The caller ID said it was Micky Dolenz on the line—a little earlier than we had said, but that’s of a piece with his character. Dolenz has always been a bundle of energy, and at 72 the singer and nearly life-long member of the Monkees is still going strong. Dolenz will be appearing with his band at Suffolk Theater in Riverhead this Friday, September 8, and even though it will be his name on the marquee, Dolenz makes it clear that fans can expect an evening filled with their favorite Monkees music.
“I give them those Monkee hits, and then I sprinkle it with some album cuts,” Dolenz says. It helps that Dolenz was the lead singer on the majority of the hits recorded by the Monkees, the legendary made-for-TV band that produced a series of smash records in the mid-to-late ’60s. Dolenz’s distinctive voice dominated such classics as “Last Train to Clarksville,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and “I’m a Believer.” In fact, Monkees bandmate Michael Nesmith credits Dolenz’s voice with defining the Monkees’ chart-topping sound. And naturally the Suffolk Theater concert will showcase his inimitable pipes.
It will also be a chance for Dolenz to tell some great stories. Like about when he and fellow Monkee Peter Tork were at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967 and witnessed the earth-shattering American debut of a then-unknown performer named Jimi Hendrix.
“He had just come back from England,” recalls Dolenz. “I asked him right there if he could open for the Monkees on our tour, and so his first national exposure was as an opening act for us!”
But don’t get the idea that Dolenz is all about things that happened 50 years ago. In case it escaped your attention, last year saw the Monkees’ 50th anniversary tour—a tour that went for seven months and featured 66 concerts in four countries. The tour coincided with the release of a new album, Good Times, that reunited the three living members of the original Monkees in recordings of all new material.
“The album did very well,” says Dolenz. “Some of the songs hit the top ten lists.” Like in the old days, when Monkees hits were penned by crack songwriters like Carole King, Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka, the songs on Good Times came from a who’s who of contemporary power-pop tunesmiths. “We were so blessed to be working on material from guys like Rivers Cuomo [of Weezer], Noel Gallagher [of Oasis] and Ben Gibbard [of Death Cab for Cutie].” Dolenz calls Gibbard’s contribution, the beautiful “Me and Magdalena,” which on Good Times appears as a duet featuring Dolenz and Nesmith, a particularly powerful tune.
The Monkees have always been a conundrum in rock history. For a style of music that likes to imagine itself as somehow uniquely authentic—supposedly deriving some of its cultural power from its rejection of commercial constraints—the fact that the Monkees, a band that mostly didn’t actually play instruments, a band concocted by record executives to record pre-fab hits, could still be so good has always been a bit of a sore point. However, as the years have gone by, the rancor has died down considerably. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may feel otherwise, but in the end, who cares?
As for Dolenz, he sums up the Monkees’ enduring appeal this way, “As a producer once said, we captured lightning in a bottle.” More than 50 years on, they’re still catching that lightning—pick up a copy of Good Times if you want to hear it.
Check out Micky Dolenz at Suffolk Theater on Friday, September 8. The doors of 118 East Main Street in Riverhead open at 6:30 p.m. for this 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $60 and available on suffolktheater.com and by calling 631-727-4343.