By Jim Clark
Michael Nesmith is a man who has worn many hats in his professional career. As one of the progenitors of the budding country-rock genre of the 70s, one can picture him in a rugged Stetson. As a creative innovator in television and film, a stylish director’s beret might seem appropriate. And, as millions of baby boomer fans of the wildly popular 60s rock group The Monkees would affirm, the signature wool cap that became a trademark for his television persona would surely come to mind.
“Papa Nez” – or simply “Nez” – has rightfully earned the respect and devotion of his fans throughout the ensuing years. His post-Monkees body of work has spanned over 40 years, and the staunch following he has garnered in that time is a testament to the quality of work that he has produced.
Local fans will enjoy a unique opportunity to see Nesmith and his band perform on April 13 at The Somerville Theatre, as they roll across the land on a rare solo tour of America.
Nesmith seldom tours extensively these days, and this month-long Spring tour developed as a response to a successful appearance in England earlier this year. “I played a short solo tour in the UK that sold out in hours and even added a date, which also sold out,” Nesmith explains. “U.S. promoters took note of this and the offers came in and the tour came together from that. This tour looks promising as well. Many of the shows have already sold out before the press or advertising.”
Fans can expect a broad musical representation of his many years as a musical force. “I will play my solo writings from over the last years. I have several new songs but I won’t include them in this show. They are still in the ‘oven’ and need time to mature. The latest songs I will do are from Rays, which was 2006. I picked the songs from a mix of my favorites and the ones the band wanted to play. The musicians are so good that letting them play songs they enjoyed seemed like a really good idea, and it was.”
Nesmith is joined on the tour by some of the finest musicians available: Boh Cooper on Keys, Chris Scruggs on Mandolin, Steel, and 6 string, Paul Leim on Drums, and Joe Chemay on Bass.
A native-born Texan, Nesmith made his way to Southern California in the 60s, writing and recording music, and eventually landing a role as a member of the band on the TV show The Monkees. While panned by many critics – they were oftentimes cruelly dubbed “The Pre-Fab Four” – the group nonetheless won over the appreciation of many, and their music still gets plenty of airplay on oldies radio and lives on in the hearts of their steadfast fans.
After the television show folded and The Monkees as a group were informally dissolved, Nesmith carved out a niche of his own forming the highly acclaimed First National Band, which produced a number of popular hits such as Joanne, Silver Moon, Propinquity, and others.
He later delved into television and film production with great success. PopClips, Elephant Parts, and Michael Nesmith in Television Parts were all well received by the public and critics alike. He served as Executive Producer on the films Repo Man, Tapeheads, and Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann. Additionally, he is a published author, having penned The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora and The America Gene.
Last year, Nesmith teamed up once again with Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork to tour as The Monkees to throngs of appreciative fans across America. The death of member Davy Jones earlier in the year left many fans grateful that the remaining members took their act on the road once more. When asked if he would do it again, Nesmith effuses, “Yes, we will tour again I am sure. It was great fun and the show was great. Mickey and Peter are good guys, talented and fun to work with.”
Nesmith’s current solo set includes only one song from The Monkees era, Papa Gene’s Blues. “It was one of the first songs I wrote,” Nesmith says. “There are elements in that song that have stayed in my writing over the years. I learned a lot from writing that song.”
Confirmed fans and newcomers alike will be well entertained by the show. “The songs live in my mind like mini-movies – vignettes – that associate themselves with the emotions of the song,” says Nesmith. “I want the audience to share that.”
Nesmith approaches the performance as a storyteller would, talking a bit between songs, weaving his tales in cinematic fashion. “I have found nothing like a live performance in any other expression of the arts,” he says. “When it is done right, it is a most joyful and happy event – like a good meal, a fine conversation or a lover’s kiss.”
And doing it right is what Nez does best. Be sure not to miss it.
An Evening with Michael Nesmith, Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Sq., Somerville, Saturday, Apr 13 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
Papa Nez sez…
Mr. Nesmith was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:
Do you have any particular impressions of playing to Boston area audiences in your past appearances? Any favorite venues or memorable stories?
Very clear memories – it is one of my favorite areas of the country and I have spent quite a bit of time there. The most salient memory is as the Repo Man redoubt. Repo Man was a movie I made in the eighties and the studio refused to give it a release after I delivered it. There was a single theater in Boston/Cambridge that obtained a print and started playing it and played it every day for a year. Finally the studio caved in and gave it a small release but it never actually played anywhere for any length of time except there in Cambridge. As I recall it was The Brattle – but I might be wrong. It was many years ago – but that theater in Boston is the only reason Repo Man is alive today and has such a safe place in the general consciousness.
When can we expect a new album release from you?
Actually never. Albums have gone the way of the dodo and I am not sure what format will come next. Net delivery is now the main method for getting works out and the album/CD concept is not viable there. I have many new recordings that I am regularly putting up one at a time on my website (www.videoranch.com) along with the iteration that follows – for instance, there are several versions of one song up there now and I will keep putting the recordings there as they come out of the oven – then messing with them and tweaking them and putting out the next iteration – and on it will go. I have no idea all that will work out.
Do you have any plans for producing more television or film projects in the future? If so, can you say what they may involve?
I have several but the means of production is not clear to me. The virtual net is just around the corner and I would like to see where the linear narrative fits in all that before I start trying to build something there. I am drawn to larger and more intricate stories involving real time performances.
When writing a new song, do you often find that your initial idea changes significantly throughout the development process, or is the first “visualization” generally retained?
It changes significantly over time. Different Drum as I sing it today is almost unrecognizable from its first release. I have written about this at some length on my Facebook page – the whole first impression vs. the second and third one. But songs mature as we do with the same strange appendages and wrinkles. All the better as far as I am concerned and I am happy for that to happen and I manage for it.
When recording, do you prefer serving as your own producer solely, or do you value receiving objective input and suggestions from others?
I find objective input and thoughtful suggestions almost critical path. Recording won’t come together for me without the input from others with whom I share a point of view. They keep me on track and call me out on things that stray from the central vision. I find that encouraging and valuable beyond measure.
How important is fan feedback to you as you perform in concert?
If you mean audience feedback it is also critical path. The show I am doing now is very much like a play. The set is fixed, the order of the songs is the same night to night as are the introductions to each song. The audience feedback lets me know where I am. There isn’t much I can do about it if they don’t like it but at least I know we are in for a long night and if they like it then I am sailing on a reach.
Do you find that a particularly responsive and enthusiastic audience response compounds the energy of yourself and the band in performance?
Yes very much. When the audience is on the same page as the show and falls into the arms of the songs the reciprocity is like an engine that drives the whole evening. The call/response is recursive and increases by 1’s or 10’s depending on how happy the audience is with the show. Each recursion jacks everything up.
Do you feel that your history as a member of The Monkees overshadows your solo accomplishments with some audiences? Does this matter to you?
No and no. Monkees fans who have stayed with me are very supportive of the solo work and the fans who support the solo work but know nothing about The Monkees are not confused at all. The two career paths are so different that they don’t really cross talk at all. I don’t think any of my solo work would have survived in The Monkees and vice versa.
Bonus gratuitous nuts-and-berries question: If life is a pizza, what are your favorite toppings?
Well – the metaphor is a little squishy so it is hard to say – but off the top of my head I would say “sunglasses and a hat.”