The Monkees were originally a fake band made up for a TV show—but before they knew it, the members were both television stars and pop music idols.
Almost 50 years later, The Monkees are still performing, and on Friday, March 27, members Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz will be performing at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
The Monkees first aired in 1966. The vision of Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz as a struggling rock band was inspired by the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night film. During a recent phone interview, Dolenz discussed the hectic schedule the band members faced when the show went on the air.
“Oh boy, fortunately I was only about 21 years old at the time,” Dolenz said with a laugh. “I had a lot of energy, but I’m not sure I could do it these days. It was intense. I had already been in the business for 10 years at that point, and I had a series as a kid, so I was familiar with the process. Those were long days filming a 30-minute sitcom, 10 to 12 hours sometimes. Then I had to go into the studio, and sometimes, I sang two or three lead vocals in one night—and they needed so much material for the show. During the weekends, we’d be rehearsing for the tour. Those couple of years were pretty intense.”
While The Monkees came together as a result of TV producers’ casting, Dolenz said it wasn’t hard to work with the other members.
“I think it’s easier to get along, because you show up one day, and it’s more formal,” he said. “It’s, ‘Hi, my name is Micky, and this is Michael, and you guys are going to be cast in a TV show. Your first call is at 8:30 in the morning, and in wardrobe by 9.’ In that sense, it’s a lot easier, because you start out in square one, and it’s sort of new.
“After years and years of being together, lots of things can happen, and you hear about that all the time—(like) that sort of feud between a couple of actors on Star Trek. … I can’t speak for the other guys, but I always approached it as I was an actor/singer/entertainer, and I was cast into a show, much like I’ve been cast into musicals recently. I played the wacky drummer on the television show, and The Monkees was an imaginary group. It really didn’t exist. … We didn’t all live in a beach house together.”
In 1967, The Monkees’ members won their creative freedom and began to write their own material.
“We had the control, and sometimes, I think we didn’t know what to do with it, but the sessions were a lot of fun and intense, because there was a lot riding on it,” Dolenz said. “I just remember loving being more and more involved in it. But it was a lot tougher, and it meant a whole lot more responsibility, but I still remember it being a lot of fun, and being more intimately involved in the process.”
One rather amusing story: The Monkees once had Jimi Hendrix on tour as the opening act. Monkees fans were not impressed with Hendrix at all, and Hendrix eventually left the tour, because he was finally seeing success on his own.
“It was pretty obvious back then what he would become. It was also pretty obvious what an incredible talent he was,” Dolenz said. “I had seen him at the Monterey Pop Festival, and I had suggested to the producers that they look at him as an opening act, because he was very theatrical, and that was a persona he was portraying onstage. I remember just seeing him at Monterey, thinking, ‘Now that’s a great act!’”
One of the more fascinating moments for The Monkees came when they were offered the chance to make a full-length film, which went on to become Head. The film was produced by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson; it had no plot and featured strange sequences with each of the members. The film was not only a flop; it alienated many Monkees fans. The film has since gained a cult following and was released in 2010 by the Criterion Collection as part of the America Lost and Found: The BBS Story box set.
“You always hope that something will be successful, but in retrospect, it probably wasn’t the kind of movie the fans were expecting,” Dolenz recalled. “But we had made a conscious choice. The consensus was we didn’t want to do a 90-minute version of the show, which commercially would have been the correct thing to do. At the time, the attitide was we wanted to stretch our wings a bit and do things and say things we weren’t able to do on the television show … and when you do a film, that’s not a problem. We all wanted to make a statement and do something kind of crazy, and we certainly did. I love it, and I’ve always thought it’s a great movie.”
The Monkees have been off and on since their initial split in 1971. In the mid-’80s, MTV ran a marathon of The Monkees TV show that introduced the band to a new generation of fans. During the mid-’90s, the group had a cameo in The Brady Bunch Movie. In 2010, the Monkees reunited again—and shortly after a reunion tour, Davy Jones passed away due to a heart attack, in 2012. Shortly thereafter, Michael Nesmith, who was hesitant to take part in past reunions, finally agreed to appear with the other members. While Tork and Dolenz are the only members performing on this tour, Dolenz said the door is always open for Nesmith.
“Frankly, my understanding is he’s writing a new book and has since decided he really wants to focus on that,” Dolenz said. “He has written a couple of books in the past, and Mike has drifted in and out through the years, but he’s always welcome. He’s a little bit like Neil Young with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.”
The Monkees will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, March 27, at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $29 to $59. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.