Ah, it seems like just yesterday—the first week of March 2020, when I had the opportunity to interview the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz via phone, just a few weeks before the second-annual Beatles on the Beach Festival was scheduled to commence in Delray Beach.
Then the world ended for a while, and now it’s back—and so is Beatles on the Beach, whose intrepid founder, Daniel Hartwell, has managed to rebook just about every act scheduled for two and a half years ago for the second Beatles on the Beach, returning December 15-18 at Old School Square and surrounding venues.
Which finally gives me the opportunity to share my wide-ranging conversation with Dolenz, now the last living Monkee.
The Q&A is presented below as it occurred in 2020. For context, Dolenz had recently completed a tour of the Beatles’ White Album alongside other musical luminaries, including Todd Rundgren and Christopher Cross. He shares thoughts from that tour, his career in TV and the movies, and the Monkees’ and the Beatles’ intertwined legacies.
So how are you?
It’s crazy but I’m good.
So it’s a good kind of crazy?
Oh yes. It’s good crazy—getting ready to go back east for some stuff. I’m remodeling part of the house, so that’s always dramatic. I’m getting ready for the big show in Delray Beach, which I’m really looking forward to. Then the Mike and Micky Monkee tour coming up. (Mike Nesmith passed away in December 2021.—Ed.)
The touring part is the bad crazy. That’s not something I look forward to—the travel, and all that. It’s pretty brutal, especially at my age. But doing fly dates, like Beatles on the Beach—that’s a piece of cake. Fly in first class, do the gig, have fun, have dinner, a couple of glasses of wine, and go home.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of Beatles stuff, the White Album tour.
I saw it at Broward Center. It was quite a memorable night—a once in a lifetime concert.
Funny you should say that; I felt the same way. The whole became greater than the sum of its parts. Obviously, starting with that incredible music, but then the five of us and the band, everybody getting along. It was really a very memorable tour. I’m still floating … I got some good reviews, I believe. I don’t read my reviews.
Yes, I wrote one of those good reviews.
Hahaha. Did you give me a good one?
The only way it would have been better is if you guys had somehow tackled “Revolution 9,” but I’m probably the only one who wanted that!
Hahaha! We definitely talked about it. But that would have extended the show into probably five hours. It was considered, but we had to keep it realistic in terms of the length. There were a couple tracks we didn’t do, but the vast majority of the album, we did. God, it was great singing those songs, especially with those incredible artists. Hopefully, we’ll be doing some more of that stuff with those people.
Will this be your first time in Delray Beach?
I’m not sure. I used to play polo in the ‘80s and ‘90s a bit—celebrity polo, not as a pro. And I played down there in Boca Raton. I would not be surprised at all if I had been around Delray Beach, because I was all over that area. I’d go sightseeing down there. It’s funny, because when I got into it in the ‘80s, I discovered that Ginger Baker played polo, and so did a friend of mine, Kenny Jones, who started drumming for the Who after Keith died. Drummers seem to get into playing polo!
Will you have a full band backing you?
Oh yeah. My musical director was with me on the White Album tour. I learned all these songs from the White Album, and he knew that this Delray gig was coming up. So we started adding some of these Beatles tunes to my solo shows. I was at some of the sessions for Sgt. Pepper’s, for instance. And I have stories to tell about that. And I’ll be telling them in Delray Beach. Specifically I was there for the recording of “Good Morning Good Morning,” and a bit of Sgt. Pepper’s also. And I tell the story in my solo show. And I sing them. I was there during that period, the late ‘60s, so a few of these songs I’ll be doing, I was actually there. It’s really gone down very well in my solo show. I’m not going to tell you all the songs I’ll be doing, because that would be giving it all away.
Did you feel back at the height of the Monkees fame, that you were in a legit rivalry with the Beatles, or was that more of a media invention?
Totally a media invention. It’s, what do they call it, fake news? We weren’t even playing and singing for the same generation. It was the younger brothers and sisters of the original Beatle fans; that was our audience—not the Beatle fans necessarily.
If you examine the Monkees’ thing, the Monkees were nothing like the Beatles. First of all, the Monkees was not a band. It was an act—it was the cast of a television show. The one thing that’s come along since is something like “Glee.” It’s a much more accurate similarity. The Monkees was a television show about this imaginary band that wanted to be the Beatles. And if you look at the old show, for starters, we were never famous. We never made it, on the TV show. It was the struggle for success that endeared it to all these kids around the world who were in their basements and living rooms and garages, and practicing and playing and trying to get a gig and a record deal, and wanted to be the Beatles.
We had a poster in our set—in that Malibu beach house that we lived in—of the Beatles, that we would throw darts at. That was the spine of the show, this band that wanted to be famous, that wanted to be the Beatles, but we never made it, on the TV show. Whereas over the decades, I’ve been called in to pick my brain over the Monkees [by researchers of a new series], but invariably they do a show where everybody’s good-looking, and they’re already famous. So where do you go from that? It’s over.
There was never any competition. The Beatles got it. I became friends with everybody, and John was the one who said, “I like the Monkees, and I like the Marx Brothers.” And he was absolutely right. If you look at the Monkees’ television show, and the Marx Brothers movies, it makes a whole lot more sense.
Did the creators of the show imagine that you’d be a real-life touring phenomenon, and still be listened to 50 years later?
No one ever knows that. You hope you’re going to be successful. But it’s a good point, because obviously, they had in mind that if this show, for starters, even sold, which is no guarantee, but if it did sell and went on the air and manage to get a couple of seasons, then they must have had in mind that, yes, we would go out and perform. Because, you had to be able to sing and play an instrument to get through the audition process.
My musical audition piece was “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, on guitar. And I was singing at open-mic nights. Mike was a singer-songwriter, and had been for years. Peter went to a musical conservatory, and studied music, and played like five instruments, and sang. Davy was a singer, and had just been on Broadway, doing “Oliver!” So this was not coincidental. They had in mind that, yes, if this happens, then yeah, we’re going to put these guys on the road. And they did.
And then that Monkees group was different from the Monkees group on the TV show. One was this out-of-work band on the television show that couldn’t get a gig. The other was the live band that played, by ourselves, just the four of us, for tens of thousands of people. It’s a real interesting story, if you really do your homework and don’t buy into all the media crap.
One of the ways the Beatles and the Monkees are similar is that only two of you guys, from each group, are still with us, and still actively performing. Do you keep in touch with Paul and Ringo, still?
I do. Ringo and I have the same legal representation, and we bump into each other occasionally. Paul, I just bumped into a couple of years ago. He was researching for Desert Trip, out here. And they got it—they got what the Monkees was about, and respected it, and understood it, because they’re not stupid people. There were other people that got it, too—Frank Zappa, who was in the television show and the movie [“Head”]. At one point he asked me to be the drummer for the Mothers of Invention. The people that I cared about got what it was about. They were smart and were in the business; Alice Cooper, who became one of my friends, got it. And a lot of other people. If you ask around, you’ll find many entertainers, actors, singers, who got what it was. And there were some that didn’t; they thought it was some Beatle rip-off.
There were dozens, if not hundreds, of Beatle rip-offs at the time, that followed in the Beatles’ wake.
Well, that’s a good point, but the Beatles were not just responsible for that sound. That was called the Mersey Beat, and if you go back and look, there were other legitimate bands, like the Dave Clark Five, like Herman’s Hermits. That was a sound that was percolating out of Liverpool and Manchester. And if you go back and look at the history, it was post-World War II England, which had been brutalized during the war. And if you’ve seen “Love,” in Las Vegas, they dramatize that. Liverpool was a war zone. It had been essentially decimated by Nazi bombings, because it was one of the centers of armaments production.
So these guys in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, grew up in a disaster area. And they got rock ‘n’ roll music the only way they could, from American GIs and Navy sailors who would dock in Liverpool with their 45s from the States, of Buddy Holly, for instance. Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis—all these acts, some of them not even making it in the United States, because it was still considered “evil” rock and roll. But these sailors would come and play their 45s. And the Beatles talk about this; this was the way they were turned on to American rock ‘n’ roll. And they put their own flavor, the Mersey Beat, onto that American rock ‘n’ roll music. The Beatles were heavily influenced by Buddy Holly.
The Beatles made their own movies, but they were pretty straight compared to your movie, “Head.” It has a huge cult following today. Who did you think would be the audience for it at the time?
That’s a long, long story. I’ll try to shorthand it. They asked us, at one point, do you want to make a movie? We said yes. And all of us, including the producers, said, we don’t necessarily want to make a 90-minute episode of The Monkees. Financially, we probably should have. That would have been received much better.
The movie originally was not well-received by the fans or by the critics, except by a couple of “hipousie” kind of people. We all co-wrote it with Jack Nicholson. On the television show, we were not allowed to say or do anything that was in any way controversial. The Monkees television show was not topical, and it wasn’t even satirical. That’s one of the reasons why it stands up even today, and rightly so. But we said we could spread our wings a little bit, and do something different, which we did.
It’s a very strange movie; I’m still not sure what it’s about. I do know this: It touches upon the deconstruction of the Monkees. And the deconstruction of Hollywood and the film industry, which at the time consisted of the five or six major Hollywood movie studios, and you could not get a film distributed unless you were part of that studio system. Bob Rafelson and Burt Schneider and Jack Nicholson—and others, like Martin Scorsese, for instance—were trying to knock down those walls, and get their films distributed and shown. “Head” was, in a way, about that deconstruction.
There’s a famous scene in that movie, and Mike and I are old Western cavalry soldiers, and Teri Garr has been hit by an arrow. We’re sitting around a covered wagon, and there’s Indians running around shooting arrows at us. At one point I get hit by a bunch of arrows in the chest. And I break the arrows off, and I say to Bob, who was the director, “I’m fed up with this crap. It’s all fake.” And I walk through the back of the set, and rip a whole in the back of the scrim, which is the landscape painting, and I burst out. That was, metaphorically, the heart of the movie. It was about deconstructing the old Hollywood film industry. And they did. They used the money they made from the Monkees to make “Easy Rider,” which was the film that broke that wall down.
Did making this movie get the Monkees a new counter-culture audience?
It has, over the years. At the time, the band hated it; if you were under a certain age, you couldn’t even get in. The younger fans didn’t get it at all. But over the years, it has become a cult thing.
What do you think it says about both the Monkees music and the Beatles music that it remains so popular with young people today, whereas so much music from the ‘60s has faded?
I don’t know; I’m probably the wrong person to ask. You’d have to ask those kids. I think, for starters, we had some of the best songwriters of any generation writing for us, and for me, as the lead singer. Neil Diamond, Carole King and Jerry Goffin, Boyce and Hart, David Gates, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Jeff Barry. And it all comes down to the songwriting. And I dedicate my shows to the songwriters, because that’s where it starts. And if you have a great song, like “I’m a Believer,” by Neil Diamond, how many times has it been covered? Or Beatles songs, how many have been covered? They’re great songs, and when you start with that, it’s kind of hard to fuck ‘em up! That is probably one of the main reasons. Then, of course, there’s the production, and the singing, and the musicians, and all of that. Essentially, it starts with a great song that stands the test of time.
Beatles on the Beach returns Dec. 15-18 at Old School Square Park. Tickets run $104.50 and up for paid concerts, though other events are presented free of charge. Visit beatlesonthebeach.com.