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Monkees mount new tour, revive ‘Head’

June 28, 2011 by  
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Music’s original made-for-TV act, the Monkees, celebrates its 45th anniversary this summer with a reunion tour. And unlike some previous times when Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davey Jones (and on rare occasion, Mike Nesmith) have regrouped, there hasn’t been a release of a greatest hits set, an album or some other companion event to enhance the occasion.

But make no mistake, in an era when music is more omnipresent in television than ever, the Monkees’ impact is being felt as strongly – maybe more strongly – than at any time since the group’s original heyday.

Look no further than Glee, the hit Fox television series, according to Monkees singer/drummer Dolenz.

“‘The Monkees was initially, it was a television show about this imaginary group that lived in an imaginary beach house and had these imaginary adventures,” Dolenz said in a mid-June phone interview. “But all the members of the cast, as it were, could actually sing and play and dance and act. And Glee is very similar. It’s a television show about an imaginary glee club that doesn’t really exist. But now I understand they’re on the road. And they all can actually do it. They can all sing and dance and act. So I would say that’s the closest thing that has happened since The Monkees.”

But of course, it’s not the only current show that parallels The Monkees’ TV show, which was a huge hit during its run from 1966 to 1968.

Disney, as Dolenz noted, has “flat out came out and just said publicly” that the original Monkees television series had a major influence on the music-themed shows that have helped launch the careers of Miley Cyrus (in “Hannah Montana”), Demi Lovato, the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez.

Still, no other television show (including a few failed attempts to launch new Monkees shows) has ever quite captured the mix of madcap humor and quality pop music that came together on the original The Monkees television show.

Granted, there were some influential names involved in creating The Monkees phenomenon.

The show was the brainchild of Bob Rafelson (also known for his work with Jack Nicholson) and Bert Schneider, who saw the Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night, as inspiration for the show.

Once NBC picked up The Monkees, Rafelson and Schneider brought in Don Kirshner to supervise the music. Songwriters in the project included Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (who wrote extensively for the group), as well as Neil Diamond, Jack Keller, Harry Nilsson, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

Dolenz, who was a seasoned actor by this time — he starred as a young boy in the popular television series Circus Boy under the name Mickey Braddock — recalls having a special feeling about The Monkees project after auditioning for the pilot.

“I remember that year (1965), I was up for two or three different pilots that year that were musically oriented,” Dolenz said. “Because of the British invasion and also because of the folk music phenomenon, just because of music in general, there were a few shows that were being piloted that year that had some sort of musical theme. And I remember going to some other interviews and auditions for other shows, that they never made it on the air. I guess it was just in the wind at the time.

“But I do remember when I went to the Monkee audition after my first audition, I do remember thinking to myself — and I remember telling my agent at the time —’You know, I think this is really going to be a good one. I really would like to get this part.'”

Once The Monkees started airing, the show took off, and in addition to filming episodes for the series, those involved in the project immediately worked to turn Dolenz, Jones, Tork and Nesmith into a true recording group and a touring band. Tork and Nesmith were musicians already (and Nesmith produced some of the studio sessions), but Jones and Dolenz, who was anointed drummer more or less because the other three Monkees didn’t want to play that instrument, came from acting backgrounds.

Nevertheless, though The Monkees sometimes had backing bands for its original tours, they played instruments (if you include Jones on tambourine) and sang during the shows.

During the show’s three-year run, The Monkees were truly a triple-media threat, drawing huge television audiences, reeling off hit songs such as “Pleasant Valley Sunshine,” “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer,” and filling venues as a touring act.

The group worked relentlessly, putting in long hours on both weekdays and weekends.

“It was a couple of years of very, very intense work: 10, 12 hours a day doing the TV show,” Dolenz said. “Then I would end up going into the studio at night to record sometimes two or three lead vocals a night. Then we started rehearsing on the weekends for the tour. But I had also had a series when I was a kid, so I was familiar with the filming, the TV process. So that part was kind of easy for me. I was comfortable and very familiar with it. The recording and playing part of it was a little more of a challenge for me.”

The show only lasted until 1968, but The Monkees continued recording until 1970. (They made a film, Head, in 1968 — complete with a soundtrack — after the show was canceled; Rafelson and Nicholson co-wrote and co-produced the film.)

After the band fell apart in 1970, there have been occasional reunion tours, including a 1996 outing in support of a new studio CD, Justus, which Dolenz, Nesmith, Tork and Jones wrote and recorded in its entirety.

The most recent tour was in 2001, with Dolenz, Tork and Jones. That tour ended on a sour note, though, when Tork was booted from the tour shortly before it ended. He subsequently complained about “backstage” partying — a sensitive issue for Tork, who had overcome a drinking problem.

As recently as 2009, Jones had rejected the notion of ever doing another Monkees reunion. Dolenz declined to comment on either situation, saying simply that only Tork and Jones could speak to those moments of conflict.

Nevertheless, when offers to do a 45th reunion tour came along, Dolenz, Jones and Tork accepted. Nesmith, who has never enjoyed touring, isn’t participating.

Dolenz, who joins The Monkees tour after a year-long stint in a British theater production of Hairspray, promises concerts that not only will include the original hits, but a couple of new twists in the show that weren’t present in past reunion tours.

“This time, we’re doing the entire soundtrack to the movie (Head), which we did as a pure cult movie. But it has some wonderful songs,” Dolenz said. “And then we also did a poll. We took a poll on the Internet about what songs the fans want to hear that we have not done before in concert. They came back with some very interesting choices. So we’re doing a few of those, too.”


via Monkees mount new tour, revive ‘Head’ | Rock | NUVO Newsweekly | Indianapolis, IN.

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