Earlier today, Peter Tork and Shoe Suede Blues issued their third studio effort, Relax Your Mind, as a digital download via CD Baby. (A physical compact disc release is coming shortly.) The album was inspired by American folk and blues musician Lead Belly, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Peter's brother, Nick Thorkelson, features as a guest on Relax Your Mind, playing piano while also providing lead vocals on "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" and "On a Monday." Thorkelson also composed "A Better World," a bonus track originally featured on the exclusive f.y.e. CD of The Monkees' 2016 album, Good Times!
Peter has released three other albums under the Shoe Suede Blues banner: Saved By The Blues (2003), Cambria Hotel (2007), and Step By Step (2013).
Below are Peter's liner notes as posted on CD Baby, where you can preview and download the album:
Huddie Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly, (or Lead Belly as his family prefers to spell the name), was a singer-guitarist of unusual power and authenticity. His legendary adventures and his collection of field hollers, chain gang songs, blues, children's ditties, and, yes, pop songs, brought him eventually to live and perform in and around New York City among a crowd of folk singers and minstrels of various stripes, including Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Josh White, and, maybe most notably, Woody Guthrie.
My brother Nick and I grew up with Lead Belly records, and these songs have been a part of our musical lives and inspiration for us since we were in our early teens. When we get together, whether family gatherings or performances, we still play Lead Belly songs.
I dived into the Lead Belly archives this year picking out favorites for a tribute CD with Shoe Suede Blues, and we even got to include Nick for a day during our recording. That's him, in case you couldn't tell, singing “On a Monday” and “He Never Said a Mumblin' Word,” and on keys throughout; any piano and organ you hear is him.
As I worked on the demos for the songs, I paid a lot of attention to the rhythm. So in some cases songs of hardship, heartbreak, mayhem, and death are pretty upbeat. Incidentally, on one of Lead Belly’s standards, “Irene,” we think we’ve done something original. None of the band members had heard, or even heard of, reggae in three quarter time.
I'm sorry I couldn't include more Lead Belly songs. There are so many he wrote or collected and arranged, and so many stories he could tell, that there will never be a satisfactory short collection. He was a giant in the folk and blues world.
In late 1968, The Monkees toured Australia and Japan. On September 30, 1968, The Monkees left Australia and traveled to Tokyo, Japan for the second leg of the tour. The group and their tour party were forced to stop in Hong Kong when their flight hit severe weather, and this picture was taken by Monkees associate Bill Chadwick during the layover.
Thanks much to Jeremy Maine who recently shared on Facebook this April 1969 article about Peter Tork's departure from The Monkees, including a photo from the filming of 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee (featuring Davy Jones with Rip Taylor):
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter Tork spoke about his composition "Can You Dig It," a highlight from the soundtrack of The Monkees' 1968 feature film, Head:
"This started as a set of changes I wrote in college and didn't know what to do with. Then one afternoon on the set of The Monkees we were making the TV show and I had my guitar in my dressing room. The basic lyrics came to me and these changes I had stored in the back of my brain spring forth and dictated that kind of vaguely Spanish/North African harmonic sense. I was writing about the great unknown source of all. It was perfect for the Head soundtrack."
Here's "Can You Dig It" as it appeared in Head:
Micky Dolenz sang the officially released version of the song, but Peter also recorded a vocal for it that finally saw the light of day in 1994 on Rhino's CD release of the Head soundtrack:
Peter demoed the song, without vocals, during sesssions for The Monkees' third LP, Headquarters:
"Can You Dig It" made its first live appearance in a Monkees concert during the group's 1987 summer tour with Peter handling lead vocals and Micky on drums:
Here, Peter, Micky, and Michael perform "Can You Dig It?" at the State Theatre Regional Arts Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 30, 2012:
The Best of The Monkees was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on November 1, 2012. The Monkees were presented with Gold records at the Greek Theatre before their performance there on November 10, 2012.
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter talked about The Monkees' third #1 single, 1967's "Daydream Believer":
"This comes from what I called the 'mixed-mode' period. The first one was the Don Kirshner mode where he oversaw the records and everything was under his control. Then we did Headquarters where it was just us. 'Mixed' was us and some pros in the studio. With 'Daydream Believer,' I was on the piano and I came up with this opening lick which I thought was just sparklingly original. When you play it today, everyone thinks of 'Daydream Believer.'
"What really makes the song work, I think, is the chord change on 'Jean' in 'Cheer up sleepy Jean.' It goes from a IV chord to a V chord to a III. That's a very unexpected and sweet chord change. It really grabs your attention. Then there's the line, 'What can it mean to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen.' It doesn't go right in your face, but when you think about it you figure it out. You're like, 'Okay, the guy is in a workaday world and he's got his head in the clouds. His girlfriend was a homecoming queen, but they're still scratching.' You don't get all that until you think about it for a long time.
"Davy sings this one, and he was such a talented guy, and a good actor. He was probably the best actor among us. He probably had the best musical mind, too. The best brain and maybe the best heart. "
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter spoke about a track he wrote for The Monkees' 1996 album, Justus:
"Michael was becoming involved with [his future wife] Victoria [Kennedy] at the time. He played her the soundtrack to Head. She asked who was playing bass and he said, 'That's Peter.' Then she said, 'Who wrote that part?' And he went, 'Oh, that was Peter too.' Then he had the idea that the theme song to Friends sounded exactly like Headquarters. He just caught a charge and wanted to see it through, so he asked me and Micky to come jam with him. It was the first time we'd played together like that since 1969.
I played bass. Micky was on drums and Michael was on guitar. We sounded just the same. It was really amazing. We had a jam, and as a result we brought in Davy and did Justus. I think the whole album is entirely under-appreciated. Nobody else was in the studio besides us and the engineer. I wrote 'Run Away From Life.' It's about fantasists. It's sarcastic as all hell, really pretty nasty. But with the album, I think we were operating under some limits we didn't need to. Mostly, I think it was a big mistake for me to not play more guitar. Micky's drumming is just ferocious on that record though."