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Interview: Micky Dolenz of The Monkees

Interview: Micky Dolenz of The Monkees

Chris Cudby / Wednesday 15th May, 2019 12:35PM

Micky Dolenz is famous to multiple generations as the singing drummer of US sixties pop sensations The Monkees, with Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones, who achieved fame on a global scale starring on a musical-comedy television show which somehow morphed into a real band, creating a raft of unforgettable hits along the way. Dolenz is returning to New Zealand with Nesmith this June to play their The Mike and Micky Show three date tour of our shores. Praised for his distinctive singing style with The Monkees, Dolenz has also made a significant contribution to pop culture outside of the iconic group. His many creative accomplishments include a solo recording career, high profile roles as an actor and voice actor (he voiced Arthur on The Tick), and directing / producing classic UK robot sitcom Metal Mickey. He graciously spared some time ahead of his visit to chat with Chris Cudby, who battled with bung phone lines and missed connections to bring you the conversation below...

The Mike and Micky Show
Saturday 8th June - Isaac Theatre, Christchurch
Sunday 9th June - The Great Hall, Auckland Town Hall, Auckland
Monday 10th June - Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Chris Cudby: Hey, is that Micky?

Micky Dolenz: Iiiit is! Where are you calling from?

I'm calling from Auckland in New Zealand.

Excellent. I was there a couple of years ago with (Peter Tork) on tour, but even more interestingly, I was in New Zealand in 1957. I was there, I drove all the way down from Auckland down to Wellington, took the ferry to Christchurch and drove all the way down with some family friends, all the way down to Milford Sound and the Mt. Cook Glacier.

That’s amazing, that’s a hell of a drive.

Yeah no kidding. Especially in 1957.

First of all, I just wanted to say, it was actually really hard to find an interviewer to chat with you. Everyone I asked to talk to you was in awe of asking you questions. Is that a common reaction that you get everyday that you have to navigate?

Oh sometimes, yeah. I’ve been blessed over the years to have quite a nice fanbase. The show and the music obviously touched an awful lot of people. I’d put a whole lot of that down to the songs, to the writers of the songs. We were blessed to have some of the greatest songwriters of all time, y’know. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carole King and Gerry Goffin and Neil Diamond, David Gates, Paul Williams, just amazing songwriters and we know how much music can touch people.

People are very excited about seeing you guys when you come over real soon. What can local audiences look forward to with The Mike and Micky show this June?

It’s gonna be all The Monkees hits, I can promise you that. Every time we put together a show when Peter and David were both with us, it changes, it depends a little bit on the mode and the configuration. Like I say, I always make sure we always do the big hits, I sing most of them so I kind of have my job cut out for me. I always insist that we do the big hits because I know that people want to hear them in their entirety. Then it depends. In this particular show with Mike, it’s really quite interesting. We just finished a tour here in the States, very very successful tour, and with Mike, you probably know, he was not always around with us over the decades touring. Occasionally he’d pop in and out, but for the most part it was David and Peter and I.

We would always sing Mike’s songs, because he wrote some wonderful wonderful songs for The Monkees and sang some great songs. We would always do them and, on top of that, it would very often be he and I doing a kinda harmony thing. I kinda call it the Everly Monkees [laughs]. Mike definitely had and still does has a country western sort of sensibility, so we would often do harmonies to each other kind of like the Everly Brothers. Over the years I did that with Peter and David also, but it's really wonderful for me to be singing those songs as they were originally recorded.

I was thrilled to discover that you’re also a pioneer of using synthesisers in pop music with your 1971 single ‘Easy On You’. How did you come to start making music with the synthesiser and what was the initial reaction to that?

‘Easy On You’ was my first solo record after The Monkees, yes I used the Moog on that, but I actually used it on a couple of Monkees tunes. One was called ‘Daily Nightly’ and ‘Star Collector’ and that was at least a year or so before ‘Easy On You’. I believe I am the first to have used the Moog on a pop / rock record. There had been some recordings before that but I think it was classical music. I just heard about the Moog and saw one and said “I gotta have one of those”. It was tough to use, I’ll be honest, the early synthesisers. First of all, they were monophonic, you could only play one note at a time, which made it tricky to record but it took a heck of a long time to set it up. I had it in my studio and, one of my claims to fame, I don’t like it drop names, but one night John Lennon sat on the Moog synthesiser in my studio and made flying saucer sounds all night long.

Awesome. I was also kind of amazed to discover that you were responsible for the 80s television show Metal Mickey, which I absolutely loved as a kid because we got a lot of English television in New Zealand in the early 80s.

I was the producer and I did help create it, but I mainly was the producer / director. It wasn’t about me, it was just totally a coincidence that it was the name Mickey. I was the producer, I did help co-create it along with the guy that ran the robot but I produced and directed.

And now we’re all living with robots, I guess.

Very successful show.

As an individual whose work has had such a profound impact on pop culture on a global scale, your story has been retold many times along the way. People love telling the story of The Monkees, it’s kind of like a modern mythology. Do you get frustrated with other people not getting your story’s details correct, and why do you think people find your story so interesting?

I’m probably the last one to answer that question. You could probably answer it better then I. The Monkees was essentially a television show about a group who wanted to be The Beatles, and in that sense, it’s those kids from the States and around the world in their living rooms and in their bedrooms and in their garages and basements, practicing their playing, wanting to be famous. That’s essentially what The Monkees was, not a group it was a television show about a group that wanted to be The Beatles. Then of course you can go on and say “well what happened?”. We went on the road, we played concerts, just the four of us within a year. The producers must have had in mind, the intention of having us, morph into… Mike Nesmith always says its like Pinocchio becoming a real little boy.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in pursuing a life in music?

Get a good lawyer!! [laughs]

Have you seen that video of The Turtles talking about how they got ripped off by all their managers?

Well no, but there’s stories like that all over the place, it’s sort of par for the course. When you’re dealing with so much money, potentially, and you’re young and maybe you don’t have a support system… I was very fortunate personally in that my parents were in the business so they understood what was going on. I made my mother my business manager right away. Frankly she saved my butt [laughs]. And it’s tough, it’s a very difficult business, there’s a lot of emotions involved, there’s a lot going on.


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The Mike And Micky Show - The Monkees
Sat 8th Jun
Isaac Theatre, Christchurch
The Mike And Micky Show - The Monkees
Sun 9th Jun
Auckland Town Hall, Auckland
The Mike And Micky Show - The Monkees
Mon 10th Jun
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington