Posted by Spencer Koch | Posted in Entertainment Guide | Posted on 21-06-2011
How mind-blowing would it have been if someone told you in 1968 that the Beatles would play live one more time but that the Monkees would still be going 43 years later?
The Monkees, of course, didn’t form organically and hone their skills playing marathon club sets of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. They were assembled for an NBC TV series inspired by the Beatles, earning the nickname “Pre-Fab Four” or, as John Lennon called them, “the Marx Brothers of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Frontman Davy Jones was a British stage actor and jockey. Micky Dolenz was a former child actor who needed drum lessons just to be the fake drummer. Both had good voices for pop songs, and then adding authenticity and antics were two real musicians, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, who both played in folk groups.
“The Monkees” lasted from 1966-68, which was just long enough for the band members to become superstars with such enduring hits as “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Daydream Believer,” a song recently revived by Scottish phenom Susan Boyle.
“I happen to think that the Monkees’ songbook is a very, very good songbook,” Tork says. “I think it stacks up with the Beatles’ and the Stones’ songbook — much more in the kind of poppy, bubble-gum vein than some of the Stones and Beatles’ songs, of course.”
The 69-year-old guitarist backs up that claim, citing the songwriting of people like Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond and Carol Bayer Sager.
The Monkees, who initially sang but did not play on their recordings, went beyond expectations to become a touring act between 1967 and 1970. They became a Fab Three when Tork left in 1969 and then a Fab Two when Nesmith — “the smart one” and the band’s most accomplished songwriter — left to pursue country-rock songwriting and a video-production company.
He was the only one who did not return when the band reunited in 1986 or 2001, but he did come back briefly in the ’90s. Nesmith, whose family made a fortune on Liquid Paper, isn’t touring with the group now.
“Mike is personally disposed somewhat differently for the most part,” Tork says. “Not entirely. He joined us in ’97 in the U.K. Of course, there’s no amount of money we can offer him that’s going to tempt him. And he’s got projects, things he likes to do that keep him away from us.”
The last time they were together at all was a Jones-Dolenz duo tour in 2002, when Tork chose to focus on his blues band. Then, in 2009, he suffered a bout with a rare head and neck cancer, which was successfully treated by the end of that year.
The impetus for the current reunion was pretty simple, he says.
“Somebody made us an offer. That’s the long and short of it. Management came to me a year ago and said, ‘I think we can all have a good time and make a little money at it, if you’re game to do it.’ I said, ‘You know, as a matter of fact, I’m just about ready for a little fun.’ “
When the three Monkees get back together, he says, they don’t have much trouble getting back in the groove.
“It comes back pretty easily. Every time we do this, when we’re off for a while, we go over every arrangement, making sure we have the gist of the original cuts. We have horns. We always have horns on the road, so that means that every record that didn’t have horns has to have horn parts added. Once you’ve taken care of that, everything falls into place.”
At this point, six decades in, he says, having fun and connecting with the fans is more important to him than how people view the band’s legacy.
“I’m not interested in you or anyone else acknowledging what a wonderful (song)book it is, because it’s really a matter of taste. I’m just glad that enough people have had enough of a good experience with the Monkees to want to come to the shows. That’s really where it comes down for me.”
(Email Scott Mervis at smervis(at)post-gazette.com; Twitter: (at)scottmervis_pg; Blog: www.post-gazette.com/popnoise.)