In 2016, Patrick Zappi penned a three-part series, "Reimagining The Post-Peter Albums." And now Patrick has contributed another piece to The Monkees Live Almanac, featuring a retrospective playlist of Peter Tork's musical career that not only includes his time in The Monkees, but also highlights Peter's work as a solo artist, his musical partnership with James Lee Stanley, and his stint in Shoe Suede Blues.
"Come On In: The Best of Peter Tork (1966-2016)" by Patrick Zappi
Since 1966, the press and purported "serious" music critics have reveled in stories about The Monkees and their musical prowess. But after the group's triumphant 45th Anniversary Tour in 2011, progressive journalists have reassessed The Monkees' musical catalog and many now choose to celebrate this cast of actors, singers, and musicians and their metamorphosis into an authentic recording and touring project.
As longtime fans already know, and contrary to urban legend, the individual members of The Monkees all played multiple instruments with varying degrees of skill. Peter Tork cut his teeth in the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, gigging with the likes of a then unknown Stephen Stills in The Buffalo Fish and jamming onstage with Mama Cass in her pre-Mamas and Papas project, The Mugwumps. Tork was a multi-instrumentalist who mastered the banjo, guitar, bass, piano, and even the French horn with exuberance. His stunning instrumental contributions are undisputed highlights of the Monkees catalog: the beloved piano lick from "Daydream Believer," the ominous organ solo on "Words," the breezy harpsichord on "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," the propulsive banjo on "You Told Me," the aggressive bass on "You Just May Be The One," the majestic piano on "Shades Of Gray," the rolling keyboards on "The Door Into Summer," the tense electric piano solo on "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and the famous guitar-intro to his own composition, "For Pete's Sake," which became the closing theme for The Monkees television series in its second season. The list goes on and on!
Peter's singing and songwriting however, were met with a different response. With a questionable pitch and a lovable but infrequently utilized voice, Peter became the Ringo Starr of The Monkees, an ace in the hole who was lucky to score a single lead vocal on any given album. In his heyday, Tork was an inspired but seemingly frustrated songwriter. Overshadowed by the prolific and somewhat dominant Michael Nesmith (who just happened to title Peter's signature composition "For Pete's Sake"), some of Peter's quirky, folksy, and bluesy gems were initially left unreleased until The Monkees' incredible resurgence in 1986 that ultimately opened the studio vaults. After that unprecedented commercial resurgence, Tork was able to spread his wings as a solo artist, exploring his folk roots with longtime friend and musical partner James Lee Stanley, tackling the roadhouse blues with the tongue-in-cheek titled band Shoe Suede Blues, and finally bringing his peculiar vision to life with 1994's Stranger Things Have Happened.
In February of this year, we lost Peter Tork to a longtime battle with cancer, but his music survives. The following is a retrospective of his career for fellow fans to enjoy. As Peter wrote, "To say that you can dig it, is to make your soul to fly . . . to heaven."
"Pleasant Valley Sunday" (With James Lee Stanley, Two Man Band, 1996)
"Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" (The Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., 1967)
"Your Auntie Grizelda" (The Monkees, More Of The Monkees, 1967)
"Words" (The Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., 1967)
"Shades of Gray" (The Monkees, Headquarters, 1967)
"Cripple Creek" (The Monkees, Live 1967)
"Alvin" (The Monkees, Originally Unissued, 1968)
"Tear the Top Right Off My Head" (The Monkees, Originally Unissued, 1968)
"Come On In" (The Monkees, Originally Unissued, 1968)
"Seeger's Theme" (The Monkees, Originally Unissued, 1968)
"Lady's Baby" (The Monkees, Originally Unissued, 1968)
"Prithee" (The Monkees, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, 1969)
"Can You Dig It" - Peter's lead vocal originally unissued (The Monkees, 1968)
"Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again" (The Monkees, Head, 1968)
"MGBGT" (The Monkees, B-side to "Heart & Soul," Live 1986)
"Gettin' In" (The Monkees, Pool It!, 1987)
"Since You Went Away" (The Monkees, Pool It!, 1987)
"Milkshake" (With Micky Dolenz & Michael Nesmith, Stranger Things Have Happened, 1994)
"Sea Change" (Stranger Things Have Happened, 1994)
"Giant Step" (Stranger Things Have Happened, 1994)
"Tender Is" (Stranger Things Have Happened, 1994)
"I Believe You" (The Monkees, Justus, 1996)
"I Remember Christmas" (With James Lee Stanley, A Beachwood Christmas, 2003)
"Saved by the Blues" (Shoe Suede Blues, Saved by the Blues, 2003)
"Slender Tender and Tall" (Shoe Suede Blues, Saved by the Blues, 2003)
"She Belongs To Me" (Shoe Suede Blues, Cambria Hotel, 2007)
"Vagabond John" (Live 2012)
"Little Girl" (The Monkees, Good Times!, 2016)
"Wasn't Born to Follow" (The Monkees, Good Times!, 2016)
"Early Morning Blues and Greens" (The Monkees, Live 2013)
"For Pete's Sake" (Shoe Suede Blues, Cambria Hotel, 2007)
"Daydream Believer" (With James Lee Stanley, Once Again, 2001)
"Higher and Higher" (Stranger Things Have Happened, 1994)
Recorded during The Monkees' 30th Anniversary Tour in the summer of 1996, Two Man Band featured Peter Tork and his longtime friend, singer/songwriter/musician James Lee Stanley, performing selected covers and songs by Tork, Stanley, and The Monkees.
Peter and James first met in 1964 when Peter was a member of the Phoenix Singers during Peter's Greenwich Village days. In 1994, James Lee's Beachwood Records issued Peter's first solo album, Stranger Things Have Happened, and the duo began to perform together in the aftermath of its release. The intimate, acoustic nature of their shows inspired them to replicate that formula inside the recording studio, and Two Man Band was born.
In 2001, Peter and James released Once Again, which was followed by Live/Backstage at the Coffee Gallery in 2006.
Two Man Band is an excellent album that the Live Almanac highly recommends. Listen to an insightful interview with James Lee Stanley where he talks extensively about the album on the Texas Prairie Chicken Home Companion podcast:
AllMusic delivered praise for Two Man Band in its review of the album:
"Following the artistic success of his debut solo CD, Stranger Things Have Happened, Peter Tork teamed up with Beachwood labelmate James Lee Stanley. This pairing allowed Tork to further explore his acoustic, blues, and easy listening side. And, as with his first release, this is an excellent album. Both artists compliment each other and the music is very accessible. Tork has a wonderfully pleasing and distinctive voice, and Stanley's voice is a perfect blend. The two alternate lead vocals and composition credits and this, too, works. Stanley contributes more original tunes to the collection, while Tork is content to write a couple and choose suitable covers (such as the brilliant 'Milkshake,' a clear standout of the CD). 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' is outstanding and rivals the Monkees' version. One wonders what direction the Monkees would have taken had Tork had more control. That said, this album is a treasure. A perfect album for late summer nights while relaxing."
Two Man Band can be purchased on compact disc today through Amazon or CD Baby. The album is also available for downloading on iTunes and can be streamed on Spotify.
Thanks very much to Ben Belmares for sharing his scans of Two Man Band with The Monkees Live Almanac!
In 1994, James Lee Stanley's Beachwood Records released Peter Tork's first ever solo album, Stranger Things Have Happened, featuring several notable guest musicians and friends including Stanley, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Laurence Juber (Paul McCartney & Wings), Mackenzie Phillips, and Timothy B. Schmit (The Eagles).
Michael and Micky provided backing vocals on "Milkshake," and Nez can also be heard on "MGB-GT," which was initially performed by Micky, Peter, and Davy Jones during The Monkees' 20th Anniversary Reunion Tour. Davy was present at the recording session for "Milkshake" with his fellow Monkees, but never got around to putting his vocal on tape. (James Lee Stanley recalled the comedic circumstances that caused Davy to leave the session during this interview at 27:30.) Laurence Juber, who was a part of the final incarnation of Wings, provided the stellar guitar solo on "Milkshake." His guitar work can also be heard on "That Was Then, This Is Now," a Top 20 hit for The Monkees in 1986.
Peter contributed six originals to the set ("Get What You Pay For," "Sea Change," "MGB-GT," "Miracle," "Gettin' In" and "Tender Is"), and was also assisted by guest writers, including his brother Nick ("Pirates") and Martin Briley ("Milkshake"). Covers included Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Take a Giant Step," originally recorded by The Monkees in 1966, and "Higher and Higher," a song made famous by Jackie Wilson in 1967 that Peter reimagined as a banjo-driven piece. The title track was co-written by Michael Levine, who contributed "Since You Went Away" to The Monkees' 1987 album, Pool It!, which also featured "Gettin' In" in its original incarnation, while "Sea Change" had been performed during The Monkees' 1989 North American/Japanese tour. Peter talked about each song in the liner notes:
Peter's post-Monkees recordings were scarce until Stranger Things Have Happened. After leaving The Monkees in late 1968, Peter formed a new group, Release, but nothing was ever formally recorded. After laying low throughout most of the 1970s, Peter reemerged in late 1980 with The New Monks, and on February 13, 1981 they recorded a single, "Steppin' Stone"/"Higher and Higher." The 45 was eventually issued on the Claude's Music Works label, named after Peter's then-manager Claude Hayn. In 1982, Peter contributed "I Truly Understand" to the long-running CooP series.
Stranger Things Have Happened was produced by Peter and his longtime friend James Lee Stanley, who also collaborated with Peter in the 1990s and 2000s on albums like Two Man Band and Once Again. Peter made multiple television and personal appearances to support its release.
AllMusic delivered praise for Stranger Things Have Happened in its review of the album:
"Tork reveals himself as a solid rocker, starting from a folk idiom but working with lots of wattage on the instruments and no trace of wimpy singer/songwriter affectation in the playing. A few notable friends are aboard in addition to his direct collaborator and co-producer, James Lee Stanley - Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Mackenzie Phillips, and Timothy B. Schmit among them. There are songs drawn from across the spectrum of Tork's career, including a gorgeous, folk-style cover of 'Take a Giant Step' that made this reviewer smile so emphatically it was mixed with tears of joy; the exquisitely funny 'Milkshake,' a delightfully wry account of life on the road that includes Nesmith and Dolenz and some of the most charmingly silly choruses ever heard in a legitimate rock song; 'MGB-GT,' a very personal car song that may be particularly potent to middle-aged survivors of the 1960s; and 'Higher and Higher,' a folk/gospel song on which Tork mostly plays acoustic banjo, and which is so beguiling that one wishes he'd do an entire album in that idiom, style, and sound."
These two songs come from A Beachwood Christmas, featuring Peter Tork, James Lee Stanley, and company.
Here is Peter's banjo rendition of "Angels We Have Heard on High":
This track, "I Remember Christmas," was written by Peter's brother, Nick. (FYI: These videos are mislabeled!)