Remembering Michael Nesmith 1942-2021
“Good evening, Ed!”
Those were the words Michael Nesmith greeted the producers of a new proposed television series about a struggling rock band with when he auditioned on October 7, 1965.
A relative unknown at the time, Nesmith had been kicking around the Los Angeles music scene for awhile, hosting hoot nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. A year later, he would have a single in the top 10, his face on every teen magazine in the country, and that TV show on Monday nights on NBC. Four consecutive #1 albums would soon follow along with a world tour that saw Jimi Hendrix open for the pop phenomenon.
The Monkees were an overnight sensation, thrusting Nesmith and his fellow cast members – Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork – into a virtual tornado of success.
Kids loved them; critics hated them.
“They don’t play their own instruments” was the rallying cry of the naysayers, conveniently overlooking the facts that Nesmith and Tork did in actuality play on the first two albums, and the session musicians who were on most of those backing tracks were the same musicians who played on records by the Byrds and the Beach Boys (you didn’t REALLY think Dennis Wilson was the drummer on “Good Vibrations,” did you?).
Having already played more than half a dozen live shows by the end of 1966 by themselves, Nesmith rallied the troops and fought for creative control of the Monkees’ music, ultimately winning a battle against music titan Don Kirshner. Their next two albums, with all four Monkees playing on various tracks, were among the best of 1967.
It was as a songwriter that Nesmith really stood out. His country-tinged pop songs (a trademark of Papa Nez’s tunes was that the song title often didn’t show up in the lyrics) were a part of the television show and the band’s earliest recording sessions. And while his songs may have never had the chart success enjoyed by tunes such as “Last Train To Clarksville,” “I’m A Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Daydream Believer” and others written for the Monkees by the more established Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, Carole King & Gerry Goffin, John Stewart, etc, they were favorites among Monkees fans and made up a good portion of the group’s live shows, even the ones that Nesmith chose not to participate in.
Nesmith, who passed away earlier today, would ultimately take the platform the Monkees offered him and launch a multi-level career that included songwriting, recording, performing, TV and film work, producing, and three books. Most recently, he and Dolenz toured under the bill of The Monkees Farewell Tour, which finished up in Los Angeles in November.
His songs were covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Run DMC, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Susanna Hoffs. And if he wasn’t in fact one of the founding fathers of country rock, his post-Monkees work with the First National Band certainly placed him squarely at the ground floor of a genre that would eventually explode via the likes of the Eagles, Poco, and more.
Longtime Monkees fan Jim Monaghan had a chance to speak with Mike Nesmith on WDHA on two occasions – April 2017 and April 2018.
Mike Nesmith – WDHA 2017
Mike Nesmith – WDHA 2018