At age 70, Micky Dolenz is not ready to stop monkeying around.
His slate is full and jam-packed. He’s currently touring with Monkee band mate Peter Tork, has a new live album in the works merging rock and Broadway AND a new ’70s solo material collection is also on its way.
And if that’s not enough, Dolenz is enjoying a successful side career with Dolenz & Daughters, a fine furniture company with his daughter Georgia. Perennially on the go, we caught up with Micky to fill us in on all things, past, present and future.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You’re recording a new live album soon, A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock & Roll.
Micky Dolenz: It’s actually the idea of a Broadway producer named Van Dean. He was a fan of mine and he met with me. He had a company called Broadway Records and they do soundtracks from shows.
He knew about my love for Broadway and theater. He met with me about a year ago and said I’d love to do a live CD at this place in New York called 54 Below. It’s below the old Studio 54. It’s a cabaret venue, very small, very intimate and a lot of the Broadway stars will go there and do that kind of cabaret.
Initially I told him I didn’t know if I could do that because it’s so outside my comfort zone. I’m used to a big rock and roll concert with lights and people screaming and a big band covering up all my mistakes. (laughs)
It’s not a one-man show but it’s close. It’s very intimate, obviously, and you have to talk and tell stories which I do occasionally in my rock and roll show. But also he said, “I’d love for you to do some Broadway tunes and mix it up. Let’s call it A Little Bit of Broadway, A Little Bit of Rock and Roll” ‘cause obviously I’ve done both. So we’ve been working on it for months.
I’ve been to New York two or three times and met with the arranger/band leader and we’ve gone over a ton of material. Doing the rock and roll stuff is not gonna be a big problem, it’s all gonna be mainly the big Monkee hits. But finding Broadway tunes that fit the occasion and fit me is surprisingly not that easy. A lot of songs that I thought would really work that I loved in shows and in some of the shows that I’ve been in, when you start singing them with just a piano, surprisingly a lot of them just didn’t work.
And it was mainly because as Michael Moritz, the MD and arranger said “In this kind of cabaret environment the songs sort of have to stand on their own in context, the narrative and story of the song. Like for instance. One of the songs that I wanted to do was Wonderful from Wicked. We tried it and it’s a great song but you really need to be watching the musical and being into the story; the songs have an awful lot to do with musical and the story.
They say the story in musical turns on the songs. So very often they’re very specific to the plot and to the characters in the show. So it’s not that easy to find songs that work on their own totally out of context of the show. That’s one of the reasons why it’s very unusual for a song from a show to become a big pop hit. You really need to have some context. So it was interesting and it was tough.
But we found a half a dozen or so that we’re doing and we’ll just have to see how it works.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You wrote some fine material in the Monkees, from Randy Scouse Git to Mommy & Daddy, Just a Game to Shorty Blackwell, Little Girl to Midnight Train, what self-penned Monkees cut are your most satisfied with?
Micky Dolenz: Well, that’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that. As you know, I wrote a few tunes for the Monkees but I’m certainly not an extremely prolific songwriter, certainly not like Mike Nesmith for example. To this day I can’t just sit down with my guitar and say, “Today I’m gonna write a song.”
Usually it just comes out of something that happens or some melody in my head or something like that” and that’s always how it’s been. All of those songs that you mentioned have a little special place in my brain. I’ve written a few things recently but not a lot. Funnily enough, when I tend to write a song especially these songs they tend to be sort of country. (laughs) and I always have. Look at a song like Midnight Train for instance. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that I usually write on a guitar.
Rock Cellar Magazine: But out of the ones I mentioned is there one you favor?
Micky Dolenz: Well, I’d say it would have to be Randy Scouse Git, which in England was called Alternate Title. They wouldn’t let me use that phrase ‘cause in England it’s kind of rude. It translated into horny Liverpudlian putz. I wrote the song on guitar and I wrote in England about my experiences over there meeting the Beatles and the girl that was gonna be my first wife. (Samantha Juste). So it was sort of a diary, stream of consciousness song.
Rock Cellar Magazine: I love the piano lick in that song.
Micky Dolenz: Peter (Tork) came up with that.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Judging from that work, you’re a very talented songwriter. Do you regret not pursuing your songwriting in that band and as a solo artist?
Micky Dolenz: Well no, I don’t regret it. Like I said, I like what I’ve written and Randy Scouse Git was frankly the only song written by one of us that ever was a big hit. It went to number two in the UK and that’s the only one that any of us wrote that went that far up the chart.
So I’m very proud of that. I’m just not prolific; it’s not something in my case that I can force. At times I wish I could and that includes writing other stuff. I’ve always had a penchant for writing scripts and TV and film things. But I’ve never been good about getting up in the morning, having a cup of coffee and going and sitting down at the word processor and writing. I tried that and it just doesn’t work for me. The muse has to hold a loaded revolver at my head (laughs) and say, “Alright, write!” (laughs)
Like I say, I’m just not prolific about it but I like it and if I do get an idea then it consumes me. It’s the only thing that I’ll do (laughs) for a while.
Rock Cellar Magazine: There are plans afoot for the release of your MGM Records solo material, fill us in on the project and the merits of that material that a lot of people have probably not heard.
Micky Dolenz: That was a bit of a prolific time. I had that MGM record deal and I was hanging out with my friend Harry Nilsson.
That was probably the most prolific that I’d been as a songwriter in that area. I had a little recording studio and it was post Monkees. Everybody was excited about hearing new material. But like I say, even back then it was tough for me to just call it up on demand, if you know what I mean.
Rock Cellar Magazine: From mid ’80s onward, The Monkees intermittently embarked on tour as a three-piece with Mike Nesmith sitting out. Mike took part in several recent Monkees reunions, what was that like to have Mike back in the mix for those shows?
Micky Dolenz: It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. Mike was always welcome and always invited and for various reasons, you’d have to ask him he chose not to be part of it in the ‘80s mainly because he was running a huge video distribution company and it wasn’t like he could just take off for a year and tour.
I was really looking forward to it and just jumped all over the opportunity. It just happened not by accident. After Davy (Jones) had passed we all got together for a memorial for David at a house here in L.A. and Mike was there. He and Peter and I started talking. There were a lot of people who were trying to encourage us to have some sort of a public memorial; this was a very private one.
Somebody suggested we do a concert as sort of a memorial concert to David and Mike said, “Yeah, I’d love to do that, that’s’ no problem.” We started putting it together and the question was, ‘where are we going to do this?’ because David had friends and family and fans in L.A. and of course in New York and also in London. So it quickly turned more than one show; it turned into a little mini-tour.
We worked very hard at it and rehearsed this configuration or a long time. Mike is so musical and so interested in the musicality that it took on a different sort of flavor I don’t want to say was better or worse, it was just different. We toured and he must have liked it because he said, “Let’s do it again.” (laughs) and we did. (laughs) That’s him; that’s just the way he operates.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Were there plans in the works for a reunion tour with the four before Davy Jones tragically passed away?
Micky Dolenz: Well, over the years it always came up. Every time Peter, David and I would get together or talk about touring the first, one of the first questions that came up was, “Well, what about Nez?” And invariably somebody would get in touch with him and say, “Hey, we’re planning on going out, are you interested?”
Obviously usually he said, “No thanks, guys.” Very time we talked about getting together every few years that would be one of the first questions. “You think Nez would be interested?” Sometimes he would show up and do a few tunes and of course in ’97 we did get back together, all four of us, to do the Justus tour and played some shows in England. So it was always brought up and always up to him and sometimes he said yes and sometimes he said no.
Rock Cellar Magazine: For years the Monkees have been passed over by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Would being inducted mean anything to you?
Micky Dolenz: I didn’t know if you‘ve seen the Wrecking Crew documentary?
Rock Cellar Magazine: Yes, funnily enough I actually wrote the companion book to the documentary.
Micky Dolenz: Well, there you go. So when you find out and realize that the Beach Boys and the Mamas & the Papas, the Association everybody was using the Wrecking Crew on their records. There’s not one Beach Boy on Good Vibrations.
As far as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame I’ve never been one to chase awards or anything like that; it’s never been very important to me. I was very proud to win an Emmy for The Monkees, having come out of television as a kid. When we won the Emmy for best TV show in ’66 or ‘67 that was a huge feather in my cap.
But I’ve never chased that kind of stuff. I’ve never done a project and thought, “What do I do here to win an award?” Specifically as far as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame I’ve been very flattered that the fans and people have championed The Monkees. Very flattered and honored that they do.
If you know anything about the organization, and I’ve done charity work for the foundation, the Hall of Fame is a private club.
It’s like a private country club. It’s not a democratic popular vote in any sense. It’s literally these three or four guys got together and said we’re gonna start a private club and call it the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and we’re gonna have in that club whoever we want and we’re not gonna have anyone in that club who we don’t want. (laughs)
It’s like a country club and they have the right to do that; that’s their prerogative. That’s their private club. That’s kind of how I feel about it.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Next year marks the Monkees’ 50th anniversary, are there any plans in the works to celebrate in a special way?
Micky Dolenz: We’re just beginning to discuss that. Next year is the 50th anniversary of the original casting. The show didn’t actually go onto the air until 1966 and that would be 2016 and the first tour wasn’t until 1967. But we have talked about it and it’s a little premature to make any kind of announcement but Peter and I are going out and doing shows and of course I do my solo shows too. I would love to do some more musical, theater too; that’s a real love of mine.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Away from music, you have a great love of wood working. Tell us about your new company that you started with your daughter. It must be very rewarding sharing this with your daughter and prospering at the same time from a business sense.
Micky Dolenz: It’s more a case of her getting me involved if the truth be known. I’ve always been a big fan of building stuff and using tools. I always had a workshop in my house. As a child my father was very very handy and I suppose it started with that.
But I always had an interest in that. I was never a professional and it was never anything that I made a living at. Before the Monkees, when I got out of high school my friend and I decided we were gonna be architects. I was going to architectural drafting school when the Monkees audition came along. I was gonna be an architect and fall back on show business if I couldn’t make it as an architect. (laughs)
That was my plan and then of course the Monkees audition came along and I got the part and the rest is history. But I always had this interest and when I would come home from The Monkees or come home from the road I would immediately go into my shop and build something. Back then I had a complete shop as I do now. I built a gyrocopter once and flew it. It was a proper full size helicopter kind of thing that you sit in and fly.
Also, I built hang gliders and all kinds of furniture and renovations. I put on extensions to my house too, all that kind of stuff. But I never really talked about it much; occasionally someone would take a photo of me doing something but it was purely for my own satisfaction.
So when I lived in England my daughter Georgia grew up watching me. She was quite interested and handy at it even at a young age, more than the other kids. Then fast forward to when she went to university in England and she took theater. Her official capacity is equally as an actor and writer.
But when you get a theater degree you also learn how to use tools ‘cause you have to build sets. It’s part of the instruction; you actually learn how to build sets too. So she learned how to do that and learned how to use tools. So she moved to L.A. and about a year and a half ago we were in my shop and she said, “I want to build a coffee table. I have the design for it and I want to build this for a friend of mine as her birthday present.” I was like, “Cool.”
So we got the wood and she designed it and off we went and built this pretty nice glass top solid wood coffee table. You can see it on our web site. While we were going this I said, “Wow, this is really cool and I’m having so much fun, we could start a little company called Dolenz & Daughters Fine Furniture. So we just ran with it. By the next day she had a web site (laughs) and she had the shopping cart, the Pay Pal thing and all this stuff. We came up with two or three other products and off we went. As soon as it went live we got an enormous amount of orders, obviously mainly from Monkees fans (laughs) but that’s okay. We got all these orders and suddenly we were up to our butts in saw dust, buying new tools and trying to keep up with the orders.
We do everything together but she does a lot of the design. She’s really good at doing that and knowing what milennials of today are gonna like design-wise. I tend to do a lot of the heavy lifting; I do a lot of the big machinery stuff and the joints and the structure. I make sure everything doesn’t fall apart, I know an awful lot about that kind of thing. And then we both do finishing work. Like I say, it’s pretty much a joint venture but over the months it’s divided itself up in that kind of a relationship.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Who were the “Hollywood Vampires?
Micky Dolenz: The Holly Vampires was a softball team that Alice Cooper and I and a couple of other people organized. We were playing softball on the weekends at a local park. Because he’s Alice Cooper he came up with the idea of making it a little more official calling it “The Hollywood Vampires.” We played charity games for under privileged kids or the police department or the fire department. We would do these charity exhibitions and we’d raise a little money and then we’d go over to the Rainbow and eat and drink. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Who were the official “Hollywood Vampire” members?
Micky Dolenz: Well, there were quite a few that drifted in and out, Mark Volman of the Turtles was one, me, Alice, Albert Brooks the comedian, Peter Tork and there were others. Keith Moon was another one. Keith played a couple of times. But I think he did mostly the eating and drinking at the club (laughs) ‘case he was English and frankly I don’t think he knew how to play baseball that well. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Speaking of Keith, he’s a very misunderstood character. Can you share a memorable moment with a fellow Vampire and resident wild man Keith Moon?
Micky Dolenz: Oh boy, one that I can talk about? (laughs) I have lots…We became quite good friends over the years. He was misunderstood but he was definitely out there. And it wasn’t like he was out there just because he was always on drugs, it wasn’t like that.
He was genuinely a very unique person. Today you might say he had a bit of autism or ADHD but back then you just said he was really out there. (laughs) It’s also why he was so bloody successful.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Did you think he knew how talented he was as a drummer?
Micky Dolenz: Well, that’s a very difficult question to ask anybody. In a way it’s not up to the artist to make that sort of a call, it’s the audience. It’s the audience that lets you know if you’re doing it right. (laughs) You do the best you can and you do what you wanna do and you do what you love and hopefully you get a following. And if you get your following then that’s your sign that you’re doing something right (laughs) and the Who had a huge following so that’s your answer right there.