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In 2018, Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees hit the road for the first time as a duo. The tour continued following Nesmith’s heart surgery that year, and the pair went on to perform in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.
Rhino Records recently released an audio document of the concerts, “The Monkees-The Mike & Micky Show Live.” Recorded in March 2019, the album features a few Nesmith penned songs not performed live during the Monkees’ heyday as well as their familiar hits.
I spoke with Dolenz by phone from his Los Angeles area home about the new album and several other subjects as well, including staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, his singing, “The Everly Monkees,” a fine furniture company he started with one of his daughters, and more.
How are you and your family doing sheltering in place?
To be honest, I hate to say that I’m enjoying it because of all the people who have suffered so tragically. But considering my normal lifestyle, which is in and out of airports, concerts, trains, planes, buses, and it has been for years. I’m very seldom ever home, you know, for a few days, maybe a week or a week and a half. And, I’ll have to go somewhere for a week and come back, a few days, wash my clothes and leave again. That’s been pretty consistent.
This has probably been the longest time I’ve had off, like I say, in years. And so, I’m cleaning out a lot of closets and drawers, and attacking little projects and things I’ve always wanted to do and just never got around. I’m planting my vegetable garden tomorrow. I got my seedlings. And, I do that every year, because I love gardening. But invariably, I plant it in the spring and I never come back. So once in a while I’ll come back and grab some tomatoes. But often, I’m just never there for the harvest. It’s ridiculous.
So, let’s go to the subject at hand, “The Mike and Micky Show Live” CD. It’s a collection of great songs. Well-sung, well played, touching at times, funny at times. How did the album come into being?
Oh, well obviously, Mike and I decided to go on the road. And we did a little fishing expedition with the agents and the fans and with our manager, and the record company of course, Rhino, and we put the feelers out because after Peter passed, unfortunately, Mike and I, obviously, were like, what do we do now? But the feedback that did come back, and the fans were thrilled. It all was very positive.
Record company was happy even though we knew that it was going to be different, of course. And, that’s when we decided we can use the Monkee brand and the logo and everything. But, we can’t call it The Monkees. You know, it didn’t sit well with anybody. And that’s when, I don’t remember who it was, came up with The Mike and Micky Show. And probably it was myself or Nesmith because back in the day that term, that phrase actually comes back from the Sixties. Because what would happen is on the television show, Mike and I, right from day one it seems, we really connected in a lot of ways, musically and sonically.
The Everly Monkees, you say.
Oh yeah, you’ve heard that quote.
It’s in the CD booklet.
Oh alright, of course. Yeah, The Everly Monkees. And because of his Texas roots, and my mom was from Texas. So, I grew up being influenced by Tennessee Ernie Ford and The Sons of the Pioneers and stuff like that. So that had a lot to do with it. And then like the comedy, we just connected. And we had similar sensibilities and we were fans of the same kinds of acts, comedy like Monty Python, for instance. We both were big Monty Python fans. And we just connected. We started improvising. I mean, they trained us to improvise. But we started doing it, and we would just go off on these crazy improv things. And then we’d finish it up and look at each other and go, Mike and Micky Show! Serious, that’s how it happened. And so, the show is obviously very different. Well, still Monkee music, and still has those songs which I call can’t, can’t not do songs.
A lot of deep cuts you could say, too.
Yes, and that wasn’t just arbitrary, you know. We had the record company who are really in touch with the fans and some of our uber fans. And Andrew Sandoval, the producer, who’s responsible for so much of the recent success. And some of the songs, like Nez songs, we have done in the past. I don’t think, I don’t believe we ever did “St. Matthew.” And I think “Door Into Summer” we may have, Peter and David and I. We might have done that somewhere in the dim and distant past. Because we would always do Nesmith’s tunes. We would always do “Girl I Knew Somewhere”, “Circle Sky”, “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round”, “Papa Gene’s Blues.” So we were always doing that for the last 40 years. But it is very, very special to be doing ‘em with Nez. And an incredible band, by the way.
I was going to ask you about them. Did Christian Nesmith (Mike’s son and Mike & Micky Show group member, who mixed the live album) put the band together?
No, no, no, no. Most of the band is my solo band. And musicians that have played on and off with The Monkees for decades, some of ‘em. Wayne Avers, for instance, has been my m.d.(musical director) and lead guitar player and more recently The Monkee m.d. for a couple of decades, at least. God, I don’t even know how far back. So the bass player, the drummer, guitar player, my sister singing backgrounds, vocals. They have all been in my personal solo band for like I say, for years and years. And then Nez brought, of course, Christian and his partner Circe, and Pete Finney, the steel player, and Alex Jules I knew, the keyboard player, so he joined. And I think that’s it, isn’t it?
Ten people, I think, total on stage in the (YouTube live) music videos.
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, singing with all those people. I mean, we’ve done it before when Peter and David and I went out in the Eighties for the reunion.
And I was there (at one of the concerts).
Santa Clara, Great America, 1986.
Yeah. Well I believe we would have had about ten, because I know we had a horn section alone of three. A three piece horn section and keyboards and all the other stuff. But I think we probably had up to ten, easily
I want to talk about your singing, which sounds so super on the live album. How do you keep your singing voice so strong, sounding so good?
Well, if I have a voice getting older in the attic. My secret is no sex, no drugs, no rock and roll. Well, no drugs.
And you’re singing in the original key.
Oh always, yeah. Always have. But, it’s not just coincidental. It depends how you feel about nurture and nature. I do believe there is genetics involved in stuff like that. Because your vocal cords are muscles. So it’s a physiological thing. It’s like somebody’s born with, I don’t know, a golfer’s physique or a tennis player. It’s like a sport because it’s muscles. And so, I think there is an element of that. My mom being a singer and my dad being a singer. So, no way to prove it, but you do take on physical characteristics of your parents. You just do.
And it doesn’t just stop at blue eyes or blonde hair or whatever. It can apply to all kinds of physiological characteristics. And so, I think there’s something to that, because I could sing, and my sister, right from the get-go. Because there was always music around the house, and my mom was singing and teaching us to sing harmony. Having said that, you gotta have a knack, I think, that you do have to have talent. But, you know there’s probably a lot of people out there that could sing but just weren’t brought up with it. And there’s a lot of people out there that were brought up and really tried, but can’t sing. So, there’s that. But to be honest, I think for me, at this age, it’s because I started training. And I didn’t start training until like, 2000, when I was cast into a musical called "Aida", the Elton John/Tim Rice musical on Broadway. And I was a bad guy. I was a villain.
Did you enjoy playing a villain?
Oh yeah. Oh my god, of course. Every actor will tell you that. The villain’s always the funnest, you know, the best part to play. Yes, I did enjoy it. But I had a couple of numbers where I had big, I don’t want to say operatic, but you know it’s that Elton John kind of, Tim Rice sort of rock/pop opera. That kind of thing. And so I had some big songs. I had to hit some big notes, like in full, eight shows the week. And when I got cast, my manager said, “You know you really should start thinking about taking some singing lessons.” I feel like an idiot now, but I should’ve said the same thing I said to my mom in the Sixties when she came out to visit and said, “You know you really should take some singing lessons.” And I said, “Mom, I just sold 65 million records.” So I said to my manager, I said something similar, I said, “Oh, I don’t know man. I don’t want to sound like Mario Lanza.” And she laughed and said,” No, it’s not like that.” I’m glad I took her advice because I did start taking lessons.
And mainly it comes down to breathing. That’s the key ingredient, you know. You gotta have some talent. You have to have the tubes. You gotta have other elements. But, it may come down to breathing because that’s what saves your vocal cords. And it’s a bit of a long story why, but if you just think of your vocal cords as guitar strings and like an acoustic guitar, to make it louder you don’t just hit it harder and harder and harder. Because “A”, it’ll distort, and “B”, they’ll eventually break. What you do is you plug it into an amp and turn the amp on. And that’s kind of any analogy, my analogy, to learning to sing using your diaphragm and your breath.
I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t familiar with your sister Coco before this album. She is a talented vocalist in her own right.
Oh my gosh.
Are there any websites for her or any CD’s? Anything you’d suggest where we could find out more about her singing or music and buy some?
Cocodolenz.com, and it’s a nice little website there.
Great. Speaking of The Everlys, there’s a video of you and Coco singing The Everlys’ “Crying in the Rain” together on YouTube. Is there any chance you could bring a duet, something like that, with the two of you onto a future show once the COVID-19 situation is over?
Nine times out of ten, we do it in my solo show because she sings in all my solo shows. But you know, something like that isn’t quite appropriate for The Mike and Micky Live show. There’s so much other material that we need to get to. Now the reason that we do that is I released a CD a few years ago called “King For A Day”, which is a tribute to Carole King and Gerry Goffin. And it’s all their songs. And of course “Crying in the Rain” was one of their big hits. And I did it on the CD, with Coco.
There are 25 songs on the new live album, but still, I understand, a few that didn’t make the cut. Will they be released as bonus tracks or on an EP?
The record company has talked about that, yeah.
And also the live album is on both CD and vinyl. What are your feelings on the resurgence of vinyl?
Well, it’s complicated. I love the fact that you can actually have some artwork now. You can actually have a cover and liner notes and pictures and things. And so I like that a lot. Technologically it’s not analog, which vinyl was. It’s still digital. Recorded digitally, mixed digitally, and mastered digitally. And then, transferred with an A and D converter to a vinyl pressing. But the music and the recording and mixing and everything else, mastering, most of them are all digital. So, in a way, you could say it’s the best of both worlds . People swear that those old vinyl records sounded better. But, I heard somebody comment that it’s because the music was better. I don’t know. I won’t make a comment on that. But, it’s not analog, I mean, like it was back in the day. But, you know, I have some. I got some vinyls and I got player. And you know, it’s cool.
How do you enjoy listening to new music? Vinyl, CD, streaming?
I don’t listen to new music ever. I haven’t in decades maybe. To me, it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday. I mean, that’s what I do for a living, music and singing. And if I were going to record or write new music, well then I might. Like if I’m going to write a TV thing or a movie, I’ll look at the genre and make notes and stuff. But, I’m not really a prolific writer.
"Randy Scouse Git", though.
Yeah, that was one.
I love the story of it on the live album.
Oh right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I don’t. My wife and I in the morning we listen to Segovia, and in the evening, cocktail hour, we listen to Sinatra. That’s where we’re at.
Favorite Tracks on New Album
What are some of your favorite tracks on the new live album and why?
Oh boy, that’s tough. A lot of good material and a lot of great material that I haven’t sung in a long time. “St. Matthew” is a great tune. “Door Into Summer”, oh boy. But you know a lot of the Nesmith tunes I’ve always done, like “Sunny Girlfriend”, “You Just May Be The One”, “Mary, Mary”, “You Told Me.” What else is on there? One of my favorite songs to sing of the new stuff is “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster.”
Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller (co-writers of “Hipster”).
Oasis and The Jam.
Of course, I love the stuff from “Head,” “As We Go Along” and “Porpoise Song”, too.
Any discussions about releasing a live Blu-ray, DVD, stream of The Mike and Micky Show?
Yeah, it’s been mentioned. I wouldn’t be surprised that the producers and the record company are talking about it. This live album thing kind of fell together pretty quick. The whole thing fell together pretty quick, and we weren’t sure how it was going to be received, you know. So, we’ll just look to the stars, look to the skies.
Four years ago, The Monkees Complete Series box set was released on Blu-ray. The episodes look superb from what I’ve seen on YouTube. Unfortunately, it’s sold out now and going for between five and eight hundred dollars on eBay. Any chance that would be re-released in a less lavish package, less expensive for fans?
I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea. I haven’t heard. I’ve not been privy to any discussions about that myself. You know it would be nice. But, as you probably know, we the four Monkees, had very little to do with any of the production, television, or recordings or otherwise, certainly in the Sixties. And to this day, we get very little economically, if anything at all, from things like that. Never did.
So, residuals, not much.
Residuals lasted six showings. That was it. That was the Screen Actors agreement at the time.
Any thoughts of a future tour? Hopefully the COVID-19 situation can get better.
Well, we had two tours booked, and one of them’s been pushed back twice. And the other one in the Fall, we’re just going to have to wait and see. I’m not optimistic. Haven’t heard anything, nothing official. But, I don’t see this thing settling down for months.
You toured last year in the Tribute to The Beatles show, “The White Album” I should say. How was that? How was that received?
Oh my god, that was great. That was really, really a high point in my career, you know.
Which Beatles songs did you perform?
“I’m So Tired.” I did “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”. And then I sang parts to other songs.
You’ve known The Beatles going back to the Sgt. Pepper days. Any fond stories you could share about them that haven’t been told, yet?
Not any that haven’t been told, no. You’ve probably heard the ones about going to the session at Abbey Road and “Sgt. Pepper” and meeting The Beatles. I tell most of that in the “Randy Scouse Git” intro. I bumped into Paul a few years ago, and he was very gracious. He’s the first one that I met back in the Sixties. I met all of them, and then was invited out a couple of times at dinners and things.
Dolenz and Daughters Fine Furniture
Not a sideline, but a business for you is Dolenz and Daughters Fine Furniture. Tell me about that. How did that start?
That’s a long story, actually. I’ll try to make it short. But, I’ve always had a workshop in my house and always quite handy with tools and building stuff. Just for myself for fun. And my daughter, my youngest one, Georgia, she went to university in England doing a theater degree. And part of the theater degree is you learn to build sets. And so she got very comfortable and familiar with tools and designing and stuff. So, I remember even as a little kid, she would come down to my workshop as a six year old and want to pound nails into wood.
So, one day she came over, she had a boyfriend at the time, and she said,”I want to build my boyfriend a coffee table for his new apartment.” And she knew exactly what she wanted, and she’s really good at design work and finishing, and I’m pretty good at the joints and the structure and the stresses and the construction and that kind of stuff. So, I said, “Yeah, we can do that”, made a couple of suggestions. So we built this table. And while we were building it, I said, “This is cool. We should start a business, Dolenz and Daughters Fine Furniture.” And she just ran with it. Within about a week, we had a business license, we had a credit card, we had business cards made, we had a PayPal account, we had a website, and we ran with it. And boy for a couple of years there, it just was flying. Until, of course, I had to go on the road, as usual. I mean right now the website is still up, but it’s not open because I just got off the road and now with this COVID thing. So, the shop needs a little work and cleaning up. But, that’s how it started.
Thank you, Micky. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you very much for your time.
© 2020 Marshall Fish