The name ‘Micky Braddock’ not ringing any bells? His father was a film star probably most widely known for his portrayal of The Count of Monte Cristo. His mother was also ‘in the business’ but stepped back from her career to raise Micky and his three younger sisters. It was her Irish background that provided the name ‘Braddock’. They unearthed it for Micky’s stage name and he later noted, “General Braddock was known for losing a famous battle somewhere.” Would it help if I mentioned that Micky Braddock’s first starring role was a three year run as ‘Corky’ in the NBC show Circus Boy? The producers of Circus Boy had his brown locks dyed blond and picked out Micky’s ‘Braddock’ handle so viewers would not confuse him with his actor father. You are probably more familiar with the name he used during his second go around in show business: Micky Dolenz.
In the late summer of 2022, several news outlets reported the last surviving member of The Monkees, Micky Dolenz, was suing the FBI. He was seeking the release of secret dossiers the FBI had amassed about the fictional band created for the TV show of the same name. Racking up four No. 1 albums in 1967, the foursome included Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, and Davy Jones. Surely the Feds were aware it was a comedy populated by four actors who were not exactly espousing radical ideas like overthrowing the government. Though some dubbed them ‘the Pre-Fab Four’ (as in ‘Prefabricated’), The Monkees did move beyond their made up for TV band status to become a real high grossing musical act. For some reason, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover kept files on entertainment stars and public figures (like Elvis and John Lennon). The Monkees somehow found themselves in J. Edgar’s crosshairs and ended up on his list.
Dolenz’s attorney jokingly suggested it might be fun to see if the band had a file before they even knew one existed. A highly redacted file on The Monkees was released in 2011 indicating they were being watched. The reason? The “anti-US messages on the war in Vietnam” they may have been spreading during their 1967 concert tour. A freedom of information act (FOIA) request was registered because Dolenz thought it might be fun to see what the Feds had on the group. When the request was not honored within the normal 20 working day window, Micky’s lawyer filed the suit for them to see the whole file. One of the news clips about the lawsuit mentioned Dolenz penning a book (I’m A Believer – My Life of Monkees, Music, and Madness – Micky Dolenz and Mark Bego – 1993 – Hyperion Books). While my search for the book via the interlibrary loan system came up empty, my wife found a copy which arrived in time for my birthday.
My knowledge of Micky Dolenz and The Monkees was pretty well limited to what I saw when their show debuted on September 12, 1966 and to what I heard on their records. I was in eighth grade at the time and six months into learning to play a drum set. The first album I bought to play along with was The Monkees which had been shrewdly released a few weeks ahead of their TV show. For the record, the second album I bought was The Doors so my early musical tastes varied wildly. I often wondered why Micky played such a weird looking drum kit on the show, but we will get to that later. I assumed the drummer on the album was Micky himself, but it turns out most of their earliest recorded output was done by session musicians. Micky and the boys added their vocals to the already finished tracks, but the fact I was learning to play the drums as recorded by the legendary Hal Blaine didn’t hurt my learning curve.
Micky Dolenz entered big time show business at age ten when he auditioned for the part of Corky in Circus Boy. The success of the show led NBC to send him out on promotional tours where he would perform a few songs and show off his co-star, Bimbo the elephant. He rode miles and miles aboard Bimbo in everything from local Fourth of July parades to the biggies like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City. Life was good until NBC canceled the show. Though he was offered a similar part in Cabin Boy (a shipboard adventure series), his parents decided to get him out of show business entirely to avoid the pitfalls that so many ECAs (Ex-Child Actors) encountered when they grew older and less cute.
Micky enjoyed returning to a ‘real’ school and being back on a more normal schedule. Three years of around the clock work included three hours of tutoring per day (a mandatory thing for child actors which he did enjoy) and the constant promotional work. Dolenz was happy to get back to being a kid. Working on a series, he was surrounded by adults and his one regret was losing touch with his sisters. With his long days working on the series, he never seemed to be at home. In the decade after he got out of the biz, he discovered a love for music which eventually landed him in a touring group called the Missing Links (later known as ‘Micky and the One-nighters’). It was great fun and after being given the royal treatment on his Circus Boy tours (keys to the city, staying in swanky hotels), Micky enjoyed the lower rent life style being in a gigging band. It was great fun, at least until they fired him.
Micky says the conversation went kind of like this – Band: “Well, we figure that since you’re just singing, and we all sing, well, we thought we could make more money by cutting the group down in size.” Though he was still studying architecture, being let go was still a big shock. Mickey: “I‘d been fired! Canned. Axed. Dismissed. Terminated. I drove back down the smoggy freeway in a daze. I’d never been fired from any job before in my life. I’d never felt that feeling of helpless humility before. And I didn’t like it. For one of the first times in my life I was at a loss.” When one of his ex-bandmates stopped by to check up on him a couple of days later, he asked Dolenz, “What’s happening? You have anything coming up?” Micky replied, “Not a lot . . . Well, actually I did go for an interview yesterday. It was for a TV show called The Monkees.” Could he feel the wheels of fate turning?
Ten years after his last working TV gig, Dolenz found the whole atmosphere for this new TV show different than he remembered. There was no cigar chomping executive in a gray suit this time (no doubt were a couple in the background setting the wheels in motion). The 1964-65 period set the stage for a different type of show on the tube: “Let’s do a show the kids will like!” (or something to that effect). There were shows pitched using popular groups like Peter, Paul, and Mary, The Beach Boys, and even the New Christy Minstrels as the focal point, but none of these got off the runway. Dolenz calls most of these attempts at producing a youth oriented show ‘grim’. The guys behind The Monkees, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, were anything like the ‘suits’ Micky expected to meet when he answered the casting call. Rafelson had previously created the folk music show Hootenanny and directed the TV series The Greatest Show on Earth. Bert was the son of Abe Schneider, the president of Columbia Pictures. The Monkees were produced by Screen Gems who just happened to be owned by Columbia Pictures, hence, the label The Monkees music was marketed under, ColGems. As Micky describes the relationship in his book, “What a coinkeydink!” (yes, it took me a minute to figure out this was ‘Micky speak’ for ‘coincidence’).
As revolutionary as the concept seemed, it was pretty much a typical sitcom but it was kind of a mash-up of The Beatles and Micky and the One-Nighters. When John Lennon was asked about the Monkees/Beatles comparisons, he showed that he got it when he said, “I like the Monkees. They’re like the Marx Brothers.” Dolenz does not specifically remember when he first met his future co-stars during the various screen tests as he was paired with dozens of other hopefuls during the process. When it had been whittled down to eight ‘contestants’ as he calls them, he does remember being paired with Davy Jones for many sessions. After the casting was complete, the next task was to film a pilot episode with the final four. This would then be shopped to the networks to see if they would get it on the air. The Monkees first formal introduction to each other came at a wardrobe fitting before filming began.
Dolenz would get to know his compatriarchs better over time, but he says his first impressions really did not change much over the years: “Mike Nesmith – Dry, witty sense of humor, intelligent, cool, generous, somewhat insecure, and definitely a control freak. One of the funniest men I have ever known. Peter Tork – Bohemian, heart of gold, tortured, compassionate, sometimes annoying, intellectual, altruistic, and one of the kindest men I have ever known. Davy Jones – Stylish, very talented, very short, puckish, unselfish, somewhat vain, congenital, streetwise, and one of the nicest men I have ever known.” The only real surprise came when Bob and Bert informed him that Mike and Peter both played guitar, Davy was supposed to be the ‘cute lead singer’, leaving Micky to be the group’s drummer. “Well,” Dolenz reasoned, “I had to learn to ride an elephant for one series, why not learn to play the drums for another? Anyway, I told them I couldn’t play keyboards because they made my butt hurt.” Micky may have had to walk that one back when he found out playing the drums was also done from a seated position.
With a lot of time to kill between filming, the boys convened to an adjoining soundstage where instruments were kept set up so they could learn to play together. There was some initial friction when it became obvious both Mike and Peter were told they could mold the band toward their particular musical tastes. This left the band without a singular musical vision which would, over time, “Be the seed that would eventually grow into the weed that ultimately would strangle the group,” according to Micky.
Dolenz worked hard at learning his new part, but readily admits some of the first jams must have been spectacularly bad. They would learn to be a real band over time but for the pilot, The Monkees had to be content to have the stylized visual look of a band, a natural comedic timing that allowed them to work off script, and a genuine love of music. With the pilot in the can, all they had to do was wait to see which network jumped to sign them. One small problem arose, however, when nobody bit.
Rafelson and Schneider went back to the drawing board and made what Micky describes as ‘a couple of brave decisions’ about the show. First off, the band had a manager who was supposed to be the adult in the room – the manager was cut from the pilot. The Monkees would be left on their own, the good guys battling the bad guys, solving problems, and always rallying together to make things right by the end of each episode. Would the networks go for a show with no adult authority figure in control? NBC did, ordering twenty-six episodes. They were on the air and Dolenz began practicing the drums with a vengeance. I can relate to this feeling because I was doing exactly the same thing but I still could not wrap my head around Micky’s strange looking drum set up. He later said when they did their first live show, “I didn’t even know how to set up the drums.” In other words, some stage hand probably set them up – eventually Dolenz would be seen seated behind a more conventional looking kit because the way they looked in the earliest episodes, they must have been impossible to play. With a shared showbiz background, Micky and Davy were able to shine in the filming area whereas Peter and Mike’s shared musical background would allow them to step up during the recording and live performances.
Mike Nesmith chaffed the most being handed material written by a who’s who of famous songwriters. Micky describes being taken down a hall not unlike one would find in a doctor’s office and behind every door were the likes of David Gates (later of Bread), Carol King, and Carol Bayer Sager. In addition to these staff writers, songs were also being submitted by Neil Diamond, Paul Williams, John Stewart, Leiber and Stoller, Michael Murphey, and Harry Nilsson. Dolenz does mention that Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote the music for the pilot and were responsible for much of The Monkees’ sound. Micky also says when they went out on their first tour, it was just the four of them performing as they became more of a real band and not just a pretend TV show band. In his own biography, Bobby Hart paints a little different picture. Hart put together a band called The Candy Store Prophets and they were responsible for laying down the music tracks that The Monkees added their vocals to. When they went out on their earliest live performances, The Candy Store Prophets were the opening act. The Monkees did play during their live shows, but when each musician took their solo spot, the CSPs backed them up.
As for the musicians who played on the tracks that would grace their albums, it was another who’s who list: Glen Campbell, Earl Palmer, Hal Blain, Buddy Miles, Billy Preston, Larry Knechtel (who would join David Gates in Bread), Harry Nilsson, Carole King, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Hugh McCracken, and Boyce and Hart. It may have been a mistake to not list this musician on the albums (the songwriter’s got their credit line). Dolenz says this little error of omission lead some to think The Monkees were trying to take credit themselves or that the group had existed before the TV show. Neither of these allegations were true, but it caused an unnecessary amount of blow back from certain quarters. Micky rightly states, “I doubt if it would have made one bit of difference to our loyal fans who loved the Monkees for the freedom that we represented, for the feeling that we engendered, for the spirit that we conveyed.”
Once the series was canceled, Mike Nesmith was all too happy to gain his freedom and promptly started his First National Band. The others would keep themselves busy but a reunion never happened until MTV decided to run a marathon of The Monkees TV show. This reintroduction of the band to a new generation led to an album of new music by Micky and Peter called That Was Then, This is Now. When Davy joined them at the MTV music awards on September 5, 1986, he was furious when he heard Arista Records planned to release a second single from the surprise hit album. Why the release of Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere as a single riled Davy up is a mystery because he had chosen to not take part in the album. True showmen that they were, the back stage screaming fit set off by Davy’s hissy-fit was set aside when they stepped on stage to present an award. That they did not talk to each other for a month after the award show was par for the course, but it didn’t mean they wouldn’t play music together again.
Future reunions would include different pairings of all four musicians and at one point, even Boyce and Hart joined the fun. Even Mike Nesmith would show up for a couple of songs and just prior to his death, he and Dolenz were still touring The Monkees’ catalog. It is now left up to Dolenz as the last man standing to carry on the legacy. Not long after Nesmith’s passing, Micky announced he would take their crack touring band out again to celebrate his now departed brothers. One wonders how this would have all ended had he not been fired from Micky and the One Nighters.
Top Piece Video: And then there were two – the last two Monkees still performing . . . and then there was one!