Don’t hold your breath waiting for another Monkees reunion. Although the prefab four toured to great success in the ’80s and ’90s, Peter Tork says things are a bit dicier these days.
“I don’t think about doing it again much,” Tork offers by phone from his home in California. “If the occasion arose, I would have to look at the offer.”
Tork and his band Shoe Suede Blues will perform Sunday at the Stuart ArtsFest.
All four original Monkees — Tork, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and even longtime holdout Michael Nesmith — played together on a 1997 tour of England.
“When Michael did do the shows with us, it was exciting,” says the 62-year-old Tork. “It was great to work on the road with those guys – particularly as time wore on, they got to be funnier and funnier, and easier to work with.”
Nesmith had previously refused to indulge in Monkees nostalgia – he’d always been the Monkee most offended by their “manufactured” past and the attendant rock-media scorn – and the other three had worked without him for years.
The British tour was a commercial and critical smash. However, when promoters started clamoring for a U.S. jaunt, Nesmith balked.
“I don’t know how he came to be this way,” Tork says, “but the poor boy basically can’t work with anybody else. He has learned over the years to allow other people into his orbit, which only means that he is now in control of a larger crew than he ever had before.
“He didn’t want to work with the Monkees anymore. The reason he didn’t come back to America with us was that when he joined the operation, he made sure it was his way or the highway. But even that wasn’t enough for him. I don’t think he had enough control.”
The Monkees’ legacy is a spotty one. Hired in 1966 to portray four “American Beatles” in an NBC sitcom, the four had never met before; their music was an afterthought and performed by studio musicians. For their early hits — the chart-topping “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” among them — they didn’t play any music, just mimed to their pre-recorded vocals on the TV show.
Musicians both, Nesmith and Tork bristled at the heavy-handed “music supervision” of Don Kirshner, who chose the songs they’d record, and when it came out in the press that the Monkees weren’t a “real” band, they got mad.
When the records started to sell in the millions, and the power was theirs, they had Kirshner fired.
Hindsight reveals that many Monkees recordings rank with some of the greatest ’60s pop music. The Beach Boys, after all, used studio pros on “Pet Sounds,” and nobody came after Brian Wilson with an ax to grind.
From “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” to the landmark albums Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. (both recorded by the Monkees themselves, augmented by studio players) there are some great records in the canon.
“I would have liked to see (the music) produced a bit more heavily,” Tork says, “but part of the TV producers’ brief was ‘Don’t scare the parents.’ They tried to walk a very fine line, and I think they did a pretty good job of it. I’d like to have seen the whole thing go on a little longer, but them’s the breaks.”
Indeed, Tork was the first to break camp, in 1968, after the cancellation of the TV show and the Monkees’ disastrously received movie Head.
“You know the expression ‘received wisdom’?” he says. “The received wisdom on it (the band) was that it was a lower-value effort because it was structured and cast as characters in a TV show.
“It was highly structured as a project — and the received wisdom was that that was a lower value than what seemed to be spontaneous projects, which meant the Beatles. They were spontaneous; we were structured.
“I didn’t know then what I know now — that all great careers have a really nasty lull in the middle. I wish I had, then I might have stuck with it longer, and it might have come back.”
Tork, whose new band plays a lot of heavy blues, along with rock ‘n’ roll classics and a smattering of Monkees hits, has very definite thoughts on the Monkees’ catalogue.
“The best Monkees music ever generated was ‘Riu Chiu,’ an a capella song in medieval Spanish that we did on the Christmas episode,” he says. “It shows up on a couple of the Missing Links CDs.
“It’s an astounding piece of music. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just amazing. We sang it live to camera.
“I love ‘Goin’ Down,’ which we did spontaneously in the studio. I think ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ is the best single we put out. And I thought ‘Words’ was a very, very good piece of pop music. And we did it justice.”
(For the record, Tork – who didn’t do a lot of lead singing in the group – plays piano on “Daydream Believer” and banjo on “You Told Me,” among many other great songs, and took the co-lead vocal on “Shades of Grey” and “Words.”)
A recurring role in the ’90s sitcom Boy Meets World (as Topanga’s hippie dad) almost led to a rekindling of his acting career, but Tork says he thought better of it.
“The truth is that I got off as an actor maybe once or twice in acting class,” he says. “I get off as a musician every time I’m up there.
“When the rewards are greater and the price is way lower . . . let’s see, a lot of trouble and a few rewards, or not as much trouble and a lot of rewards . . . let me think here . . . gosh. I can’t figure it out.”
WHERE ARE THE MONKEES NOW?
Davy Jones, 58, owns a home in Indiantown where he trains thoroughbred horses. Jones won’t be able to join Peter Tork onstage this weekend: He’s in England, on tour. April 16-19, he’ll perform at the International Flower and Garden Fest at Epcot Center. See Davy Jones.net.
Micky Dolenz, 59, is appearing on Broadway as Zoser in the Elton John/Tim Rice musical “Aida.” See Micky Dolenz.com.
Michael Nesmith, 63, maintains a cult following for his quirky recordings and concert performances. A pioneer in music videos, he is credited with inventing the concept that led to MTV. See Video Ranch.com.
@2004 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers