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!
Lots to check out in this cool screenshot taken from "The Monkees on Tour" episode, including the large screen that projected images of The Monkees during their performance, along with several of the group's Gretsch brand instruments: Micky's champagne sparkle drum kit, Peter's burgundy bass, and Davy's customized bass!
Micky Dolenz, in an interview for Harold Bronson's Hey, Hey, We're The Monkees book, remembered The Monkees' earliest live performances and the hysteria that greeted The Monkees in concert. "We would burst out of these big, mock Vox speakers onto the stage and the place would go bananas," Dolenz said. We had one of the first multimedia presentations; we projected this film up behind us on a big movie screen." The screams coming from the audience, however, often hindered the band as they could barely hear themselves play. "I get up behind the drums and I couldn't hear any count so Mike would turn and he would look at me and I'd look at him and we'd all look at each other because you couldn't hear or see a thing," he recalled. "We had a lot of good times," Nesmith told Bronson.
Thanks to John who submitted this photograph he found on Facebook - Nez playing live in Melbourne, Australia at the Palais Theatre during a brief tour of Australia in 1977. You'll note that Michael is playing his Gibson Les Paul custom guitar!