Micky Dolenz has no Monkee on his back.
At 72 years old, the singing drummer—who appears at Feinstein’s at the Nikko on August 4 and 5—expresses nothing but gratitude for his association with a group that began as a made-for-television phenomenon in 1965 but went on to become a creative force in and of itself, long after the TV show ended production in 1968 (The Monkees has been frequently resurrected in syndication and on cable).
In 2016, Dolenz and his fellow surviving band members Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith (Davy Jones passed away in 2012) participated in a well-received 50th anniversary tour and released a new album. Good Times! —which included songs written by younger admirers, including Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), and Rivers Cuomo (Weezer)—hit the Top 20 on the Billboard charts, a stunning achievement for a group of the Monkees’ vintage.
“It was really remarkable,” Dolenz recalled in a recent interview conducted over a long drive in Southern California. “Its as if Enrico Caruso or Al Jolson had a hit record when we were getting started in 1966!”
“The Monkees’ audience has always evolved,” he notes. “Originally, the TV show appealed to ten and twelve year old kids. When we did a 20th reunion tour after they started showing reruns on MTV, those original fans brought their ten and twelve year old kids. And now, its not uncommon to have three generations of a family show up at a Monkees show.”
“Most of the credit I give to the songwriters,” says Dolenz.
Indeed, The Monkees have worked with top-of-the-moment composers, not just on their recent album, but dating back to their beginnings when they released crackerjack tunes written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “Sometime in the Morning”), Harry Nilsson (“Cuddly Toy”), Neil Diamond (“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”), and The Monkees’ signature songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (“Last Train to Clarksville,” “Steppin’ Stone”).
But Dolenz himself is an underestimated force behind the Monkees’ musical success. His sweet, gently grained vocals bring a distinctive warmth to many of their records even during their shoutier passages.
That voice—still in fine fettle—will be showcased during his Feinstein’s shows, where he will not only perform simian songs, but offer tunes and tales from a career that’s been much more multifaceted than many Monkees fans may realize.
After the original run of the Monkees on television, Dolenz decamped to England and made a name for himself as a television director. His skill working with actors came naturally: Dolenz’ father was an actor and himself started acting himself at age 10, starring in an NBC series called Circus Boy.
“It’s funny,” he recalls. “Because at the time I was trying to move into directing and producing, people thought of me as a drummer.” In fact, Dolenz had played guitar as a teen, but never took up drumming until he was assigned the role as a Monkee.
Eventually, spurred in part by the resurgence of his celebrity due to Monkees rebroadcasts, Dolenz moved back toward performing,
taking on roles in summer stock theater and eventually making his way to Broadway, first as Teen Angel in Grease and eventually in meatier roles as the villain Zoser, in Aida, and happy-go-lucky Wilbur Turnblad in Hairspray.
“I love it.” Dolenz says of performing in musicals. Look, doing a rock and roll show is exciting, but you’re protected by the band, the back-up singers, and by music that the fans already know and want to hear. When you’re on stage alone, doing a solo in a Broadway show, you’re extremely vulnerable and naked. I absolutely love it.”
While his Feinstein’s appearances will feature some showtunes, they won’t be songs that Dolenz has performed on Broadway. “I tried to work in numbers I actually did in Aida and Pippin and Hairspray,” he says, “but theater songs don’t all make sense out of context.”
Instead, he showcases effective standalone numbers that he’s used as audition material, including “Mister Cellophane” from Chicago and “Don’t Be The Bunny” from Urinetown. And then there’s “D.W. Washburn,” a song originally written by Leiber and Stoller for The Monkees that ultimately made its own way to Broadway as part of the songwriters’ Grammy-winning revue, Smokey Joe’s Café.
Dolenz also offers a rendition of the first showtune that made a strong impression on him in childhood: “I remember my father stomping around in his underwear singing ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ in a big Mario Lanza voice.”
Dolenz eclectic performing career has also included roles in films from Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake to a clothed cameo in the X-rated Linda Lovelace for President; extensive voiceover work for animation (yes, Snuggle the Fabric Softener Bear was once a Monkee); and even an audition to play the Fonz on Happy Days. He’s also authored a children’s book, Gakky Two-Feet.
“Its never been me seeking stuff out,” Dolenz says with cheerful nonchalance. “It’s stuff that comes along. My dad always said you’ve got to follow the fish, they don’t follow you. I always keep an eye on what’s happening and taken advantage of doors when they open.”
“You know, in high school, I had planned to become an architect. Showbiz seemed like a good fallback.”