Peter Tork, member of the 60’s band The Monkees, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love for the United Kingdom, The Monkees 50th Anniversary, the late Davey Jones and their concert at The London Hammersmith Eventim Apollo on Friday September 4th.
Peter Tork, singer-songwriter, musician and member of legendary pop icons, The Monkees was born in America in 1942. He began studying piano at the age of nine, showing an aptitude for music by learning to play several different instruments, including the banjo and both acoustic bass and guitars. He attended Carleton College before he moved to New York City, where he became part of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village during the first half of the 1960s. While there, he befriended other up-and-coming musicians such as Stephen Stills, who was later in Crosby Stills and Nash.
Stephen Stills had auditioned for a new television series about four pop-rock musicians but was turned down. He was asked if he knew of someone who would be suitable and Stills suggested Tork audition for the part. Tork got the job and became one of the four members of The Monkees, a fictitious pop band in the mid-1960s, created for a television comedy sitcom written about the fictitious band. After the show finished, the group continued to write songs and tour, thus becoming the first created boy band.
Taking the time to have a chat, Kevin Cooper caught up with him at his home in Los Angeles, and this is what he had to say.
Mr Kevin Cooper?
Mr Peter Tork how are you?
That is me, and I am speaking (laughter).
Let me just say thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s my pleasure I am sure, and it’s my business too as it happens (laughter) in all honesty.
Before we start let’s get personal for a second Kevin, how are you doing?
I am very well and thank you for asking. I have to tell you that I have interviewed many, many artists but I have been as nervous as a kitten all day today waiting for this moment.
(Hysterical laughter) it serves you right.
I have to tell you that you, Mike, Micky and Davy are my childhood.
That’s nice, and now what am I? (Laughter).
You are one of my all-time heroes and it is my privilege to be able to speak to you.
Well thank you very much Kevin. As to the pleasure, I think that you had better hold off judgement on that until afterwards (laughter).
I have to ask you, how is life treating Peter Tork today?
As well as can be hoped for Kevin. It is pretty common knowledge that I had a surprise gift from a cancerous growth a number of years ago. They carved it out of me and I have recovered solely from all of that. However it still requires attention on a regular basis; it doesn’t interfere terribly but that’s life. What I am trying to say is that I am as well as could be hoped for, life goes on like this. In fact I have to say that I am an extraordinarily well favoured human on the face of the earth and I am very grateful for that Kevin. (Laughter) I usually make a joke about now because of my moral superiority but it doesn’t really fly in the face of facts (Laughter). So all is good.
You will be back over here in the UK on the 4th September for The Monkees featuring Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork at The London Hammersmith Eventim Apollo. Are you looking forward to the show?
(Laughter) I had better be Kevin. Yes of course. I am very fond of England as a place to go, and I would live there happily in a heartbeat if circumstances lined up like that. Being involved in the kind of world which I come from, I actually enjoy England a great deal. I am looking forward to it Kevin with great pleasure and anticipation.
Will playing here bring back good memories of you playing London back in the days of The Monkees Mania?
Oh yes, It certainly will Kevin although I must be honest with you, back in The Monkees Mania days one place blurred very much into another. I once said when we were on tour that we lived in a tunnel. The five of us, including our Manager, were in hotel halls, we were poured into limousines, we spent lots of time in dark tunnels leading up to the stage, for an hour or two we would explode in these large arenas, and then they would tuck us back into these tubes, these limousines, hotel halls and aeroplanes (laughter). We got very little chance to interact with the country that we were in at that time.
Since then as the mania has died down, we have gotten to be more normal entertainers. It has become fabulous Kevin. We can now wander around the streets of London and also take in the scenery up in Scotland. Anybody who hasn’t been to Scotland with their eyes open has not lived as far as I am concerned; it is just astounding up there. I love the Lake District and Ireland, in fact I love everything in that general area Kevin. It is a wonderful part of the world and I just love being there. I am looking forward to it very much.
Why are you playing just the one date in London?
To be honest with you Kevin, I just go where they point me (laughter). The date that we are doing, we are happy to do because it is a date that means a lot; because we are rapidly approaching the 50th anniversary of the first murmurings of The Monkees.
As you said, next year, 2016, will see the 50th Anniversary of The Monkees. Do you have anything special planned?
Well Kevin you are correct. Next year will be 50th anniversary of The Monkees in public. We first hit the public air-waves in the late summer of 1966, therefore, as you correctly point out, next year will be the 50th anniversary and yes, we are hoping to make a big deal of it. We are hoping to run a major tour which will include any number of dates in England and the UK in general if indeed there is a United Kingdom by the time that we get there (laughter). Don’t worry Kevin, you will always have Wales so you will be a United Kingdom forever (hysterical laughter). Also Cornwall no longer has any pretences of being a country of its own so… (Laughter). Although you might have to take some of the stripes off of the Union Jack which will be quite interesting (laughter).
I see that Michael (Nesmith) has been playing with you again recently in the States. Why is he not coming over with you for the London gig?
I don’t know exactly Kevin. All that we know is that he cried off saying that he simply didn’t want to do this show. Basically with Michael we don’t ask. If he says that he doesn’t want to do it, then he doesn’t want to do it. Nobody has very much influence on Michael in any case so there is hardly any point is us trying to cajole him into anything that he doesn’t want to do. We will miss Tex.
On the subject of being missed, I have to ask you, what is it like on stage without Davy Jones?
We dearly miss our dear departed brother; our brother in arms; the small one, now what’s his name, it will come to me in a minute (laughter). We called him the Manchester Cowboy. Davy had a love affair; a brief flirtation with country music for a little while and we called him the Manchester Cowboy from that, and it stuck. It’s all fond memories.
When Davy passed, did you ever think that would be the end of The Monkees?
No, never Kevin. As a matter of fact the truth is that Davy was making murmurings about going out on his own and Micky and I looked at each other and we reached out to Michael and so the trio of Michael, Micky and me was in the works well before Davy died. So in answer to your question about hanging it up with Davy gone, it was simply never in our thoughts. Of course we are a very different act without Davy but we still have the songbook which is the most incredible thing.
Is it true that you had more than a little encouragement from one of your friends to audition for The Monkees?
I had first heard about The Monkees in the early summer of 1965 from a good friend of mine, one Mr Stephen Stills (Crosby Stills and Nash). He told me that he had met with someone and they were making a TV show and he thought that I should try out for it. I just said thanks Stephen and hung up (laughter). Stephen rang me straight back and said that I really should try out for a part in the show. So I took Stephen’s advice and, as they say, the rest is history.
Looking back, how does it feel when you realise that you were part of the world’s very first boyband?
(Laughter) we never realised that we were Kevin until there were other boybands (laughter). We never thought of ourselves in those terms at all. It is true that retrospectively there was a lot in common but we are still together. How many of those boybands will still be together 20, 30 or even 40 years later? There are boy bands coming up and dying out whilst The Monkees are still going. I don’t know how we do it or what it is although I do have a couple of ideas.
Firstly because of the nature of the beast, we were lucky to lock into one of the greatest song writing gangs of all time. I don’t know where we stack up against the likes of (John) Lennon and (Paul) McCartney who wrote the entire catalogue of rock and roll music at the time; they wrote all of it. The Rolling Stones wrote almost everything that there was to do with the blues and that left us writing with all of our prop songwriters. Don’t forget Kevin that we had Carole King writing songs for us. Please, there has never been a better songwriter really, come on. With our songbook this is an enormously well favoured project.
Secondly there was television. When you got to see the guys playing off of each other, even if they were reading scripts and playing parts, you still got a sense of who they were. There was a much more personal connection to us as people with the audience, than there was with even The Beatles or The Stones or even the more recent boybands. I have a teenage daughter who was crazy about One Direction for a while and so we went to the movie and throughout the movie they tried to get the audience to know who the boys were but honestly, not a great deal came through. But with The Monkees, we had a half hour show that was in your face every week and which gave us a whole lot Kevin. I think it was that which kept us in the minds of the public.
Talking of the TV show, was it as much fun to make as it appeared to be to the viewers?
Well I don’t know, so let me ask you a question Kevin. Let me put it to you this way, you write and people read and what they see of you is your writing. They read you with pleasure and anticipation, and you ask yourself is it as much fun for me as it is going to seem to the public? At first the answer is well maybe not quite (laughter) because you are working back there behind the scenes. Once you give it to the public, all of the best parts of what you have been doing together with the stuff that isn’t all that good, they don’t get to see.
It was the same with The Monkees. We worked on a TV show and it was nearly as much fun but we were working. What all of that means is that we got tired at the end of the day but the director would ask us for one more shot or when we were exhausted they asked us to look chirpy and happy. Don’t forget that it was work Kevin you know. It was fun but at the end of the day if they want you to be chirpy and happy then you have to call on a lot in order to bring it back up. So the short answer, in quotes is, not exactly.
Do you have a favourite Monkees song or does it depend upon what mood you are in?
My favourite Monkees song was Pleasant Valley Sunday because you simply can’t beat Carole King’s chord changes. It is very exciting because it goes around and around and then it cuts across the roundabout as you might say, to get to the other side and suddenly you are back where you started in some magical manner that only Carole King knows how to do.
Recently I was speaking to Janis Ian and she told me that the days that she spent in Greenwich Village were some of the best days of her life. Would you agree with that?
I am totally with Janis on this. Who was it who said that to be in Greenwich Village in the 60’s was pure joy; to be young was pure bliss. It was magic Kevin. When I talk about having a well favoured life I went from Greenwich Village to almost directly into The Monkees. After that I went up to California where The Grateful Dead, Big Brother And The Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane all lived and I got to know those guys and I hung out with them and even got to play music with them. But I have to say Kevin that the days I spent in Greenwich Village were just fabulous but I don’t think that my heart could stand it again (laughter). It was great.
Do you have anything left to achieve?
I have a kind of a bluesy band Kevin called Peter Tork And The Shoe Suede Blues and I would just love for us to be even a moderately successful touring, working band. Right now The Monkees thing is taking my time and I don’t have a chance to get anything going but to be onstage with those guys playing that kind of music would be great. You should check us out Kevin. That is the only other thing in my life that I want to do.
Are there any thoughts on a new album from The Monkees?
Yes Kevin there is some thought although nothing concrete and no songs selected as yet although I have the songs already that I want to give them (laughter). Other than that there is always a chance.
None. There are lots of things that I wish that I had differently but if I hadn’t done them wrong I wouldn’t know what was right. So no regrets Kevin, it’s all been a learning experience.
Mr. Tork thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s been my pleasure Kevin. Thank you so much, it’s been good talking to you.
You take care.
Bye Kevin, you take care.
The Monkees featuring Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork
play London Hammersmith Eventim Apollo on Friday September 4th.
Tickets are on sale from www.alt-tickets.co.uk
and the 24-hour hotline: 0844 871 8819