BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
“This whole thing has stood up exceptionally well over the years,“ exclaims 69 year-old original Monkees singer-drummer and actor Micky Dolenz.
“We still get two or three generations coming to our shows, kids, their moms, grandmoms… That’s been pretty consistent ever since we started doing these reunion shows (in 1986).”
Born George Michael Dolenz Jr. on March 8, 1945, in Los Angeles, California, Dolenz got an early start in show business when, in 1956, he starred (using the name Mickey Braddock) in a children’s television show called “Circus Boy.”
In 1965, in the wake of The Beatles’ hugely successful “Hard Day’s Night” film, a casting call was sent out seeking four handsome young men with musical ability, to become a fictional rock band that would be called The Monkees.
Dolenz (along with Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith and the late Davy Jones) was chosen from a reported 437 applicants, including future rock star Stephen Stills.
Success was instantaneous. The group’s debut single “Last Train To Clarksville,” with Dolenz on lead vocals, rose straight to number one. Other smash follow-up hits like “I’m A Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” “Valerie,“ “Daydream Believer,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” helped make The Monkees one of American’s most successful recording groups.
In fact, “Monkeemania” was so strong in 1967, the year The Beatles released their most celebrated album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Monkees sold more records than The Beatles and Rolling Stones combined.
Screaming girls flocked to their concerts, and the television show won an Emmy in 1967 for best comedy series.
However, when it was discovered that studio musicians were employed on their first two albums (both of which hit number one), many rock critics denounced The Monkees as a phony band. So, to quell the criticism, the group insisted on playing their instruments and taking musical control for its content for their next album, “Headquarters.”
Despite having no single release taken from it (a risky move for anyone at the time), “Headquarters” became the group’s third straight number one album.
The incredible success, though, was to be short-lived. The television series was cancelled in 1968. Their full-length feature film debut, “Head,” an attempt at attracting an older, more sophisticated audience, was a critical and commercial failure. Tork and Nesmith departed soon afterward and, by 1971, the group was no more.
Things changed dramatically in 1986, when MTV, then a new television music channel, began rerunning the original Monkees TV series. Monkeemania began all over to a whole new generation of fans.
Now, two years following the passing of Davy Jones, Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith are touring once again.
The band will be doing a pair of shows in the New York area, starting tomorrow at Atlantic City’s Borgota Hotel Casino and at Newark, New Jersey’s PAC on May 23.
Examiner: I have to tell you first, I saw The Monkees with Davy three summers ago at a show at Coney Island in Brooklyn. The band was incredibly hot that night. Any critic who says the Monkees are not a real band that doesn’t belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…
Dolenz: I really appreciate the sentiment. Thank you, but as everyone who knows me knows, I’ve never been the type of person who chases after awards. I’m very flattered and honored that fans are always putting up petitions to get us in there, but I don’t dwell on that kind of stuff. I’ve actually done some work for the foundation, and they do some wonderful charity work, but the Hall is really like a private country club. These guys who started it decide who’s gonna get in the club, and who isn’t. It’s not a democratic thing, and it doesn’t represent the entire music industry. It’s literally a private club, and these people let in whoever they want. What’s wrong with that?
Examiner: Peter has publicly stated for years that (Hall director) Jann Wenner has an agenda to keep The Monkees out.
Dolenz: I’ve never dwelt on that, but I know (Wenner) almost single-handily decides who goes in. There are a lot of other groups that still have not been inducted, like Chicago for instance.
Examiner: I don’t think the argument that The Monkees didn’t play on their early recordings is a valid one for keeping the group out. Many contemporaries of yours, like The Beach Boys and Dave Clark Five, both already inducted, used studio musicians, as did countless other ‘60s bands. Of course, after the first two albums, The Monkees did start playing on their own recordings and were also early pioneers of music videos.
Dolenz: As I say, I’ve never dwelt on awards. However, having said that, as a former (television) child star, I was absolutely thrilled when we won the Emmy for best comedy series, back in ’67.
Examiner: When you auditioned for “The Monkees,” in 1965, besides Stephen Stills, were there any other now famous people who were rejected?
Dolenz: Well, the only ones I’ve heard about were Paul Peterson who had been on “The Donna Reed Show,” and Paul Williams, the wonderful singer-songwriter.
Examiner: What do you remember most about your audition?
Dolenz: You had to be able to sing and play an instrument to even get into the audition. My audition piece was “Johnny B. Goode,” singing and playing guitar. I could read music. I’d been in rock and roll cover bands (plus, his former group Missing Links scored a minor 1964 hit, “Don’t Do It” – Ed.)
Examiner: But how did you feel about being cast as The Monkees drummer, when that wasn’t really your instrument?
Dolenz: I said, “Ok, great. Where do I start?” I’d already sat down at the (drum) kit with bands, so I wasn’t totally starting from scratch. I studied very hard for months.
Examiner: It seems strange that, while you did most of the lead singing, the producers put you behind the drums and had Davy, who actually knew drumming and did very few lead vocals, fronting the band.
Dolenz: Well, I don’t want to say now that it was a contradiction. Somebody up in an executive suite decided they wanted me to be the wacky drummer, and they wanted Davy, the cute little English kid, out there fronting the band, to attract the young girls.
Examiner: How was it decided, though, that you would become the main singer?
Dolenz: I guess, after we were cast and got rolling and started recording, they figured I had the voice that was most suited to that pop-rock kind of thing. David tended to sing some of the ballads, but very often he and I and also Mike and Peter would go in and put down lead vocal tracks on the very same song. It just turned out that they decided to use my lead vocals for the majority of the singles and album tracks. Actually, there were three different Monkees groups. There was the recording group, the TV group, and the live band.
Examiner: What was it like going out on the road and proving to the fans … and critics … that The Monkees were, in fact, a real band, not just actors who mimed the music for the television cameras?
Dolenz: When we went on the road in ’67, we were like a self-contained power trio. I played drums, Mike played the 12-string guitar, but Peter, who plays about four or five instruments, was really the most accomplished musician. He would play the keyboard part with his right hand and the bass part with his left. Davy just played percussion but, of course, he also sang.
Examiner: There’s a CD that Rhino put out some years ago called “Monkees-Live In ’67,” that captures what the group was like as “live” band, along with the accompanying hysteria.
Dolenz: It’s a pretty lousy recording. I think somebody just stuck a microphone up in the air at some kind of sound check thing. It wasn’t recorded professionally; anything like multi-tracked, but it’s really interesting to listen to now, because you really get a sense of what was happening. It was really tough playing (“live”) for anybody. There were no monitors. The equipment was nowhere as sophisticated as it is today. I couldn’t hear anything on the stage, except screams, but yet, we still played the whole sets by ourselves.
Examiner: Is it true that Jimi Hendrix was booted off your 1967 tour as the opening act because of complaints from a group called “The Daughters of The American Revolution,” for his overtly sexual onstage antics?
Dolenz: No. Those people did publicly object, but that wasn’t the real reason. Hendrix’s first record had already broken, nationally, but he really wasn’t that well known yet. He was frustrated by the crowd’s lack of response to him. Let’s face it; those screaming teenage girls were there to see The Monkees. The same thing has happened to other opening acts. I mean, there’s a famous story of Axl Rose being booed off the stage, opening for The Rolling Stones. I remember once at a The Whiskey (A Go Go), people were shouting during The Doors who were opening for Johnny Rivers. That was pretty funny.
Examiner: Would you say the group’s work on the “Headquarters” album represents your proudest musical accomplishments?
Dolenz: Oh, yeah. For sure. It was a very different vibe than what I was used to. Up to that point, I’d film all day long. Then they’d bring me into a studio and say, “You have three lead vocals to do tonight.” After we got off the road from one exhausting tour, we fought and won the right to do our own music. We went into that RCA Victor studio and basically locked ourselves in there for weeks, recording that wonderful album. It was a very different way of working to what we were forced to do on the first two albums.
Examiner: What can fans expect to see and hear on the current tour?
Dolenz: Well, all the Monkees hits, of course. We always do those. Now, having Nesmith back in the fold is really wonderful, because we get to do a lot of our favorite stuff from “Headquaters.”
Examiner: Will you be doing your great James Cagney impression?
Dolenz: (Huge laugh) You never know!