By Laura Latzko
With their TV show “The Monkees,” Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith came together as a band of misfits trying to make it in the music business.
Although the fictional band wasn’t successful on the TV show, the four established a legacy with their music that has lasted over 50 years. The group has sold over 65 million records worldwide and from 1967 to 1968 outsold groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
Dolenz and Nesmith are the surviving musicians, and they continue to share the band’s music. The duo will play hits like “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” at the Celebrity Theatre on Sunday, September 19, as part of the Monkees Farewell Tour.
During the concert, audiences can also expect to hear new material from Dolenz, who released his album “Dolenz Sings Nesmith” in May. The collection features Dolenz’s renditions of Nesmith’s songs. Many of the songs come from Michael Nesmith and the First National Band.
Released through 7a Records, “Dolenz Sings Nesmith” is Dolenz’s first studio album in nine years. It was recorded during the pandemic and produced by Nesmith’s son, Christian.
Dolenz says it was important to not just re-record the songs. He wanted them to have their own sound.
“I’ve done cover songs before of other artists a number of times, but on this one, I didn’t want to do that,” Dolenz says. “I wanted to re-envision as many of these songs as we could.
“It was tricky at times, but I think Christian did a really amazing job on them. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a song called ‘Circle Sky,’ which Michael wrote for the movie we did called ‘Head.’ It’s very different on this album than it was in its original incarnation.”
Along with acting on television, Dolenz has worked as a director and musical theater actor in shows such as “Grease,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Aida.”
One job always came calling, though: the Monkees. Early on, the Monkees established their distinctive ’60s pop/jangly guitar-driven sound with music written by a host of well-known songwriters.
“The thing that makes any group or act stand out is of course the material. I was blessed as a singer to have songs written for me by Carole King, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson and Boyce and Hart, all of these incredible songwriters,” Dolenz says.
Although the Monkees were often compared to the Beatles, Dolenz says they were more like the Marx Brothers or “Glee.”
“It was a television show about a group. And then of course we did go out and play and do concerts,” Dolenz says. “‘The Monkees’ was a show about an imaginary band who wanted to be the Beatles. That was the theme of the show. It was a half-hour Marx Brothers musical on television.”
When they first started to perform, the Monkees dressed and acted similar to their characters.
“I played the TV persona onstage, more or less,” Dolenz says. “That’s what the kids wanted to see. I was cast as the wacky drummer. So, I brought a bit of that to the stage.
“The Monkees live was more like musical theater — not musical theater like a Broadway musical, but we put on makeup and had four or five costume changes.”
Dolenz says he and Nesmith don’t bring as much theatricality to their performances these days. Instead, they focus on the music and sharing stories.
“We have done all kinds of different material over the years. But after a while, you get a sense of what the fans want,” he says about the set list.
“My theory has always been you’ve got to give them what they want, and that is the big hits. Once you have done that and they know they are going to get those hits, then the rest of the show, you can do anything you want. You can throw in non-Monkees tunes. You can throw in all kinds of different things, like deep album cuts.”
Dolenz says the audience connection and love for the music helps him to keep songs fresh for him.
“When you get that kind of a crowd reaction, it’s hard not to enjoy it and be thankful,” he says.
“I feel blessed. It’s great music. It’s happy music.”
Dolenz says the Monkees’ effort to be successful as a fictional band on TV caused fans to connect with the group in the ’60s. He says that this push for a better life was reflected in the music and continues to speak to audiences.
“On the television show, we never made it,” he says. “It was the struggle for success that I think had a lot to do with endearing it to all of those generations. They could relate. They were in their basements and living rooms and still are, trying to be a rock ‘n’ roller. It is that struggle for success that people relate to. You combine that with the music and these great songwriters. And I would like to think I had something to do with it.”
Dolenz owes the group’s success to its behind-the-scenes team.
“What happens is you put a bunch of people together and a bunch of these different elements, and if you are lucky and you work hard, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t take it apart at that point. You would have to say that about the Monkees. It was all of us, and not just the four of us. It was all of the people involved in the project,” Dolenz says.