Monkee in the middle of Henderson's ArtBeat


Here he comes, playing Water Street ...

Peter Tork's band, Shoe Suede Blues, headlines ArtBeat at the Henderson Events Plaza, 200 S. Water St., on Friday. Showcasing dozens of artists and a musical act, ArtBeat is staged by the city of Henderson and Target every Friday night from April through October.

Tork, 69, was the quiet member of the Monkees, a fictional parody of the Beatles that set "A Hard Day's Night"-like buffoonery to the beat of professional songwriters such as Neil Diamond and Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Success transformed the band from phony to real, and it found itself charting hits and performing concerts 20 years ahead of Spinal Tap.

"It's never happened before, won't happen again, that the cast of a TV show became a real-life pop group," says Tork, phoning from his house in Connecticut. "It would be as if the actors on 'ER' took up medicine."

Friday, Tork and his solo band of about 15 years will perform Monkees hits including "Daydream Believer," "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer" -- in addition to blues covers and originals.

"I was thinking also the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and a Royal Canadian Air Force flyby," Tork says. "You think the town of Henderson will pay for that?"

The gig will serve as a stepping stone for Tork, who plans to make a Monkee out of himself again this summer. No Las Vegas date has been set for the band's 45th anniversary tour, which reunites Tork with singers Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones for the first time since 2001, although a couple of unbooked weeks in September look promising. ("Maybe," Tork says.)

The Monkees were originally assembled by TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider in 1966. Tork, the bassist, was the last member cast, and may owe his spot to Steven Stills' teeth. Tork remembers being recommended by Stills after the future Crosby, Stills and Nash star got rejected for a crooked smile.

"That's what he told me at the time," Tork says. "More recently, he told Howard Stern that it was because he wasn't going to be able to keep the rights to his own songs, so I don't know."

Either way, it worked out for everyone, Tork figures, "because Steve as a Monkee would have been frustrated, bitter and angry, and I would have been a folk singer for the rest of my life."

In 1968, after NBC canceled the series, Tork became the first to cancel his band membership.

"I wanted to be in a band, and those guys didn't care about that much," he says, explaining that Michael Nesmith demanded full creative control while Dolenz and Jones seemed disinterested. The Monkees continued without him until 1970, when Nesmith quit.

In the years following stardom, Tork became a full-time teacher at the private Los Angeles-area high schools Pacific Hills and New Dimensions. Students in his English, math and drama classes called him Mr. Thorkelson, his given surname.

"Education is a very big deal in my family," Tork says. "I'm third-generation teacher on both sides of my family. So this job came up and I dove at it. If I had been set for life and idly doing nothing, I might have taken it just the same."

In 1986, the original series was rebroadcast by MTV, creating demand for the first of three reunion tours that rekindled both the band's musical flame and its personality problems. Tork, in fact, was reportedly fired by Dolenz and Jones from the 2001 reunion tour for sniping at them in the media.

"Well, they fired me after I quit kind of thing," he says. "But whatever the story is there, that's behind us. We're cool."

And Nesmith isn't even discussed until reporters ask. The droll guitarist, who always wore a wool cap, hasn't even toured with the band since an acrimonious UK outing in 1997. Nesmith reportedly doesn't need Monkee money because in 1956, his mother, Bette, invented what became Liquid Paper.

"He doesn't have more money than God, but he certainly has more money than I do," Tork says, "by a factor of, oh, a hundred."

Tork says that Nesmith was not specifically invited aboard the upcoming tour, "but he knows he's welcome if he wants to."

Tork's too busy singing, in other words, to put anybody down.

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@review journal.com or 702-383-0456.

 

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