Following the death of Michael Nesmith last December, Micky Dolenz is now the last living member of legendary pop rock band The Monkees.
Dolenz paid tribute to his friend and bandmate in 2021 by putting his own spin on 14 tracks Nesmith wrote for the album Dolenz sings Nesmith, one created in collaboration with Nesmith’s son Christian, who oversaw the arrangements as the album’s producer. A new EP containing four other tracks from these sessions is now available via 7a Records.
Last November, less than a month before Nesmith passed away, the couple wrapped up one last Monkees tour. Just four months later, Dolenz was back on the road, paying tribute to Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones in a solo run that featured a never-before-seen special video from his personal collection.
“I first met Davy during the audition process. We had a lot in common. We were both child stars,” Dolenz explained onstage last month, setting up a tribute video to Jones. amid a 28-song performance that saw him backed by a stellar seven-piece band onstage at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, Illinois. . “We just did it. And we became amazing friends. I miss him terribly. Ladies and gentlemen, David Jones.
I spoke with Micky Dolenz, who is currently on tour alongside Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals, a release that continues Thursday in New Jersey, continuing into early June, on the return to the stage after a pandemic-induced layoff, the new Dolenz Sings Nesmith EP, on tour to support his first tv show circus boy when he was just 10 years old and had a formative concert moment involving James Brown. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.
How was it late last year and now this year to get back on stage in front of real fans?
MICKY DOLENZ: Weird! It was a bit strange. I hate to say it with all the people who suffered, but I had a great time with the free time. I really enjoyed the forced retirement shall we say. And I have accomplished a lot. Stayed safe and all.
But, on the other hand, I was kind of looking forward to getting back on the road and doing some gigs – especially with Nez when he was there. I had such a great time playing with him and being around him. We always got along well. I miss him.
It really struck me about this last tour. It seemed like finishing those shows was something really important to him. What was the kind of feeling between you guys during this race?
MD: It was. Very.
I was worried about his health. Because it’s no mystery that he had had health problems. So we were all concerned. But he wasn’t one to moan and whine. But it was pretty obvious that he had issues. So I was concerned about that. But he is a soldier.
And you are absolutely right. Before we even started, we checked and said, “Are you sure you want to do this? And he said, “Absolutely. In retrospect, I think he may have known more about what was going on than he was letting on.
Here we are four months later and you are back on the road. How important is it to celebrate not only the legacy of The Monkees, but even more so the legacy of your bandmates as you are?
MD: We did some special video stuff, including a video that I shot that hasn’t been seen before since the ’60s. And it’s just that – before I decided to do these shows, I kind of reached out and asked – we reached out to fans and agents and promoters and said, “Well, what do you think?” You see, some of these shows had already been booked for Nez et moi – a few years ago in fact. The Ryman in Nashville had been postponed four times.
So I thought about it. And, like I said, I reached out. And the unanimous decision was, “Yeah. Please do. And do it for the fans. I obviously wasn’t going to call it The Monkees. So I had the idea of ”Micky Dolenz celebrates monkeys”. And so far so good. Everyone seems to like it.
Like I said, we have these special video sections dedicated to each of the three guys.
I’m always fascinated whenever something like you just described happens – that video of The Monkees that no one has ever seen. That this stuff is even still out there waiting to be found. The Monkees are one of those bands where you’re supposed to have seen it all. How did you find this sequence? Did you stumble upon it or were you looking for it?
MD: I’ve had it all these years and I knew I had it. But everything was just in boxes, not classified. Finally, I found someone to help me catalog it. A lot of stuff is just silly, ugly stuff from home movies. But some of them are pretty cute. And some of them are very interesting. Like I said, someone helped me catalog it and that’s when we decided to take advantage of it.
Between finding that video and putting on that celebratory show, the new EP, you’ve really been forced to think about The Monkees’ legacy even more than usual. What does the group represent for you during a crazy time like 2022?
MD: Well obviously I’m the last man standing now, you know? And it certainly had an effect on me to be honest. I think about it almost all the time – especially when I’m on the road. But, even when I’m not, when I’m back home, it’s weird to be honest. It’s a bit strange. I haven’t fully calculated it yet, I’m sure.
We talked about a year ago when you released the Dolenz sings Nesmith album. And now there is the new EP. What was it like working with Mike’s son, Christian, and kind of reinventing those Nesmith-penned songs?
MD: We haven’t worked much with Nez. Of course, he gave us his good graces. It was definitely a collaboration with Christian. And he and Christian that I know talked. It was during the pandemic, so there wasn’t much chance of collaborating with anyone in person. But Nez told us his wishes and when he finally heard about the product, he said he was very proud of it. These are the words he used: “very proud to be”.
And Christian has done, I think, an amazing job on that, reinventing those songs. Especially as a kid who has heard them his whole life.
I was listening to the EP this morning. The string arrangement on “The Crippled Lion” is beautiful. Is that Christian’s arrangement?
MD: Everything, yes. Christian has done almost everything. There were other musicians on it. I was involved in the arrangement and a few things, but it was up to Christian.
I’m really intrigued by “Soul-Writer’s Birthday” in particular. Nez copyrighted it but never recorded it, is that the story?
MD: Yes. That’s right. When he wrote something back then, of course because we had the publishers, Screen Gem’s Publishing, he wrote something and protected it. He was quite prolific as you know. So it was just one of those things that we never had time to record. It’s that simple. It is therefore a virgin air.
It was really interesting to listen to “Some of Shelly’s Blues” now. It’s almost hard to believe that was an outtake. But you recorded your version of this song, which Mike wrote before he died. Do those Words sort of take on new meaning for you to hear them now?
MD: Oh, it’s interesting that you say that. Because I think they probably did. Many of his songs now that I sing have been. Even the ones he didn’t write. “Me and Madeleine.” It suddenly took on a deeper meaning. I do it with my sister now on the show. I have already done this in my solo exhibitions with my sister Coco.
As we talk about getting back on stage and getting back on the road, I feel compelled to ask you if you remember your first gig or if there was a formative moment at the start of the gig that had an impact that holds you still at heart?
MD: I have a couple that really stands out. We would have seen James Brown. It was in Los Angeles, it must have been in the early 60s. In a big theater – big. Maybe like the Shrine Auditorium or something? My God, maybe ’62 or ’63? But see it live.
More recently I saw Johnny Mathis in concert – which I was and am a big, big fan of. He had a huge influence on a lot of my music – his singing qualities.
Regarding my musical experience, my first performance, I was 10 years old promoting the series circus boy. I had learned to play the guitar and I strummed. So they sent us on this press junket. I traveled across the country by train with my pet elephant for this press junket. And we ended up at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, a famous amusement park, doing some publicity. They said, “Can you sing something on this guitar?” I said, “I know a couple of things. Like ‘Purple People Eater.’ “There was a small group of three musicians and they knew the song and supported me. And actually, I found a multitrack recording of that. But I sang two or three little songs with my guitar. And then the elephant came out and did all these elephant circus tricks.
So basically my first professional gig, I opened for an elephant.