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Speaking With... Peter Tork of The Monkees 11.16.12

The Monkees Perform At The Greek Theatre

The Monkees Perform At The Greek Theatre

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The Monkees

♦ 8 p.m. Nov. 16

♦ Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State

♦ Tickets, $63-$78

♦ (800) 745-3000;

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Updated: December 19, 2012 10:51AM

How many bands out there can lay claim to a signature walk?

The Monkees sure can. Their arms-over-shoulders, foot-crossover-step walk became their calling card. And then there was all that music that touched a chord with a generation of teens and young adults already rocked by the Rolling Stones and simply mad about the invading Beatles.

The Monkees — Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz — were never in the same league as the Stones or the boys from Liverpool, but they were never supposed to be. That was the point.

The foursome hit the TV business big time when they were hired in 1966 for a sitcom about a wacky pop/rock band. With a string of hits to their credit including “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and “Valeri,” the Monkees’ zany TV show antics played out amid stylized music videos long before MTV, amid storylines that were often beyond far-out (anyone for some vampire/mad scientist monster brain swaps?).

Though “The Monkees” was canceled in 1968, the band continued recording and touring in various incarnations until 1970. Tork, Dolenz and Jones sporadically reunited for concerts over the years; Nesmith (who last toured with the group in 1969) focused on a career producing music videos, and songwriting/recording.

Fast-forward to 2012, and Nesmith, 69, Dolenz, 67, and Tork, 70, are on the road in a 12-city tour that winds its way to Chicago on Nov. 16. Jones, who died suddenly in February at age 66, will be remembered in a video montage tribute each night.

Tork talked about the new tour in a recent phone conversation.

Question: How did the current tour come together?

Peter Tork: This tour was under discussion before Davy passed away. It’s the 45th anniversary of [the Monkees’ third album] “Headquarters,” and Mike was expressing interest in touring behind that. When Davy passed away we looked at each other and took a couple of deep breaths and said this is still what we wanted to do.

Q. Why was this album so important to the group?

PT: It represented our liberation as an act. This is what we wanted to do that was different from what [producers] were having us do. If [the show’s music coordinator/album producer] Don Kirshner had listened to what we said in the first place, he would have stayed on. He had “the golden ear” when it came to music. He had his songwriters [most notably New York’s Brill Building tunesmiths such as Carole King and Neil Diamond]. We knew that. I don’t need to be the guy who writes the songs; I love a song no matter who writes it, if it’s good. But Don saw it as a personal affront, which it wasn’t. It was the fact that whatever we said just didn’t enter into his thinking. I’m sorry we lost Donny over that [the famous showdown over creative control culminated in Kirshner’s ouster].

But we were vindicated. “Headquarters” [on which the four finally played their own instruments] declined on the charts more slowly than the second album did. The second one sold more overall, but the chart life of the third was longer, which to me says the personal connection with the fans was there. The kids loved it.

I’m totally proud of “Headquarters.” The group energy was just incredible. One of the songs that I wrote for the album [“For Pete’s Sake,” often referred to as “Generation”] was good enough to be used over the show’s closing credits the second year.

We certainly weren’t as slick as on the first two albums, which were very good for the times. As angry as I was every time I heard “the Monkees don’t play their own instruments,” I now look back and see that the first two albums were indeed finely written pop albums.

Q. How different is the dynamic, now that Davy is gone?

PT: The dynamic is seriously different. Take out Davy and substitute Mike if you want a change. Mike is much more laid back. Davy was all buzzy and energetic, so there’s a huge difference there. This time we’ll have a backup band on some songs, so it’s not like the ’97 tour when it was just the four of us playing.

Q. Where were you when you heard about Davy’s passing?

PT: I was in my house. His guitar player’s wife who’s also a friend of mine called with the news. I was just totally distraught. Q.

The dynamic has changed, as you pointed out, but is the core Monkees chemistry there?

PT: I can’t tell you yet. Micky, Mike and I went into the rehearsal studio and jammed for a few hours and I was surprised it was the same vibe as it was playing the concerts in the 1960s. I’m glad to hear Michael on his songs again. That voice in those songs in that same style.

Q. Did the songs come back easily?

PT: We had a couple of rehearsal sessions for this tour but everyone had to re-learn everything. It comes back pretty quickly to one’s mind and voice, but it doesn’t come instantly to one’s hands.

Q. Mike caused quite a stir with his Facebook posting about Kevin Spacey or Jimmy Fallon taking Davy’s place on the tour.

PT: That was Mike being whimsical. I don’t think of him as whimsical very much, but that really was just whimsy. None of us ever talked to anyone about replacing Davy. There’s never been substitutions for any of us. We’ve gone on tour without, but never with a substitution.

Q. What do you think was the Monkees’ greatest contribution to American pop culture?

PT: “The Monkees” was the only TV show that featured four real young adults as the lead characters with no senior adult in the picture. We had no parental figure, no manager on the show. It was just the four of us. This was huge for the kids of the time. On “The Monkees” we got along just fine taking care of ourselves.

Q. Gotta ask the obligatory question: What’s your favorite Monkees song?

PT: I would say my favorite song we ever did was “Riu Chiu.” It’s an a cappella song, all in Spanish, that we did only once before TV cameras [for a Christmas episode], and the harmony blend was perfect. It’s totally crackerjack! It’s on YouTube, check it out. Among the Monkees’ songs, I would probably say “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

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