LOS ANGELES – Michael Nesmith, the singer-songwriter, songwriter, actor-director and entrepreneur who will probably be best remembered as the wool-hat member and guitarist of the made-for-TV rock band The Monkees, has passed away at 78 years old.
Nesmith, who had quadruple bypass surgery in 2018, died at home on Friday of natural causes, his family said in a statement.
Nesmith was a struggling singer-songwriter in September 1966 when the television debut of “The Monkees” turned him and the other band members Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and David Jones into rock stars. overnight.
After the band split in 1970, Nesmith began a long and creative career, not only as a musician, but also as a writer, producer and director of films, author of several books, director of an arts company. media and creator of a music video format which led to the creation of MTV.
Nesmith was having “boo parties” at popular West Hollywood nightclub The Troubadour when he saw an ad in a trade publication looking for “four crazy boys” to play rock musicians in a Beatles-inspired band. .
The show featured the comedic misadventures of a quartet cruising around Los Angeles in a rigged Pontiac GTO called the MonkeeMobile and, when not chasing girls, chasing music stardom.
Each episode rolled out two or three new Monkees songs, six of which became Billboard Top 10 hits over the series’ two years. Three others, “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville”, reached number 1.
Jones, with his British accent and boyish good looks, was the cute lead singer of the group. Dolenz became the wacky drummer, even though he had to learn to play the drums as the performance went on. Tork, a folk-rock musician, portrayed the comically distraught bassist. Nesmith, with his tangy Texan accent and the woolen hat he wore to his audition, became the serious but naive lead guitarist.
A joker by nature, he arrived at the hearing with a guitar and a bag of dirty laundry which he said he planned to wash immediately after. With a harmonica around his neck, he burst into a casting office, slamming the door loudly. After pausing to gaze at a painting as if it were a mirror, he sat down and immediately put his feet up on a desk.
He got the job.
But he rebelled almost immediately when the producers told him they were going to call his character “Wool Hat”. He demanded that they use his real name, as they did with the other actors.
It would be the first of many confrontations Nesmith would have with the producers in a tumultuous two-year race in which “The Monkees” won the 1967 Emmy for Best Comedy Series.
Nesmith and Tork, the two most accomplished musicians in the group, denounced the program’s refusal to allow them to play their own instruments during recording sessions. But when Nesmith first revealed this fact to reporters, music critics quickly turned to “The Monkees,” calling the show and band a scam as “Prefab Four,” a mocking reference to The Beatles’ nickname, Fab Four.
Nesmith, meanwhile, had written several songs he hoped would make his debut on the series, but almost all of them were turned down by music producer Don Kirshner because they sounded too country.
Among them was “Different Drum”, which Linda Ronstadt recorded in 1967 for her first hit single, validating for Nesmith her opinion that Kirshner, hailed by the pop music industry as “The Man with the Ear gold “, did not know what he was talking about.
Things came to a head when the Four Monkees demanded that they take control of the music. They were warned that they would be prosecuted for breach of contract.
At that, Nesmith rose from his seat and slammed his fist through a wall, telling Kirshner that it could have been his face.
For years, Nesmith refused to confirm or deny the incident, though the other three happily told reporters. In his 2017 memoir, “Infinite Tuesday,” he acknowledged this, saying he lost his temper when he felt his integrity was being called into question.
“It was an absurd moment in many ways,” he wrote.
It did, however, give the Monkees control over their music, starting with the band’s third album, “Headquarters”.
After the show ended in 1968, the band embarked on a lengthy concert tour where the members sang several of their own songs and played their own instruments in front of crowds of adoring fans. Jimi Hendrix was sometimes their opening act.
After the group split up, Nesmith rarely joined the others on reunion tours, leading many to believe that he disliked the group and the show, which he firmly denied.
“I really enjoyed being on the show. I really enjoyed working with Davy, Micky and Peter, ”he told Australian Musician magazine in 2019.
It was, he often said, that he was just too busy doing anything else.
Over the years he has recorded over a dozen albums and toured with the First National Band, the country-rock-folk group he formed.
He has written dozens of songs including “Some of Shelly’s Blues”, “Papa Gene’s Blues”, You Just May Be the One and “The Girl That Iknown Somewhere” which he performed with the Monkees. Others, performed with the First National Band, included “Joanne”, “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” and “Different Drum”.
For the Monkees’ 30th anniversary, he made the others come together to record a new album, “Justus,” for which the four of them composed songs and played instruments. He also joined the others on a brief tour and wrote and directed their 1997 televised reunion film, “Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees”.
Nesmith also wrote and produced the 1982 sci-fi film “Timerider: The Lyle Swann Adventure” and received executive producer credits on “Repo Man”, “Tape Heads” and other films.
His 1981 musical music video “Elephant Parts” won a Grammy and led to “PopClips,” a series of music videos broadcast on the Nickelodeon cable network which in turn led to the creation of MTV.
Nesmith even published two well-received novels, “The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora” in 1998 and “The America Gene” in 2009.
In 1999, he won in a bitter courtroom battle with the Public Broadcasting System over royalties from a home video deal his media company, Pacific Arts, had with PBS. A federal jury awarded him $ 48 million, finding the popular provider of children’s shows and documentaries had defrauded him.
Nesmith, showing that he hadn’t lost his Monkees sense of humor, later said, “It’s like catching your grandma stealing your stereo. You’re happy to get your stereo back, but you’re sad to hear that Grandma is a thief.
The two parties agreed to an undisclosed settlement and Nesmith founded another company, Videoranch.
After Jones’ death in 2012, he began joining the Monkees more frequently, with their concerts now receiving rave reviews from critics. He attributes this to the fact that most of the original critics of the group have died or retired.
After Tork’s death in 2019, Nesmith and Dolenz changed their name to The Monkees Mike & Micky.
Robert Michael Nesmith was born December 30, 1942 in Houston, Texas, the only child of Warren and Bette Nesmith.
His parents divorced when he was 4, and his mother often held two jobs, as a secretary and painter, to support herself and her son. It was this latest job that prompted her to prepare a typewriter correction fluid called Liquid Paper in her kitchen blender. By the mid-1970s, this had made her a fortune, which she eventually bequeathed to her son and to nonprofit foundations she endowed to promote women in business and the arts.
Her son, married and divorced three times, is survived by four children, Christian, Jason, Jessica and Jonathan.