Micky Dolenz Won’t Let the Monkees Die
The musical career of the Monkees can be neatly divided into two distinct periods: before Headquarters and after Headquarters. Prior to the June 1967 LP, the band’s songs were selected by outside producers and largely played by studio pros, leaving the four members of the actual group little to do beyond providing vocals. This led to giant hits like “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville,” but the Monkees felt like frauds and successfully lobbied to be given complete control with Headquarters. With the exception of bass, the Monkees play all the instruments on the album. They also wrote half the songs, and handpicked the others.
This seemed like a crazy move to many in the industry who saw little need to alter a winning formula, but Headquarters debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold by the millions. And for the past decade, there’s been talk of staging a special tour to celebrate the album. Sadly, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith all died before it could happen. That isn’t stopping Micky Dolenz from finally following through on that dream: On The Monkees Celebrated by Micky Dolenz tour, which he kicks off on April 1, he hopes to play Headquarters straight through at every stop.
We phoned up Dolenz at his California home to talk about plans for the tour, the legacy of Headquarters, his poignant final tour with Nesmith in 2021, his unexpected fate as the last Monkee standing, his upcoming book I’m Told I Had a Good Time, a possible Monkees documentary and biopic, and his thoughts on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Why did you want to focus on Headquarters for this tour?
Well, it wasn’t my idea. It was Andrew Sandoval, the Monkee expert extraordinaire. He reminded me last year that it was the 55th anniversary. He also said, “A lot of groups are doing this now, going out and performing whole albums in their entirety.” He said, “I think this would be a great opportunity to do that, because there’s a lot of history behind it.”
There’s a lot of stories behind it. It was the first time they sort of gave us the reins. They didn’t give them to us willingly. [Laughs.] We sort of had a palace coup, I guess you’d call it, led by Nesmith. I’ll be honest. I was quite happy singing the stuff I was singing, getting the hit records, but Nesmith kept saying, “We can do this, guys. We can be writing, singing, and playing.”
That’s what he had been promised from the get-go. But in all honesty, I don’t think we could have recorded Headquarters before we did. We’d only just met. And not long after that, we were rehearsing to go on the road to perform. I had to learn the drums very quickly. But I only had to learn what I had to learn. I’m not a studio cat by any means.
There’s no way we could have recorded a whole album at first. But after we went on tour for a year or however long it was, and we played together as a band on those shows, we came back and we were a pretty damn good band. Did you ever hear that CD Rhino released called Live 1967?
I have. It’s so raw. You almost sound like a punk band at times.
It’s very punk! [Laughs.] I think we were the original garage band, but we didn’t intend to be. It was like, “Oh shit! We gotta play this shit now.” Most bands go through some primitive growing-up period. But the Monkees wasn’t a band. It was this cast of a TV show that suddenly had to get out there and play. It was trial by fire.
Getting back to this upcoming Headquarters tour, are you playing the album straight through?
Yeah. Based on the rehearsals…I can’t promise this, but based on the rehearsals, we are. It was a very short album. It only ran 30-some minutes, which was not atypical at the time.
The rehearsals went real well. I can see us doing all of it. You just never know, though. I’ve rehearsed songs in the past that I thought would really work; we get it onstage, and it just didn’t work. And then vice versa. You just don’t know with stuff that you’ve never done.
A lot of the stuff off Headquarters, of course, we have done over the years, many of the tunes. Off the top of my head, there’s very few we haven’t done. I don’t think we ever did “Mr. Webster.” It’s turning out to be so cool. It has such a great narrative. I see myself doing it in the same style I did “Rocky Raccoon” on the White Album tour. We did do the White Album, right?
Memory is starting to go. I have to take the Prevagen to remember to take my ginkgo biloba.
There’s songs like “Forget That Girl” you’ve never really sang.
Yeah. We never did that. We’re doing both of Davy’s tunes. But I’m not singing them. One will be done by another musician in the band that has a great voice. That’s because I sang very distinctive backgrounds on some of the songs. We decided I should stick to those distinctive backgrounds, or answers, like on “Shades of Gray.” [My sister and longtime background singer] Coco is doing “Shades of Gray” with me, which we’ve done before. It’s going to be interesting. If we don’t do the entire album. I think it’ll be 90 percent.
Will you play it in sequence?
Oh yeah. I haven’t done this before, but that’s what I gather people do. In those days, you played albums in sequence. You had to. It was a big album and you let it go. God, wouldn’t you have loved it if the Beatles were able to do entire records? When I hear a Beatles tune now from any album, at the end of the song, I can absolutely start singing the next one.
Are you going to play the album at the start of the show? The middle? The end?
The plan is to play it in the middle. We’ll open with some of the big hits, people love that, and then settle down, do Headquarters, and then end with some of the big hits. We have a lot of other material to play. We’re doing a 75-minute to 90-minute show. It’s going to be interesting.
You’re using the Monkees logo in the promotion, but you don’t see this as a Monkees concert, right?
Well, what’s the difference now? [Soft laugh.] Jesus… Previously, when it was myself and any other configuration, we didn’t necessarily call it the Monkees. For instance, when Nez and I went out, it was “The Monkees Present…” This is the same. This is “The Monkees Present Micky Dolenz Celebrates Headquarters.” That’s the long answer.
To be honest, one of the only big differences is the use of that Monkees guitar logo, which we’ve always had to pay for. But the fans like it. They know they’re going to get the big Monkees hits. I’ve always done that anyway when I go out solo as Micky Dolenz, the Voice of the Monkees. The marketers like it. They feel they’re going to sell more tickets, which is fine. That’s great. That’s cool.
It is weird…I gotta be honest…being the last man standing. I wish to God that Nesmith would have been around long enough to do this album, which he was so responsible for putting together and writing on it and inspiring us to do it. This album was huge. It went to Number One. It was on the charts for 51 weeks. It got kicked out of Number One by guess what?
That stinkin’ group. If you’re going to get kicked out of Number One, what a way to go. [Laughs.] Then it stayed at Number Two just forever under Sgt. Pepper. I’ve always considered that one friggin’ great feather in our cap.
I think for the fans, this tour will really be emotional. The last time you sang songs like “You Told Me,” you were right next to Nez.
And “Sunny Girlfriend.” I wish to God he could have been around to do this and see the fan reaction we’re going to get.
The more time that passes after that last tour, the more remarkable it feels to me. He pushed himself through a 40-date tour…
You have no idea. We were all obviously supporting him. But at times, frankly, we were saying, “Nez, are you sure you want to do this?” It was so apparent he had health issues. Everyone knows that. No surprise there. He had them for a few years. We were getting more and more worried, and gave him every opportunity. He was not forced in any way, obviously.
At times, I was like, “Nez, Jesus… are you sure you want to do this? Let’s take some time off.” “No! I’m going to do it. I’m going to get through it.” What a trooper.
Looking back, I think he saw the writing on the wall. He was a very private person. He did not talk… He didn’t wear anything on his sleeve. He certainly didn’t wash his dirty laundry in public. He didn’t talk about it. Every once in a while he made some joke about it to me, but I was about the only one he’d even talk to about this. A lot of what he said to me was just through a look. God, I’ll never forget that tour. That was just unbelievable.
What was so moving every night was to watch you stand a few inches away from him. If he ever stumbled or lost a word, you were right there. You jumped in and helped him out. It was a beautiful thing to watch from the audience, seeing that brotherhood intact all those years later.
[Audibly crying.] You’re tearing me up here.
No. No. It’s a good thing. But you’re right. Wow. It was crazy.
Watching him do “While I Cry” alone every night was beyond intense. I’ve never seen anything quite like that.
No shit. We watched that from the wings every night
It was like he wouldn’t let himself die until the tour was done.
Yes. Something like that.
I know Barry Gibb is in a different situation since his bandmates were also his brothers, but he’s spoken about how strange he feels to be the last one standing, and the obligation he feels to keep the music alive. Do you feel the same way as the last Monkee standing?
It’s so recent. It’s pretty weird. What can I tell you? It’s still, in my mind, so recent… But I remember seeing the Everly Brothers on one of their reunion tours in the late Eighties at the Royal Albert Hall. I was a huge fan. I was front row center. I thought to myself, “God, are they going to sing ‘Wake Up Little Susie?’ And sure enough, they did. I don’t remember if they did any new material. All I remember is standing up with the rest of the audience and crying as they sang “Wake Up Little Susie.”
That really stuck with me. After I saw that, I said to my wife at the time, or anybody else who would listen, “If I ever go back on the road…” This is before the 1986 tour. I had no idea I was going to do it. I said, “If I go back on the road, I’m going to sing those damn songs exactly as they remember them.” I hadn’t sang them in about 15 years at that point.
To make a long story short, I insist on doing it. All the band members I hire, I insist on doing those songs in their entirety with the same arrangement. That’s so important, because people sing along. I do those big hits. I’ve found over the years that if the bulk of the audience knows I’m doing those big hits, then that’s the price of admission. I can then do kind of anything else I want.
Do you ever get philosophical or even spiritual about it and think, “Why am I the last one?”
Yes. [Laughs.] I’m not necessarily a spiritual person, but I am a philosophic person. I studied it in college. And so yes, for me it’s more of a philosophic thing. It’s sort of a “why me?” to the universe. But it’s not a question that can really ever be answered in any sense. Getting some sort of definitive answer, that ain’t going to happen. It’ll remain unanswered. But I am trying to uphold the legacy. It’s also my job. This is what I do.
Let’s face it, the traveling is the work. The shows are the easy part. That’s why they call it “playing.” So I’m trying to get myself fit for the traveling part, not the show.
Tell me about this book you’re making with Andrew Sandoval.
The title of it is I’m Told I Had a Good Time. It’s stuff from my archives. The vast majority of it, nobody has ever seen. I never got it together. It was all stuff in envelopes and boxes in a storage space. It’s photographs, films, old copies of report cards from school, early contacts and call sheets for the Monkees pilot.
The book is going to be in a couple of sections. One is my early, early years. It’s stuff my mother kept up through my teenage years. And then, of course, the great bulk of it will be the Monkees experience. I had a camera the entire time. We all had these little Instamatics. We went around taking hundreds of pictures. It’s going to be really interesting. What you saw on the Fallon show is photos I took of Jimi Hendrix backstage with us when we toured together.
I have a great photo of Brian Jones from that tour. Ron Wood before he was in the Stones. Some celebrities, but a lot of backstage Monkees stuff I took of the guys. That’s going to be a lot.
There’s stuff on the set of the show, the set of Head, the set of 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee. There’s some of my family stuff from that time in Laurel Canyon, and Jack Nicholson and whoever. It’s a lot of stuff.
What is Andrew’s role?
He’s producing. It’s basically what he did with the big Monkees day-by-day book. He knows an awful lot more about the Monkees than I do, let’s be honest. That’s because I only have it from one point of view. The Monkees was a lot like Rashomon. Any project like that is. I can only speak about anything from my point of view. I wasn’t there in those offices. I wasn’t there when Nez had his meetings, or anyone else. I can only remember and speak to things that I remember.
Is there still talk of a big Monkees documentary?
There always is! [Laughs.] I’m like, “Make me an offer!” People have asked me about this footage I have. There’s not a lot, but some of it is kind of cool.
How about a big-screen biopic?
There’s always been talk about that. It’s like, “Are we going to do a movie or a documentary? Is it both, like a bio-doc or a docudrama? Is it Elvis or a documentary on Elvis?” On VH1, they did Daydream Believers, where they cast some really good actors. But the script…I thought it was OK. The actors were really good. They captured it.
What would you call that? A TV biopic? I guess Elvis was a biopic. So there’s talk of that. I think there’s also talk of a flat-out documentary with a lot of talking heads. The problem with the Monkees is there isn’t a lot of talking heads left, certainly not from the early days in terms of producers and creative people.
A lot fans fixate on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Do you care? Do you think it’s going to happen at some point?
I’ve never chased accolades or awards. I’ve never been one to get involved in a project and go, “We’re going to win something on this!” I think it puts the cart before the horse. Money follows art. Art doesn’t follow money. It’s the same kind of thing. I’ve just never cared. I’ve been in the business my whole life. To my dad, it was his job. It was work.
When we won the Emmys for the TV show, that was the pinnacle to me. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t worked at it. I hadn’t thought at the set, “How do I say this line so I’ll win an Emmy?” I don’t think that works. That’s because I was a child of television.
After that, I wasn’t in the music business. Until the Monkees, I didn’t know anything about the music business. I probably didn’t know what the Grammys were. Tommy Boyce used to tell this story about me. He said, “One day I came up to you after the show was on the air and there were records being released: ‘Hey Micky, do you know that you have three records in the Top 10 in Cashbox?'” I said, “What’s Cashbox?”
In terms of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, they’re a great organization. I’ve done work for the charity arm of it. I’ve raised money for it at golf tournaments. But my understanding, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that it’s not a democratic thing, like the NFL Hall of Fame, where all these people vote. It was initiated by three guys. One of them has since passed away. It was their private club. And like a private country club, you have the prerogative to let anyone in your club that you want. And you don’t let in people you don’t want. Am I wrong?
There’s a board of about 25 people. They make a ballot and mail it off to about 1,000 voters.
Right… But there’s also this thing, which I understand, about whether the Monkees were a band or the cast of a TV show. Would it be more appropriate that we get another Emmy or a Tony, since it was almost like a musical?
This is the endless debate about the Monkees: TV show or band?
And there’s no answer. It was so unique. There wasn’t anything like it until maybe Glee. I mean, you wouldn’t call Glee a manufactured glee club.
I spent a lot of time debating this point with Nez. There’s just no answer.
That’s because before the Monkees, nothing like this had ever happened except in movies. I think of the Marx Brothers movies. That’s what John Lennon noticed, and it’s so true. The Monkees were like the Marx Brothers on TV. Should they have gotten on Oscar? Probably. But anyway, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is not that important to me.
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