Once a Monkee ...

Micky Dolenz' new CD reflects past and present

Once a Monkee ...

He’s personable, he’s witty, occasionally self-deprecating, and although he joked, “There are some who might not agree,” Micky Dolenz has led a pretty charmed life. As a child actor in the Fifties, he starred in the series Circus Boy, but it was an audition for one particular television show that made a Monkee out of him.

The Monkees was a hit from its first episode in the fall of 1966. Inspired by the Beatles’ big-screen success A Hard Day’s Night and conceived as a sanitized version of the Fab Four for American teens (girls in particular), the weekly network broadcast combined the comic misadventures of a struggling rock band - Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith - with a song, in a kind of pre-MTV video format.

The show turned drummer-singer Dolenz from actor to musician, yet neither career was his goal at the time. “I was going to be an architect,” recalls Dolenz by phone. His upcoming CD, tellingly titled Remember, is due at the end of September and shuffles favorite Monkees songs rearranged and newer material with the occasional cover. Despite the sentimental tone of the title track, it was recorded before the untimely death of Jones earlier this year.

“We were like brothers, as close as you could possibly get. After I was 18 and left home, I spent more time with Davy Jones than my own siblings, the others too. But Davy and I were particularly close. We had both been child stars, so we connected on that level, as actor-singers, whereas Mike and Peter were more musician-singers.

“My parents [Janelle Johnson and George Dolenz] were in the business, and I had my first series when I was 10, Circus Boy, on NBC. But Davy and I connected very early, right from the audition. We got married about the same time, had kids about the same time, and hung out a lot over the years.”

The two also shared a love for the material being funneled into The Monkees.

“‘Sometime in the Morning’ is my ‘Layla,’” offers Dolenz. “I love singing it. It’s one I love. And like ‘Layla,’ I do a slow version and a fast version. I’m thinking about doing it in Spanish. When you have a song like that, by Carole King....

“You know how many times Frank Sinatra recorded ‘Fly Me to the Moon’? In every possible configuration and band, so who says I can’t do ‘Sometime in the Morning’ another way?

“Same thing with ‘I’m a Believer.’ Over the years, I’d come up with this sitting-around-the-dressing-room country version. My mom is from Austin, by the way. And my parents were singers and actors, so I grew up on the Sons of the Pioneers and Tennessee Ernie Ford. A huge country influence on me, which you can hear on the song I wrote, ‘Desperation.’ Most of the songs I’ve written over the years are country because of my mom.

“My father got me playing classical guitar, Spanish guitar. But when I became a teenager, I’d go to the beach or parties with a guitar and noticed girls like the Kingston Trio better than Segovia, so I morphed into folk music, then rock & roll with cover bands. That’s why I included a different treatment of ‘Johnny B Goode,’ on the new record. It was my audition piece for The Monkees. It’s the song that got me the gig.

“There’s a timelessness about pop tunes that’s so great, and when you have material written by Carole King, [Tommy] Boyce and [Bobby] Hart, Neil Diamond, it was hard to go wrong.

“But I was going to school to be an architect. I was doing guest shots on TV shows - Mr. Novak, Peyton Place - and in a little band playing bowling alleys on weekends, singing ‘Johnny B Goode,’’Walkin’ the Dog,’ ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ ‘Money’ ... and I liked it all. My parents were realistic since I was a child, and wanted me to go to school too. So I was going to be an architect, and fall back on show business if architecture didn’t work out. L.A. Trade Tech [school].

“I was up for two or three pilots that season - I knew the value of the entertainment industry and a series. The Monkees audition was a long shot at best [given the Beatles], as if lightning would strike twice in the same place.”

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