“It was a hell of a shock,” says Monkees singer and drummer Micky Dolenz about the loss of bandmate Davy Jones, who suffered a fatal heart attack in February 2012. But the passing of the British-born ’60s teen idol actually jumpstarted the Monkees reunion shows last fall and the current tour, which brings them to Raleigh tonight.
“He was the closest thing to a brother that I had,” says Dolenz, who shared lead vocal duties in The Monkees with Jones. “No one was expecting that; he was the youngest of the four of us. We all got together in Los Angeles to have a memorial for David, and Mike [Nesmith, Monkees guitarist/songwriter] came down, and Peter [Tork, Monkees bassist/keyboardist] was there…someone suggested, ‘Well we should really do a memorial concert.’ That sort of morphed into that first tour. It certainly was an opportunity for the fans and us to have some sort of closure. There was an homage and a tribute, sort of like a celebration.”
By now, The Monkees’ history has become a success story and cautionary tale, deeply embedded in rock history: Four ambitious young men find fame in the ’60s playing a zany, Beatlesque band on TV that quickly becomes more popular than most “real” rock acts. Then the foursome fights to become a more authentic artistic entity, winning out for before the whole thing goes bust.
The current tour aims to encapsulate the entire Monkees saga. “The show has some structure to it,” explains Dolenz. “There’s four acts, the first one being early Monkees stuff. The second section focuses on the album Headquarters that we recorded all by ourselves when we finally had the palace revolt and got the power and the right to basically control what we were doing. And then the third section is all songs from the movie Head. And the last section would be the later big-band stuff with horns.”
Though there have been several Monkees reunions over the years, Nesmith has generally bowed out. Dolenz is as excited as the Monkees’ still-sizable audience about his lanky Texan pal’s presence. “Because of Mike’s involvement, of course, the set’s weighted towards a lot of his material,” he says. “He and I had a great blend, especially on his tunes—a sort of Everly Brothers thing where I would do a high harmony to his lead vocals, so that’s been great fun.”
Of course, Dolenz’s own airy tenor has been at the center of indelible Monkees hits like “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” and the aforementioned “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” At 68, he can still send the tunes he sang in his early twenties straight across the plate. Dolenz attributes the longevity of his voice partly to the musical theater work he started doing in the early 2000s, performing on Broadway and in national tours for plays such as Aida and Hairspray.
“Doing eight shows a week,” he recalls, “I had to start training and warming up every night, so that had a big impact on learning some of the techniques of singing: how to save your voice if you’re under the weather, and learning how not to blow your tubes.”
Dolenz also credits his long hiatus from singing,: “After the Monkees, I basically stopped singing at all during the ’70s and ’80s. I was living in England, directing and producing television shows, films and musicals … certainly not doing the club circuit that many of my peers did back in those days. Smoking and doing other stuff, a lot of my peers blew their tubes during those years. My tubes are about 10 years younger than I am.”
The band’s reunion tours have proven that their fans’ zeal has proven just as impervious to time as Dolenz’s vocal chords. “The Monkees original demographic was young girls going into puberty,” says Dolenz, “and those young girls liked to be sung to by young boys. I get asked a lot, ‘Why did it last so long, why is it still going on?’ You’ve got to give credit to all the people involved. Remember, the Monkees wasn’t a band, it was a television show about a band. We had those incredible songwriters: Carole King ['Pleasant Valley Sunday'] and Neil Diamond ['I’m a Believer'] and Harry Nilsson ['Cuddly Toy'] and Paul Williams ['Someday Man']…”
So how does Dolenz keep things fresh for himself while singing songs that have been part of the public consciousness for more than four decades?
“When we get back together in these incarnations, I don’t’ think of these as a reunion. I think of them as a revival,” he says. “I understood from the get-go that when the fans come to see a Monkees show or a Micky Dolenz solo show, they want to hear those songs as they remember them. You owe it to them. We don’t own these songs anymore, they do.”
The Monkees perform tonight at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh. Tickets are $57—$102, and the show starts at 8 p.m.