By Andy Greene
From the earliest days of the Monkees, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith had a special bond. Their harmony blend was a crucial part of the group's signature sound, and on the group's television show they shared impeccable comic timing and loved nothing more than to go off script and improv with one another. "We even had this odd idea about doing the Mike and Micky Show because we enjoyed playing together and singing together so much," says Nesmith. "We just never had the big money support for it because it was all about the Monkees, so we'd just set up on some of the set furniture and sing songs while the crew set up lights."
It has taken over 50 years, but their dream of the Mike and Micky Show is finally coming true in June when the "The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show" kicks off a month-long run of dates in Chandler, Arizona. It's going to be a very different show than anything any incarnation of the Monkees has ever presented since there won't be screens displaying vintage clips of the group and they're dipping deep into the catalog to resurrect songs that have never been played live. "It's been a lot of work because Nez is quite the perfectionist," says Dolenz. "But it's so exciting to hear these songs done in their original context and harmonies. It's so great to recapture all these moments."
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the tour is that Nesmith agreed to it in the first place. Less than two years ago, he retired "Monkee Mike" after an emotional farewell show at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. The group was in the middle of a huge 50th-anniversary tour, but Nez sat out nearly every date, leaving Dolenz and Peter Tork to carry the Monkee banner as a duo. But once those dates wrapped in December 2016, Tork told Dolenz that he wouldn't be available for any shows in the foreseeable future. "I realized if there was going to be any more Monkees music played live that Micky and I were going to have to do it," says Nesmith. "From the old Mike and Micky stuff I felt there may be some creative fun to be had here."
Rehearsals began at Nesmith's home in Carmel, California, a couple of months ago. At first, it was just the two of them and Nesmith's son Christian poring through the 12 Monkees studio albums, picking tunes they felt like singing and trying them out vocally without any band. "We did a version of [the 1967 Headquarters song] 'You Told Me,' the vocal part, that was really electrifying," says Nesmith. "I was like, 'Wow, this song does well under a little rock & roll power when you get away from the pop shampoo commercial stuff.'"
Special attention was paid to latter-day Monkees LPs The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees, Instant Replay and The Monkees Present. These came out after the peak of Monkee-mania and are packed with Nesmith originals he wrote while beginning to plant the seeds for his groundbreaking country rock group the First National Band. "One of the first songs we dusted off was 'St. Matthew' and 'Some of Shelly's Blues' [from the sessions for 1969's Instant Replay]," says Nesmith. "Mick asked if I wanted to sing 'Joanne' [a minor hit for the First National Band in 1970], but I felt it was way too much off into my own corner and not associated with the Monkees at all. But we are doing 'Different Drum' since that fell into the Monkee stew because Coco [Dolenz] started singing it in the live shows."
The show will also feature all of the band's biggest hits, including "Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer," "Daydream Believer," "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Stepping Stone." They call these the "can't cannot play" songs. "Those will always be about half to one third of any Monkees show," says Dolenz. "Nez likes some of the early Monkees hits more than others and I do too, but it goes without saying that we're doing all of them. I've learned over the years that once the audience knows they are getting those hits they will listen to just about anything else."
Once they had a working list of songs they wanted to do, Dolenz and Nesmith went into a rehearsal space with a band that includes Wayne Avers on guitar, Christian Nesmith on guitar and vocals, Alex Jules on keyboards, John Billings on bass, Rich Dart on drums, Coco Dolenz and Circe Link on background vocals, Pete Finney on pedal steel, and Paul Kramer on banjo, fiddle and guitar. The latter two will help them flesh out Nez's country rock tunes. "It's an astoundingly good band," says Nesmith. "This band and this iteration of the Monkees music is the best I've ever heard. It's the most fun to play, too."
They're going to rehearse all the way up to opening night on June 1st, and they have yet to settle on a final set list. "Good Clean Fun" from 1969's The Monkees Present is provisionally slated as the opening tune and "Me & Magdalena," "Circle Sky," "Porpoise Song" and "Birth of an Accidental Hipster" are near certainties. Dolenz is pushing very hard to get Nesmith to sign off on a version of the First National Band's "Grand Ennui" the ensemble has worked up. "I have been begging him to do that," says Dolenz. "Wait unit you hear it. It friggin' rocks!" Nez isn't quite convinced. "I told him it couldn't be any further from a Monkees thing, from subject matter to the way it's performed," he says. "When we started doing it, it jumped up to its full bright, sprightly self and we realized this would be a great song to sing. But so would, you know, the Beatles catalog and we have to stop at some point and say, 'This is a Monkees show.'"
One thing they aren't doing is any song originally performed by the late Davy Jones beyond "Daydream Believer." "Nobody can sing what David sang," says Nesmith. "He was so sweet and generous and the songs need this voice there when we play them. We made a decision to not do them."
Lingering over the whole tour is the absence of Peter Tork. The singer-guitarist successfully battled a rare form of oral cancer in 2009 and was an eager participant on every Monkees tour between 2011 and 2016, though he kept an extremely low profile in 2017. Earlier this year, he said he wasn't going to be involved in the tour because he was focused on his Lead Belly tribute LP Relax Your Mind. But the disc came out in January and he hasn't announced any tour plans behind it. "I've always had a certain distance from Peter," says Nesmith. "I don't really know what he's doing or what he's thinking."
Dolenz is slightly more willing to talk about the situation. "Last year when we talked about reconnecting he said, 'I'm not available,'" he says. "He told me a couple of years ago that he wanted to pursue his dream project, which is the Lead Belly album. He worked on it for a long time and he's going to tour with [his band] Shoe Suede Blues. My understanding was that Peter was just not available for this tour. That's his business and you'd have to ask him for more about it."
Tork's absence is a big reason Dolenz and Nesmith aren't touring as the Monkees, though when you ask them whether or not the band on the stage will be the Monkees you get a very long and philosophical answers about what the group was in the first place. "The Monkees is a television show," says Nesmith. "It was a group we played on television. Once it steps outside that show, people have to nourish it and make it something on their own. When you play the songs in your car or in headphones at your office it starts to integrate itself into your life like a real band. But that doesn't mean the television show is coming to life. You, however, might see it as a band. There's a real bifurcation in the way it exists in my mind. In some ways, it's a creative extension of the job I get called up to do every once in a while and really enjoy."
Dolenz looks at it from a bit of a different angle. "There's no short answer to this," he says. "It's like saying, 'What is Star Trek?' How many casts have been in Star Trek? But it's all Star Trek. You can't reduce these things in any scientific sense. We've never controlled the brand name and we have to pay [Rhino] every time we tour and use it, which we're happy to do."
Whatever you call the band, they have no plans beyond the end of the tour in Red Bank, New Jersey, on June 25th. Michael Nesmith already has a First National Band tour booked that will take him to the southern United States and up the East Coast in the fall. Dolenz is booking solo shows and is in talks with producers about returning to the stage on Broadway or the West End of London. But they both say they are very open to resuming the Mike and Micky Show at some point in the future when their schedules permit. "You just don't say no to anything right now," says Nesmith. "Who knows what's going to happen?
The Monkees Tour Facebook page posted videos of Micky, Michael, and the band rehearsing "Sunny Girlfriend," "Auntie's Municipal Court" (!), and "Different Drum" today at Videoranch:
Andrew Sandoval shared a photo from today's rehearsals on Instagram:
This is a really nice article from the June 1995 issue of Monkee Business Fanzine that discusses Peter Tork singing the "Star Spangled Banner" in Portland, Maine for the (Double-A baseball team) Portland Sea Dogs on their opening night.
A little note on Chris: I connected with him online in 2000 or so. In 2001 I began a small project, writing brief summaries for each Monkees tour and embellishing the information with set lists and reviews. Brad Waddell at Monkees.net was kind enough to publish my work on his website that year, and Chris was a big help in collecting variations of set lists from different tours, reviewing the summaries I had written, etc. It ultimately took a decade for this website to be created, but the genesis of it all started during that time with assistance from Chris.
Intact in its original picture sleeve, the Rio 45 (PAC45-104) is straight from 1979. Nez has signed the sleeve's cover in gold ink to match the gold Pacific Arts seal on the accompanying numbered certificate of authenticity.
The first 10 orders will also receive a Rio sticker from 1979!
Only 175 are available. Sorry, no personalizations. Orders will begin to ship in late May.
On this edition of THE RHINO PODCAST, host Dennis is in the booth with the one and only Micky Dolenz and Monkees reissue producer Andrew Sandoval to talk playing concerts in supermarket parking lots, Don Kirshner, JC Penney, long hair, Look Magazine, and why only 12 tracks originally made it on to MORE OF THE MONKEES. Find out what was left on the cutting room floor and how you can now hear those songs when you tune in.
In this interview with Ken Mills, Andrew Sandoval discusses a wide range of topics about the upcoming Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith tour and confirms that a live album will indeed be officially recorded:
Hey Mark and followers of The Monkees Live Almanac,
Photos from this session were featured in the closing credits of The Monkees during both seasons:
Were there any particular records or films that inspired the album?
Sean Lennon: Les got a telepathic communication from Buzz Aldrin.
Les Claypool: A big inspiration was us sitting down and watching the Monkees' Head.
Sean Lennon: Head is, like, my bible. Any project or important thought I've ever had was inspired by Head. We were talking about the amazing revelation that Buzz [Aldrin] revealed on C-SPAN. He said, "There's a monolith on Phobos with a tiny, potato-shaped moon that's revolving around Mars." It's the most mind-blowing thing I've ever seen on television. We were just hanging out watching that video, and Les came back the next day with a full song about it.
Wayne Avers speaks to The Monkees Live Almanac about "The Mike Nesmith & Micky Dolenz Show" and the touring band
On June 1, Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz will begin their first tour as a duo at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Chandler, Arizona. Entitled "The Monkees Present: The Mike Nesmith & Micky Dolenz Show," fans have already been promised a set list full of surprises and deep cuts, and the 17-date tour is likely to be one of the most unique in the live performance history of The Monkees.
Longtime Monkees guitarist and musical director Wayne Avers recently spoke with the Live Almanac about the upcoming concerts. "The Nez and Micky combination gives us a chance to play some songs that have never been played live by The Monkees before," Wayne said. "It's also the 50th anniversary of the movie Head, so we will highlight some of the songs from its soundtrack. And of course, besides all of the new selections added to the set list, we will play all of the classic Monkees hits everyone loves to hear."
Wayne also revealed the musicians that will constitute the backing band, and the lineup includes both familiar and fresh faces. "We have added steel guitarist Pete Finney (from Nez’s First National Band) and Paul Kramer from Nashville on fiddle/banjo/guitar so we can replicate the more country-influenced songs of The Monkees more accurately."
Wayne Avers / Guitars & Vocals
Wayne Avers is no stranger to Monkees fans. He has been a part of The Monkees' family since the group's 30th Anniversary Tour 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. 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," he told the Live Almanac in April 2017.
Christian Nesmith / Guitars & Vocals
Christian is Michael's eldest son and first joined The Monkees' touring band upon his father's return to the group in 2012. His songs have been heard in both film and TV (Blades of Glory, The Hills Have Eyes, Lionheart) and he has composed commercials for companies ranging from AOL to ESPN to Starbucks. His theater credits include being the musical director for the first ever production of Hair in Moscow, Russia. Christian was also musical director for Hair in Los Angeles in 2007 (which also featured Circe Link), and that production was awarded Best Musical of the Year by LA Weekly. In 2016, Christian contributed greatly to the arrangement of "Birth of an Accidental Hipster," a key track from The Monkees' album Good Times!
John Billings / Bass
John Billings was introduced to the Monkees family by Wayne Avers. "Wayne had been in the Monkees circle for nearly 20 years and had, at that time, run Micky Dolenz's band. The bass chair opened and Wayne brought me into the fold," John told Epiphone.com. John resides in Nashville, where he owns a recording studio. When performing with The Monkees live in concert, John received some good advice from Avers on how to approach the songs. "Wayne gave us a fundamental direction," John said. "Go back to the records."
Rich Dart / Drums
Rich Dart began his association with The Monkees in 2010 when he started playing drums for Micky Dolenz during his solo performances. He joined The Monkees' backing band in 2012 when Micky, Michael, and Peter Tork delivered a series of concerts in honor of Davy Jones. Rich has had an eclectic career as a free-lance percussionist. He has played with various symphonies, jazz groups, theater troupes, rock bands, country bands, and percussion ensembles. Rich also played drums for Avenue Q on Broadway and for its first national tour, and traveled with a production of Pippin.
Pete Finney / Pedal Steel Guitar
Paul Kramer / Banjo, Fiddle, Guitar
Paul Kramer is a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter, and this Nesmith/Dolenz tour will mark his first association with The Monkees. Paul has toured with nationally known recording acts including Gary Allan, Travis Tritt, Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, and the Special Consensus Bluegrass Band. His fiddle and mandolin stylings have graced the recordings of Lionel Cartwright, Suzy Bogguss, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Buddy Spicher & Vassar Clements, and Carolyn Martin. He has released three CDs: Swing Street, The Bloggrass Boys and Low Budget Christmas. He currently performs with several bands including Paul Kramer & Swing Street, 50 Shades of Hay, The Grassaholics, Nashville Fiddle Mafia, and on the General Jackson showboat. (Biography courtesy of 50shadesofhayband.com)
Alex Jules / Keyboards & Vocals
Alex Jules is new to the band (replacing longtime Monkees keyboardist Dave Alexander) and is a New York born and raised rock and roll singer/songwriter now based in Los Angeles. You can sample some of Alex's work on SoundCloud.
Coco Dolenz / Vocals
Micky's sister, Coco, has a long history with The Monkees. She provided harmony and background vocals on such Monkees tracks as "Shortly Blackwell," "Little Girl," "Midnight Train," and "Mommy and Daddy." She wrote for teen magazines in the 1960s at the height of her brother's fame, and in the late 1970s, she toured with Micky and Davy after the dissolution of Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. In 1987, Coco released her own album, One Voice. She has been touring with The Monkees since 2012. You can also hear Coco at Micky's solo shows, where she often duets with her brother on "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Crying in the Rain" while taking over on lead vocals for Michael Nesmith's own "Different Drum."
Circe Link / Vocals
Circe Link joined The Monkees' band for the first time in 2014, performing backing vocals with Coco Dolenz, and more recently performed with Michael Nesmith's First National Band Redux. A singer, songwriter, and musician in her own right, Circe has previously described her music as ranging from "Cowboy Jazz to Alternative to Americana." She has recorded several albums, including a live CD from a successful tour of Japan. Circe writes, records, and performs with her companion, Christian Nesmith.
Be sure to get your tickets to see Micky, Nez, and the band this June. And stay tuned to The Monkees Live Almanac for more updates soon!
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