The Monkees have survived many logical endpoints. They first seemed like they were done when their TV show went off the air in early 1968, and then again multiple times after: when they disbanded as a recording unit in 1971, when their reunion tours fizzled out amid bitter infighting in the early 2000s, and when Davy Jones died in 2012 and Peter Tork followed in 2019.
But they’re (probably) ending for real this year when surviving members Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz head out on a farewell tour. It kicks off September 10th in Spokane, Washington, and wraps up November 14th at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. They’ll be playing mainly classics from their Sixties catalog, but expect a song or two from Dolenz’s new album Dolenz Sings Nesmith. As the title suggests, its a collection of Nesmith-penned tunes sung for the first time by Dolenz, and produced by Nesmith’s son Christian.
We called up Dolenz at his home to hear about the new LP, the Monkees’ farewell tour, and his long friendship with the man he calls Nez.
Where am I catching you?
I’m out here in Southern California. It’s kind of a lousy day, 82 and sunny. [Laughs] I’m sitting here by the pool.
That’s great. Well, I’m really enjoying the album.
I appreciate that. I’m quite proud of it myself. I think Christian did an amazing job in re-envisioning some of these tunes. He was enchanted by the idea of working with me on it, and I’m blown away. Do you remember hearing “Circle Sky”?
Yeah. It’s a cool Indian version of it.
Yeah! When I first heard his demo of it, I was like, “Where the hell did this come from?” But it really captures the song, the moment, the Ravi Shankar bit, the movie Head. It’s really wonderful. I think he did an amazing job, and Andrew Sandoval is, of course, very instrumental in the material.
Back up and tell me how this all came about.
Well, Harry Nilsson was probably my best friend in the Sixties and Seventies. He had his first hit [“Cuddly Toy”] with us as a writer. And he recorded an album, Nilsson Sings Newman. It’s a great album. I’d hang out with him at sessions and the title stuck with me.
Years later, Peter and Nez and I were rehearsing for the Davy Jones memorial tour. I said, “You know, Nez, I’ve always wanted to do Dolenz Sings Nesmith.” He said, [exaggerated Nez accent] “That’s a good idea. I’ve got some songs you can do.”
It just kind of sat there for years because we were recording and had other stuff. But then [the label] 7A asked me if I had a solo project I wanted to do. I mentioned that and they jumped on it. That’s kind of how it happened. And then Christian got involved and it really took off.
I approached it the same way as I have the last few projects. I’m not a producer. I’m not a musician to speak of, though I play a little drums and guitar, obviously. But not a big songwriter. I’ve written a few things. Years ago, I decided to approach this like Frank Sinatra does with Nelson Riddle or Quincy Jones, like I did with our dearly departed Adam Schlesinger with Good Times! I’m the singer. And for the most part, I was the lead singer [in the Monkees.] I’m going to approve the songs and arrangements.
I did make some contributions on the Dolenz Sings Nesmith record, a couple of the arrangements. I had my suggestions for songs. We went over all the songs. Of course, Nesmith has such an incredible library of stuff, with the Monkees and with the First National Band. I went in the studio with Christian and laid down vocals.
You opted not to do “Mary, Mary,” “Papa Gene’s Blues,” or “Listen to the Band.” These are some of his most iconic songs, but it’s probably smart since they’re so well-known and it’s more fun to explore his catalog.
That had a lot to do with it. The one thing we all agreed on is that I didn’t want to do a karaoke cover version. And it would be of myself, for starters, doing “Mary, Mary.” How else do you do that tune? That’s the same thing we felt about “Listen to the Band.” How do you do that unless it’s “Listen to the Band”? It’s kind of tricky since it’s so iconic.
We talked about “Joanne,” but how do you do that without the yodel? It was up to Christian at the end of the day to say, “I think these are the ones I can do.” We kept using the word “re-envision” and that’s what he did. He re-envisioned those tunes. And I’m blown away every time I hear it. I have to go back sometimes now and listen to Nez’s originals and go, “Wow.” They’re not all that different. We didn’t turn “Different Drum” into a rap or anything.
There are also a lot of lesser-known songs on there, like “Nine Times Blue,” “Keep On,” and “Maria’s Theme.” There are just so many great songs that aren’t known by the wider public.
Well, hopefully they will know them now. [Laughs] “Nine Times Blue” is a great one. To do that version with the grand piano, that was my idea. Christian loved it. I went in with a piano player live and did that live, full takes.
And so the Monkees fans will love it because of the Monkees songs. The Nesmith fans will love it because of the Nez songs. They’ll know the material. And my fans, I hope, will love it because of the vocals.
Did Nez hear the album yet?
Oh, yeah. He said, “That’s really good. I really like that.” You know Nez. He’s very understated.
Tell me how the idea of a Monkees farewell tour came about.
Well, first of all, only recently did we dub it the farewell tour. Had it not been for the pandemic, I don’t know if we would. But this show we’re doing, “The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show,” that’s the show that we were doing a year and a half ago. This current run of dates, now with some more added, was postponed four times. That tour was booked and thousands of fans had bought tickets. Many have kept those tickets and didn’t ask for refunds since it was always promised we’d be back as soon as we could.
For all intents and purpose, Mike and I are the remnants of the Monkees. That’s why we didn’t call it the Monkees. When people do, it’s a little bit of a misnomer. It’s not the Monkees; it’s “The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show.” When Mike and I agreed to do this, we said we couldn’t call it the Monkees without Peter and David. And so we don’t, and I don’t, to this day.
You’re doing about 40 shows. This is a lot longer than the previous few tours you did with Nez.
Yeah. [Laughs] Thanks for reminding me!
Are you looking forward to that many nights? That’s a ton of work for you two.
Well, first of all, we put our foot down to the agents and said, “No more than three shows in a row, and that’s pushing it for Nez and I at 76 and 78.” But we’re also going as first class as you possibly can on a friggin’ bus and hotels and airplanes. But you know the old saying: They pay us to travel; we sing for free. That’s the way I look at it and have for years.
I’m not looking forward to the touring and the hotels and travel, to be honest. I never did travel very well. I’m like a fine wine. I don’t travel well. I’m good when I’m lying on my side in a cellar in the dark. But the shows, of course, especially these ones with Nez, are just wonderful. The audience reaction has always been so phenomenal. And that helps, to be honest. If you’re going out there flogging a dead horse, it probably wouldn’t feel the same. But I’ve been blessed in all configurations [of the Monkees] and my solo shows, for the most part, I’m always well received.
To be honest, a lot of that has to do with the quality of the material. You start out with those songs by Nesmith or Carole King or Boyce and Hart or Nilsson or Neil Diamond, Paul Williams … you start with that material and it’s a little hard to screw it up.
Are you going to make any changes to the set list from the past few Mike and Micky tours?
I don’t intend to make many. I think that would be a mistake considering that all these people have bought tickets to a show that they’ve heard about. It was advertised, publicized, promoted, and we recorded, I think, a wonderful live album of the show. It did quite well. It’s been immortalized in that album. So I personally wouldn’t be changing much.
Having said that, there’s always room for a little something different. For instance, I would love to do a tune or two off my new album of Nesmith tunes. I thought that would be appropriate. It’s funny you mention “Nine Times Blue” since that’s one of the ones I thought I’d do. That goes into “Little Red Rider.” It’s been split up on the CD, but the end of “Nine Times Blue” starts getting into a rhythm. It goes right into “Little Red Rider,” the next tune. And so I’d love to do something like that.
I’m not saying it’s written in stone. But my feeling is, you buy a ticket on Broadway to see Wicked, you spend about $500, and you don’t go there and end up seeing Oklahoma! Not that Oklahoma! is a bad show, but it’s not what you bought the ticket for!
How do you think you’ll feel at the last show in Los Angeles after the last song?
I have no idea. But I’ll be frank with you. Even though in the past, I can’t remember if we ever called a Monkees tour the farewell tour … I don’t think we ever did. But there were times when David and Peter and I, after the Eighties thing, there were times I did say goodbye to everybody. And none of us had any intention of doing it again. It was like, “Been there, done that.” But then inevitably, a few years later, somebody, an agent, manager, or producer would track us down and say, “I think I can put together a tour.”
It would happen like that. As you know, since the show was canceled in 1968, there’s never been a Monkee business. There’s never been a Monkee office like Apple, or whatever. It’s always been … I guess it’s like when Paramount wanted to make a Star Trek movie, they had to track down William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and make them a deal. That’s how it’s been.
You got this job in 1965 at an audition. Do you see this last show as the end of that job?
No. That’s like asking me … I did Hairspray in London. I was cast as the father. If I were to ever go back and do Hairspray, I would recreate that part. Whenever I’ve gone back to Monkee business, to some degree, I’ve been recreating that character on that television show. Sometimes it’s more than others. On some tours, I’ll be a little more wacky. In the Eighties, for instance, I was more wacky and jumping around than I necessarily am now.
But when I go back as a solo act, which I probably will after this tour, maybe next year, the majority of the show, the attraction for the fans, is hearing those Monkee hits. I’ll pepper the show with other songs from my album Remember, or stuff from my childhood, or stuff that I did before the Monkees, or songs that had a big influence on me before, during, and after the Monkees.
And in that sense, I will always be Micky, the wacky drummer on that classic old television show, just like Leonard Nimoy was always Mr. Spock, God love him. You got typecast from these things. Most people spend the years trying to be successful enough to be typecast, and then they fight it the rest of their lives. Well, I never fought it. I knew what was happening. I already had a series [Circus Boy] when I was a kid. Right after the Monkees, before I moved to England, I’d go to an acting audition for something and they’d go, “What are you doing here? We don’t need any drummers.”
As you probably know, I was up for the Fonz on Happy Days. It was down to me and Henry [Winkler]. But no, I’ve never walked away from it in that sense. And as you know, there are acts that say, “I’m not going to sing those hit songs.” You’ve seen them, and I’ve seen them, as fans. It really pisses you off. “You want to do your new material? Great! Love it! Wonderful! But c’mon, give me ‘[Last Train To] Clarksville.’” I understand that and I always have.
What’s funny is that one of the songs that Nez wrote … it wasn’t until years after he wrote this line that he explained what it meant. His lyrics can be quite enigmatic, as can be the titles. But the line in “Tapioca Tundra” that goes, “It cannot be a part of me/For now it’s part of you,” speaks to a moment that he had singing onstage to enormous crowds singing a song. He realized that song is no longer his. It’s no longer our song. It’s yours.
We realized that when we toured with the memorial Davy tour [in 2012] when we sang “Daydream Believer.” We’d play the intro and the crowd would go nuts. I’d say, “We can’t sing this. It’s not ours. You can.”
It’s amazing that even though half the band is gone, when you Mike stand together, you conjure up the spirit of the whole thing. One plus one becomes four somehow.
That’s really common. You can say that about the members of the Stones or the Beatles. You can say that about the members of Star Trek. You just have William Shatner on a series and it’s one thing. You put pointy years on Leonard Nimoy and you put him with Bill and a couple of other people … The way I look at it is the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts in these instances. You really can’t reduce it.
You can’t take it apart. You can’t say, “It was really Micky Dolenz’s vocals. That’s what made it,” or, “It was really the writing of the show,” or, “It was just the costumes,” or, “It was just Nesmith’s songwriting,” or, “It was the directing.” You can’t do that. It doesn’t work like that. And when David, Peter, and I got together, it went up another factor. And when the four of us got together, the few times we did, the same thing happened. You can’t really define it or take it apart and figure out why.
I think a lot of it with Nez and I has to do with the fact that we really hit it off from the get-go. On the television show, in terms of the comedy, our sense of comedy was really mutual. We both liked Monty Python, for instance, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. We improvised really good together, though he was initially much better than I was. But I kind of caught up and learned improv from him. And he says he learned acting from me. But we really clicked as comics. We used to joke, after some funny bit on the show, “One day, the Mike and Micky show.”
It only took 50 years.
That’s right! But there’s also the music. Right from the get-go, we really hit it off musically. I put to the fact that he was born near Dallas and grew up in Texas, and my mom was from Austin. In my household, I was constantly, in my early childhood, listening to Sons of the Pioneers, Tennessee Ernie Ford. And Nez would have been doing the same thing. And pre-Monkees, I became a huge Everly Brothers fan. My sister Coco and I would sing Everly Brothers tunes with those incredible harmonies.
That’s what I’d do with Nez right from the get-go since he was the only one writing songs. When we started rehearsing in the early days, around the set and around the campfire, we would inevitably start singing Nesmith songs. And I would start singing those harmonies above him, those Everly Brother–type harmonies. In fact, I used to call it the Everly Monkees.
You combine those two things and I think that does speak to what you’re talking about. Nez and I have a magic. You can’t take it apart too far, but it does have something to do with all that.
I think it’ll be emotional for much of the audience to watch you two together and think it’ll probably be the last time they see you together.
Oh, boy. I should think so. It’s going to be interesting. Very interesting.