On Sunday evening, Michael Nesmith's First National Band Redux opened their mini-tour at Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown, California. Here is the night's set list, courtesy of Andrew Sandoval:
The Monkees Tour Facebook page shared live footage throughout the performance:
In advance of Michael Nesmith's string of concerts with his reconstituted First National Band, Andrew Sandoval has been sharing some wonderful essays about Michael's RCA albums through his Instagram account. They appear in full below, and be sure to click on the album covers for a look around each LP.
“Row upon row of man after man. Let this music be their music” – original liner notes to Magnetic South, 1970
In his solo debut as a recording artist, Michael Nesmith broke new ground with his new band, the First National Band. Taped at RCA’s Hollywood Studios in February 1970 directly after his departure from The Monkees, the album thematically opens Nesmith’s American trilogy of blue, red and white albums (with a trademark needle point sleeve designed by Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean). Magentic South brims with songs Nesmith stockpiled during The Monkees’ heyday. Five of the album’s songs had previously been taped in versions for The Monkees – “Calico Girlfriend,” “Nine Times Blue,” “Little Red Rider,” “The Crippled Lion,” and “Hollywood” – while “The Keys To The Car,” “Mama Nantucket,” and the Top 40 hit single, “Joanne,” reflected Nesmith’s most recent songcraft. Covers of “One Rose” and “Beyond The Blue Horizon” topped off this spirited and infectious long player.
As Nesmith reflected in the original liner notes for Magnetic South: “When Johnny Ware, now the drummer of the First National Band, first suggested I start a band my reaction was distant and a little negative. But he continued to talk and through the conversation I sensed some of the same spirit of the men who so profoundly influenced me. So, two days later Red Rhodes [pedal steel], John London [bass], Johnny and myself got together for a trial run and it all seemed to fall into place. Effortlessly and freely the music poured forth. And it was fun. Great fun. We played and sang and laughed for two weeks.” Issued in July 1970, Magnetic South was the first of two albums issued by The First National Band that year to critical accolades: "The music feels so good that you can just tell the musicians were smiling when they recorded it" - The San Diego Underground.
Michael Nesmith’s sophomore solo release, Loose Salute, continues along the country-rock road, rocking even harder in places than the First National debut, while adding a tinge of Latin rhythm. Taped from April through July of 1970, the album catches Nesmith in transition from honky-tonk hitmaker to studio born perfectionist. Side two of the album continues what was later tagged as the “saga of the Old West” that runs through the second half of all three First National Band long players.
Featuring ten songs, Nesmith revisits “Listen To The Band” and “Conversations” (originally titled “Carlisle Wheeling”) from his days in The Monkees, and explores proto-outlaw attitude on tracks like “Bye, Bye, Bye” and “Dedicated Friend.” His remarkable voice truly shines on the transcendent “Lady Of The Valley” and the unexpected “Tengo Amore.” Meanwhile, the album opens with his second hit single, “Silver Moon,” a winning and upbeat follow-up to “Joanne.” The song was actually a late addition to the album, being recorded in September specifically for the singles market. It ultimately found favor in both the Pop and Easy Listening charts.
Featuring guest musician Glen D. Hardin on “side” piano, Loose Salute is notably the first fully-produced album by Michael Nesmith since his 1968 experimental instrumental project on Dot, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings. Released in October 1970, hot on the heels of Magentic South, it drew a rave review from Rolling Stone (who called it, “…one of the hippest country rock albums in some time, certainly the most listenable”).
The final installment in Michael Nesmith’s American Trilogy, Nevada Fighter, chronicles not only our great nation, but the fragmentation of his First National Band. Recorded from August 1970 through January of 1971, the album augments the original band’s line-up (Red Rhodes, John London & John Ware – who had disbanded before release) with guest musicians such as James Burton, Ron Tutt, Joe Osborn & Glen D. Hardin (all Elvis Presley alums). Packaged in a sleeve designed by Dean Torrence, the album opens with the brooding “Grand Ennui” and revisits one of Nesmith’s earliest compositions, “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care).” This track was penned back in 1965 prior to Nesmith becoming a Monkee, and ultimately produced Nesmith’s fourth and final post-Monkees chart hit (issued in October 1971). The album’s title track, “Nevada Fighter,” was also a charting single in April 1971, reaching #70.
The album’s first side is all Nesmith originals, while side two features all cover songs that Michael made his own. These included Harry Nilsson’s “Rainmaker,” Bob Wills’ “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and Derek & The Dominoes’ “I Looked Away.” “Texas Morning,” a true standout, was penned by Michael Martin Murphey and Owen Castleman, who previously endowed Nesmith with the classic “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” for The Monkees (when they were in a group featuring First National Band bassist, John London, The Lewis And Clarke Expedition). Despite a rave review in Record World (“His albums, always beautifully produced, just get better and better”) and two charting 45’s, Nevada Fighter (issued in May 1971) quickly faded with no band to tour behind the release. The First National Band were no more.
“The master of reverberation, sound effects & good humor strikes again. On Volume 1 (of another trilogy?) the Second National Band brings it all together.” – Billboard review of Tantamount To Treason
Issued in Jan ‘72 (and recorded during the back half of ’71), Michael Nesmith presents The Second National Band’s only long player: Tantamount To Treason, Vol. 1. An epic production that neatly bookends its predecessor, Nevada Fighter, it once again pairs a side of Nesmith originals with a contrasting side of covers.
Nesmith is backed on this “home brew” by the ever-faithful Red Rhodes on pedal steel, the one hold over from the First National Band (other than Papa Nes himself), in addition to Johnny Meeks on bass (of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps), Michael Cohen on keyboards (a friend from Nesmith’s pre-Monkees past), Jack Panelli on drums, and RCA labelmate Jose Feliciano on congas. The results are more joyous than the wasteland of liberty depicted in Wilson McLean’s cover art, but it is once again an ever-changing American landscape on display.
The LP opens with “Mama Rocker,” a thunderous start to an often-languid album of mood music. “You Are My One” is Nesmith’s most succinct lyric, containing only a repetition of the title over a series of mindbending changes. Richard Stekol’s “Wax Minute” is a standout (& fan favorite), the writer having also contributed to country rock innovator Rick Nelson’s Garden Party album in this era. “Talking To The Wall” recalls Nesmith solo production for Bill Chadwick (another pre-Monkees performing partner) on Dot, but reimagines the song for electric 12-string, pedal steel, and Michael Cohen’s Rhodes. Cohen himself contributes to the sound collage/song “Highway 99 with Melange.” Though the LP failed to find a home at FM radio, it has become one of Michael's best-loved cult albums. Many of the faithful have wondered what became of Volume Two? Though several more songs were taped at these sessions, including new versions of “Listen To The Band,” “Circle Sky,” and the Dave Dudley country classic, “Six Days On the Road,” there wouldn't be any seconds for the Second National Band. Indeed, Papa Nes would never have a fixed band (in name) again.
“One of the great advantages of being an artist is that I am able to utilize my craft periodically to write messages to myself. Basically that is what this album is all about.” – Michael Nesmith in the original liner notes to And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’
Seen plaintively holding a copy of Dee Brown’s 1970 book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (which chronicled the struggle of Native Americans during frontier times) while surrounded by four women, Nesmith depicts a Felliniesque portrait of his contemporary success in the gatefold spread for And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. In reality, March 1972 found Nesmith back on the road as a performer albeit with just the accompaniment of Red Rhodes on pedal steel. Still, as his footprint got smaller, his music and message achieved real purity. The singularity and simplicity of his circumstances ultimately created one of Nesmith’s most satisfying works.
Stripped of an overarching concept, what remained was just the singer and his songs. And nowhere were they better showcased than on the ironically titled And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. Featuring ten Nesmith originals, the most he would offer on any LP until 1979’s Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma, the music served as the truest songbook album that Michael would ever issue (and his first to feature printed lyrics). The earliest numbers – “Two Different Roads” and “Different Drum” (both written pre-Monkees) – had been covered by Mary McCaslin & The Stone Poneys respectively. Songs from the back half of 1971 – “Tomorrow & Me,” “Lady Love,” “Listening,” “Harmony Constant,” and “Roll With The Flow” – could be the philosophical messages to himself, that Nesmith hints at in the liner notes. However, there is something of a tongue in cheek edge to the entire package. Papa Nes' quip, “I did it for me,” could in fact be the voice of the character he portrays on the gatefold. Certainly, the front cover view of a mansion with a rented Mercedes convertible juxtaposes the real sensitivity contained in his compositions.
A song from 1972, the eerie “Candidate,” is a political commentary in the Nixon era. While it sounds more like his work on Tantamount To Treason, it carries Hits through line of direct messaging. Ultimately, RCA pulled two newer songs – “Roll With The Flow” and “Keep On” – as a single in August 1972 to accompany the release of the album. “RCA has been really good to me,” he told John Griffin in the Forest Park Review after a March 1972 performance. “I’ve put out four, no five albums, none of which have been commercial successes and RCA has stuck with me all the time. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Nevertheless, Nesmith and his label had indeed found by year's end that the “hits” had ebbed. In July 1972 it was announced that Nesmith had formed a new union with Elektra Records to produce other artists and form his first label, Countryside. His three-year odyssey with RCA would play out on one more album in 1973.
“This is my sixth album since the whole Monkees trip went down, and I think I’m beginning to finally understand that it doesn’t make any difference at all….Once the superstructure is built, it’s very difficult to get past it into substance.” Recorded over four days in 1973, Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash marked the end of Michael’s obligations to RCA. The joy that was his escape from The Monkees in 1970 and into the First National Band dispelled into the harder realities of standing on his own in the shadow of his past. Michael’s liner notes to the album reveal that it was music, rather than logic, that kept him in the game.
Ably backed by a solid combo featuring the ever-faithful Red Rhodes, Nesmith delivers a solid, albeit succinct, eight songs as his fade out from the Big Victor. Songs like “Continuing” and “Release” speak to his ongoing efforts to transcend without significant public support. As the Stanford Daily wrote quite seriously in their review of the album, “It’s about time we forgave him for his past mistakes and crimes against rock music.” The balance of the Stash was a perfect blend of covers and Nesmith originals like “Some Of Shelley’s Blues” (which itself had been successfully covered by the Stone Poneys and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). Cindy Walker’s “Born To Love You” (a hit for Jimmy Newman in 1968) is brought down to earth in Nesmith’s rendition (when compared with the original). While “Prairie Lullaby” revives a 1932 recording by “the singing breakman,” Jimmie Rodgers. Nes also reimagines the bluegrass legend Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” in a unique conceptual medley with “The F.F.V.” (or Fast Flying Virginian). A rare collaboration with writers Linda Hargrove and James Miner produced, “Winonah.” Michael would also write one of his most popular songs, “I’ve Never Loved Anyone,” with Linda Hargrove. Though he would never record it, it became a hit in 1975 for Lynn Anderson, reaching #14 on the Country charts. Instead, Nesmith’s focus during this period turned to producing artists for his newly minted Countryside label (his subliminal message on the cover - “BUY THIS RECORD” – notwithstanding).
Nesmith told Billboard that his goal was to “…learn to run a record company from [Elektra founder] Jac Holzman.” Michael put forth a model of making albums on Countryside with a house band (in a house provided by Elektra) for just $5k. “I’ve really become a habitué of the beer-bar and bowling alley circuit in L.A. and Orange County. And I’ve found there’s some excellent talent working these places because they can’t get jobs.” Ultimately, only two albums – Pure Country by Garland Frady & Velvet Hammer In A Cowboy Band by Red Rhodes – and six singles made it out before another kingpin, David Geffen, called time on the project post merging his Asylum label with Elektra. In 1974, Nesmith would in turn form his own independent label, Pacific Arts, and release The Prison, a book with a soundtrack.
The First National Band, Michael Nesmith's early 1970s post-Monkees outfit that consisted of Red Rhodes, John London, and John Ware, is returning as The First National Band Redux for a limited run of shows beginning this evening in Pioneertown, California. Let's take a moment to meet the members of the new configuration of the group as they were recently profiled in an email from Videoranch:
Christopher Allis / Drums
"Christian [Nesmith] and I have been friends for over 15 years at this point and we have backed up many a singer-songwriter in that time. One night early on we were hanging out talking about music and he asked me if I was aware of any of Nez's post-Monkees stuff. I admitted that I wasn't. So, he played me some of the FNB stuff. I was immediately drawn to it. Great tunes. Great vibe. Fast forward a bunch of years, a gaggle of Circe Link records together and even more time in the saddle, and I guess Christian very kindly expressed to Nez that 'Topher is the the guy you want when you need a drummer.' So, when the FNB Redux thing started being discussed, I got the call.
"FNB Redux for me is the start of another chapter. One with a narrative through line that has been around for nearly 50 years! I don't think we are claiming to be anything other than a new start. A next phase. It's a real joy: the opportunity to work with my friends, AND support a true luminary within the music community. It doesn't get much better than that. Dig?"
Jason Chesney / Bass
"I met Circe, Christian, and Jonathan Nesmith at Christopher Allis' birthday party in December 2007. The first conversation I ever had with Christian and Jonathan was about the triptych that opens up Magnetic South, as my current project at the time was navigating our way through "Calico Girlfriend." It wasn't long before Circe and I began turning each other on to our favorite outsider artists. A year and a half later, I was playing bass in Circe & Christian's band.
"The music of Michael Nesmith & The First National Band had been informing me before I even knew it existed, through bands and songwriters that I had played with in my youth who were big fans and heavily inspired by them. When I eventually heard the albums, I loved them straight away. What's not to dig?
"Getting to play with Nez and the FNB Redux is an honor and an absolute joy. It's all medicated Jif and wiggle bar loveliness. It's family and friends. It's American music at its finest...and it's so very surreal and more fun than you can imagine. A dream come true, to be performing this stellar catalog with its creator and this super fine musical outfit...I'm still pinching myself!"
Pete Finney / Pedal Steel Guitar
"I first met Nez in the Spring of 2014, when I filled in for Chris Scruggs on pedal-steel and guitar for the last few weeks of the Movies of the Mind tour. The '70s albums Nez made with Red Rhodes and the First National Band had been long-time favorites of mine, so of course I really enjoyed the experience musically, and also really enjoyed the hang and the conversations that ensued during our travels.
"At that point I was well into co-creating and writing the Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit (and book) on "Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats," which included quite a bit (music, video, photos, and text) from the sessions Nesmith did in Nashville 1968 with many of the musicians who were the main focus of our exhibit. Nez came to Nashville in 2015 for the concert that went with the exhibit opening and we reconnected then, as well as performing together.
"Needless to say I was both flattered and excited when Nez called me some months back to tell me about his plans for the First National Band project and to ask if I would be interested in trying to fill the giant shoes required to recapture the brilliant musicality and adventurous spirit that define Red Rhodes' contributions to those records. All the players (and singers) in the new version of the band are really good, and I’m as excited about these upcoming shows as anything I’ve ever done in several decades of playing for a living, which includes tours with the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, and many, many others."
Circe Link / Background Vocals
"My name is Circe Link and I was hitchhiking through the Mojave dessert one dry and sage blown night when I held out my thumb looking for a ride to the cosmic destination unknown. Just then some chugging heap of speed and metal stopped at my side and a door fell open. Behind the wheel sat a long nailed mellow eyed man named Christian Nesmith who told me together we could make beautiful music. That sounded just about right to me, so I climbed in and we’ve been driving ever since. Looks like this next highway has headed us straight into The First National Band Redux with the Cosmic Crooner Michael Nesmith at the helm, heck I don’t even need to kick the wheels to know that this is one hell of a vehicle built for interstellar delight, rhythm and serious groove.
"Oh wait I mean…Howdy I’m Circe Link and I have been the musical partner of Christian Nesmith for the last 15 years. Together we have released over twelve titles spanning from Cowboy Jazz to Pop Rock. I’m delighted to be along for the ride for this historic and grooving as all get out The First National Band Redux!"
Jonathan Nesmith / Guitar and Piano
"A lot of people ask me, 'Jonathan, just how DID you come to be in the First National Band Redux?' Well, when I started 'Jonathan Nesmith & Michael Nesmith & The First National Band' I had been showing up to rehearsals for about a week with my trash can lid and wooden spoon. I'd wail for about 90 minutes into the nearest microphone, pat everyone on the back and leave, then come back and do it all again the next day. After about the fourth or fifth day of trying to hide his surprise when I would walk in the room, Dad pulled me aside and said, 'I'm glad you're here, but…how about referring to us as 'First National Band Redux'?' I said, 'Why the look of resignation?', but he just said, 'And maybe try playing some guitar and a little keys.' It's all taught me a very valuable lesson: It sure is nice to play good songs."
Thank you again to Videoranch for almost all of the photographs and biographies of members of the FNB Redux featured above!
Courtesy of Videoranch, here is a preview of some items that will be available at the merchandise table at the shows. Videoranch also has a lot of other new pieces for sale, too.
In the brand new issue of Mojo (#292/March 2018), Bob Mehr talks to Nez about the First National Band era, joining forces with Ben Gibbard at the upcoming FNB Redux show in San Francisco on January 28, and provides an examination of Michael's discography. You can find this issue of Mojo in bookstores or by ordering it online.
Here's the complete schedule for Michael Nesmith and The First National Band Redux. Meet & Greet opportunities are available for most of the shows. And don't forget to vote in the Live Almanac's current poll where you can choose your favorite First National Band album!
January 21: Pappy & Harriet's / Pioneertown, California (SOLD OUT)
January 23: The Coach House / San Juan Capistrano, California (SOLD OUT)
January 25: The Troubadour / West Hollywood, California (SOLD OUT)
January 26: Rio Theatre / Santa Cruz, California
January 28: The Chapel / San Francisco, California (With Special Guest Ben Gibbard)
Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz appeared on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder on September 1, 1977. This is a must watch interview!
I still have a soft spot for the very first Monkees box set ever issued by Rhino Records on September 24, 1991. Listen to the Band was a 4-CD collection that included a memorabilia poster and a detailed booklet written and compiled by Andrew Sandoval, and it featured many songs that had not been previously released on compact disc. The September 1991 issue of Monkee Business Fanzine, which celebrated The Monkees' 25th Anniversary, previewed the box with comments by Sandoval and more. Note the discussion about live tapes from the 1969 tour. You can read a more current take of those tapes on the '69 tour page here on the site.
Ann Moses was the editor of Tiger Beat from 1966–1972, writing countless stories about The Monkees during their heyday. Ann also acted as Hollywood Correspondent to Britain's New Musical Express from 1968-1971. She has published a book which is now available on her website, and you can also purchase it on Amazon.
Earlier today, Peter Tork and Shoe Suede Blues issued their third studio effort, Relax Your Mind, as a digital download via CD Baby. (A physical compact disc release is coming shortly.) The album was inspired by American folk and blues musician Lead Belly, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Peter's brother, Nick Thorkelson, features as a guest on Relax Your Mind, playing piano while also providing lead vocals on "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" and "On a Monday." Thorkelson also composed "A Better World," a bonus track originally featured on the exclusive f.y.e. CD of The Monkees' 2016 album, Good Times!
Peter has released three other albums under the Shoe Suede Blues banner: Saved By The Blues (2003), Cambria Hotel (2007), and Step By Step (2013).
Below are Peter's liner notes as posted on CD Baby, where you can preview and download the album:
Huddie Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly, (or Lead Belly as his family prefers to spell the name), was a singer-guitarist of unusual power and authenticity. His legendary adventures and his collection of field hollers, chain gang songs, blues, children's ditties, and, yes, pop songs, brought him eventually to live and perform in and around New York City among a crowd of folk singers and minstrels of various stripes, including Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Josh White, and, maybe most notably, Woody Guthrie.
My brother Nick and I grew up with Lead Belly records, and these songs have been a part of our musical lives and inspiration for us since we were in our early teens. When we get together, whether family gatherings or performances, we still play Lead Belly songs.
I dived into the Lead Belly archives this year picking out favorites for a tribute CD with Shoe Suede Blues, and we even got to include Nick for a day during our recording. That's him, in case you couldn't tell, singing “On a Monday” and “He Never Said a Mumblin' Word,” and on keys throughout; any piano and organ you hear is him.
As I worked on the demos for the songs, I paid a lot of attention to the rhythm. So in some cases songs of hardship, heartbreak, mayhem, and death are pretty upbeat. Incidentally, on one of Lead Belly’s standards, “Irene,” we think we’ve done something original. None of the band members had heard, or even heard of, reggae in three quarter time.
I'm sorry I couldn't include more Lead Belly songs. There are so many he wrote or collected and arranged, and so many stories he could tell, that there will never be a satisfactory short collection. He was a giant in the folk and blues world.
Here's a brand new interview with Nez ahead of this Sunday's debut of the First National Band Redux!
Lady Bird is a comedy/drama film starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, and Lucas Hedges. At the 75th Golden Globe Awards on January 7, Lady Bird won for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Ronan), and also received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Metcalf) and Best Screenplay. The Monkees' "As We Go Along," originally issued on the soundtrack to the group's 1968 film, Head (and as the B-side to "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head"), was featured in the trailer for Lady Bird, but sadly was not included in the film itself. It does still appear, however, on its soundtrack, which is now available digitally and soon on compact disc.
Here is the official trailer for Lady Bird, featuring "As We Go Along":
Carole King referenced the song and its soundtrack appearance on Twitter: