April 6, 2020, 5:30 am
Micky Dolenz of The Monkees doesn’t remember another time in years that he’s gone more than three days without having to pack a suitcase. Instead, he’s been spending the shelter-in-place to stop the spread of COVID-19 by tending to his vegetable garden and working in his woodshop.
“Yesterday I slept ‘til 2!” he says.
It’s just him and his wife at their home in the Los Angeles hills. The two have been spending time at home, getting deliveries every once in a while—like most people.
“This phoner with you is the first thing that’s been on my calendar in, like, a week,” he says.
At the end of the week, Dolenz and Michael Nesmith will release their new live album, their first without late Monkees’ members Davy Jones and Peter Tork, The Mike & Micky Show Live. But a spring tour has already been rescheduled for later in the summer—if the coronavirus threat is beaten back by then. Both Dolenz and Nesmith are in their 70s, a high-risk demographic, after all.
“It’s a worry. I personally don’t have any serious preexisting medical issues. I’ve got a bit of high blood pressure, mainly just because of my age,” Dolenz says. “But it’s still a worry because I am smack in that demographic. So I’m just being extra, extra careful. I’m not going out, not mingling, not doing anything social, keeping my social distance and mitigating everything I can.”
But the silver lining for Dolenz is the rest he can get right now. He’s had a very busy career, even without considering his original hit TV show, “The Monkees,” and the band it bore. He’s acted in several films and TV shows, such as “Boy Meets World,” and done voice-over work for animated shows like “The Scooby-Doo Show” in the ’70s, 1994’s “The Tick” and “Batman: The Animated Series.” He’s also been a radio DJ and acted in and directed theater.
“Most of my life is usually packing, unpacking, traveling, touring, planes, cars, boats, trains; you know?” he says. “That’s been interesting; to get up in the morning and not have anything on my calendar.”
Dolenz and Michael Nesmith have been touring together for several years and in that time, they’ve had to cancel and postpone shows and tours. In 2018, Nesmith underwent a quadruple bypass heart surgery mid-tour. Missing time on stage comes with the territory for them.
“It’s out of our control when that happens. There’s nothing you can do about it,” Dolenz says. “It doesn’t do any good to bitch and moan. You just have to accept it and move on knowing that down the line the shows will be performed, and the fans’ tickets will be honored. … Like the old joke: They pay us to travel; we sing for free. There’s a lot of truth in that. These days, that’s the last thing that anybody would be doing, and of course you have a concert situation, which is a bunch of people packed into a big venue. We’ve just got to wait it out.”
He and Nesmith pushed all but a couple of their April dates to July and August. Dolenz also performs solo shows and has rescheduled those as far into the future as 2021. They are making their best effort to help flatten the curve right now.
“Things will eventually get back to normal,” Dolenz says. “The fear of the unknown is the worst thing about this.”
The new album should provide home-locked fans some entertainment and diversions in the meantime. Recorded at a 2019 concert, the album came about after The Monkees’ longtime label, Rhino, approached the duo. The band had released several previous live LPs, but never as a duo. Their most recent studio effort, 2018’s Christmas Party, included Peter Tork, who passed away in 2019. It was produced largely by Adam Schlesinger, who died of complications of COVID-19 last week at 52.
The two had also asked fans online if another album that only involved the two of them was something they’d want to listen to, and if seeing them perform Monkees material on stage was of interest.
They were met with overwhelming assurance.
“I’ll be honest, Nes and I … before we decided to go out on tour, we were like, ‘What are we going to do?’” Dolenz says. “But Nes wrote so many great songs for the Monkees, many of which I sung, [and others] he did. I sung … probably the majority of the hit songs and a lot of the album cuts.”
So Nesmith, who’d left the Monkees decades earlier, and Dolenz got together privately to parse through their material. A show wouldn’t be complete without hits like “Last Train To Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
Then it was onto the deeper cuts, much of which includes the Nesmith-penned songs. Setlists at some shows include Nesmith’s critically acclaimed solo country material with The First National Band, such as the hit “Joanne” and “Different Drum,” which Linda Ronstandt later covered. It became her first hit song.
Dolenz describes building a Monkees show setlist as a potluck.
“The problem has been kind of ‘what not to do,’ because there’s so much incredible material written by all these incredible writers,” he says. “I was blessed to have writing for me: Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Gerry Goffin, Boyce and Hart, David Gates—just incredible writers. In a way it’s kind of hard to screw up the songs because they’re so good.”
On stage, Nesmith and Dolenz have surrounded themselves with a talented cast of “studio cats and Broadway hit cats and family” like jazz drummer Rich Dart and Paul Revere & the Raiders’ singer Mark Lindsey.
Dolenz’s sister Coco, who performs at his solo shows, sings back-up and plays percussion with the band, and Nesmith’s son Christian plays guitar. His other son, Jonathan, has played with the duo as well.
“It is a bit of a family affair, to some degree, and a big band. It’s like 10 pieces,” Dolenz says. “There is a huge wall of sound going out there, which makes it a lot of fun, to be honest. It’s very exciting to have that kind of power band behind you.”
Dolenz doesn’t know how he’ll react when he and Nesmith get back to playing shows and when life returns to some semblance of normal.
“I’ll have to tell you when I do it,” he says, laughing.
He also doesn’t want to overlook the people who in worse situations now; those who are sick and medical workers, but also other musicians more desperate for a paycheck now and those with other jobs and businesses.
“Whole industries are suffering,” he says.
And that’s why he’s using the quarantine to hit “refresh.”
“Even as a 20-year-old, [touring is] tough. At my age, at 75, it can be very brutal, especially on my voice,” he says. “So there is a silver lining to this horrible, horrible cloud. It’s giving me a chance to recuperate a little bit. I’m looking forward to getting back. I’m getting antsy. I don’t want to disappoint the fans.”
Roman Gokhman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of RIFF magazine. He has been covering music in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2006, first as a staff writer for the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News, followed by five years at a San Francisco music blog. He also contributes to several national publications.