Micky Dolenz returns to Chicago next week for two nights of Monkee business and more at City Winery. The man who sang ’60s pop classics like “I’m a Believer” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” promises a show full of fan favorites, alongside recent gems and surprises.
“It’s a flat-out, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll show,” says Dolenz. “I love playing with Peter [Tork] and Mike [Nesmith], and I loved playing with David [Jones]. But I was blessed to be the one who sang most of the big Monkees hits, so a solo show for me doesn’t change that much. If you’re a fan, you want those hits, and we’ll give ‘em to you.”
“I throw in a few non-Monkees things, if I have a story to go with them,” says Dolenz. “For example, I do ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry. It was my audition piece for the Monkees that got me the gig. I do a bit of a Jimi Hendrix piece, because he opened for the Monkees. That was a weird thing — for the audience, not for us. It was clear that he would have done just fine without opening a few Monkees shows! Mike and I would stand in the wings, and we were literally in awe. It was Awe, Indiana, actually.”
Last year’s “Good Times” helped celebrate the Monkees’ 50th anniversary. The album features material by a who’s who of modern indie-pop, vault tracks from veteran collaborators including Neil Diamond, and songs penned by the Monkees themselves. The title track finds Dolenz in a spirited duet with late ’70s pop legend Harry Nilsson.
“When we started talking about the anniversary, we found a bunch of unfinished tracks from the ’60s,” says Dolenz. “When the show was on the air, we recorded tons of material because they wanted two new songs in every episode. Harry, who was one of my dearest friends, had written one for me to sing. It had his scratch vocal, but because Harry never did anything half-assed, it was a full-blown performance. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can do a duet with my old friend.’ ”
During Dolenz’ previous visit to the area for a performance at St. Charles’ Arcada Theatre, he spent a day near Batavia at Fermilab indulging his passion for particle physics. “I’m a physics groupie,” he says enthusiastically. “In the ’70s, I did a play at [St. Charles resort] Pheasant Run. I was at Fermilab when they were digging the trench for the big [particle accelerator] ring. I have 16mm film of that, which I’m trying to find for their archives.”
While the Monkees emphasized good-time music, serious themes occasionally crept into fare like “Last Train to Clarksville.”
“We were told, do not discuss the war, do not discuss segregation,” says Dolenz. “It was supposed to be funny and fun. ‘We’re too busy singing to put anybody down.’ That song, though, is about a guy going off to boot camp in Clarksville, Tennessee, and telling his girlfriend, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.’ So, they let that bit through.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.