In an interview with Rolling Stone associate editor Andy Greene published a short while ago on the magazine’s website, Michael Nesmith discussed his overwhelming pleasure concerning the revival of the First National Band's music in concert. He also reflected on his solo career in the early 1970s as country rock began to take form in bands like The Eagles while, much to his dismay, The First National Band crumbled. "I wanted it to be one of the great bands in the world playing some of the great music in the world with some of the great people in the world," Nez told Greene. "Nothing less than that. I thought, 'Well, why can't I play stadiums with the First National Band?'"
The article also confirms what has been rumored for the last several months that both Nesmith and Micky Dolenz are likely to conduct a tour as "The Monkees" at some point in 2018. “So the idea of us going out and doing something under the banner of the Monkees is under discussion," according to Michael. "The agents are standing there with a stack of offers. I think they are running through June, but we have not accepted anything." Nez had previously announced, albeit casually, that he was planning to work with Micky at some point this year. "This isn't Monkee Michael and Monkee Micky going out," he continued. "If we go out on another tour and we do it and use the Monkees logo and name to promote it, it will be very different than a Monkees show. I mean, it'll be Monkees music, but there's no pretense there about Micky and I being the Monkees. We're not. We're the remnants, but we'll have a good time if we do it." Greene also directly addresses questions surrounding Peter Tork’s position in The Monkees with a quote from Peter himself. “I’m shifting gears for now, but I wish the boys well,” Peter said, noting his desire to focus on current projects with Shoe Suede Blues. “And I’ve learned to never say never on things further down the line."
Follow the link at the top of this post for the entire Rolling Stone interview with Nez and more from Peter, or read it in full below. And stay tuned to the Live Almanac for further updates!
Inside the Stunning Resurrection of Michael Nesmith's First National Band
How a half-forgotten Seventies country-rock group led by the Monkee in the green wool hat returned from oblivion
By Andy Greene
Michael Nesmith couldn't believe what he was seeing when he walked onstage at the San Bernardino, California, club Pappy & Harriet's Palace earlier this month. It was his first gig with his early-Seventies country-rock group the First National Band since they split 46 years ago amid raging public disinterest, yet here was a capacity crowd euphorically singing along to songs drawn from a trio of albums that never went higher than Number 143 on the Billboard album chart.
"This is something I've dreamed about, but it's never actually happened to me," says Nesmith. "The audience, before I start singing each song, began singing them back to me. Usually I just get ignored and nobody plays attention to me. On this tour, audiences have actually been weeping and saying, 'This is the greatest music that never got heard.' It's getting me verklempt."
Of course, playing to rapturous audiences is nothing new to Michael Nesmith. As the Monkee in the green wool hat, he performed for throngs of shrieking teenage fans in the 1960s. In recent years, he's periodically toured with his surviving bandmates Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. But to him, playing with the First National Band is a wildly different experience. "It's qualitatively different because Monkees crowds are there because of the television show," he says. "They are remembering that time that we did this funny thing in the haunted house with the hillbillies and Mr. Schneider. This is pure, unadulterated, romantic and spiritual love that happens when great music is sung. And I never expected it. Not in my life."
Nesmith formed the First National Band right around the time he walked away from the Monkees in 1970. Working with pedal-steel guitarist O.J. Rhodes, bassist John London and drummer John Ware, he fused country and rock in a way that had never been heard before. "It was an amalgam of something that happened in the countercultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s," he says, "between television and phonograph records, live bands and live studio acts." Lead single "Joanne" reached Number 21 on the Hot 100, but the band's debut, 1970's Magnetic South, was a complete bomb. Follow-up efforts Loose Salute and Nevada Fighter did no better and the group split just two years after it all began.
It was a crushing experience for Nesmith, especially since he started the group with stratospheric dreams. "I wanted it to be one of the great bands in the world playing some of the great music in the world with some of the great people in the world," he says. "Nothing less than that. I thought, 'Well, why can't I play stadiums with the First National Band?'"
The agony grew worse just months after they split when Linda Ronstadt's live backing band named themselves the Eagles and began landing massive radio hits with country-rock songs like "Take It Easy" and "Peaceful Easy Feeling." "I was heartbroken beyond speech," says Nesmith. "I couldn't even utter the words 'the Eagles' and I loved Hotel California and I love the Eagles, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo, all that stuff. That was right in my wheelhouse and I was agonized, Van Gogh–agonized, not to compare myself to him, but I wanted to cut something off because I was like, 'Why is this happening?' The Eagles now have the biggest selling album of all time and mine is sitting in the closet of a closed record company?"
Through the rest of 1970s he continued to record solo albums that were somehow even less popular than his First National Band work – including the ironically titled And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' – but his attention gradually turned toward business ventures. (His mother invented Liquid Paper and left him a substantial fortune when she passed away in 1980.) A 1996 Monkees reunion fizzled out after a brief U.K. tour, but in 2012 he returned to the band for a series of highly successful tours. He eventually left the touring unit, but he participated in the group's 2016 comeback album Good Times! That year, he played with the group at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles at a show that was billed as his final appearance with the band.
Around that time, urged on by his sons Christian and Jonathan along with some California-based concert promoters, he began thinking about resurrecting the First National Band. Despite selling virtually no records, the group slowly developed a passionate, cult following over the years as fans stumbled upon the old albums. A legitimate reunion was out of the question since Rhodes and London have passed away and Ware, at age 73, told Nesmith that he's simply too old to go back on the road. That allowed Christian Nesmith – an accomplished musician in his own right, who was recently part of the Monkees' touring band – to assemble a new lineup of the First National Band that includes bassist Jason Chesney, pedal-steel guitarist Pete Finney, drummer Christopher Allis, and vocalists Amy Spear and Circe Link. Christian Nesmith plays guitar and Jonathan Nesmith is on piano, guitar and vocals.
Completely unsure if there was an audience, they put a single show at the 500-seat Troubadour on sale and watched in amazement when it sold out in 42 minutes. "That sent a shockwave through the promotion company," says Nesmith. Four dates were added at clubs around California, which wrapped up January 28th at the the Chapel in San Francisco with special guest Ben Gibbard. The set list focuses on songs from the three First National Band albums but also features later tunes like 1977's "Rio" along with "Different Drum," a tune Nesmith wrote right before he joined the Monkees in 1965 that Linda Ronstadt turned into a big hit. There are no firm plans for other shows, but Nesmith says they are seriously looking into playing at least a few more gigs in markets outside California sometime later this year.
The only Monkees song in the First National Band repertoire is "Papa Gene's Blues," but that doesn't mean Nesmith has completely turned his back on his original band. He's deep into talks with promoters about a summer tour where he'd share the stage with Micky Dolenz. "Mick is a great performer," says Nesmith. "I love working with him. He's a wonderful guy. So the idea of us going out and doing something under the banner of the Monkees is under discussion. The agents are standing there with a stack of offers. I think they are running through June, but we have not accepted anything."
If such a tour does happen, it won't mean, at least to Nesmith, that he's going back on his 2016 pledge that Monkee Michael walked offstage forever at the 2016 Pantages Theater show. "This isn't Monkee Michael and Monkee Micky going out," he says. "If we go out on another tour and we do it and use the Monkees logo and name to promote it, it will be very different than a Monkees show. I mean, it'll be Monkees music, but there's no pretense there about Micky and I being the Monkees. We're not. We're the remnants, but we'll have a good time if we do it."
This proposed tour begs a very obvious question: Why isn't Peter Tork involved? Nez picked his words very carefully when we posed this to him. "Well, you'd have to ask Peter," he says. "I'm afraid I would betray a confidence if I said any more than, 'This is not a right time for him.' I don't think it would untoward for you to give him a call and just launch the question. He has his reasons. They are very private. If he's willing to share them with you, so be it."
We reached out to Peter Tork and got this response via email: "Nez's comment sounds oddly worded," he wrote. "Although he and I have not been in touch for more than a year (which is not unusual in our history), I have in general made no secret of the fact that all these recent years of Monkees-related projects, as fun as they’ve been, have taken up a lot of my time and energy. Moving forward I have blues projects that I want to give my attention to and focused on putting together some shows with my band, Shoe Suede Blues in support of our new CD Relax Your Mind, a Lead Belly tribute project that's very dear to my heart. So, I’m shifting gears for now, but I wish the boys well, and I’ve learned to never say never on things further down the line."
Whatever happens going forward, right now Nez is focused on the future of the First National Band and figuring out exactly why it's suddenly become so popular. "Dare I say it became hipster music?" he asked. "No. I don't say that. But dare I say that it's music whose time has come? I'm pretty confident in saying something like that. I never thought it would happen."
Michael Nesmith & The First National Band Redux concluded their recent round of shows last night with a performance at The Chapel in San Francisco, California. Nez and company were joined onstage by Ben Gibbard, lead vocalist and guitarist of Death Cab For Cutie. Ben is a longtime Monkees fan who contributed "Me & Magdalena" to The Monkees' 2016 album, Good Times! Here is the set list from the final show, courtesy of Andrew Sandoval:
The year 1969 was a tough one for The Monkees. Their TV show was long canceled, their special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee was kind of a disaster (running up against the Academy Awards), and Peter Tork left the band. Despite all this, Instant Replay, the album they released in February of 1969, is actually quite good. Made up of a couple older songs they dug out of the vaults and newly recorded tracks done separately by each member, there are moments of pop brilliance sprinkled throughout and each of the remaining Monkees truly shines (some more brightly or oddly than the others). The old songs are perfectly Monkees-sounding; “Tear Drop City” was written by old friends Boyce & Hart and rocks like the "Last Train to Clarksville" knockoff it is, and "I Won’t Be the Same Without Her" is the kind of melancholy Goffin & King ballad Nesmith was always able to knock out of the park. Of the songs done by individual Monkees, they break down along more or less predictable lines. Nesmith’s two songs are strong country-rock ballads; “Don’t Wait for Me” gently rollicks along and “While I Cry” has one of Mike’s tenderest vocals. Micky’s two are weird and musically scattered, but impressive all the same; “Just a Game” is a tightly wound song that sounds like one of Davy’s showstoppers with its guts ripped out, while "Shorty Blackwell" is harder to describe and hearing it makes you wish Micky had really dedicated himself to music after the Monkees split. If he could have cranked out a whole album as "Broadway on acid" as this, it would have been amazing. Davy’s songs played to his strengths but showed some artistic growth too. Yeah, he was reliably sappy (“Don’t Listen to Linda”) and happily bouncy (“Me Without You"), but he also showed an impressively adult side on Goffin & King’s sophisticated ballad “Man Without a Dream” and, with the help of Neil Young (!) on guitar, rocked very hard on a very tough-sounding “You and I.” When you add up the catchy pop tunes, the weirdness, the heartfelt emotion, and the overall sound of the record, it stands with the group’s best work. Too bad it was ignored at the time and the band quickly splintered afterwards. [The bonus tracks added to Rhino's 1995 reissue make the album even more impressive. The non-album single "Someday Man" is one of Davy's best songs; he gives the Paul Williams-penned track a healthy dose of bravado and style. The rest are outtakes and alternate versions, including a spare take of Nesmith's classic psych-country "Carlisle Wheeling."]
Relax Your Mind, the latest studio effort by Peter Tork and Shoe Suede Blues, is now available to download on Amazon. The compact disc version can also be ordered from CDBaby, but it's currently sold out (with more copies on the way).
Michael G. Bush is well known to Monkees fans as he photographed the group's concert tours in the 1980s and 1990s. Michael has enjoyed a long career in photography since the late 1970s, and has shot superstars like The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Queen, The Who, The Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Santana, James Brown, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie. He also organized the 1988 Monkees convention in Chicago, Illinois. On a personal note, I used to anticipate Michael's catalogs and flyers announcing his latest photos of The Monkees, most of which came with an update about the activities of the group at the time.
In this August 1988 interview with Paris Stachtiaris on the Headquarters radio program, Michael discusses his photography career, the schedule for the '88 Chicago convention, how he became involved with The Monkees, fellow photographer Henry Diltz, and more. Also during this episode, you'll hear some live audio from The Monkees' 1987 summer tour and great sound bites courtesy of Davy Jones.
Last evening, the First National Band Redux performed at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, California.
Earlier this week, The Monkees Live Almanac announced that Sundazed Music was reissuing all three studio efforts by Michael Nesmith & The First National Band on colored vinyl. Aside from offering each LP for sale individually, Sundazed has collected the trilogy in one package. Pre-order directly from their website.
The upcoming First National Band reissues are also available to pre-order at Amazon. The Live Almanac has had a lot of questions about who was responsible for the mastering of these releases. Amazon pre-order links and mastering information can be found in an update of the original blog post.
Here's two fan-made videos for both the slow and fast versions of "Me & Magdalena":
And, another fan-made video for "Birth of an Accidental Hipster":
Click each photo below to listen to some interesting and informative discussions about The Monkees' 1966 recording sessions:
Part 5 is (hopefully) coming soon!
"Star Collector" was a longtime feature in Monkee Business Fanzine. Monkees collector and author Ed Reilly would break down a wide range of Monkees memorabilia, including everything from toys, trading cards, records, and much more. In this column from the September 1991 issue of MBF, Ed examines Monkees song sheets from the 1960s through the 1980s.
The December 30, 1967 episode of the legendary American Bandstand (hosted by Dick Clark) looked back at the top songs of '67, including "I'm a Believer":
Last night in front of a sold out house (which included Micky Dolenz, Rodney Bingenheimer, Keith Allison, Henry Diltz, and others), Michael Nesmith took the stage at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood, a place where he performed in the pre-Monkees era and the site of the earliest live shows by the First National Band in 1970. Here is the evening's set list, courtesy of Andrew Sandoval:
Here's some footage from The Troubadour, courtesy of Sherri Hansen:
For the dates listed below, VIP meet and greet tickets might be available at select venues.
Please note that these are the first announced solo concerts for Micky in 2018. He is also performing with Michael Nesmith this June in The Monkees Present: The Mike Nesmith & Micky Dolenz Show, while making a number of additional personal appearances (scroll down through the link).
Keep checking back for updates!
March 10: Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center / The Villages, Florida (5pm show)
March 10: Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center / The Villages, Florida (8pm show)
March 16: Wolf Den @ Mohegan Sun / Uncasville, Connecticut
August 3: Benton County Fair / Corvallis, Oregon
September 28: Marathon Center for the Performing Arts / Findlay, Ohio
Thanks a lot to Sherri Hansen for sharing her videos from The Coach House:
Finally, here are Michael's mid-set acoustic renditions of "Propinquity," "Different Drum," and "Papa Gene's Blues."
The First National Band Redux performed at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California last night, and special guest Micky Dolenz was in attendance.
Here is some footage from the show, courtesy of The Monkees Tour Facebook page: