The legendary life of Micky Dolenz may be filled with some sort of musical milestone virtually every year, but 2016 just so happens to be his most monumental yet. First and foremost, the singer/drummer/actor is celebrating 50 years of The Monkees TV show and recording career with a calendar full of concert dates, plus the band released its first entirely new album in 20 years called “Good Times!” (featuring production from Fountains Of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, alongside songwriting contributions from Neil Diamond, Paul Weller, members of Oasis, Weezer and Death Cab For Cutie). Amidst it all, Chicago Concert Reviews scored some phone time with Dolenz during a brief break to chat about the latest wave of Monkees mania and his promise to play all the group’s hits (alongside some surprises) when he visits Music By The Lake just over the border in Williams Bay, Wisconsin on Saturday, July 9.
Because of the TV show in the ‘60s, the re-runs in the ‘70s, the huge MTV resurgence in the ‘80s, then the show going on Nickelodeon and Antenna TV, there’s always been a new generation in the audience. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t now as always.
Tell me how this is working. Are you taking some time out of The Monkees tour to do some solo shows?
Micky Dolenz: It’s not quite as complicated as that. I’ve always done some solo shows and basically it’s even the same band that I use for The Monkees as I do for myself. Basically I was the lead singer, and so over the years, I’ve done both solo shows and then we’ll do Monkees tours and I keep doing solo shows. This year I said “you know, it’s a Monkee year because of the anniversary and because of the record,” but this year as opposed to other years, I find myself with the same [booking] agency. In the past, there were different agents, so there were occasionally conflicts because of proximity rules, but this year, like I say, I have the same agents as a solo act as The Monkees do. So every once in a while this year they have found a fly date that I can do in between Monkees shows or Monkees tours and it’s working out fine. As long as the promoters are happy, and it’s not interfering proximity wise, then why not? I’m out on the road anyway!
My solo show is basically me doing all the Monkees’ hits. I want to make sure everybody knows that. I do all the same ones I do on The Monkees’ tour as I sang lead on most of them. On a solo show, I might throw in something off an album or maybe something I did as a solo artist or maybe sometimes I do a Beatles tune that I love, but I usually always have a story if I’m doing something that’s not Monkees. Like for instance, I tell the audience I’m going to do a Chuck Berry tune. Before The Monkees, I had a rock n’ roll band and I used to do “Johnny B. Goode,” and if you’re wondering why, it’s because this was my audition piece for The Monkees. This is the song that got me the gig. Or I’ll tell a story about being at a recording session at Abbey Road Studios for “Sgt. Pepper’s” by The Beatles and then I’ll do maybe a Beatles tune, but basically it’s a flat out Monkees hits.
In addition to the old school songs, “Good Times!” has some fantastic new songs. What was the process like connecting you guys with so many of the modern day songwriters for the project?
Dolenz: Well it was really interesting. I’ve been describing it as like the perfect storm. Basically what happened is a year or so ago, we were talking about what we could do for the 50 year reunion- a tour obviously, an album maybe, a TV thing- so we started planning and simultaneously we found these unfinished Monkees tracks that had been done in the ‘60s. They were multitracks- they weren’t just demos- and they were songs that obviously we had intended to finish and release, but the show went off the air and they stopped doing the albums and that was it. So we found all these tracks and one of them is called “Good Times!” It was a song written for me to sing by Harry Nilsson, the famous, wonderful singer/songwriter who probably was my best friend until he passed away. He’d done this track with Mike Nesmith and a couple of other musicians as the beginning tracks for me to record the vocals, but his vocal was spectacular. He never did anything sort of demo-esque. So I said “you know, this is unbelievable, I can sing a duet with my dear friend Harry Nilsson” and that got everybody excited.
Then I suggested we should call the album “Good Times!” It just seemed to fit perfectly and it took off from there. We found another track, “Love To Love,” that Neil Diamond wrote for Davy and we found Davy’s wonderful vocal on that and then we found two or three others. Then the record company reached out to a guy Adam Schlesinger from Fountains Of Wayne, who I had heard of course because I remember that song “That Thing You Do” and everybody saying “wow, it sounds like The Monkees.” In fact, I bumped into Tom Hanks at a party once and he said “I made a movie about you.” It’s like yeah, cool, so I met with Adam and we got along famously, and like I said, I knew Fountains Of Wayne and he started reaching out to some of these indie rock or alternative pop bands like Weezer and Death Cab For Cutie. I’ve heard of Andy Partridge [XTC] of course and Noel Gallagher [Oasis] and Paul Weller [The Jam, The Style Council] and it turns out that they were just absolutely thrilled. And I guess there’s this world of that indie rock stuff out there and there are so many similarities [with The Monkees]. So Adam did an amazing job of seamlessly blending all these songs and writers and things together.
Are you seeing younger faces in the crowds as a result?
Dolenz: Because of the TV show in the ‘60s, the re-runs in the ‘70s, the huge MTV resurgence in the ‘80s, then the show going on Nickelodeon and Antenna TV, there’s always been a new generation in the audience. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t now as always. Very often [I see] three generations. It’s quite amazing, you know? And obviously there’s some appeal there. The music stands up [thanks to] great production, great writing and I’d like to think that we had something to do with it playing and singing. So yeah, it’s not uncommon at all to have three generations.
What are your top Monkees memories? Is there anything that stands out when you look back over 50 years and think “I can’t believe we did that?”
Dolenz: You know at the time you have no way of knowing. You do your best and you work hard, and frankly- and this is not a joke- I don’t remember really clearly a lot of what went on because there was just so much happening in such a brief period of time. We would film the TV show for 8-10 hours a day at least and then I would go into the studio for another couple of hours and record vocals and then on the weekends we started rehearsing. Frankly, it was just a lot of constant, constant work. Then when we hit the road, it was such an eye opener because we had no idea how successful it was. We were inside the TV studio, then going home and there was no social media, so you just went home and crashed and got up the next day.
The first time that I remember realizing how successful it was came in December of 1966. We’d been filming the TV show and recording for a few months. The record was a hit, the television show was a hit, but like I say, back in those days you couldn’t find people, you couldn’t track them down and stalk them because it wasn’t that easy to find people. The show had been on the air for like three months and that Christmas we got a week off for a hiatus, so I was going to go see my family and bring Christmas presents. I jumped in my car and went down to my local mall where I grew up and shopped as a kid. I went into the big glass doors and all of a sudden I hear people screaming and running at me and I think it’s a fire (laughter). So I’m literally holding the door open saying “don’t panic, slow down, don’t worry” and then I realized that they were running at me and I had to sprint back to my car, get inside and leave! I was kind of pissed and had to have my roadie go and buy my Christmas presents for me!
Is there anything you would change from those 50 years? Maybe a little bit less recognition?
Dolenz: Oh no. It was just too spectacular, you know? I feel so blessed to have been part of it. You know, sometimes the recognition factor can be annoying for a celebrity if you’re sitting in a middle of a restaurant trying to have a nice romantic meal with your wife and somebody comes over and rudely shoves a paper in front of you and says “hey Monkee, sign this.” That can be difficult at times, and if there are a whole lot of people, it can be dangerous at times, but I wouldn’t change much at all.
On a more serious note, my condolences on the passing of fellow Monkee Davy Jones. Strangely enough, he seemed to kick off this enormous wave of losing all these iconic musicians and celebrities over the last few years. What’s your take on that and how do you continue to pay tribute to him?
Dolenz: Yeah, bizarre isn’t it? You’re absolutely right. It did start a whole wave of it. I don’t think there’s any real connection, but it was tough obviously to lose him. We didn’t know what was going to happen, if we would be able to continue on in any realistic way, but we’re fortunate that we have so much film, so much audio/visual stuff over the years because of the TV show and then other things that we filmed and home movies. We’ve always had a very audio/visual show even in the ‘60s. If I’m not mistaken, we were the first to bring film and film projectors and a movie screen on the road with us. We’d show clips from the show or bits from here or there. We’ve kept up that tradition and now it’s so much easier with all that computer and audio/visual stuff. So in a way, Davy’s always been there even to this day. In fact, one of the things we do on this particular show is we found the multitracks from songs like “Daydream Believer” and “Shades Of Gray” and we sing along and play with Davy’s vocals. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t getting morbid or anything but it’s not. It’s really wonderful and the fans just love it!
Micky Dolenz: Celebrating 50 Years Of The Monkees comes to Music By The Lake in Williams Bay, Wisconsin (near downtown Lake Geneva) on Saturday, July 9 at 7:30 p.m with tickets ranging from $25-$90. For additional details, call 262-245-8501 or visit MusicByTheLake.com and MickyDolenz.com.