The Monkees featuring Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork will play their first UK concert since 2011 at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo in September.
National Rock Review recently spoke with Peter Tork to discuss his upcoming UK shows with Micky Dolenz, how he came to join The Monkees, his memories of touring with the band throughout the U.S. and the UK in the 60s and his encounters with both Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles.
NRR:Â Â Thank you for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review today. It’s a great honor to speak with you.
Tork:Â Â Thank you for doing this, believe me it’s you doing us a favor Iâ€™m just very glad to do this and thanks for your time.
NRR:Â Thank you, I grew up watching The Monkees as a kid, I loved the show so Iâ€™m very pleased to be speaking with you today.
The first thing Iâ€™ve got to ask you is, could you take us back to the beginning with The Monkees. What was it like auditioning for the band and how did you hear about the opportunity?
Tork:Â Â Well the story of how I heard about it is fairly well known. Mr. Stephen Stills who I knew in my Greenwich Village days apparently had met Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider one of the producers and had called me up on the phone and said ‘listen you’ve got to try out for this thing.’ I said ‘what about you?’ he said ‘well they think my hair and teeth are not photogenic but you should try out’ and I said ‘yeah yeah yeah’, but he called me back a couple of days later and said ‘no no really try out for this thing’ and I did, so I finally went up.
Basically, we met the producers, and if they liked you they put you in front of a camera and ask you questions, and if they liked that then they gave you a script and told you to memorize it to do a scene.Â By that point they were down to eight, and they called the four of us out of that last eight.
For the most part I was about forty miles away which was you know a couple of hours by bus at the time I had no transportation of my own and in between auditions I was hanging out and bussing tables at a place called The Golden Bear in Orange County in Southern California, actually the surfing capital.Â There were sun shiny days and pretty women everywhere, it was quite a wonderful time.
NRR: Great, it sounds wonderful. What was it like transitioning from performing as a band on television to taking the band out as a fully functional touring band?Â How did that all come about?
Tork:Â Well I had no qualms about it at all. I did not know that we had the resources we did, but I knew that Mike Nesmith was a folk singer and I was a folk singer. We had been guitar players for several years already. I played a little bass, I was a classically trained piano player for six years. I knew that Michael and I basically if we could just get one of those other two guys to play some drums we had a power trio, and as it turned out we had a power trio with a cute little Mancunian (said in a British accent) on the drum line and we practiced a little bit beforehand.
Oh well, listen let me tell you this story, it will take a minute. We were shooting the pilot, we didn’t know each other, we had just been introduced three to five days before and we were lined up, they gave us the costumes, they gave us their instruments. It was the dance scene and they were constructing something over in the corner.
We turned to the stage hands and we said ‘are these amps real, are they live?’ and they said ‘yes turn them up’.Â We started playing “Johnny B. Goode” and “Kansas City” out of the blue, never having played together before and the extras and everybody got up and started dancing. So we knew we were alright, right from the start there was just never any doubt in our minds.
Listen, there’s the ’67 live tour CD is available, and I’m sure there are cuts from it available from it on YouTube. Give it a listen, we were just basically your average grungy garage band, which was fine you know the songs were simple enough in those days. We just did the first album plus a couple of solo shots and we did an hour and there was no problem we were just delighted up there.Â We even swung from time to time, we caught the groove, we caught the wave.
NRR: What do you remember about your first live performance with The Monkees in Hawaii back in 66?
Tork: Wow, well we were nervous about that. The producers were very intelligent to put us in Hawaii because news does not travel very fast. If we didn’t do well (laughing) we would still be alright in the mainland U.S, stateside, but as it turns out it went ok. There were a couple of things that I remember, Mike said â€˜ok here’s our last tuneâ€™ and that was a mistake (laughing) you don’t tell your audience it’s the last tune as they duck out and they go by the stage entrance and they are waiting for you by the thousand, at least in those days.
So we’ve learned not to do that and we did a thing in the solo performances which didn’t work very well so we cut that out. It was a typical out of town try out kind of the thing for the show. Other than that it went well.Â Like I said we didn’t have to fight to find a common place to play it was always right there.
NRR: So you’ve recently been out on the road with Micky Dolenz across the U.S. How have the shows been going so far?
Tork:Â Well that’s been very interesting. In one way the shows have been the same as they’ve always been.Â Ever since the first reunion tour, more years ago than I care to think at the time, and this is the 20th anniversary reunion tour we are talking about now.
Ever since then it’s been basically how to bring the songbook to the people. The songs that they remembered, the songs that they remembered well, the songs that they had forgotten that they remembered, and then some songs that we did that they might not of noticed, but not too many of those of course because an audienceâ€™s attention will wander if they come to a Monkees show and they aren’t hearing “Last Train To Clarksville” or “I’m A Believer” pretty much right away.
In fact the Monkees had I think 5 top 10 hits and another 10 or 12 top 20 or top 30 hits that the range and size of the songbook is just fabulous really.Â I mean I can say this with a certain amount of awe in my voice with no false pride, because I had so little to do with it.Â I wrote three maybe four songs that are still in the songbook, Micky wrote two or three and we had several of Mikes but an awful lot of the songs were of course written by Carole King, Neil Sedaka and even Neil Diamond and Boyce and Hart of course who wrote Clarksville and almost all of the first Monkees album.
We had a tremendous crew of song writers working for us. So if I say that the Monkees song book was maybe the third best songbook in pop history, behind maybe only the Beatles and the Stones, this is not me patting myself on the back, this is me going look at that… as I think you would too.
NRR: Of course, indeed. Out of all of the many hits the Monkees have had over the years, which track in particular is your favorite to perform live and why?
Tork: My favorite track to perform live. I’ve always thought that “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was the Monkees best single so that one stands out very well. Right now there’s a song called “D.W. Washburn” which was a late Monkees hit, it did well. I’m now singing bass on that. So I’m having a lot of fun going D.W. Washburn (singing the song with a deep voice and laughing). So Iâ€™m enjoying myself on that and I start to clown around something fierce. I think I upstage Micky with it.
So the songbook is great, we of course miss Mike and Davy and we are sad that they’re… Davy, of course because he is gone and Mike for reasons that he didn’t share with us but that’s not important he chose not to come. So that left the two of us looking at each other wondering if we could pull this off and the shows we’ve done so far seem to say yes that this is a true Monkees show, we sing Davy’s and Mike’s songs.
Then we have video, we do “Valerie” on video, Davy does “Valerie” on video while Micky and I mop the sweat off our brows and have a glass of water or something off stage. Of course we do many of Mike’s songs because they were a staple of the third album which we really enjoyed making. So I have great time doing almost everything.
NRR: That’s great. Shortly you are going to be coming back to the UK and you are playing the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo in London on 4th September.
NRR: You must be pretty excited about that?
Tork: Oh yeah, I love England. I’m a total Anglophile. I’ve always enjoyed it there, I’ve always liked it you know rain, snow, sleet or London fog. To play the Hammersmith is just a wonderful thing to do.Â We will also be playing a music festival a little bit north, that’s not in front of me right now, Iâ€™m afraid I can’t recall it.Â Mostly I go where they point me you know.
The main thing is that we’re hoping to remind England of us so that we can come back next year which will be the 50th anniversary and do really well. We’d love to have you folks, you all and have a big celebration with us.
NRR: That sounds wonderful. You’ve got a long history with the UK obviously. What do you remember about your first trip to the UK back in ’67?
Tork: The first trip to the UK, I remember almost nothing of. You know with that much “Monkeemania” which was of course the equivalent of “Beatlemania” in the States. We got to wave at the kids at Heathrow, and then we dived into a limousine and then we were in a tunnel until we hit the stages and then dived back into the tunnel, which is a limousine or an airplane or a hotel corridor like that. You just live in this tunnel, just barely big enough to stretch your arms out in, and sometimes not even that.
It’s been since then that I’ve had memories of England. Great times visiting Jimi Hendrix in London, just to say hi. Jimi of course you may recall opened for the Monkees on a ’68 tour. It was stunning to get to know the man, his musicianship and his personality.
He was one of those few genuine, I shouldn’t say few. Jimi was one of those people whose talent puts him you know beyond compare. Nobody is going to be Jimi ever again. Jimi was the greatest Jimi ever and only Jimi possible, and people who are truly at the top of their game like that tend not to be defensive. They have nothing to fear in that sense, but in Jimi’s case in particular it showed in that he was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever met and not just sweet, but alert to you. You spoke to him and he focused on you and listened to you, paying attention to what you were saying you know.
Most entertainers when you talk to them they check you for cues, they are just listening for cues, and then they respond according to their cues. They’re not paying attention, not really, but that was not the case with Jimi.Â Truly a deeply human, human being and it was a joy to know him.
NRR:Â You got to meet the Beatles what was that like?
Tork: Well you know they were my heroes and they were Mike’s heroes and Davy’s heroes and Micky’s heroes too. To get to meet them was really glorious. I found George to be the friendliest, but again Ringo was the most human among them, the person who just did what he did without much consideration for externals. The other three all had something of an agenda that they were working off of. Ringo doesn’t, Ringo doesn’t have an agenda as far as Iâ€™ve been able to see. Just you know the chance to meet them to be able to say hi like that to laugh and have a few laughs, great.
NRR: Wonderful. That’s great. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review we really appreciate it, it’s been really interesting, very insightful and we look forward to you coming over here in the UK very shortly.
The Monkees featuring Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork play London Hammersmith Eventim Apollo on Friday September 4th. Tickets are on sale from www.alt-tickets.co.uk and the 24-hour hotline: 0844 871 8819