Whenever "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees" reverberated from TV sets throughout American neighborhoods in 1966, excited youngsters settled themselves before the screen awaiting a half-hour of madcap episodes about four hopeful rock 'n' roll singers who lived in a Malibu beach house. Until it ended in 1968, the NBC hit show was long on fun, singable songs and even won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy.
At the end of 400 auditions for the new TV series, four young men emerged to become childhood's newest heroes, the Monkees. The cast, chosen for their personalities and musical ability, consisted of Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork. Dolenz had starred in the "Circus Boy" series, Jones had performed in the British production of "Oliver!" and Nesmith, who rode a motorcycle, had recorded earlier under another name.
Taking a cue from the Beatles, the producers decided that Dolenz would be the funny one, Jones the cute one, Nesmith the smart one and Tork the naive one, a la Ringo Starr. All had some performing experience, but Tork was the only one who played multiple instruments and had made a name for himself playing blues and folk music in Greenwich Village clubs.
Now the multitalented Tork comes to the Birchmere on Tuesday with "In This Generation: My Life in the Monkees and So Much More." The nostalgic tour featuring songs, stories, photos and memories takes him across the country after a stop at Rams Head in Annapolis on Sunday.
|» Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria|
|» When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday|
|» Info: $29.50; 703-549-7500; birchmere.com|
|» Where: Rams Head on Stage, 33 West St., Annapolis|
|» When: 8 p.m. May 28|
|» Info: $25; 410-268-4545; ramsheadonstage.com|
"I always love to be onstage," he said. "Each positive response from the audience inspires me to give even more of myself, so it's a win-win situation. This show is mostly a historical account of my life in music, from the early folk days in Greenwich Village to the post-Monkees period and up to the present in pop, rock and blues.
"I'll be performing favorite hits as I show photos and footage that have never been seen, and I'll also perform some songs never recorded. The stories behind lots of the songs should interest the audience. This show will cover everything the four of us went through on the television show, concert tours and recording sessions while we were the Monkees. I'll also talk about my own life since then as a performer and composer."
Although the group officially disbanded in 1971 after releasing seven platinum albums, they continued to perform together frequently. They endured ups, downs and outs with one another until their 45th anniversary tour in 2011. The death of Davy Jones from a heart attack in 2012 brought the remaining three together for a Jones tribute tour.
Tork was born in D.C. but grew up in Connecticut and attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where he learned the French horn as his classical instrument, adding to his expertise on acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano, keyboard, banjo and percussion. He was already composing when he was chosen for the show. Along with "For Pete's Sake," Tork co-wrote several Monkees hits including "Band 6," "Zilch" and "Goin' Down." Over the years, he has continued to compose and arrange songs for his various bands.
After playing banjo on George Harrison's soundtrack for the 1968 film "Wonderwall," Tork worked in many aspects of show business, including recording, producing, making club and television appearances and establishing his own bands -- the Peter Tork Project and Shoe Suede Blues, whose latest recording "Step By Step" was released in March.
Tork's busy life paused briefly in 2009 when he was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare form of head and neck cancer that doctors were able to cure.
Considering his broad musical education and experience, it's not surprising that Tork likes all kinds of music, some a little more than others.
"I have to admit that I now enjoy some music from every genre, even though I don't know much about klezmer or Azerbaijani folk tunes," he said. "After this tour, I'll tour again with Shoe Suede Blues playing folk and jazz, and I'm now fielding offers from Europe, so life is busy."