"I thank you. The banjo thanks you."
- Peter Tork
Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Shank Hall / May 4, 1997
After releasing Justus, an album of all-new material in late 1996, The Monkees began work on an original one-hour prime time TV special in January 1997, and it eventually aired in the United States on ABC on February 17, 1997.
The special included re-recorded versions of some of The Monkees' greatest hits in medley form, and producer Misha Segal recently posted what appears to be the master recording of the medley (which has never been officially issued) on YouTube. The video included the following description by Segal:
"One of my very fun projects in the late 90s. It was The Monkees Reunion and I was asked to be music director. Peter and I became especially good friends until his recent, unfortunate passing."
The Monkees and their band performed "I'm a Believer" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on June 17, 1996. Davy, Micky, and Peter spoke with Leno afterwards and announced the release of Justus, and promoted the start of their 30th Anniversary Tour.
Over the years, longtime Monkees fan Jennifer Winkle has attended numerous Monkees concerts, and she has recently shared her rich catalog of photos with the Live Almanac. Here's a collection from a show I also attended on August 3, 1996 at a sold-out Valley Forge Music Fair outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was a great (theatre in the round) venue, and I've always remembered how enthusiastic the crowd was that evening. Thanks, Jennifer!
This was the set list from the show at Valley Forge:
Here's a bootleg from the concert in two parts, and I believe this is the first time this has been made available online. I'm going to try and post this on the Live Almanac's YouTube channel at some point as well!
This is a really nice article from the June 1995 issue of Monkee Business Fanzine that discusses Peter Tork singing the "Star Spangled Banner" in Portland, Maine for the (Double-A baseball team) Portland Sea Dogs on their opening night.
A little note on Chris: I connected with him online in 2000 or so. In 2001 I began a small project, writing brief summaries for each Monkees tour and embellishing the information with set lists and reviews. Brad Waddell at Monkees.net was kind enough to publish my work on his website that year, and Chris was a big help in collecting variations of set lists from different tours, reviewing the summaries I had written, etc. It ultimately took a decade for this website to be created, but the genesis of it all started during that time with assistance from Chris.
UPDATE: Stranger Things Have Happened has been reissued on compact disc and vinyl by 7a Records.
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."
Here's Ward Sylvester, Monkees collector and confidant Gary Strobl, Davy Jones, and Monkees photographer Michael G. Bush in early 1997 during filming of The Monkees' ABC television special, as photographed by the legendary Henry Diltz.
Micky Dolenz was once an avid polo player, and this article from the September 1990 issue of Monkee Business Fanzine (written by Vickie Barnhill) takes a look at Micky playing in a polo match at Chicago's Oak Brook Polo Club on June 3, 1990.
The Monkees celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the debut of their television show on September 12, 1996 in Santa Monica, California with a private party for family, friends, and former co-workers from the series. The evening included an advance preview of Justus, the first Monkees album by the full quartet since 1968.
After releasing Justus, an album of all-new material in late 1996, The Monkees began work on an original one-hour prime time TV special in January 1997, and it eventually aired in the United States on ABC on February 17, 1997. This article, from the March 1997 issue of Monkee Business Fanzine and written by MBF editor Maggie McManus, details the genesis and filming of the television special, the group's first since 1969's 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.
Read much more about The Monkees' 1997 television special at The Monkees Film & TV Vault.