By Brian M. Howle
In my regular column, Along The Watchtower, I recalled the days of my first band, established while in Jr. High in the mid-’60s. And at that time, four of our biggest idols – along with most other kids’ in the U.S. who watched their T.V. show with fanatical regularity – were The Monkees.
Peter Tork – the quiet, shy, soft-spoken Monkee who always got last billing on the show’s intro – was one of two actual musicians cast for the show (Michael Nesmith was the other; Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones were accomplished actors). He was kind enough to give me an interview promoting the July 5th (2001) Monkees Reunion Tour at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, as he and a friend traversed mid-America in a R.V. during a three-day break between shows. Peter gave me a call from a pay phone just outside of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota:
Howle: Well, Peter, I just want to thank you up front for taking the time for the interview. I know you guys have a busy schedule, and I really do appreciate it.
Tork: Oh, you’re quite welcome. Actually, I’m in the middle of the Badlands right now.
Tork: Yeah, I’m right outside the entrance to the Badlands National Park here in South Dakota. And let me tell you – these badlands have some nasty looking vistas out there.
Howle: So, what in the world are you doing out there in the middle of the boonies?
Tork: We have three days off before the next show, so I had planned this for some time. I rented a R.V., and a friend of mine is riding along with me. You know, we never had any time to ourselves when the T.V. show was happening, and it was a constant blur of events. So, now we try to take the time to enjoy the surroundings while we’re touring, and it’s really just a lot of fun to do.
Howle: Well, I’m glad to hear you’re able to enjoy this go ‘round. I know there were not always the most enjoyable moments when y’all were breaking out and you had everyone in the world trying to get a little piece of you, every waking moment. So, it’s nice that you can do this now. I know that being an icon isn’t always the easiest thing to live up to, I realize that, but …
Tork: That’s funny … To tell you the truth, I don’t feel iconic. (laughs).
Howle: (Laughs) O.K., that’s fair enough. Now, for those who don’t know, where are you from?
Tork: Well, I was born in D.C. But my family moved quite a bit, and I lived all over the place before I ended up in Greenwich Village in New York City.
Howle: When did you first become interested in music?
Tork: I’ve always had an interest in music, as long as I can remember. I took piano lessons, and then experimented with a variety of instruments. I ended up playing banjo and guitar most of the time, though.
Howle: Well, what were the major influences in your musical development? I’ve heard you had more of a folk music background in the beginning …
Tork: Ah, no, actually, when I first started playing piano, it was a little bit of everything that was around at that time. Classical, traditional, and Big Bands were my first influences. Then I really started getting serious about playing guitar when I was around 13 or so, and it just sort of took off from there.
Howle: I thought I remembered reading an article a long time back – when you lived in the Village, weren’t you friends with Stephen Stills (later of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame)?
Tork: Yes, that’s all true. Actually, I was referred to as the “good-looking Stephen Stills” (laughs). When I moved into the Village, several different people mistook me for Stephen; when they realized their mistake, they would say, “Hey, you really look like this guy named Stephen Stills.” And Stephen had the same thing happening to him in reverse, with folks mistaking him for me. When we finally met, he said, “So, you’re the kid that everyone keeps telling how much I look like.”
We became friends, and even worked in a restaurant together. Stephen had already established a name for himself, musically, and he was asked to audition for the show. Well, he was told that he wasn’t “the look” they wanted. He told me about the audition, but I didn’t give it much consideration. Then, he called me a second time and asked if I had auditioned.
So then I finally did, and they said I got the roll because I was a “good-looking Stephen Stills”, because they felt I was slightly more “telegenic”. So, I got the show, and Stephen went on to become outrageously wealthy with his little band. I think they did alright (laughs) … The rest, as they say, is history …
Howle: Yes it is. So, how’s the reaction to the current tour, both from the older fan base like myself, and the younger kids?
Tork: Ah, the new kids … well, the reaction has been great, really. We have a new boy band called “Natural” opening up for us, they’re the latest group from Mr. Pearlman (who developed N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys) out of Orlando. These kids are really, really good; they’re really talented, and very professional. So, we’ve had a tremendous turnout from the youngsters to see them. Then, they’re already there, so they end up listening to us, and they all seem to really enjoy the entire show.
And of course, the older core fan-base has just been delightful. We’re always amazed at the response to the show; it’s been really great, and a lot of fun and satisfaction. And there are a lot of really pretty girls who show up at our concerts.
Howle: Well, that’s not such a bad fringe benefit to have. So, how long does this tour run?
Tork: We’ve got a couple of months to go here, and then we’re going to Europe, which is always a lot of fun.
Howle: What’s your advice to the younger musicians – and actors – who are just starting out, since you managed to cross over into both of those fields?
Tork: Well, first and foremost – go for it. If you have a love for the art, a passion, then give it your all and give it a fair chance. While I don’t encourage anyone to dream their life away, it’s a lot easier and more realistic to give it a go sooner. If it doesn’t work out, then you can learn some other trade when you’re young, rather than waiting until later in life to try and pursue music or acting, when it’s not as likely to happen for you.
Howle: Do you guys have another album in the works?
Tork: Well, we’re, ah, hoping to be able to get back in the studio sometime in the future, um, and …
(Peter is distracted by something going on near him, as I can hear slamming car doors and voices in the background.)
Howle: Hey .. who else is there with you now?
Tork: I’m sorry … a car just stopped and I’ve been recognized. Excuse me for just a second, I have to make myself available, O.K.?
Howle: No problem, Peter, go right ahead and take your time.
(Peter takes a minute or so to sign autographs and have his picture taken with a family that drove by, then wheeled around and dashed back when they spotted him).
Tork: (Sheepishly) O.K., Sorry … I’m back. I guess Monkees aren’t indigenous to South Dakota (laughs).
Howle: That is just amazing. Out in the middle of nowhere and you’re still hounded by your fans!
Tork: Oh, naw, I’m always humbled by our fans. We’ve been very fortunate; without them, we’d be nothing.
Howle: Well, I’m going to let you go … thanks again for taking the time to talk to me. It’s been a treat. We’ll be looking forward to seeing you guys here at the House of Blues next week!
Tork: You’re very welcome, Brian. I hope everyone comes out to the House of Blues and enjoys the show. Take care.
Well, Peter, let’s see … the last verse of the Monkees’ theme song went …
“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees, and people try to put us down,
and so you’d better get ready, we may be coming to your town.”
O.K., so it took them 35 years to get here … but I’m ready. Look for the review to follow.
The previous article was originally published July, 2001 in Alternatives NewsMagazine