Over 500 votes were cast, and fans have selected Magnetic South as their favorite album by the First National Band.
Sessions for the album began on February 10, 1970 at RCA Hollywood. Felton Jarvis (Elvis Presley, etc.) was credited as producer, but in reality he rarely attended the sessions, which lasted through late March. Jarvis, however, did sign Michael to RCA Records, and Magnetic South became a showcase for Michael's unique blending of country and rock. Magnetic South was the first in a trilogy of albums by the First National Band. Loose Salute (1970) and Nevada Fighter (1971) would follow.
Thanks for voting!
This past January during a 5-concert jaunt throughout California, Michael Nesmith brought new life to his initial post-Monkees outfit, The First National Band. Originally consisting of Nez, Red Rhodes, John London, and John Ware, the group released three albums between 1970 and 1971, but their live performance history was fairly limited. Ignored and almost shunned by audiences and peers during their heyday, the music of the First National Band has since been cited by critics and contemporaries as a pioneering influence in the country rock genre.
In one of the more unexpected moves of Michael Nesmith's career, a reconstituted First National Band hit the road in early 2018 with Christian Nesmith (guitar), Jonathan Nesmith (piano/guitar/vocals), Circe Link (vocals), Christopher Allis (drums), Jason Chesney (bass), Amy Spear (vocals), and Pete Finney (pedal steel). Sadly, original members Rhodes and London have passed away, but Ware gave his blessing to the project and wished everyone well.
The concerts by the First National Band Redux, as they were dubbed, were ultimately a critical and commercial triumph. And now, The Monkees Live Almanac is proud to be the first to share the details about a forthcoming live album from 7a Records that will document this unique event in Nesmith/First National Band history.
Since 2015, 7a Records and its proprietors Glenn Gretlund and Iain Lee have been producing Monkees-related releases, including a collection of Micky Dolenz's 1970s MGM singles, Bobby Hart's first solo album, various limited edition vinyl 45s (Dolenz/Davy Jones/Dolenz with Circe Link & Christian Nesmith), and more recently, vintage and new live recordings by both Nesmith and Dolenz. And now 7a has made an agreement with Michael Nesmith and the members of the First National Band to release a live album documenting their January 2018 performances.
"We are extremely proud and excited to be able to work with Michael Nesmith and the First National Band on this album," Glenn told the Live Almanac. "What I have heard so far literally gave me goose bumps. It's that good. By all accounts this will be a superb album and one of 7a Records' biggest releases to date."
Iain was just as enthused. "If you’d have told 15 year old me I’d be releasing a brand new First National Band live album on my own record label I’d have laughed in your face. This is a dream come true and is the culmination of years of hard work and dreaming from both myself and my business partner Glenn. We make it our business to only release records that we would buy and man, I’d buy a dozen copies of this. It’s a thrill and an honor to be working with Michael and the band on this. And you wait until you hear what Christian [Nesmith] has done with the production. Stunning."
As Iain said, Christian Nesmith is currently in the process of mixing and mastering the recordings, but at this moment, it has not yet been decided whether the album will consist of one full show or a compilation of the best performances from the various stops on the tour. Nez will have the final vote once everything has been mixed.
The following songs are very likely to be included on the album:
Be sure to check back with The Monkees Live Almanac as Glenn and Iain have promised more details about the upcoming First National Band live album release as they become available.
I would also like to take a moment to thank both Glenn Gretlund and Iain Lee for sharing this news with the Live Almanac and its readers, and for their constant support of the site.
Ever since Michael Nesmith reconstituted the First National Band for a series of exclusive concerts last month, I have received many inquiries asking where to find the music of the First National Band, and in particular, which releases were best to seek out. For my money, the late 1990s/early 2000s compact discs by BMG/Camden are the superior representations of Michael's RCA work. The label released the albums as two-in-one reissues. Below are scans of the Magnetic South/Loose Salute CD from 1999.
The BMG/Camden reissues of Michael's RCA albums are readily available on Amazon:
In an email to subscribers, Videoranch provided an early glimpse and chance to order their latest piece of merchandise highlighting last month's revival of the First National Band on the concert stage. Prints can be ordered signed or unsigned, and Videoranch provided this description for the item:
"The official 8x10 First National Band Redux Tour poster features Nez in his Nudie suit looking up at the First National Band logo. His Nudie suit was the mascot for the January tour. Nez explained that the suit represented much of what he wanted to achieve through the art of First National Band. Nudie celebrates the high art element of Americana culture that Nez also finds in bluegrass and country music. The American flag theme is an effort to reclaim patriotism from conservative reaction. Similarly, Nez hoped to reclaim country and bluegrass styles by combining them with psychedelia -- pulling them further into that high space. "
Here's some great footage of Nez along with his two sons, Jonathan and Christian, working out "Tomorrow and Me" in preparation for last month's First National Band Redux tour:
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:
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.
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:
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:
A big thank you to Gina from Sundazed Music for sharing their upcoming press release announcing vinyl reissues of all three seminal albums by Michael Nesmith & The First National Band! Complete details can be found below. (UPDATE 1/27/2018: The Live Almanac can now report via Sundazed Music the following information about the mastering of these LPs: "Bob Irwin Mastering + Kevin Gray Cut + RTI Pressing = Audible Perfection." The description originally read "Bob Irwin Mastered Mono" but that has been amended.)
Sundazed Press Release
Sundazed is proud to present three country-rock cornerstones from Michael Nesmith & The First National Band! Recorded and released in a span of less than 12 months(!!!), these three longplayers feature the matchless rural rock of Nesmith and his First National Band. Long out of print, this trilogy from the Nez make their return on colored vinyl with beautifully restored artwork on March 23rd!
The heralded solo debut of Michael Nesmith, Magnetic South features the artist’s hybrid of cowboy-’n’-western country music and rock sensibilities on eleven country-rock classics. Recorded at RCA’s Hollywood Studios in February 1970 directly after his departure from The Monkees, Magnetic South is brimming with songs Nesmith stockpiled during The Monkees’ heyday, highlighted by “Joanne,” one of the earliest singles with the California-country sound to become a major hit record. (Pre-order "Magnetic South" from Amazon)
The second LP from Michael Nesmith and the First National Band features the country-rock pioneer’s hit single “Silver Moon” alongside dreamy, near-psychedelic studies on western motifs and melodies, funky swamp sounds, and straight-up country readings in the inimitable Nesmith style. Loose Salute continues on the country-rock road of Magnetic South, rocking even harder in places, while adding a tinge of Latin rhythm. Recorded from April through July of 1970, the album catches Nesmith in his transition from honky-tonk hitmaker to studio born perfectionist across ten tracks. (Pre-order "Loose Salute" from Amazon)
The third LP from a Nudie-suit wearing father of country-rock, Nevada Fighter completes the trilogy of LPs by Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, augmented by members of Elvis’ ‘70s touring band and other Wrecking Crew heroes. Recorded from August 1970 through January of 1971, Nevada Fighter revisits one of Nesmith’s earliest compositions “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care),” which was penned back in 1965 prior to Nesmith becoming a Monkee, ultimately producing Nesmith’s fourth and final post-Monkees chart hit. The album’s first side is all Nesmith originals, while side two features covers of Harry Nilsson, Bob Wills, and others. (Pre-order "Nevada Fighter" from Amazon)
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)
Poll # 1: Vote!
Poll #2: Vote!