“Pop music is aspirin and the blues are vitamins.” — Peter Tork
While visiting my cousin in Hamilton, Ohio in July, 1967 we went to see a Cincinnati Reds game at Crosley Field. As we drove South from Hamilton to the game we were surprised at the traffic that seemed to be backed up more than half a mile at one of the exits along the way. I distinctly recall asking what was happening that would draw such a mob.
The next day we found out. The Monkees had been performing at Cincinnati Gardens.
At this point in time I had a hard time taking the Monkees seriously. It was well-known that they were assembled for pop television, did not play on their recordings and only sang songs written by others. They were pretending to be a serious band, but were little more than entertainers. At least this was the perception.
I, being the oldest of four boys, went off to college in 1970 and considered it amusing to find my two youngest brothers to have been Monkees fans. They had all the albums from the beginning. One day, as luck would have it, I found myself listening to their Headquarters album and recognized that there was more substance than I’d originally realized.
The song that snagged me was “Shades of Gray,”leading me into a deeper listen. In short order I was reading the liner notes on all their albums and realized that Hollywood, or someone, had hired a lot of first-rate songwriters to create the music, including Chuck Berry among others.
It wasn’t till Michael Nesmith did a gig at Baker Center while I was at Ohio U that I realized that the four guys in this group weren’t all just actors. Peter Tork, it turns out, had also been a musician. Interestingly enough Peter Tork got the call (to become a Monkee) as a result of a recommendation by Stephen Stills who initially auditioned for the role. Can you imagine? Had he gotten the assignment there would probably never have been a CSN&Y.
The Monkees television show only ran from 1966 to 1968, but they continued to record and do concerts thru 1971. Their album Headquarters opened at #1 on the Billboard charts, which shows the power of television. The following week Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, muscling its way into the #1 slot and remaining there for near three months, which shows the power of the Beatles.
One of the most interesting chapters in the Monkees story had to do with Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix, who had played guitar with a variety of groups, had gone to England for a while and ended up forming his own group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
When he finally came back to the States, his first road tour placed the Jimi Hendrix Experience as opening act for The Monkees. After seven shows, Hendrix and his crew packed up and called it done. No one in the audience had come to see a cutting edge opening act. “We want Davy!” the girls were shouting. Total mismatch, but as they say, “That’s show business.”
Here are the opening lines from Shades of Gray, a reflective song set to a poignant melody.
When the world and I were young
Life was such a simple game
A child could play
It was easy then to tell right from wrong
Easy then to tell weak from strong
When a man should stand and fight
Or just go along
But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
* * * *
— Setlist for that 1967 Monkees concert at Cincinnati Gardens, which I missed because I had an alternate tune in my head: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
— The NYTimes Obituary for Peter Tork.
— Article about when Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees.
Peter Tork, R.I.P.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com on February 23, 2019.