Today a part of me was ripped away. In my childhood, I was a huge Monkees fan. I watched every episode as they aired and recorded the audio of each with my Radio Shack cassette recorder. Following the show, I would play that tape over and over and over and over.
I would not only sing along to every song but I knew every word spoken. This would get me through until next week’s episode. I always liked Mike the best (sorry Micky – I love you too). I asked for their singles and albums for birthday and Christmas presents, and my favorite songs were always the ones Mike sang lead. Songs like “Papa Gene’s Blues”, “Sweet Young Thing”, and “The Kind of Girl I Could Love”.
These songs were all written by Michael in 1966. I was raised playing Mother’s country records and Michael’s tunes have a country twang even though they are pop/rock. I think this was the reason I was drawn more toward his music. I also thought his toboggans (Southern U.S. a close-fitting knit cap) were cool. He was born in the south (Houston, Texas December 30, 1942) and this was another connection I had with him.
Michael was an only child and so was I (I learned this fact while writing this post). His parents, Warren and Bette Nesmith divorced when he was only 4 years old. They moved to Dallas and when Michael was 13 his mother invented Liquid Paper. There he participated in choral and drama activities at Thomas Jefferson High School but enlisted in the Air Force (1960) without graduating.
Never getting too far away from home he was trained as an aircraft mechanic at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, and then was permanently stationed at the Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base near Burns Flat, Oklahoma where he received a GED and was honorably discharged in 1962. He enrolled in San Antonio College, where he met John Kuehne and began a musical collaboration.
They sang original folk and songs written by Michael. He soon moved to Los Angeles playing clubs and was the “Hootmaster” for the Monday night hootenanny at The Troubadour, a West Hollywood nightclub that featured new artists.
Randy Sparks from the New Christy Minstrels offered Nesmith a publishing deal for his songs, and Barry Freedman told him about upcoming auditions for a new TV series called The Monkees. He won the part on the series that aired from 1966 until 1968.
I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost a dear friend and partner. I’m so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best – singing, laughing, and doing shtick. I’ll miss it all so much. Especially the shtick. Rest in peace, Nez. All my love, MickMicky Dolenz
As part of a promotional deal, Gretsch guitar company built a one-off, natural-finish, 12-string electric guitar for Nesmith when he was performing with the Monkees. Michael was the most publicly vocal Monkee about the band’s prefabricated image.
Michael is famous for his dislike of the way Don Kirshner was handling their deal that The Monkees would be able to have creative control over their songs and performances. Kirshner gave in and with the 1967 “Headquarters” album was the Monkees own.
We were kids with our own taste in music and were happier performing songs we liked – and/or wrote – than songs that were handed to us. It made for a better performance. It was more fun. That this became a bone of contention seemed strange to me, and I think to some extent to each of us — sort of “What’s the big deal, why won’t you let us play the songs we are singing?”Michael Nesmith
Michael wrote several songs early in his career like “Mary, Mary” recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Monkees, “Different Drum” and “Some of Shelly’s Blues” recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, “Pretty Little Princess” recorded by Frankie Laine, and “Some of Shelly’s Blues” and “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Monkees.
Some of my favorite Michael Nesmith penned songs include; “You Just May Be The One”, “You Told Me”, “Sunny Girlfriend”, “Zilch”, “Goin’ Down”, “Tapioca Tundra”, and “Daily Nightly” in 1967. The next year would bring “Auntie’s Municipal Court”, “Nine Times Blue”, “The Crippled Lion”, “St. Matthew” and “Circle Sky” which we named my record store after. “Listen to the Band” is one of my favorite Nesmith songs, and “Good Clean Fun” both were written in 1969.
Post Monkees he formed the group First National Band with Kuehne, John Ware, and Red Rhodes. Michael wrote most of the songs and “Joanne” made it to number 21 on the Billboard Top 40 in 1970. The First National Band has been credited with being among the pioneers of country-rock music. Other singles were “Nevada Fighter” and “Silver Moon”.
The next band he formed was the Second National Band consisting of Michael Cohen (keyboards and Moog), Johnny Meeks (of The Strangers) (bass), jazzer Jack Ranelli (drums), and Orville Rhodes (pedal steel), as well as an appearance by singer,
musician, and songwriter José Feliciano on congas. The album, “Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1” was a failure so his next was “And The Hits Just Keep on Comin'” featuring just him and Red Rhodes. In the mid-70s, Nesmith started his multimedia company Pacific Arts, which initially put out audio records, eight-track tapes, and cassettes, followed in 1981 with “video records.”
In 1977 he released the single “Rio” from the album “From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing”. In 1979 he released the singles “Cruisin'”, also known as “Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam”. He made a video for “Rio” which helped spur Nesmith’s creation of a television program called PopClips for the Nickelodeon cable network.
PopClips was then developed into the MTV network. Michael won a grammy in 1982 for his hour-long “Elephant Parts” which was a collection of his videos with funny segments. He also had a short-lived series on NBC inspired by the video called “Michael Nesmith in Television Parts.”
Television Parts included many other artists who were unknown at the time but went on to become major stars in their own right. Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Whoopi Goldberg, and Arsenio Hall all became well-known artists after their appearances on Nesmith’s show.
Nesmith was the executive producer for the movies “Repo Man”, “Tapeheads”, and “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann”. Michael wrote his first novel “The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora” in 1008 and another in 2009 “The America Gene”. Nesmith was married three times and had four children. He met his first wife, Phyllis Ann Barbour in 1964, while at San Antonio College. Together, they had three children: Christian, born in 1965; Jonathan, born in 1968; and Jessica, born in 1970. Nesmith and Barbour divorced in 1972.
He also had a son, Jason, born in August 1968 to Nurit Wilde, whom he met while working on The Monkees. His other wives were Kathryn Bild (1976) and Victoria Kennedy (2000). That third marriage ended in 2011. Nesmith founded the Countryside Records label with Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records in 1973 and Pacific Arts Records and released what he called “a book with a soundtrack”, titled The Prison in 1974.
With Infinite Love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes We ask that you respect our privacy at this time and we thank you for the love and light that all of you have shown him and us.His Family
Michael didn’t perform much with the Monkees after the 1969 tour, but when Davy Jones passed in 2012 he began to rejoin more frequently. After Peter Tork passed in 2019, Micky and Michael joined forces to perform as “The Monkees Present the Mike & Micky Show”.
In 1996, Michael would join Peter, Davy, and Micky to record the 11th Monkees album “Justus”. They covered his “Circle Sky” recording from the movie “Head” and he wrote “Admiral Mike” which Micky sings and is a real rocker. In 2020, “The Monkees Live: The Mike and Micky Show” was released and is an incredible album.
We shared many travels and projects together over the course of 30 years, which culminated in a Monkees farewell tour that wrapped up only a few weeks ago. That tour was a true blessing for so many. And in the end I know that Michael was at peace with his legacy which included songwriting, producing, acting, direction and so many innovative ideas and concepts. I am positive the brilliance he captured will resonate and offer the love and light towards which he always moved.Andrew Sandoval
Let’s not forget the 2016 album “Good Times! another great studio album by Michael, Micky, and Peter. Again a great album, including “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” sung by Michael and my favorite song on the album. Michael Nesmith left us on December 10, 2021, at the age of 78. I can’t believe there is only one Monkee left. With tears in my eyes, I end this post. Michael’s music, films, and books will keep him alive for me for the rest of my life. I wish his family, Micky, friends, and all the fans out there the best.
… And a final Freak-out