Although formed almost a half-century ago as the prefab four, the Monkees have spent the past few decades traveling in packs of three.
When the group reunited for the 20th anniversary tour in 1986 it was Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, with Michael Nesmith, the band’s most accomplished musician and songwriter, sitting out due to his film production commitments and general desire to keep his distance
For the most part, that was the Monkees touring lineup until February 2012, when Jones died of a heart attack. The return of Mr. Nesmith that fall and for the tour that stops at the Palace Theatre Wednesday might suggest that he was avoiding the Monkees because of Jones.
“No, it’s not the situation,” Mr. Dolenz says in an interview. “Mike chose over the years, decades, not to perform with anybody — by himself or with other bands. Shortly after the Monkees went off the air, he started running a big company, a production film distribution company, and we did get back together a couple times. We got on stage at the Greek Theater in the first reunion tour and in ‘97 we had quite a big successful tour and recorded a new album. We toured the UK. But like I say, he’s had other things that he was interested in doing and other things on his plate. He was always invited to come and play.”
When Jones died they got together and talked about doing a memorial concert for the singer, who was the heartthrob in the band.
“Then, that turned into two or three concerts, here and on the East Coast, and then that turned into a short tour,” Mr. Dolenz says. “He obviously really enjoyed it. We had a great time. I think he was very impressed and pleased at the reaction he got performing again and that has turned into another couple of tours. Who knows how long or how far it will go, but that’s basically the story.”
What’s it like having the “smart” Monkee back in the band?
“It’s great, it’s different. Obviously, with David’s passing, the whole dynamic has changed, of course. It’s not better or worse, just different. We always did Nesmith songs in the past, but it’s cool having him sing the leads again. Because I would sing the leads usually, and it’s great having him sing those songs. And I do the high harmonies above him on a lot of those tunes, and that’s been a lot of fun.”
Jones is acknowledged in video, and the Monkees continue to perform the songs he was known for.
“I’ve always sung his songs and he always sang mine when we did solo shows. I’ve always done ‘Daydream Believer,’ because the fans really want to hear that, and I continue to do that until this day.”
The Monkees formed in 1966 for an NBC series about a wacky Beatle-ish band. They came from different walks of life: Jones was a British stage actor, Mr. Nesmith was an LA folk-rocker and Mr. Tork came up through the Greenwich Village folk scene. Mr. Dolenz was a child actor with a connection to Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh was my first concert ever in front of anybody,” he says. “It was when I was about 10 years old. I was on a press junket for a TV series that I was starring in called ‘Circus Boy,’ and we came across country with my pet elephant by train, and Pittsburgh was one of the first stops, and I did a concert with the elephant at Kennywood Park. I opened for the elephant.”
“The Monkees” lasted for two seasons, which was just long enough for the band members to become superstars with such enduring hits as “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Daydream Believer.” The Monkees, who initially sang but did not play on the recordings, went beyond expectations to become a touring act between 1967 and 1970.
It fell apart when Mr. Nesmith left to pursue country-rock songwriting and his production company. In a 2011 interview, Mr. Tork told the Post-Gazette that the Monkees’ catalog “stacks up with the Beatles’ and the Stones’ songbook — much more in the kind of poppy, bubblegum vein.”
“It’s always dangerous to make those comparisons,” Mr. Dolenz says, when asked about the comment. “First of all, ‘The Monkees,’ it was a television show about an imaginary rock ’n’ roll band that lived in this beach house and had all these adventures. Yes, we recorded and went out and played concerts, but essentially it was a television show, much more like the Marx Brothers than the Beatles. That’s my opinion. We won the Emmy for the best new comedy series in 1967, and I think the legacy will be a combination of that television show and, yes, the music written by some amazing songwriters, people like Carole King and Neil Diamond and Boyce & Hart.”
Monkees fans, and they are a vocal fan base, believe the group did enough to earn a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I’m very flattered,” Mr. Dolenz says. “I’ve never been one to chase awards or inductions or anything like that. I’m always flattered and honored when it happens. I know the fans have been signing petitions, but I don’t chase that stuff. I also know how the Hall of Fame works. It’s not a public, democratic sort of organization. It doesn’t claim to represent the entire music industry. Basically, it’s a private club, like a private country club. It’s a private club and they have the right to let in whoever they want or not. It’s up to them.
“I’ve done some charity work for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation,” he adds, “and they’re a wonderful foundation doing charity work.”