The Monkees' Mike Nesmith & Micky Dolenz on Their New Tour, TV Legacy & the Rock Hall of Fame

Michael Nesmith Micky Dolenz
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Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees perform onstage at The Canyon Club on Oct. 20, 2017 in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Monkees fans have been buzzing since it was announced that Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz will tour together starting June 1. The shows start in Arizona and hits California, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, and includes two dates in Canada. Both Dolenz and Nesmith, who talked to Billboard in recent phone interviews, said the tour developed out of a mutual friendship and respect for each other that began early in the Monkees' career and has lasted through the years.

"I've always been a fan of his and he's been a fan of mine," said Dolenz. "We always got along great creatively. (We have) similar tastes in music and style and stuff like that. I've had an enormous amount of respect for him as a musician, singer and songwriter. And over the years, whether it was just myself solo, or with David and Peter, or if it was just Peter, just David, (we've) always done Nesmith's tunes. Always. A lot more than he probably has," said Dolenz with a laugh. "(And) it always comes up at some point, 'You guys want to go on the road?' said Dolenz. "I tour pretty extensively as a solo artist and always have. Peter and Mike and I did a tour not long ago. This time, Peter wasn't available." More recently, Nesmith joined Dolenz at a couple of his solo gigs in Southern California. "I invited Nez to come down and sing on the shows and do a couple of songs. And at that point is when we started chatting about it."

Nesmith traces the roots of the tour back even earlier -- to the beginning days of The Monkees TV series. "When I was sitting around before we were filming, I just decided I need to know these guys that I was working with, who they are, where they come from. I had run into Peter a little bit at the Troubadour. (I) didn't know Micky at all and Davy was a mystery. So I extended myself. And the guy I liked the most was Mick. And the reason I liked him the most was because he was funny. And he was spontaneously funny. He can be that. And that was the wind I set my sails in.

"And so we got on well," Nesmith said. "He could make me laugh hard and I could make him laugh hard. So we were playmates on that level. And the very first couple of episodes, he and I riffed on – I don't want to call them extemporaneous or improvisational, but there were things outside the script that were comments on the time. So when Mick and I would have fun we would have fun with that whole space, that whole social space that was developing. Now I was coming at the whole thing from a missed understanding. I thought I was hired to play music and to be in a band and to all this stuff. And it took a long time, long past the show, for me to understand I was in a television show. So it took a lot of time and all of that, Mick and I still continue to be friends and so forth. And when we would start to get silly, which would usually happen at dinner or someplace when we had a long time to sit and talk, that silliness would go over and we would identify ourselves to each other when we were riffing in that space that the space was 'The Mike and Micky Show.' And I had it in my mind that 'The Mike and Micky Show' was a real television show and that we were rehearsing it. But it was kind of a relief valve and Micky was the guy who poured the Pepsi over Don Kirshner's head, which was one of the great endearing acts that he did in my life."

The story of Dolenz pouring a drink over the head of Kirshner, then the Screen Gems music head who helped choose their songs and whose work became a contentious issue with them as time went on, is well known among Monkees fans, but as Dolenz says now, "It sounds a little more dramatic than it was. We were in the studio and we were just being silly as we usually were. And they encouraged us, the producers, to be silly all the time. And I had a cup of Coca-Cola, but it was empty except for the ice. And Donny said something I just thought was silly or something. And I frankly didn't know what he did because he was from New York. In retrospect, I realize he was head of Screen Gems publishing music and was responsible partly in picking music and crafting the music of the show. And so he said something and I just thought it was silly.

"And I said 'Oh, Donnie.' and I put the ice on the top of his head like a hat and didn't really think much of it. He did take me out in the hallway and he was quite polite considering what I had done. And he was very polite about it, saying 'I've got to maintain some kind of respect here.' And that was it. That was the extent of it. Nothing else was ever said. Expect of course it went down in urban myth. (But) it was much less dramatic than people want to make out."

So what do Nesmith and Dolenz have planned for their stage show? "I've been asking myself the question since Micky and I decided to do this," says Nez. "And I don't mean to be flip but I don't really know. We've got 36 songs. There are a lot of deep cuts that people have asked to hear but we never just felt like had as much traction as the Big Six. And he and Davy when they were out as a duo and he and Peter when they were out as a duo they stayed with the Big Six and would run through these other things as offbeat stuff and then when they would get to the Big Six they would build the show up to a grand finale.

"But," he continues, "I'm not like that and Micky and I aren't like that. We love the stuff that's been sitting in the margins and sitting in the private rooms. And so we're going to roll that out. These are going to be very deep cuts. They're all Monkees songs. It is a Monkees show but without The Monkees."

Then he pauses. "Maybe I shouldn't have said that. But there's a treasure of great material that the New York Monkees music people didn't want to use at all. They had scolded me for singing with a twang which is like scolding somebody in a wheelchair for not walking. It was mysterious what my role was so I just persisted and wrote these songs but every time I would submit them they would get shuttled off like a flipper on a pinball machine into a corner 'Do Not Use.' And so they sat there for years and years. They ended up on albums. And we knew about them."

Nez comes up with an example. "There's a song called 'St. Matthew.' But I don't think anybody in the world has heard it," he said. "But then when we went into rehearsal and started singing, we both felt the electricity of it. Mick said it made his hair stand up … what hair he's got left. He and I are about the same with that. I think maybe he was talking about the hair on his arms. He loved it. He said this will be such a hit with the audience because they haven't heard us sing it."

On the other hand, at the time of the interview, Nesmith said no decision had been made as to whether any solo songs by either of them, such as "Joanne" or "Rio" in Nez's case, would be in the show. "They're under serious discussion. Right now the answer's no (for those two songs) because they're so associated with my solo career," he said, and then added, "I think any dyed-in-the-wool Monkees fan is going to be satisfied with this show. And I don't know that 'Joanne' or 'Rio' will contribute to that."

Is there a possibility of the shows being recorded and released in the future? "We have talked about that," says Dolenz. "I don't know if that's a done deal for sure, but we have talked about it. Right now we're just trying to get in to get the rehearsals all figured out and stuff. Because a lot of this stuff we've never done before."

The Monkees' history has been filled with amazing moments, such as when Jimi Hendrix spent a short-lived time opening for them. The idea for The Monkees show had been to fashion them after the Beatles. It was almost inevitable that members of the two groups would meet as they did in England during the recording sessions for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Dolenz recalls it was he and the four Beatles with producer George Martin in the studio.

"I was all alone with just the four of us and of course George Martin, the producer. And it was quite funny. I don't know what I was expecting when they invited me. I'd met Paul the night before at his house. He had a dinner and he invited me to this session for this new album they're doing called Sgt. Pepper and I'm like, 'Oh, cool.' I showed up all dressed up. I guess I was expecting some kind of Beatles fun fest freakout, you know, psycho Jell-O love-in kind of thing and I got dressed accordingly in my paisley bell-bottoms and tie dyed underwear. And I looked like a cross between Ronald McDonald and Charlie Manson. Something like that. And it was just four of them sitting there playing.

"And John said, 'You wanna hear what we're working on?' And I said, 'Yeah, cool,' and they played the (then unreleased) tracks to 'Good Morning, Good Morning.' And I always remember that and I will for the rest of my life."

Dolenz and Nesmith told Billboard they each plan to do solo tours after The Mike & Micky Tour ends. "I've got a nice tour locked in that starts in September for the First National Band Redux," Nesmith says. The tour will start in the South and go up the East Coast to Boston. He said there is also talk the tour will hit the U.K. and Europe. Dolenz also said he has more solo dates in the works: "I have a few coming up after the tour."

Peter Tork, when contacted by Billboard, said in a statement that a solo project is the reason he won't be along for this tour. "I'm glad to report that I spend my time these days enjoying our growing family and working on music projects that I've had on the back burner for the several recent years of Monkees related activity," he said in a statement issued through his representatives. "Musically, so far this year we've released Relax Your Mind, a Leadbelly tribute CD with my blues band, Shoe Suede Blues, which features a couple of tracks with my brother Nick, and which has been very well received. Leadbelly was an early and important influence on us as kids and it has been a joy to share that music and work together on this project.

"I have some additional eclectic recordings squirreled away over the years that I'm sorting through for mastering and compiling for later release, so stay tuned. I'm delighted that Micky and Mike are touring again, and heartily wish them well in their adventures. Historically, the Monkees team up in various configurations, depending on interest and availability. I'd never say never to the possibility of future projects, but at the moment I'm very happily very busy here in my world."

Dolenz also spoke of the absence of fellow Monkee Davy Jones, who died in 2012 from a heart attack. "He's left an indelible impression forever that we pay tribute to with every show. There's a big hole that can never be filled. We still sing his songs, but they don't belong to me anymore. They belong to the fans, because they're the ones that go crazy when we sing. If I keep that in mind, it helps make the hurt of his loss easier."

Both are pragmatic on the subject of The Monkees getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, something their fans have been wishing for. "Jann Wenner and his minions have the right to do what they want to do with their private collection of rock 'n' roll records," says Nesmith. "And if they want to say (this) is the best one and put it on the top of their fireplace, then they can do that and that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's being run like a living room best of, not to say they're the best. Some of those bands that have acknowledged and brought in the Hall of Fame are, without question, some of the better writers and players."

Says Dolenz, "I was so thrilled to get an Emmy because I was a child of television. I was so thrilled to get two Emmys (for The Monkees TV series in 1967) that everything else after that is kind of icing on the cake. But I also know and understand that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was and I believe still is not a public democratic sort of thing. It's a country club, kind of, that those three guys started. It's a private club like a country club. And they can have in whoever they want. It's their club."

The two Monkees are philosophical on what the group and the show has meant to their legacy and music history. "I'd like to think that I did some good work in music and in the TV show in comedy," Dolenz says. "Because don't forget. The Monkees started out and was first and foremost a sitcom, a TV show about a rock 'n' roll group. It wasn't a rock 'n 'roll group to start with. It was a TV show. If you look at The Monkees more as a Broadway musical like a Marx Brothers musical on television, a little a half hour Marx Brothers musical with some singing and dancing and playing and a bad guy and maybe a good guy and maybe a chase and some girls and stuff, if you look at it like that, the whole thing makes a whole lot more sense."

He compares it to the show Glee. "Glee is a show about an imaginary glee club that doesn't really exist. And The Monkees was a TV show about an imaginary band that didn't really exist. We lived in this beach house in Malibu, which is a set, of course, which does beg the question of how we could afford a Malibu beach house when we never got any work," he says with a laugh. "But that's what it was about. And like Glee, we could actually all do it. We could sing and act and play."

Nesmith gets a little deeper on the television aspect. "I think (The Monkees) main legacy lies in television. And at the present time I don't see television paying much attention to the '60s," he says. "And so as I look back on it now, I hope that the treasure trove that is television won't get overlooked. I have a feeling the way it will come into the general consciousness in the next 50 years is as one of those extraordinary things that happened in the '50s and '60s."