Wayne Avers is no stranger to Monkees fans. He has been a part of The Monkees' family since the group's 30th Anniversary in 1996, acting as musical director and handling lead guitar duties. Wayne has performed onstage with all four Monkees at Wembley in 1997, appeared twice on The Tonight Show with the group, and took part in The Monkees' massive 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2016. He recently spoke with The Monkees Live Almanac about his guitar collection, career highlights, and more.
Wayne first entered the orbit of The Monkees in the early 1990s when he joined Breakaway, the group that supported Davy Jones in his solo performances during that period. "In 1991 I was asked by Jerry Renino (Davy's bandleader) to fill in for a weekend for their guitar player, Rory Gordon," Wayne told the Live Almanac. "David asked me to join the band right after the first show. So we had both Rory and me for a few years, and then Rory went on to other things and I stayed." Wayne continued to be a part of Davy's touring band in the '90s and backed both Davy and Micky Dolenz on their joint 1994/1995 Together Again tour. Ever since then, he's been a constant presence in The Monkees' live concert performances. Today Wayne continues to serve as musical director and lead guitarist for Micky's band.
Residing in Nashville, Wayne is an ardent collector of guitars. "I play the guitar because I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964," Wayne shared. A standout guitar in his collection happens to be a Monkees Gretsch model. The Monkees have a long history with Gretsch. The company provided guitars, basses, and drums for The Monkees in the 1960s, and a Monkees model Gretsch guitar was available on the market from 1966 until 1968. Today, the Gretsch Monkees Signature Guitar is a highly sought after collectible that has been known to sell for thousands of dollars through online retailers like eBay. "I own one and play it on tour, and have done a lot of research on these guitars - I'm a guitar collector geek!," Wayne enthused.
"This is a photo of me in Toronto on the 2016 Monkees tour. It's a 1967 Gretsch Monkees model, also known as the 6123 model. They originally all came in red, but this one was refinished in black 30-40 years ago before I got it on eBay in 2014. I played it nightly on the 2016 tour."
Here's another photo of Wayne playing his refinished Monkees Gretsch guitar:
"The next picture is me with Micky's personal Monkees Gretsch model, also a 1967. Micky owns 2 Monkees models. He was given one by a fan in 2014 and that's the one I played on the 2014 tour. He has another one that he got from a collector a few years ago. None of the other Monkees own any [Gretsch Monkees guitars], but Davy's family still owns the small bass guitar that Gretsch made for him."
Wayne mentioned other famous musicians who count a Monkees Gretsch guitar as part of their own collections.
"Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick owns a Gretsch Monkees model, and so does Bono from U2. When I lived in New York City in 2001, Bono bought it from 30th Street Guitars. My friend Matt Brewster owns the store and they shipped it to him in Ireland. In 2002 when The Monkees played in Dublin, Bono's guitar tech brought it for Davy and Micky to autograph. He's a big fan."
You can see Rick Nielsen's Monkees Gretsch in the video below:
Wayne also revealed to the Live Almanac another Monkees-related guitar that's in his collection, one that he carefully customized himself. "After the Monkees Gretsch guitars were discontinued, they used the Monkees guitar bodies and electronics, changed the finish, and renamed it the Streamliner. I own a 1969 Gretsch Streamliner guitar in cherry red. And I had a Monkees pickguard and truss rod cover made for it, and added a bigsby."
I took a moment to ask Wayne about his personal highlights of working with The Monkees for the last 20+ years. "Too many to remember!," he exclaimed. "But playing on The Tonight Show twice [in 1996 and 2001] was a real highlight, and I've had the opportunity to tour the world: the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and twice visiting Japan with Davy Jones. And getting to play at the Cavern Club in England with Micky last summer at the International Beatle Fest was also a highlight!," Wayne said. "And all the friends I have made through this experience. I'm great friends with mostly everyone that has been in the band and crew over the years, as well as many of the fans. It's a dream job."
As for what's next, Wayne will once again be on the road while also releasing new music with the Wayne Avers Group. "I'll be doing the "50 Summers of Love" tour this year with Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay, and the Fab Four as our band. My own band in Nashville will soon release our new CD as well." Wayne will also be playing with Micky and fellow Monkees touring musicians Rich Dart, John Billings, Dave Alexander, and Coco Dolenz in Micky's solo shows throughout 2017.
Fans will also get to hear the Wayne Avers Group performing "For Pete's Sake" on an upcoming Monkees tribute album from 7a Records, with all proceeds benefiting the Davy Jones Equine Memorial Foundation. "I was taking my band into the studio to record a new CD, and at the same time 7a Records asked if I'd like to contribute a song. Since I am a sponsor of one of Davy's horses, I was happy to participate." Wayne also spoke about his admiration for Peter Tork's most famous work. "I always thought 'For Pete's Sake' was a great song. I love the guitar part, and have been playing it for over 20 years with The Monkees. So, I rearranged it as an instrumental Latin Jazz song. The original version is perfect, so rather than copy it, I did my own version, and we think it came out great."
I'd like to say thank you to Wayne for taking the time to speak with The Monkees Live Almanac. And be sure to stay tuned for more information about the upcoming album by the Wayne Avers Group!
Here's Davy in his element at a stop on the 2001 tour with longtime touring bassist, the late Jerry Renino, and saxophonist Sam Albright.
Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones (along with Micky's sister, Coco) performed a series of shows at New York City's Riverboat Cafe (in the Empire State Building) in 1977. Here's a photo from their April 17, 1977 concert, courtesy of Judith Supple Hadlock.
Sandra Schock recently shared some of her Monkees artwork with the Live Almanac. Here's a great sketch of Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork with their touring band. For more of Sandra's artwork, be sure to visit her on Facebook and Twitter.
The Live Almanac would like to extend a warm thank you to Micky, Peter, and Michael Nesmith for all of the fun and excitement they brought to the road this year. I'd also like to recognize Andrew Sandoval, who produced the tour, along with the entire staff and crew that worked behind the scenes. Andrew was also kind enough to share photos of set lists from numerous shows on the tour with the Live Almanac, and that was much appreciated. If only Davy Jones had been around for it all.
With that being said, the 50th Anniversary concerts wouldn't have been the success they were without The Monkees' touring band: Wayne Avers (guitar/musical director), John Billings (bass), Rich Dart (drums), Dave Alexander (keyboards), and Coco Dolenz (vocals/percussion). Everyone involved with the tour should take a bow!
In the meantime, I'm going to begin work on my essay for the 50th Anniversary Tour page here on the Live Almanac, along with creating a page dedicated exclusively to Michael Nesmith's final concert with The Monkees at the Pantages Theatre this past September.
I would also like to take a minute to thank everyone for their constant support of this website and blog. I have been overwhelmed by your kind email notes and well-wishes. I continue to be astonished by the traffic flow the site receives!! I was also honored that The Monkees Live Almanac was mentioned this year in online articles published by industry websites like Billboard and others, and author Peter Mills gave a shout-out to the Live Almanac in his newly published book, The Monkees, Head, and the 60s (which I highly recommend):
John Wilson, Alan Adkins, Jim Catapano, Fred Velez, Patrick Zappi, Daniel Eckert, Mark James Melhi, Amy Collen, and Brian Marchese also deserve recognition. In honor of The Monkees' 50th Anniversary, they composed essays for the Live Almanac (and in Brian's instance produced a podcast) celebrating the group's history and impact, and their work has greatly enhanced this website.
Finally, a hearty thank you to John Hughes, Andrew Sandoval, Dan Wingate, and everyone at Rhino Records, who provided Monkees fans with two monumental releases this year. Good Times!, The Monkees' first studio album since 1996's Justus, shot to the upper echelons of the charts and captured the spirit of the group's '60s recordings, due in large part to Adam Schlesinger, who produced the LP. Rhino's Blu-ray set, which featured all of the Monkees episodes, Head, and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee restored from their original prints (along with a bevy of bonus features), allowed The Monkees' legacy on film to jump into the 21st century.
Now, stay tuned to The Monkees Live Almanac in 2017 for all it will bring to Monkees fans!
Rich Dart has been the drummer in The Monkees' backing band since 2012, and he also supports Micky Dolenz during his solo performances. Today on Facebook, Rich reflected on The Monkees' 50th Anniversary Tour and how being associated with the Monkees organization has impacted the last decade of his life:
Tonight is the last show of The Monkees' 50th Anniversary Tour and quite possibly the final Monkees show ever. It's been a long and amazing year. Who would have thought that ten years ago when I accepted a gig at the Goodspeed Opera House to play a production of Pippin that it would have led to this today?! I have been blessed to not only work with but become a close knit family with the great band of hard working musicians (Wayne Avers, David Alexander, John Billings and Gemma Dolenz). I have gained new friendships with a phenomenal crew whom without there would be no show (Tim Iseler, Chip Auchincloss, Austin Becker and Sabrina Rush - along the way Martin Garneret, Francis Sapienza, Guy T. Koepp, Noamme Elisha, and Dave Butterworth). We were fortunate to have some great musicians from our extended Monkees family join us at times (Vrandel Brescia, David Robicheau and Felipe Torres and of course Michael Nesmith) as well as getting to play with some amazing guest musicians from all walks of the industry and I have gotten to meet many people who I have been a fan of since my childhood. I have met numerous fans who have shown so much appreciation for the shows that I felt so blessed to bring joy to others the way this music has brought joy to me over the years. I want to extend a big thanks to all of these people but especially to the man who put it together, our manager and producer, Andrew Sandoval. Not only is is he a great person and a good friend but he is the only person I have met that knows more about the Monkees than I do and for those that grew up with me, you know that's pretty big in my book! LOL.
It has been one heck of a ride and tonight we head to Gold Coast, Australia for what will be a happy occasion as we once again give it our all to perform this amazing catalogue of music but also a sad one as it brings a gigantic chapter of my life to close. I cannot thank Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork enough for this incredible opportunity.
I return home on Saturday night to business as usual with a pop in at the Creamed Corn gig Saturday night (I know - I'm nuts) and a Greg Piccolo gig on Monday night. But tonight, I get to back the Monkees one more time.
Happy belated birthday to Monkees touring bassist John Billings, who celebrated the big 5-0 this past Friday in Los Angeles before The Monkees took the stage at the Pantages Theatre. Video is courtesy of his fellow band member, Dave Alexander.
Christian Nesmith posted this picture on his Facebook page just now showing Micky, Michael, and the band in rehearsals for this week's upcoming concerts in Tuscon and Phoenix, Arizona, and Friday night's big homecoming show in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre.
Circe Link and Christian Nesmith will once again be a part of The Monkees' backing band when Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork perform in front of a sold-out audience at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, California on September 16. The show is already more than noteworthy as it will apparently be Michael's final live performance with the group.
When his father returned to the stage in 2012 for a Monkees tour that year after the passing of Davy Jones, Christian joined the band, playing guitar beside Wayne Avers. His companion Circe Link was welcomed aboard for the 2014 Monkees Tour. Both Circe and Christian have their own music careers, often recording and performing together.
As a preview of the Pantages show, here's Christian, Circe, and Micky Dolenz performing stellar versions of both "Porpoise Song" and The Beatles' "Good Morning Good Morning" during a special 2015 online performance:
You can read all about Christian, Circe, and the rest of The Monkees' backing band in the Live Almanac's archives.
John Billings has been the bass player in The Monkees' touring band since 2012. Here's a great interview with him that was conducted by Ken Mills over at Zilch. Enjoy!
Greg Briggler played trombone in The Monkees' touring band from 2001-2002.
Last August, Micky Dolenz joined Christian Nesmith, Circe Link, and company for a special online mini-concert. 7a Records will document this unique appearance with a new vinyl EP due this July!
John Billings, bassist in The Monkees' touring band, shared this photo on Facebook of Wayne Avers (lead guitarist in the band) and Vance Brescia backstage at last night's show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. Brescia wrote The Monkees' 1986 comeback hit single, "That Was Then, This is Now," and joined Micky and Peter onstage last summer, too:
That is Wayne's very cool Gretsch that Vance is holding:
Vance also joined Micky and Peter onstage for the performance of "That Was Then, This Is Now."