Micky Dolenz doesn’t always monkey around. The drummer of the famed TV show band The Monkees, who were so popular in the late 1960s that they outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, says he sees his spot in the band as just a role, similar to the ones that he’s played in Aida and Grease on Broadway, and Hairspray in London.
"I was cast in that television show," Dolenz says from Los Angeles, where he lives. "I was playing the wacky drummer, and singing the songs and playing the drums, and acting and improvising and playing the part on the show."
And yet, there’s no denying it was the role of Dolenz’s life – so much so that, more than 45 years after the series was cancelled, Dolenz is again on a tour with fellow Monkees Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith. (Fourth member Davy Jones died in 2012.)
There’s something about The Monkees – the show, the music, the songs, everything – that resonated with a lot of people and still does
"I’ll always be associated with The Monkees … But I’m not a Monkee every day," Dolenz says. "I can imagine going back and recreating that role, and that is how I personally have always looked at The Monkees. It’s like Leonard Nimoy going back to Star Trek and playing Mr Spock."
The new tour is the third by Dolenz, 69, Tork, 72, and Nesmith, 71, who came together after Jones’ death from a heart attack at age 66. Nesmith hadn’t been on an extensive tour in 25 years.
Dolenz, Tork and Jones toured as The Monkees off and on since MTV revived interest in the series (which aired between 1966 and 1968) with a marathon rerun broadcast in 1986 that prompted a 20th reunion. The original line-up, including Nesmith, recorded a comeback album, Justus, that hit the top 200 in 1996 and did a short British tour in 1997.
There wasn’t anything about Jones’ and Nesmith’s relationship that prevented a reunion while Jones was alive, says Dolenz. For decades, "there’s always been talk" about reuniting with Nesmith, "and we invited Mike on every tour that we did", but Nesmith was busy with his career in the production and distribution of television shows and movies, Dolenz says.
But when they got together "for a memorial for Davy at someone’s house … someone suggested we do a memorial concert in tribute to him. Mike had not been on the road for literally decades, but he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. That would be great’," Dolenz says. "So we thought maybe we’d ask to do two or three concerts. And then an agent got hold of it and said, ‘Well, why don’t you just go on tour and do, like, a few weeks?’
"We talked about it a lot, and I went out and visited Mike, and we sat down and played through some of the stuff – you know, just to make sure he was comfortable doing it, and he finally said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that’." The three did just a dozen shows on that tour, then toured again last summer.
Those initial shows included a lengthy tribute to Jones, part of which showed him singing along on a video screen. "It wasn’t the official Davy Jones memorial tour or anything, but we definitely paid homage and tribute to him," Dolenz says.
He says the new tour will also acknowledge Jones, but the tribute angle has been decreased. "It’s two years later, you know?" Dolenz, who with Jones was The Monkees’ primary vocalist, says he sings Jones’ vocals on songs such as Daydream Believer and A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.
He says all of The Monkees have done solo tours – even Nesmith since the first reunion – and Jones also sang Dolenz’s leads on I’m a Believer and Last Train to Clarksville. "And of course we all sang Mike’s songs, even when he wasn’t there. That’s one of the wonderful things about this tour, is that over the years we’ve always sung a lot of Nesmith material, because it’s so wonderful," Dolenz says.
"It’s really nice to have him back doing the vocals, because I used to do a high, Everly Brothers kind of harmony to him in those songs, and it was a great sound. And we’re doing that again."
Asked what has compelled them to do yet another tour, Dolenz says, laughingly: "Well, that’s sort of our job. [Laughs] Um, I’m not sure how to answer that question. That’s what rock’n’roll bands do."
Clearly there remains a fascination with The Monkees. The band were together just four years originally, but produced 11 platinum and eight gold albums, four of which went to No1. They also had 12 top-40 singles, six of which went gold and five that hit No1, including I’m a Believer and (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone. Their television show had just two seasons, but has been in syndication since.
Asked about the enduring interest in the band, Dolenz says it isn’t a phenomenon unique to The Monkees. "You could ask that same question about any band or any TV show: what is it that keeps Star Trek going for four decades? Or Paul McCartney or the Stones? You could say that about great TV shows, you could say that about great movies. Why do we keep watching Dr No over and over again?
"And you just don’t know at the time. No one knows at the time whether it’s going to work, no one. If there was a formula, there wouldn’t be any flops. So you do your best, and then what happens is that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And it’s a bit like a fission reaction – it just takes off."
Dolenz says one of The Monkees producers was asked that question, and responded: "I don’t know – we just caught lightning in a bottle."
"There’s something about The Monkees – the show, the music, the songs, everything – that resonated with a lot of people and still does. That’s the answer, and I don’t think that you can reduce it, like in any scientific sense. You can’t do that. It just doesn’t work like that."
Dolenz says he, Tork and Nesmith get along well. "I mean, you know, there’s always creative differences – that’s what kind of keeps things fresh and exciting. But for the most part, we all get along."
He won’t rule out the three of them making new music together again. "All the time it comes up, and I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s no plans, there’s no project or recording plans at the moment at all. But the subject is always there … and with Mike now touring with us, he’s such a wonderful writer, a very prolific writer and so like I say, I wouldn’t be surprised."
Asked whether he ever envisions a time when he’ll not be a Monkee, Dolenz starts to again explain, "Well, I don’t consider myself …" but stops. "I don’t consider it in those terms. When I revisit or am asked to go on tour, or whatever, I consider that I’m recreating that role for that period of time, to some degree – much in the same way that … I just did Hairspray in London for almost a year.
"Well, I may not do that show again, but if I were to be asked, and I went back to do that show. I was playing Wilbur, the father in that show. And, you know, I would go back and be Wilbur again."
Los Angeles Times
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as In the swing againTags: concert, movie, music, producer, television, tour, tv