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:
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.
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)
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 was Michael Nesmith's initial post-Monkees outfit that consisted of Red Rhodes, John London, and John Ware. The group released three acclaimed albums between 1970 and 1971, featuring the Nesmith classics "Joanne," "Silver Moon," "Nevada Fighter," and more.
The brand new Live Almanac poll is asking fans to choose their favorite First National Band LP, so be sure to vote below or in the blog sidebar to the right. You can also click each album cover above for more information about these stellar works.
And, don't forget that Nez is bringing a 21st century version of the First National Band to the concert stage in January 2018. Happy voting!
Michael Nesmith's memoir, Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, arrived earlier this year with a companion compact disc from Rhino Records, which featured highlights of Michael's musical career. As always, a big thanks to Ben Belmares for providing scans of the CD to the Live Almanac!
The LP and CD editions of Michael Nesmith At the BBC Paris Theatre are now available from 7a Records. Remember that the vinyl picture disc is limited to 500 copies, so don't wait to order! A big thanks, as always, to Ben Belmares for providing the scans of the picture disc LP below to the Live Almanac.
7a Records co-founder Iain Lee has delivered the scoop to The Monkees Live Almanac regarding their first ever Michael Nesmith-related release!
Michael Nesmith at the BBC Paris Theatre will be issued as a limited edition 12" vinyl picture disc and as a CD digipak. The compact disc version will be accompanied by a 12-page booklet that includes a rare 1975 interview with Michael, an essay by Iain, and an interview with Dave Pegg from the Fairport Convention, who played with Nez in the past.
Recorded in London on November 27, 1975, the concert had been tucked away in the archives of the BBC until 7a licensed the master tapes, which have been digitally remastered. Nesmith has approved its release, too. The album features Nez performing alone with his guitar, singing First National Band-era songs along with cuts from his then upcoming LP, The Prison. Here is the complete track listing:
Silver Moon (5:11)
Some of Shelly's Blues (4:18)
Dance Between the Raindrops (8:35)
Marie's Theme (7:10)
Closing Theme (Lampost) (4:51)
At The BBC Theatre will arrive on September 15, 2017 in the United Kingdom and a week later in the United States. Pre-order links are available below.
A big thank you to Iain and his partner at 7a, Glenn Gretlund, for sharing these details with the Live Almanac. Don't forget to follow 7a Records on Facebook and Twitter. You can read more about 7a's past releases in the archives of The Monkees Live Almanac.
Rhino Records celebrated the release of Michael Nesmith's book, Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, with a compact disc that highlights Michael's musical career. Videoranch also issued a vinyl LP in conjunction with the book. A big thanks to Ben Belmares who provided scans of his copy of the vinyl album!
Live at The Palais was released by Michael's company Pacific Arts in August 1978. Recorded in Melbourne at the Palais Theatre during a brief tour of Australia in 1977, the set reunites Nez with First National Band drummer John Ware. Notably, some of the songs on Live at The Palais featured new arrangements in comparison to their studio counterparts.
Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork performed at the Palais this past December during a stop on The Monkees' 50th Anniversary Tour.
The LP cover features a photo of Nez with his Black Gibson Les Paul custom guitar. This is the same guitar he played when The Monkees recorded "Pleasant Valley Sunday" in 1967, producing the classic riff that became the cornerstone of the song. The guitar was also seen on 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee during The Monkees' performance of "Listen to the Band," and again in 1969 when Micky, Davy, and Michael performed live on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Nez was last seen using the Les Paul with The Monkees at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 1986.
Live at the Palais can be downloaded on iTunes or at Videoranch.
A big thanks to Ben Belmares who supplied the scans seen below:
This collection is scheduled to be released on April 14, 2017, and you can pre-order it from Amazon. It will also be available as a digital download.
The Second Disc: Different Drum: Michael Nesmith’s “Infinite Tuesday” Offers Soundtrack to His Autobiography
Magnetic South was the first solo album released by Michael Nesmith after his departure from The Monkees. Arriving in June 1970, the LP featured The First National Band: Red Rhodes (pedal steel), John Ware (drums), and John London (bass). It was the first in a trilogy of albums by the group, containing brand new material along with many songs that were recorded during the Monkees era but ultimately passed over for release on Monkees albums. Tracks like "Calico Girlfriend," "Nine Times Blue," "Little Red Rider," and "Hollywood" were re-recorded and reinterpreted during sessions for Magnetic South.
The first single, "Little Red Rider," failed to chart, but "Joanne" became a hit, peaking at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite this success, Magnetic South would only reach #143 on the Billboard Top LPs chart.
Loose Salute followed in late 1970, and the trilogy was completed with Nevada Fighter in 1971.
Note the dedications made by Nez on the back cover: to his fellow Monkees, Lester Sill, Bert Schneider, Jack Nicholson, and Mimi. The "Tomorrow Man" is thought to be a sly reference to Don Kirshner, who was producing a group named Toomorrow at the time (which featured Olivia Newton-John as one of its members).
Last year, Monkees fans voted Magnetic South as their favorite Nesmith solo album.
As always, thanks a lot to Ben Belmares for providing the front and back cover images, along with the labels, that are seen above!
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings was the first solo album by Michael Nesmith, recorded during weekend sessions on November 18-19, 1967 at RCA Hollywood while he was still a member of The Monkees. The album comprises instrumentals of Nesmith originals that were performed by a full orchestra, including members of the Wrecking Crew, Los Angeles' top session musicians. Shorty Rogers, who scored "Daydream Believer" and other tracks for The Monkees, handled the arrangements, and Hank Cicalo, engineer on numerous Monkees recordings, was also on hand. Michael acted as producer and co-arranger. Here's the track listing of the LP:
Several of the songs had been previously aired on Monkees albums or would be heard on subsequent releases, while two others ("Carlisle Wheeling" and "Nine Times Blue") remained unreleased in their original form until Nesmith re-recorded them with the First National Band (with the Monkees-era versions remaining in the vaults until the Missing Links series in the late 1980s).
Michael spoke about the Wichita sessions with Keith Altham of New Musical Express. "I've been writing for a year and a half and I did not want to be blinded by dollar signs or tied down to what is commercially acceptable. I wanted to find something new. This is it. It cost me approximately $50,000 to do it."
True to his word, Nez spared no expense. Not only did he hire the best musicians (who would be paid double time due to the weekend booking), Michael had the whole event catered by Chasen's, a top tier restaurant in Los Angeles. Over 50 musicians contributed to the Wichita project, including Red Rhodes (pedal steel), Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer (drums), Larry Knechtel (piano), Tommy Tedesco (guitar), and Doug Dillard (banjo). "Earl Palmer and I were on cloud nine, because it was a drummer's dream to be able to kick this gigantic band in the butt," wrote Blaine in his 1990 autobiography. "The town was buzzing with excitement about the session. Shorty Rogers was doing the arrangements...It sounded like World War III. In fact, Nesmith was going to call it that, but changed it to The Pacific Ocean and ultimately called it The Wichita Train Whistle."
The weekend recording fest was also famous for an incident that occurred at the end of the sessions. The lead sheet for the final track attempted ("Don't Call On Me") included an instruction that called for the players to improvise a cacophony of sound. As the track concluded, Tommy Tedesco took off his Fender guitar (which was still plugged into the amplifier), and threw it high into the air. The guitar hit the floor and smashed into pieces. "He had the pieces mounted and framed," Blaine later recalled. Members of the Wrecking Crew reminisced about that infamous moment in a recent documentary centered around L.A.'s top players:
Hal Blaine had nothing but fond memories of the Wichita sessions. "The Nesmith dates came off without a hitch. It was the greatest party I've ever been invited to. Two days of Chasen's food, and more music than you could expect in a lifetime. Gene Cipriano, the saxophonist/oboist, got his reeds jammed with caviar. We were like kids in a candy store."
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings was released in 1968 by Dot Records. The final issue of Monkee Spectacular covered Michael's first solo endeavor:
A party was held to mark the occasion. Nez cut a cake in the likeness of the LP's front cover:
An advertisement for The Wichita Train Whistle Sings appeared in the June 8, 1968 issue of Billboard:
The UK publication Monkees Monthly noted positive reviews for Wichita, including one from the Los Angeles Times:
Music journalist Leonard Feather wondered if the sounds heard on The Wichita Train Whistle Sings were a preview of what contemporary popular music would be like in the early 1970s:
"Don't Cry Now" was selected as the LP's first and only single, backed with "Tapioca Tundra." The A-side is noteworthy as it never appeared on a Monkees album or any of Nesmith's later solo efforts, nor was it ever given a vocal treatment (though Michael has confirmed that lyrics existed for the song).
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings peaked at #144 on the Billboard charts. Michael talked frankly about the reaction to the album with Flip in its December 1968 issue:
FLIP: From what we've seen, everyone liked Wichita Train Whistle, but few bought it, despite the fact that your being a Monkee is supposed to be a big selling factor and the fact that it was a good album. Any idea what happened?
Nesmith: You overestimate the selling power of The Monkees. They don't sell.
FLIP: The Monkees records sell. Every album they've put out has been a million seller.
Nesmith: Yeah, but that's the Monkees records, and they don't sell that much now. Now that we're off television they're not selling worth a darn, not anymore. The album (Wichita Train Whistle) sold very well actually, where it was played. In Los Angeles alone it sold over 22,000 albums. And if the rest of the country'd played it, it would have been alright, but the rest of the country didn't.
FLIP: Any idea why?
Nesmith: There were a lot of managerial problems. It wasn't promoted right, it wasn't distributed right, and couple that with the fact that being a Monkee has with it the stigma of being a bull artist, and nobody gave a damn. Nobody cares what we play or say or think or anything, 'cause they think, "well, you're just a bunch of plastic weirdos," except the kids, you know, and the kids aren't old enough to do anything yet, but when they're old enough then you'll see something.
FLIP: You'd think this album would have done away with a lot of that and that a lot of people would have realized that at least you are a legitimate musician.
Nesmith: Yeah, but a lot of people didn't, a lot of people didn't want to mess with it, just refused to accept it, just because of the fact I am a Monkee.
FLIP: You think that hurt more than it helped?
Nesmith: Yeah, I'm convinced of it.
FLIP: Any plans to do it again?
Nesmith: Oh yeah, you know we made some good money off the album, so we'll probably do another one, probably just one more though, no more.
FLIP: Will you collaborate with Shorty Rogers again?
Nesmith: Yeah, I'm sure I'll go with Shorty again.
Over time, an urban legend developed (mentioned by Wichita musician and renowned drummer Hal Blaine in his autobiography) that Michael recorded The Wichita Train Whistle Sings as a tax write-off, a notion that Nez has disavowed over the years. "I made the record to make the record," he told Andrew Sandoval in the mid-2000s. Listen below to the Wichita version of "Nine Times Blue."
Lindsay Planer of AllMusic broke down the sounds of Wichita in a part of her assessment of the album:
Immediately evident is the big-band style in which these sides were physically documented -- incorporating an open microphone placement which is used when recording larger orchestration. The resulting effect lends a natural-sounding warmth that closely miked and/or amplified techniques often lack. The music itself reflects Nesmith's left-of-center attitude and often unpredictable sense of humor. For instance, the full-bodied and otherwise bombastic arrangement of "Nine Times Blue" is speared right through the middle with a Doug Dillard banjo solo. He throttles up the tempo as the full orchestra breaks into a double-time mambo for the second half of the song. Other reinventions include the once psychedelic "Tapioca Tundra" into a freewheeling escapade replete with a soaring string section that remains amazingly agile throughout. The Wichita Train Whistle Sings project also allowed Nesmith the opportunity to record a few songs that he would revisit during his solo career, such as the pseudonym-esque "Carlisle Wheeling." The strict, if not somewhat lumbering, 4/4 time signature performed here is the antithesis of the easy country-rock sound most synonymous with the tune. He would eventually issue it under the name "Conversations" on his second solo album, Loose Salute. Also worthy of note is "Don't Cry Now," as it is the only track on the album to have never been issued by either The Monkees or Nesmith. Wichita Train Whistle Sings is much more of a timepiece or cultural artifact than an album designed to express artistic achievement or in any way reestablish Nesmith's post-Monkees direction. Fans of his quirky and offbeat sense of humor as well as his delicious melodies will find much to enjoy.
A big thanks to Ben Belmares for sharing his scans of The Wichita Train Whistle Sings LP with
The Monkees Live Almanac:
I'd also like to acknowledge JD at Monkee45s.net, who is responsible for some of the scanned images appearing in this piece.
Thanks a lot to Mike for the heads up about this podcast!
Check out this photo that Michael recently shared on Facebook...anybody know when and where this was taken???