Whether you were a kid in the 60’s or the 80’s, you probably at some point caught a TV show about four fun-loving hippyish musicians who were always getting into some kind of hilarious mischief. Known as the Monkees – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith were slap sticking their way into people’s hearts episode after episode. Despite being criticized as Beatles-wannabes with slim amounts of talent, the band has never lost their spirit, while continuing to sell out venues playing those olden golden songs (“Last Train to Clarksville,” “Daydream Believer”) that have become a part of the American landscape.
Micky Dolenz, who had the most natural funny bone, continued to act and sing once The Monkees ceased production. With a new solo recording titled Remember, which debuted September 25, Dolenz found some time last month to talk with Glide about his new album, his days in the Monkees and how the upcoming reunion tour will not be a melancholy requiem.
It must be very exciting to finally have your new CD out.
Yeah, no kidding. It’s been about three years in the making so it is pretty exciting.
Why did it take three years to do this?
Well, a lot of reasons. It wasn’t under the auspices of a record company at the time when the producer and I sort of came up with the idea, so it started out as a very homegrown project, which was nice in a way because there was no pressure and we could take our time. Also, I was very busy doing other things. We would work together for a few weeks and then I’d go away and do a musical or something in London and come back and continue to work on the project. So it was nice in a way. Like I said, there was no pressure and we had the time to fiddle about and basically do it all ourselves. We didn’t have to worry about our budget and he had his own studio so we didn’t have to worry about getting it in on a deadline or anything like that. It was nice working under those conditions but it did take a little while.
Remember is almost like a walk down memory lane for you. How did you pick these particular songs to represent your history?
It came out of the stories of the songs basically. We agreed that this would be an interesting concept as an audio scrapbook. I started telling the stories of the songs and we settled on twelve or fourteen songs. It was all about the impact that these songs had on my life and my career. Like for instance, “Johnny B. Goode,” which is on the CD, is a Chuck Berry tune and that was my audition piece for The Monkees, so obviously that had a pretty major impact on my life.
You also cover The Beatles tune “Good Morning, Good Morning.” What’s the story with that one?
That’s because I was at that session. I had been over to England and I had met Paul McCartney who invited me to a session of the album they were doing, Sgt Pepper, and that was the song that they were working on that day. So of course that stuck with me for years and I’ve always wanted to re-envision that, which I did on the album.
Do you have a particular favorite one that is special to you that you put on the CD?
Oh boy, there’s quite a few cause they all have special meaning. But I would say that I really love “The Diary.” That was offered to me by David Gates before he did it with Bread. I like “Sugar Sugar,” I like “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Johnny B. Goode” I like a lot. I like them all because not only are they great songs written by great songwriters but each one has this special little story behind it of why it was important to me.
Are you going to try and do another solo CD in the near future?
Well, it probably wouldn’t be this particular theme of historical stuff but at BB King’s in New York, I’m recording a live album so that will probably be the next one. We’re doing Live At BB King’s in October.
You’re about to go on a Monkees reunion tour in November. How different is that going to be without Davy? I’m sure that will be pretty tough.
No kidding. Obviously, it will be a very different dynamic. I’ve been rehearsing with Mike over the last few weeks. He hasn’t been out on the road or done much performing for a long time so I’ve been rehearsing with him and getting him comfortable with the material. Of course it will be different and we will obviously be paying homage to David. It’s not the Davy Jones Tribute Memorial Tour but we definitely will be acknowledging him and his contribution and his songs and his music and everything else. It will be celebratory. It’s not going to be a wake. It will be a celebration.
The Monkees have passed from generation to generation and it just keeps going and is still so popular today. What do you think was about it that causes it to still be loved?
I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, like any real successful project, like an album or a show or a movie. You can’t really reduce it down to just one thing or two things. It’s like saying is Star Trek what it is because of William Shatner? No, not just him or the writers or the producers. It’s not just them. What happens is that you put together a team of people and the whole becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts.
Now in the case of the Monkees it was the four of us they cast, and I’m glad they did (laughs), the producers, the writers, the songwriters. We had people like Carole King and Gerry Goffin writing for us and Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson and Paul Williams and Carole Bayer Sager, David Gates and Neil Sedaka. So you had an incredible quality of material; and the writers of the television show and the editors and the producers and the directors. So you add it all up and the whole becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. And that’s about all you can say about it. It just ignites, sort of a self-ignition, and it just resonates with people.
The fact that The Monkees was basically this show about an out of work band that wanted to be The Beatles and they wanted to be famous, so there was this struggle for success that resonates with people. Also the humor of the show was not topical, it wasn’t satirical, so that stands the test of time. You add all that up and that’s why I think it still remains popular.
Do you think the critics were unfairly and almost cruelly critical to the show and the Monkees as a musical entity?
Probably but at the time I was so successful and rich I didn’t care (laughs). And I still don’t. Basically, it came down to a lot of people didn’t get it. They just didn’t get what it was about. There were some that did. The Beatles got it, The Beatles understood, and they were very complimentary and it was John Lennon that first said, “The Monkees are like the Marx Brothers.” And that was very accurate. But there were a lot of people, even journalists and music critics and people like that, that just didn’t get it because it was a very unusual, very unique, paradigm for a television show and a group, to come up in that way. Nowadays of course, it’s not uncommon. The closest thing to The Monkees today is Glee, cause it’s a show about an imaginary glee club in a high school but they can sing and dance and play. And The Monkees was about this imaginary band living in a beach house but they could sing and dance and play. So nowadays, of course, it’s not uncommon. Or Smash, another great show. But the Monkees doing this 45 years ago, no one had ever heard of anything like this.
You have been very creative since you were a little boy and you’ve had your hand in all kinds of different projects: acting, music, directing. Do you think that came from a childhood being around your parents who were in show business?
Well, I suppose so. It must have been cause I don’t know what it would have been like if I’d grown up in another environment. As you say, both of my parents were in show business so I was exposed to all of that very, very young. But having said that, they never sort of pushed me in that direction, they weren’t typical stage parents. They had given me dance lessons when I was four years old but I kind of followed in my dad’s footsteps as it were as an actor. I had my first series when I was a kid but then I went back to school, back to high school, and didn’t do any acting in show business. After high school, my friend and I at the time decided we were going to be architects and so I went to college studying to be an architect. I figured if I couldn’t make it as an architect I could always fall back on show business.
You were in Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. What was it like working with him? Because here you are known for slapstick comedy and music and you end up in a Rob Zombie horror film.
I was flattered and thrilled to be given an opportunity to play a character so, so different from what people expected of me. As an actor that’s always something that you hope for. After The Monkees, as you could imagine, it was very difficult to get meaty dramatic parts because people think of you as the character they are familiar with. So when Rob came up and offered me the part of that crazy redneck owner of the gun shop, I jumped at it. I just thought it was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity and I thank him for that.
I couldn’t watch most of the movie cause I can’t watch those kinds of movies (laughs)
When was THE moment when you realized that you were famous? And how did you deal with all that fame?
Well, the first time it happened I was ten years old when I did the series called Circus Boy. I had fans and I had fan clubs and I was in parades and I had kids running after me and asking for my autograph. So for me it happened at a very early age and my parents were very down-to-Earth, very level-headed about it all. For the most part they kept my feet on the ground. But I had gone through it when I was a ten year old with that series.
By the time The Monkees came along, of course, I had already been through it once. And of course The Monkees was a huge difference in terms of popularity and the scale of it was enormous. But I’d done it and been through it before. The first time I remember I kind of really noticed [the popularity] we’d been filming the television show for a while and we hadn’t really got out of the house much, I was in a shopping mall trying to do my Christmas shopping and all these people started running at me screaming. I thought it was a fire (laughs). I opened the door and I ran out going, “Calm down, don’t panic, this way.” (laughs) But they were running at me and I realized that it was pretty crazy.
So what do you have going on for the rest of the year?
I’ve got the CD and I’m doing BB King’s in October for the live CD and then I’m going to do the Monkees tour in November and then in January I do Hairspray. I did Hairspray in London and in the UK for about a year and I’m going to be doing that in Baltimore and Indianapolis reprising the role of Wilbur in Hairspray.
With a new acoustic CD & DVD hitting shelves this week, Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis chats with us about his career in music.