MONKEE MAN AND HIS MEMORIES Micky Dolenz

The legendary Monkees
member holds a press conference in L.A.
about the upcoming reunion and his solo album.

 

PHOTOS & TEXT BY MARCUS BLAKE

 

Not everyone can say that they sold more than The Beatles
and The Rolling Stones combined at one point in the 1960’s (unless you believe
Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute’s old infomercials) but The Monkees did just
that.  Yes, The Monkees was a cultural
phenomenon in the ‘60’s not only for their groundbreaking television show but
for the music, written by some of the most accomplished songwriters of all
time: Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart; Gerry Goffin & Carole King; Neil
Diamond and Neil Sedaka, just to name a few. 

 

Monkees singer/drummer, Micky Dolenz, revisits some of those
Monkees songs and others that “got away” on his new solo album, Remember.  From the completely different re-working of
one of my favorite Monkees songs, “Randy Scouse Git” to the criminally
underrated song from More Of The Monkees,
“Sometime In The Morning”.  This disc
isn’t just re-recordings of Monkees songs though, there are some interesting
choices Micky and producer, David Harris made when gathering songs for this
“audio scrapbook” of Micky’s life. 
Dolenz tackles everything from The Beatles classic, “Good Morning Good
Morning”, a song he witnessed the recording of to the title track, “Remember”,
written by Micky’s close friend, Harry Nilsson.

 

To celebrate the release of the album, Mr. Dolenz hosted an
album release/listening party/Q&A at the legendary Capitol Records
Recording Studio A, situated at the bottom of the Hollywood
landmark.  Studio A has a history of its
own, hosting sessions from Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Dean Martin to, more
recently, Paul McCartney.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When asked at the Q&A about how the lead off track on
“Remember”, “Good Morning Good Morning”, came to be, Micky responded, “The
story behind that is that the first time I went to England, I met Paul
(McCartney), and he invited me to a (Beatles) session at Abbey Road Studios,
where they were recording this new album called Sgt… something.  I don’t know whatever happened to that album
(laughs)!   It was Sgt. Pepper.  I showed up the next day, the middle of the
day and, I don’t know, I guess I was thinking I was going to be some crazy,
Beatlemania, fun fest loving, freak out, psyche-jello thing.  So, I dressed accordingly with my paisley
bell bottoms and my tie dyed underwear and my hair up in curls and beads and
glasses and (when) I show up at the studio and there are just the four guys
(The Beatles), florescent lighting and just them playing.  And, I’m like, ‘Where are all the girls?’  (laughs) 
I look like I’m a cross between Ronald McDonald and Charlie Manson!  I must have looked so stupid!  And, the four guys are just sitting there in
their folding chairs in t-shirts and jeans, just playing and I felt so
stupid. 

 

“John Lennon looks up and says, ‘Hey, Monkee Man!’  That’s what he called me, Monkee Man.  ‘You want to hear what we’ve been working on?’
He points up to (Beatles producer) George Martin, who’s up in the control
room.  And, George Martin is standing
there in a three piece suit at 2:00 in the afternoon because you had to be
dressed according to EMI (standards).  He
hits the button on a four track tape recorder…only one track more than his
suit!  (laughs)

 

“So, I hear the tracks for ‘Good Morning Good Morning’.  Of course, that was burned into my neural
pathways forever because I was a huge fan. 
I had an autograph book in my pocket!  
I didn’t have the nerve to bring it out though.  So, a few months later, I come back to L.A. and I’m directing an
episode of The Monkees (TV show) that I had also written.  I said, ‘You know, this first scene could
really use a (something) like a wake up song. 
Call The Beatles and see if we can get this song off of Sgt. Pepper’…and
they did!  To my knowledge, that was the
first time you heard a Beatles song used on TV or film and I had it on a
Monkees episode.

 

“So, over the years, (the song) was burned into my brain and
I started noodling around and I came up with this version.  For this version, for those musicologists, I
switched the time signatures around… I know, it’s a terrible thing to do to a
Beatles song (laughs) but I switched it around from a 4/4 to triplets to
triplets and 4/4.  I’m very, very proud
of it.  And, of course, the amazing Mr.
David Harris, the producer and arranger did an amazing job on it. “

 

 

 

 

 

A great friend of Micky’s in the 1970’s and beyond was the
aforementioned, singer/songwriter, Harry Nilsson.  Remembering Harry when asked for one good
Nilsson story: “I can’t!  (laughs) It
wasn’t like that, there are just too many! 
He was such a dear man and such a wonderful friend.  I still miss him.  I’ll tell you a Harry Nilsson story.  This will give you a good idea of how me and
my friends think of Harry.  I was in New York and Glen
Campbell and Jimmy Webb playing at Feinstein’s. 
I’ve known Jimmy for years and years. 
Jimmy and Harry were very close. 
Me, Jimmy and Harry would hang out all of the time.  I spent two years with Harry at Jimmy’s house
one night!  So, they do this set and I go
back stage.  I hadn’t seen Jimmy in five
years, maybe more.  I walk in, we look at
each other, we walk up to each other and we go, ‘Harry!’ and we started
crying.  He said, ‘There’s not a day go
by that I don’t think about Harry.’ 
That’s similar to me.  He was such
an inspiration to so many people.  He
reminds me of a similar character in the 1950’s 
called Neil Cassady, who had a huge influence on that zeitgeist and
Harry had a similar influence on our zeitgeist because the name of his
documentary is called “Who Is Harry
Nilsson (And Why Is Everyone Talkin’ About Him?)”
  because he influenced so many people from the
ground up.  He didn’t care about the
fame.  He didn’t want it.”

 

 

When it came time to record a Harry Nilsson song for the new
album, Micky chose “Remember”.   “I was
there when he wrote it.  It’s a song I’ve
always wanted to cover but I thought that there is no way possible you can
cover this song but we gave it a hell of a shot and, through David’s magic, we
gave it this wonderful revision.

 

The groove was so amazing that we just let it run on and on
and David sent the track to Phil Keaggy, this amazing guitar player in Nashville.  And it has, probably, one of the greatest
guitar solos I’ve ever heard.  Phil said
it was one of the highlights of his life. 
Because, David in his evil, demented way, wrote this guitar solo that
starts out in 9/7 time or something and then goes to 4/8 ½  and then 3 ½ and 12 (laughs) and I said, ‘What
in the heck are you doing?’ And, he said (speaks
in strange Igor-like voice),
‘I can do it!’ 
The musicians love this section because it has every time signature in
the world.  Only David and Stephen
Schwartz (composer of Pippin and Godspell amongst other musicals) come up with
time signatures I didn’t even know existed! 
And they don’t in this dimension. 
They only exist in alternative universes!”

 

 

 

 

 

One of the songs that The Monkees never recorded but, were
supposedly going to be offered, was “Sugar Sugar”, made famous by cartoon
bubblegum band, The Archies.  Micky
explains, “At the beginning (of the Monkees), we didn’t have any control or
input into the music.  That’s not to say
the music wasn’t great because it was with songs by Boyce & Hart and songs
by Neil Diamond and by Carole King.  (We
had) all of these incredible writers and they were great songs.  But, we had no input at all, nothing to say
about it at all.  Mike (Nesmith) had been
promised he would have some of his music in there.  And, (the powers that be) were, like, ‘Sorry,
we’re going in this direction with Donny Kirshner.’  You know, the pop songs.  So, at a certain point, Mike sort of
propagated a sort of palace revolt and Donny Kirshner got fired.  The next song, according to legend, was
supposed to have been “Sugar Sugar”.  So,
we had this palace revolt and I bailed on this recording session and went to England and
that’s when I met Paul and that other stuff happened.  And Donny hired cartoon characters because
they can’t talk back (laughs) and recorded a great song.  It was a huge, wonderful pop hit. 

 

“Well, I tell my producer, David’ this story at one of our
early sessions.  He said, ‘Wow, that’s a
great story, let me see what I can do with that.’  I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!  There’s no way I’m going to record that!’  It’s now one of my favorite cuts (on the
album).  It’s really a dirty song
(laughs)!  It’s really naughty!  Now, it’s one of my favorite ones. 

 

On his favorite track on the album:  “It changes every time I hear it.  It’s tough because every song is a moment of
my life so it depends on my mood.  If I’m
in a kind of up mood, it would be ‘Old Fashioned Love Song’ which (composer)
Paul (Williams) had given me and said “Do you want to record this?”  And, in my stupor at the time, I said, (in stoner voice) ‘That’s cool Paul.’  I actually demoed it in my studio and just
wasted too much time and Three Dog Night came around and (makes vacuum noise) SQUOOOOO just sucked it up and made it this
huge it.  Again, my version is so
different.  David and I decided we didn’t
just want to cover tunes.  I didn’t want
to make it a karaoke thing.  So,
sometimes I would have a different take on songs that I would be noodling on
for years and years.”

 

Among the other coulda should would songs that have crossed
Micky’s path over the years were soft rockers, Bread’s, “Diary” and Leiber
& Stoller’s “Is That All There Is?”, Peggy Lee giving the definitive
version.

 

“There are a few songs I call ‘I should have done’.  One of them was the song, ‘Diary’.  (Chief Bread songwriter) David Gates had
given it to me in the early days and I had decided, again, in my stupor, I
shouldn’t be doing a ballad at the time so I passed on it.  And, of course, a few years later, Bread had
a huge hit with it.  But, I told the
producer, this story and he listened to it and thought it was a great song and
said, ‘Let me see what I can come up with.’ 
He came up with one of the phenomenal arrangements of that song.  It was so different. 

 

“It’s really tough to do when you have an iconic version of
something (to start with).  Especially
with people like The Beatles! 
(laughs)   Joe Cocker sort of
broke the ice on that.  He was the first
one who said, ‘No, you can go back and re-envision a great song.’  Back then, it was almost sacrilege.  (Speaks in cartoon voice) You’re doing a
Beatles song!  You can’t do that!  But now, it happens more often than not.  It’s still really tough to do.  It was really tough to even consider with
Harry’s ‘Remember’.  I would never even
attempt ‘Without You’. 

 

“I was also offered ‘Is That All There Is?’ that Peggy Lee
eventually did.  That was one that I
probably made the right decision not to do because at twenty three (sings the
song in a silly voice).  What have you
done at twenty three?'”

 

 

 

***

 

 

As the Q&A opened up to members of the audience, I had
to ask Micky how rehearsals for the upcoming Monkees tour were going.  The surviving members of The Monkees, Micky,
Peter Tork and, for the first time in fifteen years, Michael Nesmith, are doing
a twelve city tour in the States in November and December.

 

“The rehearsals for the new Monkee tour are going quite
well.  It’s mainly been Mike and I and
I’m, basically, teaching him his songs! 
(laughs)  He hasn’t done them in
40 years!  He’s very enthusiastic.  We’re taking it very slow.  It’s a really interesting, different dynamic
(compared to Davy Jones being in the band). 
He hasn’t done these songs in many, many years, these original Monkee
tunes that he wrote and sang.  David,
Peter or I’ve been singing them over the years.   So, we’ve been noodling and woodshedding (as
he calls it) all of these tunes because I’m going to be playing drums on a few
songs.  Just the three of us because
we’re going to be doing a Headquarters  (The Monkees classic 1967 album where they
took over the reigns and played most of the instruments) mini set within the
whole narrative of the show.

 

“The show’s going to be very interesting because it’s kind
of going to take the story of The Monkees through music.  We’re going to start with the early songs
then, go into Headquarters, which just us (playing) and then, in answer to your
next question, there will be a wonderful tribute, an homage, to the late, great
Davy Jones in song and in video.

 

“It kind of started out as a conversation we (the members of
The Monkees) had at a (private) memorial for Davy about doing a memorial
concert.  We said, ‘Let’s do a memorial
concert.’  This is, like, months
ago.  Actually, it started earlier than
that.  At the last Monkee tour, we talked
about doing a 45 year anniversary of the release of Headquarters.   These days, people perform a whole album (in
concert).  So, we started talking about
that long ago.  And, of course, David
passed and then we had a (private) memorial and thought, ‘Let’s do a memorial
concert.’  But where are you doing to do
it?  L.A., because David had people here?   Or New York
or England
or all over the place?  That sort of
morphed into this twelve city tour.  It’s
not the Official Davy Jones Memorial Tour but there is an element of that and
there is this element of a tribute, an homage. 
So, if you haven’t bought your ticket to The Greek, do it!  (laughs) 
(Goes into his carny voice) I
got yer tickets right here.  I’m scalpin’
them!’  (laughs)”

 

When asked how emotional the first few dates of the tour
will be, Micky responded: “Well, I’ve been doing an homage and a little bit of
a tribute to David in all of my shows since then.  I’ve done quite a few of my solo shows since
then.  I sing a couple of his songs and
we have video up that (Monkees manager/ historian) Andrew Sandoval did.  They did some wonderful video for the last
Monkee tour and I talk about him. 

 

“It’s been a number of months now (since Davy’s passing) and
you don’t ever get over it easily (or) ever because it’s like losing a sibling
and that’s something you don’t ever really get over.  I have three siblings and they’re all doing
fine but I knew him for 45 years and I probably spent more time with him than
some of my siblings after I left home. 
So, you never get over it.  He’ll
always be there in my mind and heart.”

 

When asked about Mike Nesmith’s posting about having Jimmy
Fallon coming out and maybe doing a Davy song with his trademark dance and
someone else posting the idea of a Davy hologram during the Monkees concerts,
Micky stated: “No, we’re going to have Rodney Bingenheimer (legendary Los
Angeles radio disc jockey/Davy Jones’ stand in for the television show/ Mayor
Of The Sunset Strip) (the audience erupts in laughter).  First of all, there are no thoughts of
replacing Davy so that whole stupid thing is nonsense.  But, what we have discussed is doing what is
not uncommon in that we bring out celebrities in a particular city.  Jimmy Fallon would be great to come out and
sing or do what U2 does.  Bono brings up
somebody from the audience (to come and sing). 
We’ve discussed that.  I think that’s
quite likely.   We say, ‘Who wants to
come up and sing “Daydream Believer” with us?’ 
That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.  Or, when we get to L.A., at the Greek, we have some of the
original musicians that played on some of the original recordings come up and
play if they’re available and they’re around. 
At Davy’s memorial, Neil Sedaka came up and sang, like, two or three of
the songs he’d written for David at the piano. 
There’s a lot of love and respect out there so, that’s the kind of thing
we’re talking about.”

 

As for recording a cd and/or dvd of one of the concerts of
the upcoming tour, Micky said that they were talking about all of that. “The
short answer is, I don’t know.  Whether
or not it goes past this twelve city tour, I can’t tell you that either because
we have to find out at the end of twelve cities, we haven’t killed each
other!  (laughs)  That’s way down the road.  Nobody’s talked much further than these
twelve cities because we all have other plans. 
Mike is going out on the road. 
He’s doing a solo tour in England, which is wonderful.  He said to me he wants to get back out there
and start performing which is great because he hasn’t done that in years.  He also has a little spring tour going on in
the States.  We’ll see what happens after
that.  In January, I’m doing Hairspray
concert performances with the Baltimore Philharmonic and the Indianapolis
Philharmonic.  John Waters will be
narrating, which will be kind of cool. 
So, who knows what happens after all of that.”

 

When asked about the beginning of The Monkees and the first
signs of their popularity, Micky reminisced, “The Monkees was a pilot that year (1965).  There were three or four other pilots about
music that year.  I was up for all of
them.  There was one that was a kind of
Beach Boys surf band kind of show.  There
was a Christy Minstrels family/ Mighty Wind kind of thing.  And there was a folk show, a Peter, Paul and
Mary kind of thing.  I can’t remember the
name but Andrew (Sandoval, Monkees tour manager/ historian also in attendance)
would know. (“The Happeners!” yelled out Andrew.)   Andrew Sandoval… he’s my Wikipedia
live!  (laughs) I actually had a call
back for that one.  It went to pilot.  I didn’t get the part on that though.  The Monkees was another show that they were
trying to capitalize on the pop music/culture/Beatles/music thing.  The auditions were extensive.  I already had a series when I was a kid, so I
was familiar with the process.  The auditions
were more extensive than anything I ever done for a t.v. show because it
required singing and playing (an instrument). 
I played  “Johnny B. Goode” on
guitar.  You had to be able to act, of
course and you had to be able to improvise. 
I remember the auditions were heavily weighed toward improvisation and
spontaneity.  I was very uncomfortable
with that because I was used to a script
and saying your lines and going home.  I
felt the auditions went on for months! 
They wanted to do a call back and another call back and a screen test
and a music test.  Then, my agent called
me and said that I got one of the parts and I went down to the wardrobe fitting
because that’s always the first thing you do and that was the first time I met
Mike, Peter and David officially as The Monkees.  I had met them in the screen tests of course.  So, it started from there. 

 

“The first couple of years were so intense.  I don’t remember a whole lot.  I’m told I had a great time!  It was a lot of work.  I would go into the studio after filming for
ten hours a day.  I would sometimes do
two or three lead vocals in one night!  
I listen to some of that stuff and I can tell!  Grim! 
And then we rehearsed on the weekends for concerts and touring.  So, I don’t remember getting any sense of how
big (The Monkees) had become until we went on the road. 

 

“Actually, there was one incident.  During the first season of filming the
television show, we had a week off for Christmas.  I live and was born and raised in the Valley.
(Anyway) I got into my car and I screamed down to the mall with my little
shopping list, which I’ve done every year since I was a kid.  I get out of my car and run to the doors and I
only had a day to do all of my shopping for my family. As I go through the
doors, all of these people come running at me, screaming.  I thought there was a fire!  I’m like, ‘This way!  Don’t panic!’ 
Then, I realize, they’re running at me! 
I had to go back to my car.  I was
really pissed off.  I had to send my
roadie to do my Christmas shopping!  So,
that was the first inkling.  And, of
course, when we hit the road, it was a huge thing.”

 

 

 

 

 

David Harris, producer
of Remember (pictured, above, with
Dolenz):
“I’m just a fan.  I was a
fan in the 1960’s and I remember hearing critics say, ‘They don’t play their
own instruments.’   I thought, ‘Neither
does Barbra Streisand!’  It didn’t make
sense to me.  I thought, ‘Do you not hear
this voice?’  I love that voice!  I just wanted to hear more of that
voice! 

 

“We had been working together for a few months and we did
all his vocals in my home studio.  He
would drive down the 101 (Freeway) down the 405 to Redondo Beach and it was clicking.  We felt we were on to something but we didn’t
know if anybody else would like it but we liked it.  Well, I knew he would always get stuck in
traffic, so my wife and I were running errands and there was no traffic that
day.  We pull up (the driveway) and
there’s Micky’s car and I’m like, ‘Argh! 
I’m late for a session for my own home studio!’  So, I step up to his car and Micky has
reclined the seat flat and he’s sound asleep! 
I flash back to being, like, seven years old and what shot through my
head was (sings ‘(Theme From) The Monkees’) ‘We may be coming to your town!’ I
thought that not only did he come to my town, he pulled into my driveway and
now he’s taking a nap!”

 

Micky:  “Something you said struck a chord and that
is that we did what we liked and, in this day and age, that’s not always the
case, especially, if you’re under the gun with a lot a pressure and a lot of
people telling you what to do.  Everybody
has their own opinion.  One of the
beautiful things about this project is that we didn’t do anything we didn’t
like!  We did not have to answer to a
soul.  Now, that can get very
self-indulgent.  A couple of times, we
had reality checks.  We would look at
each other and go, “Is this any good?” 
(But) I’d play something for my wife, we’d play something for friends
and family and we were constantly encouraged. 
(I thought) that this is going in the right direction.  I felt that this was important that there was
no pressure, no record company looking over our shoulder all the time. 

 

“It took a long time, three years, four maybe?    The thing was about four years because I
would leave town.  He was busy and I was
busy.  But, it worked out okay because
one of the things these days that you don’t have a lot of time to do is
reflect.   In art, I think it’s
important.  It’s important to sometimes
just let it go for a while.  I think, in
our case that worked to our advantage because then, we would go back weeks or,
sometimes, months later and reflect on this stuff and hear it with fresh ears.”

 

David Harris: “Micky would say to me while he’s away in England for gigs for a few months, ‘Don’t
listen to the project.’  Okay, that’s
good…good for perspective.  Well, I
listened (to the album) the whole time!

 

‘There’s something else I’d like to mention.  Early in the process, there’s just the two of
us in my home studio, recording his vocals and he would lay down a lead vocal
and then, we would get ideas for harmonies. 
He’s got an incredible ear for harmonies.  He would do the highs.  He’s got the range for it.  So, just to hold the ideas (to potentially
redo), he would record a part and then we’d open up another track and he’d lay
something down.  It didn’t take long for
me to realize that he blends with himself really well. I said, ‘I don’t know
how you would feel about this, Micky, but this could be a thread through the
whole project.’  I believe your concern
was that you didn’t want it to seem self-indulgent and you didn’t want to think
that this has got to be about me.  I love
how I can switch from producer to fan instantly and I thought, as a fan, I want
to hear it.  Micky was willing to
continue to trying (that).  He is the
only singer on the entire project. Micky did all of the vocals himself.  We didn’t do any electronic doubling.  He did it all.” 

 

Micky:  “How many vocals are on “Do Not Ask For
Love”?  Thirty?”

David:  “More than thirty, probably approaching
forty.” 

Micky:  “Forty different, separate, layered
vocals.  In fact, at one point, we were
going to call the album, Getting Layered! ” (laughs)

David: “Remember
how Micky said that I badgered him?  It’s
true and I want to mention that I want to do another project him.”

Micky: (Talking
like a Hollywood agent) “Okay, David, I’ll
give you a call, thanks.  (yells)
Security!”

 

Micky Dolenz’s album, Remember is out now on Robo Records. The Monkees
tour starts November 8th in Escondido,
California.

 

www.mickydolenz.com

 

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