When NBC canceled The Monkees in 1968, after just two seasons, Micky Dolenz – a California child actor turned teenage pop sensation – might well have joined Jay North, Paul Peterson and Johnny Crawford on the scrap heap of singing TV has-beens.
That, of course, is not what happened. Fueled by ever-ripening ‘60s nostalgia, the Monkees records – many of which were wonderfully written and sung – have remained in high regard, and have continued to sell consistently, if not spectacularly.
All of which adds up to a relatively consistent five-decade career for George Michael Dolenz Jr., who’s 74 years old but as impish and eager to entertain as ever. Not long ago, he finished another cross-country Monkees reunion (with Michael Nesmith, the other surviving member of the quartet) and on Sept. 24, he’ll perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall with a traveling musical circus called It Was Fifty Years Ago Today – A Tribute to the Beatles’ White Album.
(Of course, the White Album – which is, technically, titled The Beatles – came out in 1968, which makes this a 51-year tribute.)
Dolenz’s stage-mates for the show are the multi-talented rock singer/songwriter Todd Rundgren, singer Christopher “Ride Like the Wind” Cross, guitarist Joey Molland (the last surviving member of Beatles protégés Badfinger) and Jason Scheff, who played bass and sang for many years in a later incarnation of the band Chicago.
“I had quite a few solo dates that I was doing, and we managed to push most of them into next year,” Dolenz reports. “But not all of them, so I do have to jump off the White Album tour … I jump into an airplane after the show, almost, and try to make it to the next venue for my solo show. And then back on a plane to try to get back.
“It’s gonna be pretty crazy, the tour itself. But I’m pretty excited about being involved with all these other guys – I’m a big fan of all of ‘em.”
Dolenz admits that he’d never met Rundgren, Cross or the others before rehearsals for the tour began.
As a member of the Monkees, however, he has serious mid ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll street cred – and less than six degrees of separation from the Fab Four themselves. Along with his bandmates, Dolenz was welcomed by the Beatles into Abbey Road Studios in February 1967, as the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was being recorded.
It was George Harrison’s birthday. Dolenz wrote a famous Monkees song about the experience; it’s called “Randy Scouse Git.”
And that experience, you’d better believe, factors into what he’ll be doing at the Ruth Eckerd performance, along with “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
“When I’m doing a solo show, or a Monkees show, I know full well the majority of that audience is there to hear those hits,” Dolenz says. “And I’ve always been quite happy to do ‘em and to give the audience what they want. Which are those hits. And once you do that, once they know that they’re gonna get those hits, then you can just about do anything else you want.
“In my solo show, for instance, I do a couple of non-Monkee tunes. But they tend to have stories attached. I don’t just go out and cover some tune. For example, I do a song by Chuck Berry – and the audience wonders, why are you doing a Chuck Berry tune? I say, because this was my audition piece for The Monkees. This is the song that got me the gig.
“When you tell them, that, you bring ‘em along with you, as it were. And then it makes sense that you’re doing this tune. And I have a couple of songs like that, that have a bit of a story behind them.
“I must admit that I’m really looking forward to doing some of these Beatles songs off the White Album. Because I have a story to tell. Again, you take the audience along with you, and there you go.”
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today was dreamed up by the production team behind the successful “Happy Together” tour, which sends ‘60s artists like Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Turtles. Mark Lindsay and the Grass Roots on the road as a sort of nostalgia package show.
“Over the years, I have tended to cut back and be a little more selective of the things that I accept,” Dolenz says. “I used to just basically accept everything. I did the ‘Happy Together’ tour for a long time, and I get asked to do it again. But boy, that schedule they have – sometimes it’s six in a row! I can’t do that any more.”
He’s been getting on and off airplanes and tour buses, pretty much constantly, since he was a teenager.
“The thing that’s getting tougher, frankly, is the traveling,” Dolenz explains. “You know, there’s that old joke – they pay us to travel, we sing for free. And there’s a lot of truth in that! When you’re 20 years old, you can just about do anything. And I don’t travel well. The travel just wipes me out. It always has.
“I’m like a fine wine – I should be lying in a cellar, on my side in the dark, with dust covering up my cork!”
The years caught up with Nesmith in June 2018. Just before he and Dolenz went onstage in Philadelphia, he collapsed. A few days later, home in California, Nesmith underwent quintuple bypass surgery.
Within two months, he was back playing concerts.
Will “The Monkees Present the Mike & Micky Show” return? Absolutely, Dolenz enthuses, although there’s “nothing on the books” at the moment. Nesmith is, reportedly, feeling better than ever.
As for Dolenz, “I have learned to never say never.”
The White Album tour begins Saturday in Atlantic City, and winds down Dec. 11 in Los Angeles (with the entire month of November off). Scattered among the itinerary are a few Micky Dolenz solo concerts – the last one on the current schedule is booked for Feb. 13, 2020, just shy of his 75th birthday.
“I tried retiring once,” says Dolenz, “and I’ll be honest, I was nearly suicidal. After so many years of doing stuff and being very active, I can’t imagine retiring.
“But then again, this is hardly work. For some people who really have to work very hard doing stuff, this is hardly that kind of work. I mean, that’s why they call it playing.”
Details & tickets here.