This is the ninth in a series of guest articles that have been submitted to The Monkees Live Almanac in celebration of the group's 50th Anniversary.
I first began to watch The Monkees when the show went into syndication in the fall of 1969. Earlier that year, my father brought home The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees album to me and my brother. I remember viewing 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee on NBC and then shortly thereafter reading in both 16 and Tiger Beat that Peter Tork had left the group. We (my brother especially, being born five years before me) were aware of The Monkees, but early 1969 was when we really "tuned in" to the whole phenomenon. Believe it or not, Instant Replay was the second Monkees LP that we had in our collection, even before owning the first four.
Talk about a bumpy ride into Monkees fandom! Peter quits, The Monkees Present is released, and then very shortly after that, Michael Nesmith makes his exit. Changes arrived in the summer of 1970, followed by The First National Band and Davy’s solo album for Bell Records. What a year and a half! Somewhere in our collection, we have the 1969 fan club postcard with the black and white photo of Davy, Micky, and Mike that was sent to us sometime in 1970. But with the arrival of Davy’s album, even as kids, we knew it was all over. In short order, it was taboo to even mention The Monkees. After 1973, I began to think that I had to hide my adoration for The Monkees.
Neither my brother or I were "fan fiction" writers, but all the way through the mid-1970’s, we would frequently script what a Monkees reunion show might look like. It was all such an unbelievable, far away dream. Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart was a close call, but ultimately missed the mark. We held on with Nesmith’s wonderful albums through all of those years, telling anybody we could about his music and accomplishments. Still, there were no Monkees-related concerts to speak of, not in our area anyway. Outside of reading about some shows Davy and Micky performed following the breakup of DJB&H, it was all becoming even more out of reach. Michael wasn't really performing domestically on a wide scale. And in those days before the internet, as far as we knew, Peter had walked off the face of the planet in 1969.
Little by little, the world at large seemed to come around to my ever present interest in The Monkees. In 1980 there were a few retail outlets in our area that made a concerted effort to carry Monkees albums that had just been pressed in Japan. This was an exciting time, especially if your copy of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. had a few miles on it. By 1982, Rhino Records and Arista Records were producing Monkees compilation albums. And in 1985, Rhino undertook a domestic reissue program of the entire Monkees catalog. This included the latter-day Monkees albums, which were hard enough to find upon their initial release! The chances of tracking down these particular LPs used, in good condition, and at a fair price, was next to impossible during the early '80s.
Looking back now, 1985 was the year when everything began to change for Monkees fans. Their records started to appear in the shops again, and that in and of itself was a remarkable event. Once 1986 rolled around, well, we all know how that story goes. Unbeknownst to many fans (again, pre-internet), Davy Jones and Peter Tork toured Australia early in the year, receiving a rapturous welcome from the fans Down Under. And on February 23, 1986, MTV aired a Monkees Marathon known as "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which got the entertainment industry buzzing about them again. Reunion rumors were rampant, but there was nothing official. Confirmation didn’t come for me personally until a friend of mine in Ohio sent me an ad from her local newspaper advertising The Monkees' appearance there at an outdoor arena in the summer of '86. I flipped! But a Monkees reunion still seemed to be an impossibility. Was it really going to happen?
And then, suddenly, the tour was on!! When official word came down, I wasn’t surprised so much by the absence of Michael Nesmith, but more by the inclusion of Peter Tork. It had been a guessing game as to Peter's whereabouts in the '70s and early '80s. Accounts of his activities since the heyday of The Monkees were scarce and didn’t really offer much information other than he’d been a teacher and played in several esoteric groups. The 20th Anniversary reunion of 1986, and all the media publicity that surrounded it, happily allowed me and many other fans to get reacquainted with Peter.
The rest of 1986 went by in a heavenly flash. Even my brother and I couldn’t have scripted a more perfect reunion. And then finally it came. The night of Monday, July 14, 1986. It was my turn to finally see The Monkees in concert – a night I’d been waiting to happen for 18 years!! I was truly beside myself, still thinking it might all be a dream.
The anxiety of the evening was prolonged by the opening acts. One thing I noticed almost immediately is just how much I liked Herman’s Hermits without Peter Noone. Singer Geoff Foot was entertaining, and a great bassist to boot. Original members Derek Leckenby and Barry Whitwam were competent musicians and fun to watch.
The Grass Roots was another matter. Frontman Rob Grill seemed to be painfully aware that most people, if not everybody, were only there to see The Monkees.
And then it was time. The word was spreading around the Finger Lakes Center in Lake Canandaigua, New York that this show had broken the venue’s attendance record which had been set by Eric Clapton the previous year. With one "big voice" announcement over the speakers, and a flash and a boom – out came Davy, Micky, and Peter, along with an eight-piece band! Needless to say, the show was more than worth the long wait.
It was at my first Monkees concert that I learned a lot about Peter Tork. When he was a member of The Monkees, he was often absent as a lead singer on the actual records. The showmanship of Davy and Micky could never be in question, as they had been performers since their pre-teens. Peter, to my delight, was no less of a showcase during the 1986 reunion shows. He proved his worth as a "utility" musician, switching back and forth between guitar, bass, and keyboards with effortless grace. And his comedic antics kept right up with Davy and Micky. I left my first Monkees concert with a newfound respect for Peter.
So that’s what it was, and what it became. The realization of a boyhood dream, which still goes on today.