Peter Tork Shares A Moment

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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At ZANI’s office, we often have a flippant discussion on which fictional address we would like to reside at. Our favourite fantasy abode is the famous Rock and Roll address of 1134 North Beechwood Drive, Los Angles California USA. The residence of sixties pop legends The Monkees.

Surely it would be every young musicians dream. Four like-minded housemates who spend the day hanging out, jamming, writing songs, encountering shenanigans, chasing girls and having fun.  A utopia of creativity and mayhem. Similar to The Beatles’ pad in the film ‘Help’.

The first Beatles’ film  ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, made an impact on many Americans. Among those were Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson. They embarked upon a mission to find their own ‘Moptops’, for a new TV show. After auditioning hundreds of hopefuls, they found four young men,  Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork.  The Monkees had arrived.  Schneider and Rafelson knew that they had found Americas answer to The Fab Four.

Peter Tork was given the TV role as the bass player. In the TV series, Peter was perceived as a the spiritual, hippy type, often seen as the dummy. As Peter said in a send up of his TV character in the film Head:  "I am the dummy, I am always the dummy".  This despite the fact he was the most musically accomplished member of the Monkees, able to play 12 different instruments.  

/the monkess peter tork mike nesmith david jones mickey dolnez.No one in The Monkees’ party ever denied that they were a manufactured band. Yet like the mood of the Sixties, these four young men started to question their surroundings and wanted an equal voice. Shortly after their creation, The Monkees became a real life pop group, with something to say.

The Monkees spent many years at the top of ‘Pop’ tree.  Since the band first spilt up in 1969, there have been reunion tours, new TV and album recordings and reruns of the original TV show. Proving that The Monkees are still significant of the current music scene.

Like the other members of The Monkees, Peter Tork stayed committed to music since their official demise. Peter has formed new bands, recorded as a solo artists and toured with The Monkees for the reunion shows. In 1995 he embarked on a new venture by forming a Blues band  ‘Shoe Suede Blues’, who have been touring across the States ever since.

ZANI located Peter Tork at Heathrow airport, after he appeared at a Cult TV convention in Birmingham. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the airport in the background, Peter told ZANI that was then and this is now.       

ZANI- I understand you have just appeared in the UK for a Cult TV convention. How did it go?

Peter Tork  - I have never done Cult TV before, the convention was good.  It gives the fans a chance to meet the celebrities. Connect with the guy that used to be a bunch of coloured dots on your TV screen.

ZANI – Do you enjoy doing conventions?

Peter Tork  - Yes, by and large, but it depends.

ZANI – On what?

Peter Tork  - There is always the odd person who asks the same question which I have heard fifteen times before. And by the sixteenth time of hearing the same question I get a little impatient.

ZANI – Which question is that, so I know not to ask it

Peter Tork - Who knows?  You will have to wait and see if you ask it for the sixteenth time.

ZANI - Do you appear at similar conventions?

Peter Tork - Yeah, about one or two a year. They are fun and people are usually friendly, and it is lovely to hear that I have been an influence on people’s lives.

ZANI - Are you a cult TV fan? Shows like the Twilight Zone, X –files, Dr Who?

Peter Tork - Cult TV is a loose concept.  Dr Who is a British phenomenon, and so we don’t know too much about it in the States. The Twilight Zone, of course, if it is on TV then I will watch it. I am not a ‘Cultist’ in the sense that I won’t like any TV shows that have been made since 1970.  I am more of an old black and white movies fan. Movies such as  ‘Casablanca’ and ‘To Have and Have Not’

ZANI – A Humphrey Bogart fan then?

Peter Tork - And Jimmy Cagney, Edward G Robinson.

ZANI – I understand that this your only UK appearance for 2005. Why did you agree to perform at Cult TV?

Peter Tork - Yeah, for this year.   However, I am willing to accept other offers.  Cult TV contacted my agent and I agreed to do the show.  What I saw of Cult TV, I liked and I agree with the charity that the convention was raising money for (UNICEF).

ZANI - You founded a blues band called Shoe Suede Blues in the mid nineties.  The band seems to be growing from strength to strength. Please tell us about your band and what is the chemistry that drives it?

Peter Tork - Shoe Suede Blues is ten years old this year. The Band consists of four members. Michael Sunday and I are the original members of the band. We first did it just for charities and benefit concerts. It was very ad-hoc, and before we knew it, we were really a band. We went through several drummers and guitarists before we were happy with the line up. We like to play the ‘Real Blues’, the ‘Chicago Blues’.

ZANI – I understand that you cover many of the great blues maestros. Robert Johnson, Louis Jordan and Muddy Waters, do you feel your versions of their songs compare to the originals?

Peter Tork - Are you kidding? We play these songs because we love the originals, but we know we can’t compete.

ZANI – The blues did not have mainstream popularity until the Sixties, many years after it’s creation. Why was that?

Peter Tork - When the original blues explosion happened with Eric Clapton and co. They erupted into the public’s consciences both here and America, because they bought the vigour and the real soul of the blues through white culture. A white kid couldn’t understand Muddy Waters, but he could understand Eric Clapton doing Muddy Waters, or a hopped up version of ‘Crossroads’ by Robert Johnson.  Some people say that Shoe Suede Blues has changed their lives, and if we have, it is because we are doing our best in trying to challenge the ‘Spirit of the Blues’.

ZANI – What is the ‘Spirit of the Blues’?

Peter Tork - Pop music, disco music, and heavy metal music is about shutting out the tensions of life, putting it away. The blues brings you back into the fold. The blues isn’t about the blues, it’s about we have all had the blues and we are all in this together. This is not a theme of European life, in so far that America is a European country. European life is all about ‘I’ve got the money, you don’t, so keep away from me’. Pop music is aspirin and the blues are vitamins.  

ZANI - Any plans to tour the UK next year with your Shoe Suede Blues

Peter Tork - I'd love to tour the UK and Europe, can you get me some gigs?

ZANI – Not me personally, but I will ask around for you There will always be a high demand for a good Blues band in the UK.

Peter Tork - It would be wonderful, I bet you’re just after a finder’s fee.

ZANI - What has been your favourite gig with the Shoe Suede Blues?

Peter Tork - Hard to say. However, here is an interesting thing. Shoe Suede Blues opened for the Monkees in the 1997 reunion tour for two shows. I went out in disguise when I played with Shoe Suede Blues. It was so much fun to do, play the blues and then play a Monkees’ set on the same night.

ZANI – Which band did you prefer playing for on that night?

Peter Tork - Neither or both, is what I should say. Each one fulfils a different function.

ZANI - I see that over the years that you have developed your lead vocals. Do you rate yourself as a good singer and whom do you cite as an influence?

Peter Tork - Yes, I am a good singer  In terms of influence, not too many people and a lot of people. There is no one person that I think is a good singer. Yet, the best rock and roll singer is Little Richard. I can’t sing anywhere near as good as him so I don’t even bother to try. Elvis deserves a lot of credit for bringing the blues to middle America, not the Vegas stuff.

The early stuff, The Sun records, and the first few RCA records.  He was wonderful, he had the power, the drive, and he was so dedicated to his music. Apart from those two, there is no one else in particular.

ZANI – Was rock and roll the first music you got into to?

Peter Tork - No, I was raised on classical music.

ZANI - I understand you left the Monkees at the 2002 reunion. Is there a chance of another reunion?

Peter Tork - I left them in 1968 as well. I have made some enquiries about a possible reunion and I got a less then tepid response.

The Cream has reunited. Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are touring again. They are getting anything from 100 dollars to 500 dollars a ticket. I think the Monkees would be good value for at least ten to eleven dollars a ticket.

ZANI – I think so

Peter Tork - You’re not laughing....I am joking.

ZANI – Neither are you.

Peter Tork - Yeah, but I’m cracking the joke.

ZANI - The Monkees were the brainchild of Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, a group to rival the Beatles. Four hundred and thirty seven people applied for the famous ‘Madness Auditions’. What were the try-outs like?

Peter Tork - I didn’t see the ad, only one of us went in as the result of the ad, Mike Nesmith. Stephen Stills and I were the kids who looked alike in Greenwich Village. We went to the West Coast together, and Stephen called me up one day and said that he had met a producer who was making a TV show based on ‘Hard Day’s Night’. Stephen suggested that I should try it out. I asked Stephen, why not you?  Stephen told me that he had and the producers said that he wouldn’t look good on TV. Stephen had been told that his hair was thin and his teeth were crooked. The TV producers wanted someone who looked liked him but with better teeth and hair, and I fitted the bill.

ZANI – So Stephen was like a Pete Best of The Monkees?

Peter Tork - Oh yes, he was hard done by. He had to settle with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Stephen, if you are reading this interview then I am sorry

ZANI – Are you and Stephen still friends?

Peter Tork - I haven’t seen him for a long while. However, the last time I saw him, we fell into each other’s arms. I am sure that will happen again when we next see each other.

ZANI - Did you think all these years later that the Monkees would be such a phenomenon?

Peter Tork - I never thought that there would be ‘all these years later’.  At that time, I never gave getting older a second thought. Now I am thinking twenty-years in advance. I have a twenty-year plan.

ZANI – What is your twenty-year plan?

Peter Tork - It is a secret.

ZANI - How did you feel being a teenager heartthrob in the sixties?

Peter Tork - I didn’t get the heartthrob thing. I was removed from the Monkees’ phenomena, because I was annoyed they were making records without our participation. Only one of us would usually sing lead. Which most of the time was, Mickey or Dave. They thought it was perfectly a natural routine, because Mickey and Dave saw themselves as TV actors.

Up until then when a star made a record, professional musicians were bought in and the star would sing over the top of it. Whilst Mike and I thought the way you made records, was the way the Beatles made records. You sit around and you play the tune over and over again with a tape recorder recording, until you have enough material to splice together for a good take.

But I look back now, and believe my attitude was a mistake. Not that Mickey or Dave had the right idea or the wrong idea either. It wasn’t about which was which. I knew how to make music, but I didn’t know how to make a record.

The four of us couldn’t have made a record with the time left over when we were shooting the show. We were on stage from 7.30 in the morning 'til 7 at night. Later on, when there was a break from filming, and we were sick of doing it the old way. Our attitudes had congealed and we were let loose in a studio, and we made the record ourselves.

We made ‘Headquarters’, the third Monkees’ album. This to me sounds like a decent garage band record. There is a sense of humour there, it’s wacko, and that comes across in the record. After ‘Headquarters’, we had learnt how to make a record.

ZANI - Was there a mutiny from the Monkees towards Bert Schneider, Bob Rafelson and Don Kirshner?

Peter Tork - Yes, we gave them a hard time. Don Kirshner in particular, he thought ‘I’m the genius, I’ll do the work, you boys tag along and I’ll make you the money’. When Don Kirshner gave me a cheque for a lot of money, he thought it was a big deal like ‘look what I am doing for you guys’. I was very annoyed. I had a bad attitude at the time. Today I believe my attitude was mistake.

ZANI – OK, what would you have done differently?

Peter Tork - Nothing, I just would have taken it more in my stride.

ZANI - You got some flack from the Byrds as they viewed The Monkees as a ‘manufactured band’, and they even wrote ‘So You want to be a Rock and Roll Star?’ in The Monkees’ honour. This was hypocritical, considering that only one member of the Byrds played on ‘Mr. Tamborine Man’ However, was there mutual respect with other bands of the sixties, were The Monkees friends with The Beatles?

Peter Tork - I don’t know about friends, but what time I spent with The Beatles they were very courteous to me. Ringo is one of the world’s true humans. The only one out those four guys, who did not have an agenda. Ringo was just into the music. I got on with the Byrds much better. I was in Greenwich Village with Roger McGuinn, of The Byrds, we used to smoke and hang out. I am a still friend with Dave Crosby, he’s a weird duck but I like him a lot.

ZANI - Apart from you, the other three refused to turn up for the first day of filming for the Monkees’ first major film ‘Head’, what was the strike all about?

Peter Tork – I think it was Mike Nesmith doing the Tsar thing. He thought the Monkees were in a position to strike for more money. Finally, the producers said ‘we will give this, if you give us that’. There was enough to save face all around, so the others went back to work.

ZANI - It took a few years for Head to gain cult status, are you proud of the film?

Peter Tork - I am darned if I know. I think the movie is very interesting. In some ways, it’s Bob Rafelson tutorial. It was the first movie he had directed and he wanted to make sure the audience understood that he knows movies. Therefore, he throws in references to a lot of old movies throughout ‘Head’.  

ZANI - Is there anything in the film ‘Head’ you would change?

Peter Tork - That I would change? I don’t know. Perhaps roughly make the same movie but more to my taste. There was a certain tendency from Bob Rafelson, in ‘Head’, to be a little bit sarcastic. Therefore, everybody comes off as not all there. Rafelson saw himself as the ‘auteur, the French for "author,” But in this language meaning someone more than the filmmaker, more of the single creator, like who writes a book, in spite of the incredible collaboration which it takes to make movies. Rafelson wants/wanted to be seen as comparable to Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman. Not just Billy Wilder.

ZANI - Would you say that Monkeemania was similar to Beatlemania?

Peter Tork - Yes, but I didn’t get it. I had some doubts about the Monkees, so that gave me some distant from the phenomena. If I had allowed myself to become engulfed in Monkeemania, I might have become egoist and may have been dead today.  When the crunch finally came, which in my case was drugs and alcohol, I was able to turn the corner, and get up from under. Now I am plying my trade, I am a craftsman not a star. Some of the stardom has come with me, and it’s part of my kit. Fame has attached to me, but I am not that ‘famous guy’ thing anymore.

ZANI – Is that why you left the Monkees in 1968, you just had enough of the fame thing?

Peter Tork - No, in 1968 I still wanted to be a Pop Star, and be about the music. Now, I want to be just about the music.

ZANI - One of the most bizarre pairings in the history of pop music was Jimi Hendrix supporting the Monkees. He only lasted seven acts, was this due to your fans not being into Hendrix?

Peter Tork – He scared the fan’s mothers, that’s why. Original Monkees’ songs were produced very thinly, on purpose. Therefore, they won’t scare ‘Mummy’. The same principle applied to the TV show. The Monkees was a straight sitcom, we used the same plots that were on the other situation comedies at the time. So the music wasn’t threatening, we weren’t threatening. Finally, Mummies and Daddies got used to ‘Long Hair Weirdoes’.

ZANI – So you broke down the barriers for the ‘Long Hair Weirdoes’?

Peter Tork - I think we did. The fact that Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson were Beatles fans themselves, they weren’t jumping on the Bandwagon. They weren’t interested in four quiet guys who done their work, they wanted the real thing and all four of us were the real thing.  They knew The Monkees was a viable and workable product, and they done very well out of it. The Monkees funded ‘Easy Rider’

ZANI – Did they?

Peter Tork - Yes, it was Monkee money. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper went to New Orleans and shot the grave yard scene for ‘Easy Rider’ on 16 mm film. They took this one scene to Bert Schneider and said ‘This what we are trying to do’ and Bert said  ‘OK, here’s some money, go’.  And the money came from the proceeds of The Monkees. Peter Fonda, to this day, still says thanks to me.

ZANI – Nice one.

Peter Tork - Yeah, Hopper’s original cut was two hours and fifteen minutes, Bert Schneider cut the film down to about ninety minutes. He shows his cut to Hopper, and Hopper says,  "That’s the movie I was meant to make…thanks".

ZANI – What about Jack Nicholson's involvement as scriptwriter on Head? How did that come about, did you know of him?

Peter Tork - I knew of him, but I didn’t know him. Jack thought that he had retired, after being in Roger Corman’s stable.  Bob Rafelson became friends with Jack. I don’t how they did. From that they went on to write and produce the movie ‘Head’.  That’s all I know about his involvement.

ZANI - The humour and the acting on The Monkees was brilliant, did you improvise material?

Peter Tork - We did very little improvisation on camera, and once in a while we did. Nevertheless, what we could do whilst rehearsing a scene, we would say, "We have a better idea". The director would say, does it forward the plot like the old joke did and do we have the props?’  If it did and we had the props, then we would rehearse the new scene and shot it.

ZANI – A lot of creative input from you chaps then?

Peter Tork - Yes, once we got the hang of what we were doing, the director's trusted us as much as they trusted the writers.  

ZANI - I heard that you got into teaching in the 70’s and also became a singing waiter. Did you get many tips as a singing waiter?

Peter Tork - On tips I averaged about the same as the other waiters. I was a teacher of History, English, Social Studies, Sports and Music.  

ZANI - As a very welcome guest here, what do you like about the UK?

Peter Tork - Every country has it tradeoffs. You have more daily newspapers. We don’t have any apart from USA today, which is really like a Readers Digest. I like the way your government supports the arts. The extent to which you have been able to maintain nationalise medicine. You guys have a long tradition that ‘you are all in this together.’ On the down side, you let soccer hooliganism develop, we don’t have that.

ZANI – But in the States you have drive-bys.

Peter Tork - That’s in decline now, crime rate is coming down in the States.  

ZANI - I see that you have contributed to a book called ‘Something to Write Home About’, alongside the likes of Buzz Aldrin, President George W. Bush and Sir Paul McCartney. I take it you’re a massive baseball fan, what is it about the game that you like?

Peter Tork - It is game of skill, so is American football and baseball. Hitting a baseball well, as in cricket, is a very rare skill. One of most difficult things to do in the world to do, hitting a ball coming at you at ninety miles an hour with a round bat. Wonderful to watch.

ZANI - How do you like to relax?

Peter Tork - Playing my guitar, banjo, and reading.

ZANI - What music do you listen to now?

Peter Tork - I never listen to music in the house, I listen to music in the car. I like to listen the blues and some classical.

ZANI – What is your all time favourite songs?

Peter Tork - Woah, that’s a big request  I suppose it’s The Beatles, ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘She loves you’.  ‘I want you, I need you, I love you’  by Elvis. ‘Lucille' by Little Richard, far too many great songs to name at this time of day.

ZANI - What's your favourite Monkees song?

Peter Tork - My favourite Monkees’ music is ‘Riu Chiu’, an Accapella song, done live for the 1966 Christmas Special, which was never done before because filming time is twenty fives times more expensive than recording time. The vocal work is wonderful, the best thing the Monkees ever did. My favourite single is ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and my favourite album is ‘Head’.

ZANI - You have had a brilliant and interesting career spanning over four decades. What would you describe as your finest hour or is it still to come?

Peter Tork - Well I don’t know. In retrospect ‘Riu Chiu’ was a very high point. Making ‘Head’ was wonderful. The whole Monkees phenomena was of course acceptable.   Getting to play the blues has been transcendant for me. I can’t say if my finest hour is yet to come, you want to make a dent in this world, well I do anyway.

Peter Tork came from total obscurity to overnight success. Becoming a household name and gaining the respect of his peers.  He had to cope with the frustrations of the creative restrictions imposed on him by the TV Company.  A weaker person may well have gone under. Yet Peter, like his fellow band members, handled the pressure well. He fought tooth and nail to establish The Monkees as serious musicians and contenders for the Kings of pop music.

Their belief and determination paid off, and we are left with more than just another TV show from the Sixties. A band that represents the changing and exciting counter culture that embraced the decade. The Monkees looked good, the shows are funny, and the music is ever lasting. ZANI can safely say that is making a dent in the world.

The cynics often use the manufactured angle, as form of criticism and have recently drawn comparisons on other manufactured bands such The Spice Girls. The major difference between The Spice Girls and bands of the same ilk is that The Monkees have talent and refused to become engulfed in their hype. Bands like the Spice Girls are driven by their egos, not the music.

The Beatles had sent shock waves across the world, the birth of The Monkees was symbolic. A cultural revolution was taking place and the Americans did not want to miss out. They used their strong business attributes to create an equivalent vibe. The result as we all know, is perfect. There was and still is, a genuine spark between Nesmith, Jones, Dolenz and Tork.

Peter Tork has not been phased by his past and brings his wealth of experience in all his new projects. He is an intelligent, articulate, conscientious and talented individual, whom seems to enjoy each day as it comes. During the interview, ZANI found him inspiring. There was no bitterness or illusions of grandeur from him, just the way he was then and how he is now.

Shoes Suede Blues are a strong blues band that can blow away any audience. It was nice of Peter to attend Cult TV, and meet his fans. However, at ZANI, we believe he should be rocking across the UK. We envisage Shoe Suede Blues at Guildfest, Glastonbury, the V festivals or going back to grass roots and giving it out at venues like the 100 Club. ZANI will try our utmost for this to happen.

So after meeting Peter, is 1134 North Beechwood Drive still our favourite fictional address. You Bet.
©Matteo Sedazzari/ ZANI

Peter Tork's Official Site

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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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