The Live Almanac first reported about Peter's involvement with the movie in December 2013.
A big thanks to Jeff Gehringer for sharing his personal photos of The Monkees receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on July 10, 1989, along with some shots from the post-ceremony press conference at the Sheraton-Universal Hotel.
The Monkees performed their very first concerts between December 1966 and May 1967, appearing at such venues as the Cow Palace in San Francisco and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The photos below document their late 1966 rehearsal sessions.
These great color photos below are courtesy of Iris' Little Monkees Corner, and were originally published in the September 1967 issue of the German publication Teenbeat. Iris has a wonderful Monkees website featuring clippings and photos from German publications, and much, much more. Iris and I communicate via Twitter and the Live Almanac gives her website a full endorsement. Do be sure to swing by and give it a look!
By 1970, The Monkees were comprised of Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, with Michael Nesmith having departed the group earlier in the year. Micky and Davy are only known to have made two appearances as a duo, the first in Philadelphia in May at a concert festival sponsored by radio station WFIL, and then in June on Upbeat, a syndicated musical variety show produced in Cleveland, Ohio. Scant details exist about these two appearances.
One of the revelations about The Monkees' activities in 1970 documented in Andrew Sandoval's book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation, was that Micky, Davy, and Peter Tork had performed on November 21, 1970 at the Valley REC Center in Van Nuys, California. The show itself was billed as "Freaky, Foxy, Funky Revival," but through the years, no set list, photographs, or further details have surfaced about this event.
And now thanks to Jim Tinder, we can see a preview of this mysterious appearance that was originally published in the Van Nuys Valley News on November 20, 1970. Thanks, Jim!
Micky and Peter, however, had performed together at least once before this gathering when they were joined by Coco Dolenz at the Troubadour in Los Angeles in September 1970. This performance was likely the first time Peter had been onstage with one of his former bandmates since his final live appearances as a member of The Monkees in Australia and Japan in late 1968. Years later while on tour with Peter in 2015, Micky shared the name of this impromptu group as DDT - Dolenz, Dolenz & Tork. At the time, Fave magazine had reported on the trio's unannounced show, saying it was "experimental" and "unique."
In 1994, Beachwood Recordings released Peter Tork's first ever solo album, Stranger Things Have Happened, featuring several notable guest musicians and friends including Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, James Lee Stanley, 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. Apparently Davy was present at the recording session for "Milkshake" with his fellow Monkees, but never got around to putting his vocal on tape. Laurence Juber, who was a part of the final incarnation of Wings, provided the 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 also 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 James Lee Stanley, who 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."
On July 31, 1977, Peter Tork played a show at CBGB, the legendary Manhattan music club that featured rising stars of the punk and new wave genres in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Lester Bangs, who wrote for both Rolling Stone and Creem, delivered a wholly negative review of the show for the Village Voice:
Rolling Stone, of all publications, reported about Peter's appearance at CBGB in its September 22, 1977 issue:
Audio from the show has been bootlegged over the years:
Did everyone catch this great photo of Peter Tork that was posted on The Monkees Tour Facebook page in celebration of his birthday earlier this week? I'm wondering if it was taken while on tour overseas that year.
In the war scene from The Monkees' 1968 feature film Head, Peter Tork dodges heavy fire (and a photographer from Life) only to encounter another danger, football pro Ray Nitschke, who pummels Peter in the trenches.
If you are watching today, enjoy the Super Bowl!
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."
Relax Your Mind, the latest studio effort by Peter Tork and Shoe Suede Blues, is now available to download on Amazon. The compact disc version can also be ordered from CDBaby, but it's currently sold out (with more copies on the way).
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