” Dolenz said. “Some of it I don’t even get.”
Rafelson and Schneider soon made “Easy Rider” with Nicholson, and his star-making turn in “Five Easy Pieces” followed. Both were both major hits and propelled Nicholson to superstardom. They used some of the profits made from “The Monkees” TV series to launch the movies, which is a point of pride for Dolenz.
The group did a TV special in 1969 and made appearances on some TV shows, but The Monkees were slipping from the scene. Tork left the group, and then Nesmith walked as well. By 1971, The Monkees were still selling records and reruns of their TV show were a staple on Saturday morning TV.
More than a Monkee
But the band members had moved on, choosing to act, play music or pursue other endeavors.
In the mid-1970s, Dolenz and Jones toured and played shows with the writers of many of their songs, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
Dolenz appeared on TV shows, tried out for the part of Fonzie on “Happy Days” and did some directing. He also was in some movies and did voiceovers for TV commercials and cartoons while working as a radio personality from time to time.
He also returned to his roots in musical theater, something he still does.
Dolenz has performed in the Elton John/Tim Rice musical “Aida” on Broadway and on a national tour.
“I have worked longer on ‘Aida’ than I worked on The Monkees,” he said with a laugh.
He has also performed in the play “Hairspray” and said at heart, he’s a variety performer.
“I love doing musical comedy. I love doing ‘Hairspray,’ ” he said. “In a funny way, that’s what The Monkees were. A half-hour musical comedy.”
He said “Glee” is the closest thing he has seen to The Monkees. It is also a TV show about imaginary musicians, and the actors have been able to branch out and perform live shows.
He said being a Monkee once again is a joy, not a problem, thanks to the other avenues he has been able to explore.
“To me, it hasn’t been day-in, day-out constant,” Dolenz said.
In 1986, The Monkees became big stars again when MTV re-aired the series. Suddenly, Dolenz, Jones and Tork were playing stadiums instead of clubs, and then even lured Nesmith back for a show.
The old songs and albums raced up the charts again. But it was another decade before they made another significant move.
In 1996, the reunited Monkees released another album titled “Justus.” They also did a TV special and a 1997 tour before The Monkees as a foursome appeared for the last time. Nesmith’s departure caused some hard feelings for the other three Monkees.
Dolenz, Jones and Tork continued to do shows, while Nesmith, made wealthy from his mother’s invention of Liquid Paper, went his own way artistically. He was also a film producer, an early proponent of music and comedy video shorts with the show “Pop Clips,” and has been called a pioneer in countryrock music, likely because of his Texas roots.
The four men rarely saw or spoke to each other, Dolenz admits, but he said they are like siblings, sharing a deep connection.
In 2011, Dolenz, Jones and Tork toured and were well-received, playing before appreciative crowds and earning critical praise before the tour was cut short for murky reasons.
They had made plans for more shows in the future, but Jones’ surprising death of a heart attack ended that.
Now, this latest incarnation of The Monkees are preparing to play. Nesmith announced the startling news on his Facebook page on Aug. 7.
“I never really left,” he said of his return to The Monkees. “It is a part of my youth that is always active in my thought and part of my overall work as an artist. It stays in a special place.”
Dolenz performed on the Happy Together Tour in 2010 and is enjoying this second go-round.
“I love to sing,” he said. “They pay me to travel. I would sing for free.”
Dolenz and his musical director and guitarist Wayne Avers “rent a big massive Lincoln Town Car” and drive to shows. He said he is weary of the hassle that now surrounds air travel.
“We’re going to spend that five or six hours, we might as well be masters of our own destiny,” he said.
Dolenz said they have decided to search out the best barbecue places they can find during their travels.
He has a new solo CD, titled “Remember,” that will be out in September. Dolenz said it’s filled with “wonderful, new and original takes” on songs.
He said he hopes his fans pick up a copy and listen to what else he is doing in his career.
Dolenz said he is glad to have had a shot at rock stardom, but he’s also happy to remind people that he’s more than a Monkee.