An interview with the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz ahead of the Live Legends Tour at the Keswick Theatre on April 24th

This coming Sunday, April 24th, the Keswick Theatre in Glenside welcomes 60s pop music legends, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, who will both be performing as part of the Legends Live Tour. (7:30 p.m., tickets are still available).

We had a chance to catch up with Micky Dolenz ahead of the show coming this Sunday.

G.L. Have you ever performed at the Keswick Theatre before?

M.D. I’ve played there so many times I’ve lost count, and not too long ago with Mike [Nesmith], last June. It’s a great theater. I’ve played there many many times. My wife is originally from Philadelphia and has family in the area, so it’s usually a big family event.

G.L. So, you’ve been here many times…what’s your impression of the general area?

M.D. Well, I love it. I didn’t spend much time there until I got married, but I performed there many times. After I got married, since my wife’s whole family is from there, now I spend quite a bit of time in the area.

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The first time I remember Philly…I have a very special memory of it. In the ’60s when we were on tour there as the Monkees during the big 1966-1967 tour, I remember one night, the limo driver that we had asked: “You guys ever had a Philly cheesesteak?”. I guess I said no because he said: “You gotta try this” …

It was like midnight, and I’ll never forget pulling up to Pat’s…either it was Pat’s or Geno’s…and all the fluorescent neon lights. I’m dressed up in God knows what…I must have looked like a complete idiot to the people there because I would have been in bell bottoms and wacky colors…very 60s.

I just remember eating that Philly cheesesteak and to me, at that moment, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread…I so remember that. Really cool.

G.L. You have a long career, and many people might not know you started acting in the late 50s. You acted, directed, you were in the Monkees…you’ve done so much. Do you have a favorite thing you do? Something that’s closest to your heart?

M.D. I would rather be singing a great song or doing a great concert rather than directing a lousy TV show. And vice versa; I’d rather be directing a great project than acting in something I didn’t like. For me, it always starts with the material – the basic material. I do my best, but there are no guarantees…you never know if everything you are trying is going to work out. If it’s going to be great and wonderful, you never know. You surround yourself with people you hope will do their best and you keep your fingers crossed.

G.L. I want to go back to 1965 when you auditioned for the Monkees, you probably weren’t prepared for what it ended up becoming. What was that like – that shock of becoming a household name almost overnight?

M.D. It was very apparent from the get-go that it was going to be about music. You had to be able to sing and play an instrument to even get into the audition. My audition piece was Johnny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry. I had been in cover bands and even toured around a little bit as a teenager at that point. Having said that, NOTHING could prepare you for that kind of thing. Nobody knew…we just did our best. It happened kind of quickly…the show went on the air in 1966, and it was an immediate hit and by the summer of 1967, we were touring as a band.

When we went on the road and rehearsed (we rehearsed a lot), Mike Nesmith used to say “it was like Pinocchio becoming a real boy” [laughs]. The intention was there for us to sing and play all the songs in concert…otherwise, the producers wouldn’t have cast people who could sing and play.

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The show Glee, it was a TV show about an imaginary glee club, in this high school, but they actually could all do it…they cast people who could sing and dance. Nobody thought anything of it by the time Glee came along, but in the case of the Monkees, it was really unheard of. Nobody had ever attempted it.

I always think of it [The Monkees program] as a little half-hour Marx Brothers comedy. Actually, John Lennon of the Beatles made that comparison long before I thought about it. He said [in John Lennon’s voice]: “The Monkees, I like them. They’re like the Marx Brothers.” Which was very accurate.

They screened Marx Brothers movies for us in the early days. Obviously, it was the flavor they wanted.

G.L. There was chemistry there I’m sure nobody could have predicted. What do you attribute that to?

M.D. You don’t predict it, but you can look for this chemistry. The audition process went on for quite a while and there were screen tests and singing and improvisation and interviews. The producers were just looking for the personalities, the characters that they thought, at the time, were going to be good. You have no way of knowing though when you’re doing it…you have to keep your fingers crossed and hope that it’s going to be good.

What happened with the Monkees, at a certain point, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t take it apart or dissect it, in a scientific sense. It just kind of ignites and takes on a life of its own, I guess you would say.

Let’s take a show like Star Trek, which of course we all love. You can’t take that apart. You can’t say: “Oh, it was just William Shatner, that’s why it was a success”, or “It was just Leonard Nimoy’s pointed ears”, or it was just the writing or special effects…you just can’t do that. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts and that’s what happened with the Monkees.

Talk about the tour with Felix Cavaliere. What can we expect?

We each do our own set. Felix, of course, does a terrific show. If you’ve ever seen my show, you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get all those Monkee hits, and videos, and photographs and stuff on the screen. If you like the Monkees’ music, then you won’t be disappointed.

Tickets are still available for the Legends Live Tour. For more info, click here.

Photos Courtesy of Micky Dolenz

Interview edited for clarity and conciseness