Micky Dolenz has been singing songs written by his fellow Monkee Michael “Nez” Nesmith since his earliest days in the group — when producers pegged tunes like “Mary Mary” for inclusion on their TV show and studio albums. And, later this year, Dolenz is taking his love for Nez’s songs to a new level when he records a new solo album devoted entirely to his bandmate’s music.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of his songs,” Dolenz tells Rolling Stone. “He’s just so prolific.” For the past five decades, Nez-penned songs like “Listen to the Band” and “Papa Gene’s Blues” have been at the center of the Monkees’ live show.
“I think I first mentioned this idea to Nez years ago when we first got together for a tour with Peter [Tork] after Davy [Jones] passed,” Dolenz says. “I don’t know where the idea came from, maybe from my friend Harry Nilsson and his [1970 Randy Newman tribute LP] Nilsson Sings Newman. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, Dolenz Sings Nesmith.'”
Recording has yet to begin and they haven’t even picked out the exact songs yet, but the record will be produced by Nez’s son Christian Nesmith with Monkee manager/historian Andrew Sandoval tackling A&R duties. The British label 7a, which specializes in Monkee-related albums, is releasing it. “They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Dolenz says, slipping into a Marlon Brando accent. “They’re a nice, little company that really do good work. They do their homework and do these real nice packages.”
The team plans on combing through Nesmith’s entire catalog to find material for the LP, beginning with songs Nez wrote in his pre-fame days under the name Michael Blessing, through his stint in the Monkees when he generated classic tunes like “You Told Me” and “Tapioca Tundra,” to his groundbreaking country-rock work with the First National Band and the solo albums that followed.
“I’m staying back because I’m too close to the material and to Nez,” Dolenz says. “I want Christian and Andrew to put their thinking caps on and pick some stuff because they know my voice. For me, that’s the important thing. I’m approaching this as a singer, kind of like Frank Sinatra did when he approached recording. I said to them, ‘Guys, think of me as Frank Micky the Monkee Sinatra.'”
That said, Dolenz does have some preliminary thoughts about what might work. “[The 1971 First National Band song] ‘Grand Ennui’ is one of my favorite Nez tunes ever,” he says. “That certainly would be on the top of my list. But I’m not sure I’d do ‘Different Drum.’ How the heck are you going to do that after it’s been recorded so many different times? Then there’s ‘Listen to the Band’ and ‘Mary Mary,’ but I don’t know how I do ‘Mary Mary’ without just covering myself. It gets tricky.”
What’s also tricky is recording an album during a pandemic. Fortunately, Christian Nesmith lives just a close drive away from Dolenz. “There’s no way it’ll be a typical, old-school recording session,” Dolenz says. “Everything besides live drums can be done in a fairly safe condition with one little overdub at a time. Then I’ll go in with Christian in a month or two and start doing vocals. I can’t do those remotely. It’s not possible.”
Dolenz and Nesmith were supposed to bring their An Evening With the Monkees tour back to American theaters this year, but the dates were pushed to March and April 2021 due to the pandemic. “I’m not optimistic those will be able to happen unless there’s a vaccine and/or effective treatment, but mainly an effective vaccine,” Dolenz says. “But even if one comes out at the beginning of the year, then what? We go on the road three months later? I don’t see how venues will be able to pack them in like they used to, like they need to, in order to make money. What’s going on in the industry is just tragic.”
In the meantime, Dolenz is spending his time cooking gourmet meals at home with help from online classes, hiking in the woods and working on his business Dolenz and Daughters Fine Furniture with his daughter Georgia. “Tomorrow I’m going out on the lake and having a fishing lesson,” he says. “I have a vegetable garden and I grow my own stuff. I hate to say that I’m enjoying this time off because of all the difficulties and tragedies people are going through, but I am enjoying it.”