Happy Birthday to Peter Tork of the Monkees, who turns 77 today (February 13th)!!! Tork has bee sitting out of the recent Monkees tours featuring Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz due to an unspecified health issues. Back in October, Tork contributed to the Monkees’ first holiday collection, titled Christmas Party. The album features new vocals by Dolenz, Nesmith, and Tork — with the late Davy Jones featured on two vintage recordings.
Prior to moving to Los Angeles and being cast in the Monkees in late 1965, Tork — whose real name is Thorkelston — had made a name for himself in the Greenwich Village folk scene, performing with various members of the Lovin’ Spoonful and briefly dating “Mama” Cass Elliot. It was Stephen Stills, a friend from his folk days, who convinced him to audition for The Monkees pilot.
In 2009, Tork underwent surgery for Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma — a cancer that usually grows slowly on a person’s head and neck. He’s since undergone radiation treatment and made a full recovery. Recently released is Tork’s latest solo album with his band Shoe Suede Blues titled, Relax Your Mind, a tribute to the music of Huddie William Ledbetter — better known as “Lead Belly.”
During his original four-year-stint in the band, Tork sang lead on several of the group’s album tracks, including, “Auntie Grizelda” and “Shades Of Gray.” Out of all the group’s members — Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Mike Nesmith — Tork was by far the most musically accomplished, playing guitar, bass, banjo and keyboards during the group’s ’60s shows and recording sessions.
However, it was Tork’s songwriting, on such tracks as the Monkees’ outgoing theme song, “For Pete’s Sake,” and “Can You Dig It?” from their 1968 Head soundtrack, that made him stand apart from his more popular bandmates.
Shortly before his 2012 death, Davy Jones told us that despite all of his personal problems with Tork over the years, he can’t deny that above all else, he’s a great songwriter: [“Peter Tork sang (and) wrote a couple of great songs. His having that song, ‘For Pete’s Sake’ as the (theme song at the) start of the second season — now unbeknownst to me, that’s why he owns a piece of a building in New York! As unpredictable and tiresome as he becomes — he still is a great songwriter.”] SOUNDCUE (:18 OC: . . . a great songwriter)
Peter Tork explained that it was only at the tail end on The Monkees run that the group members knew how to write and produce the product needed for the project: [“The thing about putting out records in those days; the commercial thing about the Monkees was ‘get the records out, get the TV show out, get the boys on the road’ — and we didn’t know enough about making studio albums at that time to be able to turn out the stuff of good enough quality at the time. That was something we had to learn how to do.”] SOUNDCUE (:14 OC: . . . how to do)
Although Mike Nesmith was a key player in getting the group to choose and write its own material — it was Peter Tork’s ultimate dream to turn the Monkees into an actual living and breathing rock band: [“I believe that we ramped up to the point that we eventually could have been making our own records in an ongoing basis, as well as being on the TV show. Circumstances conspired against that happening in full, but there were a few moments that indicated to me that it could’ve happened. The Monkees’ third album was Headquarters. We made that album ourselves.”] SOUNDCUE (:17 OC: . . . that album ourselves)
Tork left the group in 1969, and went on to battle substance abuse. In the ’70s he worked a variety of jobs, including teaching algebra at a private school in California and performing as a singing waiter.
He was on hand for every one of the group’s reunions since 1986, until — according to Jones — he was fired from the group by Dolenz and tour promoter David Fishoff in 2001. Tork was on hand for the Monkees’ 2011 45th anniversary tour as well as his and Micky Dolenz’ 2012 and 2013 reunion dates with Mike Nesmith.
In June 2016, the Monkees scored their biggest album in 48 years with its latest album, Good Times! The set, produced by Adam Schlesinger from Fountains Of Wayne, is the band’s highest charting album since 1968’s The Birds, The Bees, And The Monkees, hitting Number 14 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
Good Times! features songs the group passed over back in the day from such heavyweights as Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Harry Nilsson, and Neil Diamond. The main draw of the new album is the inclusion on newly written songs by such “modern” songsmiths as Weezer‘s Rivers Cuomo, Oasis‘ Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Death Cab For Cutie‘s Ben Gibbard, XTC‘s Andy Partridge, and Adam Schlesinger.