Friday, September 12, 2008

Future Projects IV: Monkees tribute band

OK, you're thinking, now he's gone off the deep end. How does one go from wanting to novelize the romance between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, stage a one-act play dramatizing the spreading of one's friend's ashes at a sacred childhood spot, and develop other creative fiction and non-fiction works, to forming a band to play the repertoire of the Monkees? What can I say, I'm a renaissance man.

I love the Monkees. I have ever since I took my sister's copy of their first album. I then got their Greatest Hits, with the original orange and black cover. And of course, I loved the TV show. But, say the critics and the cynics, that's really all it was, right? A TV show about a band, and the band was just actors who didn't play on their records, right? Wrong. While the individual Monkees were indeed cast for a show, their first hit single preceded the show's debut. They provided all the vocals, and Mike Nesmith contributed two original compositions (his song, Different Drum, was already a hit for Linda Ronstadt).

Therefore, in terms of the level of participation of the members in their recordings, the distinction between the Monkees and a group like the Temptations or even the Jackson 5 seems pretty small. Furthermore, the Monkees, at least Nesmith and Peter Tork, actively campaigned for the right to play and write on their records. More Monkees performed on the group's third album, Headquarters, than Beach Boys performed on Pet Sounds. Motown had the Funk Brothers, the Beach Boys and Phil Spector had the Wrecking Crew. The Monkees also benefited from studio musicians. It makes them no less of a legitimate band.

Ultimately, though, the proof of the pudding is in the grooves. They were great singers and they sang great songs, written by some of the best songwriting talent around at that time, including Goffin-King, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Boyce & Hart, and John Stewart. With his contributions, Nesmith was one of the earliest pioneers of country rock. Micky Dolenz was a soulful singer with relentless energy. Davy Jones was the balladeer, but could also put some English on uptempo rockers. Peter Tork was underutilized but whenever he was featured, his efforts stood out.

So anyway, I play drums and I've always wanted to form a Monkees tribute band. Aside from loving the music, it's also a fun idea. Now, I need to be clear that I don't want a band that dresses and acts like the Monkees, nor do I want a band that slavishly copies the original recordings. I just want a band that plays this music well and with enjoyment. I even have a name for the group: MonkeeJuice. This is a tribute to the Boston-based cover band, BeatleJuice, that was fronted by former Boston (the group) vocalist Brad Delp before his unfortunate suicide a couple of years ago. BeatleJuice played Beatles songs for the sheer love of the music, and that's what I want to do with MonkeeJuice, too.

Unfortunately, the guys I've played with over the past few years aren't so much into the idea. One show, one time, we played Last Train to Clarksville, with me on drums and vocals. Other than that, I can't get these guys to buy into the idea. At the same time, I'm a bit hesitant to pursue this project more heavily. One of the guys I've played with decided a few years ago he wanted to start a Steely Dan tribute band. He placed a notice on Craig's List and was inundated with offers from people all over the country. He assembled a large group and rehearsed with them for a long time until it started to splinter, with some people complaining it was getting too jazzy, and others saying it wasn't jazzy enough. If this can't be fun, I don't want to do it.

What I do want to do, however, is spread the gospel of the Monkees, a band that absolutely deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

This rarity was written by Goffin-King, sung and produced by Nesmith. Always thought this sounded like a lost Buffalo Springfield track (not that ironic considering Peter Tork was a one-time roommate of Stephen Stills).

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