Life’s a cabaret for Monkees’ Micky Dolenz
By George Varga6 A.M.JUNE 30, 2015Updated5:11 P.M.
Micky Dolenz isn’t wasting any time between shows, with or without his currently dormant band, The Monkees, which kicked off its 2012 reunion tour at California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
On Sunday, he’ll perform at Sycuan Casino’s 457-seat Live & Up Close. On Tuesday, he’ll open at 54 Below – Broadway’s Supper Club, where he’ll debut “A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock ’n’ Roll.” His three 54 Below shows will be recorded for a live album, a prospect Dolenz regards with trepidation.
“It’s scaring me to death!” he said Monday, speaking from his Los Angeles home. “It’s way outside my comfort zone. I’ve done a lot of rock ’n’ roll concerts and I’ve done lots of musical theater, too. But this cabaret show is my first foray into this form. … It’s just (going to be) me, alone, in a very upmarket sort of club, with a little four-piece combo. I’m doing some Monkees’ tunes; that’s the ‘Little Bit Rock ’n’ Roll’ part. The ‘Broadway’ part is songs from Broadway shows that have resonated with me.”
Those songs will include “Some Enchanted Evening,” from “South Pacific,” and “A World of Pure Imagination,” from “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.”
“I’ll tell personal stories about all of them,” Dolenz said. “Like, how my dad — who was a light-opera singer — would walk around the house when I was a kid, in his underwear, singing ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ which I thought was kind of weird!”
Now 70, Dolenz was barely 11 when he was cast in the TV series “Circus Boy” in 1956. Nine years later, he joined Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork in the cast of “The Monkees,” a TV comedy series about the adventures of a young pop-rock band. Dolenz auditioned by singing Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”
In a near-instant, the TV show catapulted the fictional band it featured to stardom. The Monkees sold millions of albums, played sold-out concert tours (Jimi Hendrix was briefly their opening act, at Dolenz’s suggestion), and scored nine Top 40 singles in less than two years.
The four-man band scored three chart-topping hits, including “Last Train to Clarksville” and the Neil Diamond-penned “I’m a Believer,” both of which featured Dolenz on lead vocals. The group’s third number one song, the Jones sung “Daydream Believer,” was written by San Diego native John Stewart, formerly of the Kingston Trio. (Stewart and Jones are now both deceased.)
“I was cast as the drummer in The Monkees and learned to play drums,” Dolenz recalled. “I was a guitar player before The Monkees – Spanish classical guitar – so I could read music.”
Embraced by many young fans, The Monkees were dismissed by some critics as the “pre-fab Four”; a Beatles-inspired pastiche designed to exploit impressionable young listeners (and their parents’ pocketbooks).
But some fellow musicians recognized that there was more to The Monkees andtheir zany TV antics than may have first met the eye. The group’s decidedly offbeat 1969 movie, “Head,” featured cameo by Frank Zappa and Annette Funicello, and a screenplay by future Oscar-winners Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson.
“John Lennon was the first one to say The Monkees were much more like the Marx Brothers than the Beatles,” Dolenz said.
“Frank and I lived down the street from each other in Laurel Canyon and would bump into each other at the Laurel Canyon store, and he was also a fan. He got The Monkees. He was a fan and he was on the TV show and in ‘Head’ because he got it.”
Zappa reached out in the early 1970s to make a simultaneously flattering and intimidating offer to Dolenz.
“He called me up, out of the blue, and said: ‘Do you want to be the new drummer for (Zappa’s band) The Mothers of Invention?’ I was like: ‘What? Whoa!’ I did take it seriously, but I don’t think there’s any way I wold have been comfortable in those shoes.
“I did think about it. But Frank did say: ‘You have to get out of your record contract with RCA and Colgems.’ I called up the executives, because this is when The Monkees’ thing was winding down, and they said: ‘No, absolutely not.’ I think I was probably kind of relieved.”
A notable raconteur, Dolenz spoke for 30 minutes about his varied career, which saw him spend 15 years in London in the 1970s and 1980s, during which time he worked as a TV and movie director.
Here’s what Dolenz had to say about…
His upcoming Sunday performance at Sycuan: “If you’ve seen a Monkees’ show, and are a fan, you won’t be disappointed. I was blessed and flattered that I tended to sing most of The Monkees’ hit songs. So it makes up the majority of my solo show. And, then, when I’m not dong a big Monkees’ hit, I go through different phases. Sometimes you do a deep album cut, or something a little more obscure.”
Doing hits in truncated form: “I don’t do any medleys. I really believe fans want to hear these songs in their entirety.”
A possible Monkees’ musical: “We’ve had offers to do one, for years and years. And the short answer is: There’s nothing on the books right now. But, over the years, I’ve been approached. It ain’t easy putting together a show, especially what they all a jukebox musical. And the reason is because it’s very hard to reverse engineer a show from the songs. There have been a lot of attempts. A couple worked well, ‘Jersey Boys’ being one. But they did not even attempt to make the songs part of the narrative.
The Hollywood Vampires celebrity drinking club, which included John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Who drummer Keith Moon: “Alice Cooper and I started it as a celebrity softball team (in the 1970s), because Alice and I were very good friends and next-door neighbors. As a matter of fact, we learned to play golf together from my (then) father-in-law. Alice used to baby-sit my daughter, Ami.”
Jimi Hendrix: “I saw him in 1967 at the Monterey International Pop Festival and thought he’d make a great opening act for The Monkees. … He was very shy and quiet. He was just a kid — we all were.”
When: 6 p.m. Sunday (the 8:30 p.m. show has been canceled)
Where: Sycuan Live & Up Close, Sycuan Casino, 5485 Casino Way, El Cajon
Tickets: $35 and $40 (must be 21 or older to attend)
Phone: (800) 279-2826