Micky Dolenz is releasing a new album Sept. 25 and if you didn’t know better from the title “A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll – Live at 54 Below” on Broadway Records, you’d swear he might be turning into a cabaret crooner. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The album, which spotlights an intimate show recorded at 54 Below in New York, is closer to “Storytellers: Micky Dolenz,” with the former Monkee singing Monkees tunes interspersed with a couple of songs from musicals he’s always loved, plus some stories, all in a very intimate atmosphere. Dolenz’s singing talent and flair for comedy plus a great band behind him make it a fun album. To promote it, he’ll appear Sept. 24 on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” sitting in with the show’s house band The Roots.
“I guess it’s sort of like a cabaret, one-man show kind of thing,” he said of the show and the album in a phone interview. “Van Dean (the producer) has done a number of these with Broadway people. And he knew of my rock ‘n’ roll background, but he also knew of my Broadway background and theater and musical theater. And he came up with the title ‘A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and thought it would make a good show.”
That’s not that far removed from “The Monkees” TV show, which he says was theater as well as music. “People always made the comparison to the Beatles, but in fact, the Monkees was much more like the Marx Brothers. It was actually John Lennon that first said something like that. And it was true,” he said. “It was like those Marx Brothers movies “A Night at the Opera” (and) “A Day at the Races.” And there’d be songs and singing and dancing and a little plot. And that’s kind of what the Monkees was, this little half hour Marx Brothers movie on television, very similar to musical theater.”
He said he first got into theater after the Monkees. “It was after the Monkees I started doing my first theater work. I did a few summer stock things, regional things. Then I got a big break doing ‘Grease’ on Broadway, then on the national tour. Then after that, ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” I just fell in love with the ‘Forum’ and the whole thing. But I came to it rather late in life. Then I got a huge break doing ‘Aida,’ the Elton John-Tim Rice musical, and then, a few others. The last big one I did was in London in the West End doing ‘Hairspray’ and the national tour on that. So I love it. I’m looking forward to doing more.”
The Monkees TV series will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016. It was 50 years ago this year that the casting for the show was taking place. Dolenz didn’t answer the famous Hollywood Reporter ad since his agent told him about the auditions for the show, but he did recall what he went through to make the cast.
“I already had a series at the same studio. It was 10 years before, almost to the day, that I gone in and auditioned for ‘Circus Boy’ at the same Screen Gems studio in Hollywood. In fact, when I went back for the Monkees auditions and interviews, it was the same guard at the gate that had been there when I was 10 years old for ‘Circus Boy,’” he recalled. “I’d been up for three different series that year, three pilots, music shows. But I was up for two or three other shows that year and ‘The Monkees’ was one of them.
“I don’t remember a whole lot about it, except that it was more extensive than most of the auditions that I’d gone through. It was not only script reading, but memorizing and doing screen tests of scenes from the pilot script. Then there was interviews and improvisational exercises. Then there was the music. You’d have to sing and play a song. I did ‘Johnny B. Goode’ on guitar. It went on for a long time, much longer than a normal audition process, mainly because of the music and the singing, besides the acting and the comedy and the shtick and all that.”
Songwriting has always been credited in a big way for the success of the Monkees, but Dolenz says the Monkees’ success was shared with many people. “It’s the writers, the producers, the directors, the musicians, the other characters in the show,” he said. “But we caught lightning in a bottle. And that’s kind of what happens typically. You do your best. You surround yourself with talented people. You work hard, you keep your fingers crossed. And all of a sudden, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. But I like to credit those songwriters because I felt blessed to have them writing for me.”
One of the more interesting highlights of the Monkees’ career was their meeting the Beatles. For Dolenz, who was a big fan, it was a thrill, which he has compared to meeting the Royal Family. “I was a huge fan. And they were very gracious. I met Paul first and had dinner and went to recording sessions, a couple of recording sessions for ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ They were gracious and they got what the Monkees was all about. You feel like it’s your peers accepting it,” he said. “I didn’t spend that much time (with them) in those day. Later on, I started spending more time with Ringo and John when he was out here in Hollywood. But I also saw Paul and I’ve bumped into him a few times over the years and he’s always very gracious. What can I say? They’re the Beatles.”
The Monkees will release their TV series on Blu-ray in January. The box set will include a Blu-ray of their movie “Head,” which has been controversial since the day it was released. Do more people get the movie now? “I still don’t get it,” he joked. “It’s a weird movie. There’s a lot of double entendres and a lot of curious choices that we all made. And we all had something to do with it. I love the movie. It has good bits and bits that … I still don’t get. But I love the work I did in it as an actor. I thought I did some really good work as an actor. And you know, it is kind of crazy. Everybody says, ‘Well, what’s it all about?’ And you have to ask Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson that question.”
But Dolenz explains the movie had a purpose. “From my point of view, it was sort of a deconstruction of Hollywood. If you remember that after ‘Head’ and after ‘The Monkees’ that Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda went on to make ‘Easy Rider,’ which was the first huge independent film that really upset the Hollywood apple cart. And it was the beginning of the end of the major studio system.”
Dolenz pointed to one scene in the film that really was pivotal. “There was that one scene in the movie with a Western set with me and Mike and Teri Garr. There’s Indians attacking us, but I finally get hit with a bunch of fake arrows and I say, ‘Aw, you know, Bob (Rafelson), I’ve had it. I’m fed up with all this fake stuff. Fake cowboys, fake arrows, fake Indians.’ And I turn around and I storm off and walk right through the back of the set. To me that is sort of the theme of the movie. That scene said volumes about the deconstruction of Hollywood. That’s my take on it.”
And Dolenz can speak from the point of view of both an actor and a director since he produced TV shows and films for several British TV companies from the mid-70’s to late ’80s. He says the experience “enabled me to step back and I think even appreciate the other aspects of my career, like The Monkees.’”
When he’s not on the road, Dolenz is involved with a furniture business he runs with his daughters called simply Dolenz and Daughters. And it is doing well, he says. “Very well, thank you. Georgia was here. We were working on a piece out in the garage. I’m heading out there shortly and do some more work myself. It’s been great fun.”
Recently, with Dolenz’s blessing, a collection of his rare solo singles called “The MGM Singles Collection,” was released. The set is available digitally and on vinyl. The digital release includes bonus versions of the Harry Nilsson song “Daybreak.”
“It’s really a great package. Over the years, I’ve had versions of those songs, one on a tape here, on a disc here, on a demo here,” he said. “It’s nice to have them all in one package.”
Are there other lost Dolenz songs? “There are a couple that were post-MGM over the years. I’d go into the studio with some people and lay some stuff down. We’re looking and see if we can find anything worthy of being released.”
Will there be more Monkees tours? “Next year is the 50th anniversary. Peter and I just went out, just the two of us, and played England. We’ve done a couple of shows on the East Coast and Canada. We’re not going to be doing too much more this year. I’m doing some solo shows and we have a couple of Monkees things coming up, but we’re kind of gearing up for next year, the 50th anniversary. So I would not be surprised that we’d be out there on the road.” His upcoming solo shows through the end of the year will take him to New York, Connecticut and Indiana in October and November, then one show in California in December.
He said the release of the Blu-Ray of the series will be the opening of the 50th anniversary celebration. “That was the kickoff thing that Rhino announced. And then, we’re right in the midst of planning stuff as we speak. Nothing to announce yet, but I’m looking forward to it.”
What one song would be his crowning achievement with the Monkees? “That would be ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday.’ It’s such a great song and one of my favorites,” he says. “It just rocks.”
Dolenz will repeat his “A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll” show at 54 Below Sept. 25 and 26. Tickets are available online.