I’m Still Standing: Micky Dolenz on ‘Dolenz Sings Nesmith,’ the Monkees Farewell Tour & More



Rock Cellar Magazine
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Many younger fans forget– or don’t realize — that the Monkees did not start as a traditional band. Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones and Peter Tork were actors with comedic and musical talent who were hired to star in The Monkees, the 1966 TV sitcom about a struggling band.

After the show ended in 1968, the members concentrated on their musical careers. Dolenz continued to record and perform and worked as an actor, director and producer. Nesmith formed the First National Band and also recorded as a solo artist. Since 1986, various lineups of the band have staged reunion tours. Jones died in 2012; Tork in 2019.

On May 21, 2021 7a Records released Dolenz Sings Nesmith, the singer’s first solo studio album in nine years, in which Dolenz performs a collection of tunes written by Nesmith throughout his career. A highlight is “Different Drum,” a 1967 hit for Linda Ronstadt as a member of the Stone Poneys.

Dolenz Sings Nesmith is produced by Nesmith’s son, Christian, a talented musician whom Dolenz has known “since he was in a crib.” Dolenz worked closely with Christian to produce a fresh take on his father’s compositions. “None of us wanted to do a karaoke-kind of cover band version of his material,” says Dolenz.

Dolenz and Nesmith recently announced the Monkees Farewell Tour that will kick off in Spokane, Washington on Sept. 10, 2021 and wrap at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Nov. 14.

Dolenz spoke to us about the new album and upcoming tour from his home in Southern California days before the release of Dolenz Sings Nesmith.

Rock Cellar: What inspired the new album?

Micky Dolenz: Harry Nilsson was probably my best friend back in the ’60s and early ’70s. We were very, very tight. He recorded an album called Nilsson Sings Newman in the early ’70s. I remember it because I was a fan of Randy Newman too; it was really good. I liked the idea. I was hangin’ out with him and it just stuck with me for years.

A number of years ago, after Davy passed, Peter, Mike and I got back together in the studio to rehearse for an upcoming tour and I mentioned it to Nes. I said, “I always had this idea of doing Dolenz Sings Nesmith.” And he said, “That’s a good idea, I can give you some tunes.”

That was it. It went on the back burner because we were recording and touring and then Peter passed away. 7a approached me and asked, “Would you like to do an original solo album?” They were mostly rereleasing catalog stuff. I said, “Yeah, absolutely, I always wanted to do Dolenz Sings Nesmith.” They loved the idea.

Rock Cellar: How did Michael’s son Christian get involved?

Micky Dolenz: I’ve known Christian since he was in a crib. A number of years ago, Nes brought him on tour with Peter and Nes and I. And he’s been in the Monkees orchestra ever since as a musician.

When we started talking about producers, Christian’s name came up. I went to Christian and it just seemed obvious. We talked about it right away, do you think that you can step back and re-envision this stuff? I knew I couldn’t. I’m just too close to it. And if I’m close to it, how close is Christian?

We talked about it extensively. We got Andrew Sandoval involved in A&R and I stepped back. I made some suggestions but I said, “Look, I can’t imagine how to do “Circle Sky” in any other way. For 50 years I’ve been singing that song like that.” Christian came up with a phenomenal re-envisioning of that song.

Rock Cellar: The Eastern instruments used in the song were a fresh take.

Micky Dolenz: Oh boy, I’m just blown away. It speaks to the song and it speaks to the movie Head that we made that the song was in. And that period, with Ravi Shankar. It just really made sense. He did that with so many of the tunes.

We had talked about a lot of different songs and none of us wanted to do a karaoke kind of cover band version of his material. We started out with a long list, like 40 tunes, and cut it down. Basically, I left it to Christian and Andrew to make the final song choices. And I approved them, of course.

Rock Cellar: How did you reimagine a well-known song like “Different Drum”?

Micky Dolenz: Christian said, “Let me give it a shot.” And I love his take on it. I love the arrangement and I love the feel and it’s not like a rap version [laughs]. It still has the “Different Drum” feel, but it’s not Linda Ronstadt either.

Rock Cellar: Why wasn’t “Different Drum” recorded by the Monkees?

Micky Dolenz: In the early days of the Monkees, Nes went to the producers of the show and the record company and he said, “I got a song I wrote I want to record.” And he played “Different Drum.” It’s one of the first songs he ever wrote.

He played it for them and they said, “Oh, that’s nice but it’s not a Monkees song.” And Nes said, “Wait a minute, I am one of the Monkees.” And they said, “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine, thank you but no thank you, it’s not a Monkees song.”

Linda Ronstadt was kickin’ around town at the time with the Stone Poneys, playing local clubs and trying to get a gig and trying to get a record deal. Nes knew her from the Troubadour, as we all did, and he played it for her and she said, “Yeah, I’ll record that.”

Rock Cellar: “Nine Times Blue” is also a departure from the original. How was that decision made?

Micky Dolenz: That was one that was my idea. I loved the song, always have, and when we were early on noodling around with ideas, I was listening to the originals and I was listening to Christian’s demos. I remember he had a version of “Nine Times Blue.” It was good and it was a departure from the original.

I don’t know why or how, I just heard myself sing it alone with a grand piano, a tempo, singing it out of tempo. I talked to Christian about it. He noodled it on a guitar and I sang a little bit of it in that style. And he loved the idea.

Rock Cellar: Have you heard what Michael thinks of the album?

Micky Dolenz: He said, “it’s really cool, I like it.” Typically understated.

Rock Cellar: You’ve met all the Beatles over the years. What is your favorite memory?

Micky Dolenz: It was in London in ’66, ’67, there was an album they were doing called Sgt. Something, what the hell was that, Sgt. Bilko, that was it. [laughs] I was invited to a recording session at Abbey Road. I was expecting this big Beatlemania fun fest freak-out love-in and I got dressed accordingly in paisley bell-bottoms and tie-dyed underwear. I looked like a cross between Ronald McDonald and Charlie Manson.

And it was just the four guys in an empty studio space, florescent lighting, in jeans and t-shirts, just workin’, just the four of them. I spent an hour or two there with them, listening.

Rock Cellar: The upcoming tour is billed as the Farewell Tour. What does that mean?

Micky Dolenz: We’re doing the tour that we originally were going to do a year and a half ago. We’d already toured this show, The Monkees Present the Mike and Micky Show, and then COVID hit.

At this point, I would say it probably is the Farewell Tour as the Monkees because we’re not the Monkees. I’m not saying that Mike and I might never sing again, but not in this kind of context. We couldn’t call it the Monkees, we didn’t. When we decided to go out and the agent said they thought they could book a tour, we said, “Well, we’re not going to go out as the Monkees.” And they said that’s fine. That’s when we came up with the idea of The Monkees Present the Mike and Micky Show.

And it is a Mike and Micky Show. If you’ve ever seen a Monkees show with David and Peter and I, it’s a different sort of feel. And a different kind of setlist. We still give the fans the hits, which of course you have to. I’m 76 now. I doubt I would ever want to go on a “tour” tour. I can imagine still doing some solo dates. If it all works out, why not? But as the Monkees and as a tour, it is probably the last hurrah.

Rock Cellar: Do you perform Davy’s songs in concert? And who takes lead vocals?

Micky Dolenz: Me. We do “Daydream Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”

Rock Cellar: Let’s do a lightning round. A Monkees song you wish more people would have heard.

Micky Dolenz: “As We Go Along” or “Porpoise Song” from the movie Head.

Rock Cellar: A cover song you’d like to record.

Micky Dolenz: The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling.” I sing it in my solo show but I’ve never covered it on a recording.

Rock Cellar: What acting role would you have been perfect for?

Micky Dolenz: It would be a character like Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies or Bob Odenkirk in Nobody, the revenge movie. The guy who’s a major friggin’ Krav Maga expert, ex-military. Somebody kills his dog or something and he goes ballistic. The good guy, extremely dangerous, gets pushed to the brink-type role. He just annihilates all the bad guys.

Comments

  • Kevin says:

    I have question that veracity of this statement that appeared right upfront in the article: “Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones and Peter Tork were actors with comedic and musical talent.”

    While this is true of Dolenz and Jones, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were both serious musicians who actively performed in the LA folk and elsewhere prior to auditioning for the show. In fact, as I’ve often read, this is why Nesmith and Tork were regularly frustrated by the producers’ unwillingness to allow the band to actually perform and record the songs. Instead, the work was done by studio pros like The Wrecking Crew and others to keep costs down.

  • sue krsnak says:

    Porpoise Song is on my playlist to this day. I always wished it could re released with out fan fare/anonymously….so there were no prejudgments. It would be a hit. Its an amazing song and in concert, when you would jump on the drums and it would drop into Listen to the band…..one of the BEST moments of my life. Literal Bliss for me….Love the Monkees, each one, always. I have seen them in various capacities, over 45 times in my life and I have my ticket for October in Huntington. I only bought one so I could afford the closest seat to the stage. Plus, I do believe I am going to be a tad emotional, to say ‘Farewell’…I will hope that Micky plays a few mini tours in the future that I can get my fix from. As we go along…..indeed.


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