Saved By The Blues!
Shoe Suede Blues is once again givin’ em’ what they want! Good feeling and good fun! It’s always a pleasure talking music past and present with founding member of Shoe Suede Blues Peter Tork! The band Shoe Suede Blues has a newer CD full of deep grooves and deep songs, and swingin’ fun!
After taking a breather from touring as a Monkee since 1986 Peter spent some time talking with me about music, life as a Monkee, and being saved by the blues.
SE: I must say that after hearing the new “Saved By The Blues” CD, that it was a good decision to take a break from the Monkees tour and go out with your own band.
PT: I left because I had Shoe Suede Blues to go to. Shoe Suede Blues called me more than being in The Monkees did. I am sorry to leave The Monkees because of how much fun the shows were, and even backstage was probably a little bit better than it ever had been before…. It’s a strange thing. It was a combination of events. One was that The Monkees had been so good to me that I didn’t need The Monkees anymore. And another was that Shoe Suede Blues was calling on a personal basis as well as a musical adventure. That is to say that I felt more like I was in a band of brothers with Shoe Suede Blues than I ever had with The Monkees. Which was really in some ways the saddest part of the whole issue … or maybe in some ways it’s the brightest part because I don’t know if I would’ve … but I think that I might’ve left The Monkees at about that time no matter what whether I had Shoe Suede Blues to fall back on or not because I think that my need for brotherhood backstage was more than it ever had been before. So, either my tolerance was lower, or I was feeling more confident that I could have it or something like that. But in either case… however it works it was a function of … I would rather do without it alone than do without it in company. Because if I’m alone at least I can do things exactly as I want to. If I can’t get the band I want, I can play my tunes on the piano and make my record … if all else fails I have a solo record I want to work on so…
SE: Well, like you said, it’s nice and it’s sad… it’s nice for you that you get to now go out there and be yourself, and be creative, and go with the roots music…
SE: Which is music from the heart. I feel sorry for them because they’re still singing the same songs. They’ve never made an attempt to do what you’re doing in the last twenty or so years.
PT: Well, Micky’s equivalent would be a directing career I think. And Davy doesn’t want to do anything other than ride horses but that’s not remunerative enough for him. He doesn’t have a way to make a living at it yet. Certainly not the living he needs right now, he still has a daughter who’s fifteen for whom he’ll be responsible. .. I think through college. And so he’s got a ways to go yet and he has to keep crankin’ out the big bucks. And I think that he would actually be very content to live in a small house in Florida and just do nothing but train and ride his horses, I think he’d be delighted, but he can’t do that yet. So he has to sort of stick with The Monkees financially. I don’t know why Micky does it honestly enough … although, I think he likes the show biz actually, I really think he’s a show biz kind of guy. Also in some ways it’s much easier for him because as far as he’s concerned he just sings the songs and has a good time. He does not have a calling in music… I think he’s got a voice… you know what I would love to do if I had Micky’s career in my hands? Right now I would put out an album of Billie Holliday! I heard him do Billie Holliday the other day … it just about tore me up! He’s really good, it’s really amazing!
SE: The work he did on some of the songs on “Pool It” was some of the best he’s done.
PT: He’s an amazing pop singer, really one of the best ever I think.
SE: Yeah … next to Little Richard. (Laughs)
PT: Well, Little Richard is the greatest rock singer of all time! Nobody’s gonna come close! But, you know…I think Micky’s in the top twenty of all time pop singers. I mean, you’d have to say that Ray Charles was in a different bag, you can’t … Ray Charles was never pop. I mean he was popular but he was never pop music. Maybe Little Richard was pop when rock was young, rock was pop you know … and it’s hard to know which was what when because you wouldn’t call any of the blues giants pop. And even maybe heavy metal, and I don’t know who is … but you know, just as a pure set of pipes Micky‘s one of the greats. And I wish he had a musical bag in which he could express himself.
SE: Yes, a lot of great stuff was done on “Pool It”, I was really floored by it.
PT: Thanks a lot.
SE: Which brings us back to the new Shoe Suede Blues album “. What I like about the two albums is that they’re different. The first one is a real fun Git down party record …
SE: And this one is almost the same, but there’s a lot of heart to it also. Meaning the songs that were picked and written, the sound is great… I’m just amazed at the feel that it has.
PT: Well thank you very much.
SE: I was impressed that you kept the original lyrics to “Hound Dog”!
PT: Yeah, the Big Mama Mae Thorton … it’s the good one! Hey, Elvis in his early day… there was one of the true greats I mean … great rock, blues, rockabilly, pop rock, blues, I don’t know what … he transcended all the genres particularly in his early days. And I think “That’s Alright Mama” and that Sun … the collection of Sun singles that’s out … its unbelieeeevable! And the first half dozen RCA singles as well even …”Heartbreak Hotel”… oh Jesus, “Heartbreak Hotel” will break your heart it’s so good! “Jailhouse Rock” is superb! What else am I thinking…? “Heartbreak Hotel” is so…
SE: There’s a lot of vibe to that record.
PT: A lot of vibe to that stuff. But “Hound Dog” was a mistake. He should’ve stuck with “Hound Dog”… you can’t have Elvis singing “you don’t want a man, all you want is a home” to a bunch of kids you know, they’re looking at this thing … “what are they gonna do with him”… “Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up” go-ah-lly!
SE: It’s funny that “Don’t Be Cruel” was the A side and “Hound Dog” was the B.
PT: Well, it was a double sided hit, wasn’t it.
SE: Well, it turned out that way, but “Hound Dog” was more of a novelty son wasn’t it?
PT: The way he did it.
SE: And “Don’t Be Cruel was like fingers poppin’ and feet tappin’.
PT: Yep! I love that one, I love that song, I used to do it myself in my pop band configurations. WAIT A MINUTE! “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” that’s the one I was thinking of, that’s a killer song! That’s the one I was thinking of. God! That’s the one. UH-HO!
SE: And the B side “My Baby Left Me”
PT: “I Want You, I Need You, I Need You, I Love You” was the song that actually broke through for me. That was the one that broke down the barriers. My head was like looking askance at rock and roll in those days until that song came along and that just crushed it all. And what was on the B side did you say?
SE: “My Baby Left Me”
PT: Oh yeah. (singing) “My baby left me and never said a word”
SE: He sang three octaves higher than usual on that one.
PT: He could do anything with his voice he wanted when he was that age. Young and vibrant and virile and… full of piss and vinegar, and..
PT: There’s a sign on a wall at a restaurant near where I live in a thing called The Café Fifties, which is all authentic looking, you know… the girls wear the poodle dresses and things that look a little like bowling shirts and so on … and there’s a sign on the wall that says “Teens! Pack up your things and move out and live your life, and are you tired of your parents telling you what to do? Pack up your things and move out now and take up a life of your own while you still know everything!” And that was Elvis.
SE: (Laughs) Yeah. There’s a track on this new Shoe Suede Blues CD that has a real, room reverb sound to it. And when I first heard it I thought “Damn! It sounds just like Heartbreak Hotel!” It’s that off mic, real room reverb sound.
PT: Ah, thank you.
SE: I read on your site that there was a change in the line up.
PT: We’ve had to change our configuration… we have parted company from our harp, keyboard player.
SE: What happened there?
PT: Well, what you read is about what we’re saying, and that’s about all we’re saying.. That we just need to go our separate ways. Tadg had eyes to be a star on his own hook and would like to have a group of his own he was the only front man, it’s like the Tadg Galleran Show! He’s got his virtues, as a performer he’s a very funny man, he’s a natural blues singer like almost nobody else I know. And he blows pretty good harp, and he plays pretty good keyboards, and he writes interesting stuff too… some of it. And he might make it before we do, which would be funny, you know… if he did. And for our part, we find that basically it seemed like his interest was elsewhere, being the star was the thing he wanted to do. So, we said … basically… and he said … and we said, and he said, and we said.
SE: Hmm, that’s all that’s left to say.
PT: He’s off gathering musicians and working them up to a thing and … and good luck to him, you know? If he makes it before we do, we’ll be very jealous. envious, and we’ll be angry that we didn’t try to hang onto him harder and stuff … but, that’s the breaks, them that’s the name of the game, that’s how it goes.
SE: Do you ever do the musical chairs thing with the band members? Bring one in, another waits out a bit, bring in another one…
PT: Yeah, we parted ways with Stevie Gurr. Basically we were… he…he was trippin’! And musically we were very sorry to lose him. He was extraordinarily productive and contributory musically. But we just found that life with him wound up being too much of a stretch for us. So we got Richard who is not as high pitched as Stevie is, but he’s as good a musician and he’s much more laid back, funny, funny guy and much more richer and warmer personally. Much like I said you know? A band of brothers thing, we really want to be doing this thing to where it’s as much fun to go from gig to gig as it is to play. We don’t one of those bands that’s tearin’ it up everywhere you go and you’re fighting from the moment you set off … take one foot off the stage at one venue until you’re on at the next. That’s no fun, you know? That’s not what I want to do with my life.
SE: That’s what I’m saying, this record sounds fun, the first one sounds like a party but this one sounds like fun with a lot of heart too.
PT: Thank you. We can’t play the music with ego, the music can’t be played with ego. I mean it’s one thing to think you’re really good, but in the moment of the production of the music when you’re generating the music, you’d better be just about ego less, and listening to everybody else, or what’s going to come across is a bunch of people who are all insular, I mean they might be ticking along to the same clock but it’s like all separate but equal to coin an expression… but it’s not together. And that’s when you lose the music if you’re not together that way.
SE: Do you ever have friends show up at a gig and just sit in for a song or two who just jump in and hang on?
PT: Of course. We start it off as a jam band, and you have thirty seven thousand twelve bar, and eight bar blues. You name one, and you say “was that the one that does that strange thing?” you say “yeah, but this other one goes to a major two instead of a five chord, or where you do this or it’s all in minor, or we have this one turn around, I’ll play it for you, it happens at the beginning of every song and so forth” Any one of the handful of songs that you just have a dozen words to say about it, and then everyone knows what it is. And we have a guy who wrote “Saved by the Blues” is Michael Levine, who also wrote “Since You Went Away” on “Pool It”, and wrote the title song to my solo album “Stranger Things Have Happened” who is a pretty good friend. And if you listen to the lyrics of “Saved by the Blues” you may discern, or you may not discern but I will inform you now but it is in fact my life story.
SE: Well, I know that the vocal on it sounded really personal. It was like… should I be listening to this because…?
PT: (Laughing) A little too intimate huh?
SE: It sounds like you’re writing in your diary for the day or something. And the vocal got kinda moody in some parts.
SE: It was different from the other tracks which makes it stand out. This album doesn’t sound like a jam band like the first one…
SE: But it sounds really free.
PT: No, it’s not as much a jam band. We want to tighten it down. The jam band thing is wonderful and it’s a great thing to do, and it’s so much fun to be. But we also have ambition, we want to make it, we want to be making a living at this. We want to be out on the road who knows how much of the time and showing up on Leno and Letterman and doing those shows, and selling records, and playing to big houses, and having a good size bus to tour in…
SE: Your saying that made me think of this, I hear you saying some of the same things most hopeful… or up and coming bands say about their hopes to “make it”. Has it ever hit you… or have you ever thought about the fact that… Peter, you’re an icon! And you must have thought about this since “Your Auntie Grizelda” that you could walk up to a mic and just go “Bdbdbdbdbdb” and sell a million copies mainly because… you’re you.
PT: Yeah… well, but you can only do that once. That’s what I’ve realized. Listen, here’s the perfect example, Stevie Wonder put out a record called “I Just Called to Say I Love You” it might’ve been his biggest selling record of all time, but in fact, it was his farewell record, and I knew it the second I heard it. It had no rhymes, and the theme of the record was… I have no reason to make a record. That’s what he is saying by making that record. And he was saying “I don’t have anymore songs to write, I don’t have anything else to say. And it was in fact his swan song as an original artist. He can tour as much as he wants on his old songs but … how many times have you heard about pop singers “well, he can do the alphabet and sell a million” Well, you can, but only once! How do you think they got there? They got to the point where they could do that because they were so wonderful for so long that they could cash in by singing the alphabet. Or the phone book and make a million. But that would be the last record they made. And if they wanted to come up with a new thing, they would have to start from scratch once they did that. The record that they put out after that is not gonna sell much no matter how good it is. And if they’re really good, and they want to do it, they’ll have to put out another good one, and another great one, and another great one, before they’re back to where they were in the first place. It’s an old joke, and it’s a snide thing to say “he could sing the phonebook and sell a million records, but you can only do that once. And it’s an admission to the end … you don’t wanna do that! So I can do “bdbdbbdbdbd” maybe once, but I wanna make it with this blues band in real terms, I mean… I don’t know the difference is between where we are and that happening but… I want us to be on the road, I want everybody to make a nice full living just from doing this and play so much that we’re just sweet and tight all the time. And people are comin’ because it takes them someplace they wanna go.
SE: I’ll have to admit that back in the 70’s I was one of them who wanted to check out anything you put out… the “Peter’s Back” single, and I loved it, it was great.
SE: It was great mainly because you weren’t doing the pop Monkee stuff, you were doing your own sound with your own vibe and that was cool. And it hit me tonight when I told my twelve year old daughter you were coming to town and she said “oooh, I want an autographed picture!” She reminded me how much she loved watching videos of that show. And everyone I know that enjoyed the show always says “Peter was my favorite Monkee”
PT: Good to know, isn’t it interesting. I was third in those days you know..
PT: Yes, there was… somebody actually checked it out. Davy was way first, Micky was a medium second, and I was third by quite a little bit.
SE: I’ve never heard any of them say they were a Micky fan, they always thought his character was irritating. They though you were funny and very bright and musical, and Davy of course was the cutie pie.
PT: And Michael was lost in the shuffle behind his own needs.
SE: I thought he was also very funny.
PT: He could be extraordinarily … you know where I thought he really excelled? Was in the fairy tale episode where he played the princess.
SE: Yeah, that was great.
PT: Ah, fuck that was good! AAHH, fuck he was good!
SE: But like I was saying, everyone who appreciated the show wants to hear everything you’re working on, so it’s a good thing to help them flush out the “I’m A Believer’s” and get cozy with roots music from Shoe Suede Blues.
PT: All I care about is making a living at this and doing it because I wanna do it… I wanna do it ”the more”. I wanna be on the road all the time and playing this music, I love the road and I love this music! If I could play this music all the time, I would be a happy camper! I don’t know how it’s done Stephen, I don’t know the difference is between where I am and making a living… and I don’t even mean a huge hefty living, although maybe I have to shoot for that in order to make a decent one… I don’t know but, I want my band members to make the kind of living that they can take home and live honestly on and live their lives on with full and prosperous lives, nothing fabulous, we’re not looking at corporate jets at our disposal or anything like that, it would be great to have a tour bus that we could call our own but even that is not a massive extravagance after a certain point. Just something kind of prosperous were we could actually be comfortable and have a good time on the road.
SE: Having a good time makes it sound happy, sounding happy make people want to get into it. There aren’t that many blues bands coming up anymore that play original roots music, they just re-write their own version of blues songs which is okay once in a while, but they’ve gotta sneak in some stuff like Shoe Suede Blues is doing saying “hey, this is how the words really were” etc.
PT: Yeah, how the words really were. And to write the new stuff from the heart, not just to do “okay, here’s another blues song” is the most important thing.
SE: When I first heard the CD, I recognized the obvious classic tunes but I couldn’t tell if some were just old blues songs I wasn’t familiar with, or if they were original tunes.
PT: “Cab Driver” I thought was a wonderful blues song, Tadg and Richard wrote that.
SE: It sounded like you did only about forty percent of the vocals.
PT: No, better than that. I think sixty or seventy. It was three by Tadg and one by Richard. Or two by Tadg, so that’s three out of eleven I guess that puts me at sixty seven percent I guess. I did some new stuff too, I found that I was singing stuff I’ve never sung before.
SE: The last track… the Robert Johnson song “Come on in My Kitchen” sounds like it was recorded live with no overdubs.
PT: That was actually done in sound check. That’s what you hear, I’m playin’ the tune and “we were trying to do this, and we didn’t do it very well, and… what key are we in? and what song? It’s in A, oh yes… okay” and then you hear Tadg… he plays a piano sound, he plays an organ sound, and then he gives up on the keyboard and goes to the harp, and then towards the end we wound up overdubbing background vocals and filling out the sound sort of… to sketch a progression from just very rough sketchy kind of sound check to a full blown production. By the end … we hoped to have it… so that by the end it felt fully produced and just have it gradually just step by step come walking into full production out of just… off hand sound check level quality. Some of the song were done live … as you can tell, in a house, and one song in particular ”Route 66” we tried to make it sound as though you were starting in the back of a crowded loud club and walking into the band, by the time the song was full blast you were on stage with it, the audience was behind you and forgotten and at the end we pulled back and there’s the audience again drinkin’ away, and who cares about the band on stage… I thought it was kinda cute.
SE: (Laughs) The feel is just really good! I couldn’t tell if it was a live album, or if it was just a big party in the studio .Everyone sounds like they’re having a good time. I can’t wait to hear the next one.
PT: Thank you. I hope it’ll be soon myself.
SE: I noticed that on your website that you have a mailing address in San Anselmo,
SE: So, your heat is still somewhat in San Francisco then, eh?
PT: Well yeah. The Bay Area in general anyway. I love San Francisco, you know? I always feel like it’s a great place to be when I’m there. I was up in Marin recently, I took a room in Fairfax for about five days and suddenly felt like I was hangin’ out with all my old pals like I’d been gone from home and was home for the first time in ages, and it was great playing with Chuck Day one night and jammin’ with whoever was playing along there … Fairfax has more music per square inch than any other part of the world as far as I know. Certainly more than any other town in America.
SE: People who go to clubs there love to hear music!
PT: Mm hmm!
SE: They’re not going there to just pick up a girl and go home, they go there to listen to music.
PT: That’s right, that’s right. There’s four clubs on a two block main street there.
SE: Yeah, 19 Broadway and there’s one two buildings down I forget the name…
SE: Yeah. Then there’s another one…
PT: Perry’s. And then on the corner there is that… I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s a coffee house and they have acoustic music in there a lot!
SE: On a Friday or Saturday night they all make the rounds from one club to the next to make the rounds to hear all the music.
PT: Yeah, like my village days, doubling in the clubs.
SE: Which is great, take a break and go to the next place, come back…
PT: Yeah, pay two admissions and walk back and forth. I heard a wonderful band at Perry’s one night that played funky stuff, five string banjo blues, it was GREAT! God it was good! I can’t remember their name, but I’ll turn you on to them later sometime.
SE: Fairfax is the best place for a band to play! South of Market in San Francisco is so pardon me but … it’s so L.A.
PT: Yeah, it’s very codified.
SE: By looking at your roster of shows in September, you’re gonna be playing in the South, East and North Bay Area for about a week.
PT: Well, not quite… but yeah,
SE: Right near your old hometown of San Anselmo.
PT: I lived in San Anselmo for awhile, and I got my mailing address there, and when I moved down to L.A., I just thought it would be more confusing to change the mailing address than it would be to put up with me waiting a week while they shipped me the mail. They gather it every week or so and just stuff it in an envelope and put extra postage on it and ship it down to me as a package. So I get my fan mail about a week late.
SE: Let’s get into some musical history here because you were a part of it, and in the middle of it, and saw it right there, but I would say… or would you agree that San Francisco is where the best music came from in the 60’s? Or maybe the most original? And I don’t mean The Beatles and The Stones and all that…
PT: Good question!
SE: That’s why I say your heart is in San Francisco, maybe it’s because, in my belief… even though I’m not a big fan of the people anymore, but a lot of great music came from San Francisco in the 60’s.
PT: Well, there certainly was tremendous San Francisco movement. You know what? I listen to those old records from the 60’s and a couple of Jefferson Airplane cuts stand out, the singles they put out … “White Rabbit” was excellent. But you know? The only artist who comes through and still stands tall as far as I’m concerned is Janis. I’ve always thought the Grateful Dead… well, The Grateful Dead… I heard them… what I understand, people told me for years was that you go to a lot of Grateful Dead shows and about every third they catch fire. And I went to three Grateful Dead shows and one of them… they were on fire, and the other two… they were not, and when they’re not they are so boring! And they never recorded anything really well as far as I’m concerned. Everything they do sounds tinny, mean, weasley, and mealy mouthed. And they never managed to record themselves on fire to the point where you thought “my god! This is a great band!” you know? Although, hundreds of thousands disagreed and they made millions in their touring career right up until Jerry died. And every one of those guys is a multimillionaire and more power to em’, you know… I don’t have any grudge on any of that score but… I don’t think The Dead mean much in the history of music, they mean more in the cultural history of the 60’s. Which they mean a great deal in, that’s where their strength is. In some ways there’s a parallel here with The Monkees who have no meaning musically, they didn’t bring anything to any table anywhere musically, but who in my judgment brought a great deal to the table in television. The Monkees were in fact the expression of the 60’s on TV. Particularly in that there was no authority figure on the TV show, that was the big breakthrough for them. And as far as I’m concerned Jann Wenner still has a heavy thumb on the rock and roll hall of fame I’m told, and he hates The Monkees! He HATES The Monkees! He’s gonna die hating The Monkees! He believes that he’s got a moral imperative from god to hate The Monkees, He’s got a message from god… and as long as he’s in charge of the rock and roll hall of fame we’ll never get in there. But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure we belong there. But if there was ever such a thing as a hall of fame for television and music at once, we’d be the only ones in it. But to get back to the San Francisco thing… like I said, not too much of the 60’s stands up as really good music. Not like Ray Charles who was operative in those days, I mean “Hit the Road Jack” came out when I was in High School or something, you know? And nothing’s been better than that since. Nothing has been better than Aretha since. And you know, The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Osiola was a second tier second or third opening act in the Fillmore stages in my San Francisco day, and I was in that band. And that was a lot of fun and it was not much good because it was kind of tinny and repetitive and yabald- yabaldy- yabaldy-yablad- yab-yab. And not much was goin’ on in those days. I mean, nothing was as good as Paul Butterfield, and where did he come from, where is he, Chicago, did he come from?
SE: Yeah, I think it was Chicago.
PT: Yeah, right on. The San Francisco phenomenon… Jimi, Jimi came from England for chrissake! I mean he grew up in Seattle but he made himself a mark and he came over as a product of the English rock movement really.
SE: You were there and wouldn’t you say that his big bang in the music world was Monterey Pop?
PT: Well, I guess it was in some ways… I didn’t get him that afternoon, he came on (Laughs) you know, he followed TheWho on the stage. The Who broke up their instruments, and Jimi sat down and put fire on his… and I said “I just saw this act” and I didn’t think anything of it.
SE: (Laughs) But Jimi did it better though right?
PT: Well, better shmetter, you know… if he’d done it first he’d have swamped The Who. But he didn’t. Micky got it! It was Micky who got it, and it was Micky who’s influence got him on The Monkees tour and honestly enough, it was probably (laughing) getting booted off The Monkees tour that made Jimi Hendrix’s career. If he gets booted off The Monkees that means he must have some credibility.
PT: We belong in the rock and roll hall of fame for that if nothing else. But, I don’t know, you know… San Francisco socially it was so important. It was so much the center of that and the music that came out of it was very much a big deal for them then.
SE: A lot of artist’s from different states and countries or whatever came to San Francisco and became great musicians. I mean look at Neil Young who moved to Redwood City, and then we got Bloomfield like you said, we got Janis from Texas….
SE: I mean the list goes on and on and on.
PT: Yes, there’s definitely that.
SE: It was some kind of a melting pot, and I don’t know…
PT: Well, on the other hand, The Buffalo Springfield came out of L.A.
PT: And they were a fantastic band! And they were no less authentic than anything out of San Francisco, and in fact to my ear they stand up much better. You listen to those old Buffalo Springfield records, they sound GREAT!
SE: They are, yeah.
PT: Fucking Steve Stills… as a young man was unbelievable! He really was such a killer! And Crosby Stills Nash and Young was about… still within the time frame. Springfield breaks up and C, S, & Y comes out and.. Now, Neil Young was an L.A. guy. Neil Young was in the Buffalo Springfield too which was out of L.A. Although I think that Springfield picked up Neil Young in the Northwest someplace as I recall, they knew his song and he went to hear them and didn’t know that they knew his song and heard them play his song and went up to them afterwards and they didn’t know it was him, and so on. And then he joined the band. Steve Stills didn’t do anything until he got to L.A. he and I were in New York together as you know.
SE: I’d say a lot of good stuff came out of New York too. A lot of great soul and jazz especially.
PT: Dylan came out of New York, Joan Baez for that matter.
SE: But where’d she end up? San Francisco.
PT: The folk movement… Jesus, that came out of New York. Basically Dylan, and who else… The Byrds, which was an L.A. group out of New York, McGuinn came out of New York and went to L.A. There’s The Byrds, there’s a ferocious group! “Eight Miles High” is one of the great records of all time I think really. Aside from The Beatles and The Stones like you said, and the Mersey sound.
SE: Yeah. I was looking through an old BAM magazine list of the top 100 records of all time and “Eight Miles High” was second to “Good Vibrations”.
PT: Uh huh…. ALRIGHT! THE BEACH BOYS! L.A.!
SE: L.A., you’re right. (Laughing)
PT: So tell me, now, the thing is that music comes out of L.A. The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfeild and you think,” god, what beautiful music!” You don’t say “god, what a good L.A. scene!”
PT: Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, you say “god, what a good music scene San Francisco is!”
SE: Let’s not forget Creedence Clearwater Revival.
PT: Creedence Clearwater… are they S.F.?
SE: yes, actually El Cerrito.
PT: Oh, well, they were sort of a little later, but the point I’m making is that… those bands, you think San Francisco but the other bands you don’t think “what a great music scene L.A. was” you just think “what great bands” and they happen to be in L.A. So, there’s an interesting juxtaposition for you. I don’t know what to make of that myself off hand but… there’s an interesting thing that… now I love San Francisco because… the atmosphere, there’s a texture to the air, literally a texture to the air because of the water, it’s the peninsula, stuck in between the ocean and the bay. And the warm wonderful weather in Marin County… all of that, the whole life. I love that about San Francisco. But twice I lived in Marin County and both times ambition took me to L.A. because nothing was coming out of Marin County except… the only thing ever to come out of… two things, well, The Sons Of Champlin was about the only thing to come out of Marin and they didn’t make much. There was a band called Clover that was making a bit of a stir but they wound up finally not going anywhere. I belonged to a wonderful lovely group called The Fairfax Street Choir which was like thirty five voices in the rock section, that was magnificent but it never went anywhere. Osiola was a Marin County band and we just went to San Francisco to play every so often. Youngbloods… where were they?
SE: Youngbloods? Yeah, they’re Bay Area, Jesse Colin Young still lives here.
PT: Are they? Now I’ll tell ya, “Grizzly Bear” is a great tune, we might do it ourselves one day if we ever get around to it.
SE: What made me bring up the San Francisco L.A. thing was because of the fact that… when I listen to your early solo stuff, and I say that from sixty seven…
SE: Through whenever, your solo stuff didn’t sound like the L.A. formula, just add water and it’s done type sound, It had to me a more San Francisco earthy sound.
SE: Like, “For Pete’s Sake” “Can You Dig It” Do I Have To Do This All Over Again” That wasn’t your manufactured L.A. radio sound. It was more of that from the heart, San Francisco stuff, know what I mean?
PT: Yep, just playin’ what I know how to play, that’s all that was.
SE: And that stuff didn’t sound like Monkee records, it sounded like something new, original and different.
PT: It’s tricky, it’s a tricky proposition you know. If you work it to the formula you sell the record. And Kirshner certainly knew what he was doing in that respect, he was certainly in large measure. Although I do have to say this about Kirshner… Behind The Music on VH1, and the True Hollywood Story on “E”, And “I’m A Believer” the fictionalized biography, all of those… to some extent or another made the point that Kirshner was our genius and when we got rid of him, we lost our genius and tumbled off of the face of the earth. And I want to point to the following fact, the second album didn’t sell as well as the first. The third album didn’t sell as well as the second. But by no less…than the second album didn’t sell as well as the first. In other words, there was a natural decline to The Monkees phenomenon, starts big and goes downhill. The third album did not fall off the… The Monkees “Headquarters” the one we did ourselves… it did not disappear any faster than the second…in other words it wasn’t precipitous. The fourth album didn’t do less than the third when Kirshner was gone… by much. And it didn’t do that much less than the second, and the fifth didn’t do that much worse than the fourth did. In other words, the decline didn’t accelerate when Kirshner was gone, the decline was already there in the second album. And Kirshner… you know, I mean Kirshner had a lot to teach us and we learned well. And two of the greatest Monkees greatest single hits came without Kirshner. “Daydream Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” were respectively the biggest selling Monkee record, and the best Monkee record, and neither one of them had anything to do with Kirshner, so there’s my little dig at Kirshner.
SE: It always did sound like the first two albums sounded like a TV show soundtrack…
PT: Uh huh.
SE: And the third one on… I mean ask anyone who’s heard them and they’ll say “those are fuckin’ great!” There’s a lot of original sound to them, a lot of experimentation,
SE: They didn’t sound like the first two L.A. manufactured radio sounding records, do you know what I mean?
PT: That’s right, Mike thinks that the reason that there were no hits off the third album was because Kirshner pulled the last strings that he could and squashed any chance that we had of putting a single out.
SE: He probably did. But that doesn’t matter, that album sold umpteen million copies didn’t it?
PT: Yeah, I forget what it was, six, four… six four and a half… three and a half or something like that the respective album sold.
SE: And it out charted Sgt. Pepper for a week or something like that.
PT: No, no Sgt. Pepper came out and knocked us out of the number one spot
SE: Well, I’m glad that you’re coming to spend some time in the Bay Area because you haven’t played around here in a while.
PT: No, it’s hard for me to play in the Bay Area. There’s still… I think, The Monkees stigma in the San Francisco Bay Area you know? I thought I would’ve been around there long enough that people would regard me as a friend, and of course I have friends there but… I don’t know, it’s a strange thing you know? It’s like, I sort of figured that… and everybody I’ve ever asked and turned to and thought about it… and nobody without exception said “no, no. play on the Monkees thing, you have to play on The Monkees, it’ll get the people in the door, if you’re any good they’ll stay, you have to play on The Monkees thing” But I swear to god, my experience with The Monkees… well, it’s not that it’s been a drag, but it’s been a wash. That The Monkees has cost me just about as much in credibility as it’s gained me in fans who… you know, remember The Monkees. I should put it another way. I don’t know that if I were to somehow abandon… or if I ever had said “ okay, I’m not gonna have anything more to do with The Monkees, don’t ask.” Whether it would’ve helped me or hindered me in the long run, I’m not gonna say I know the answer to that question… I’m just saying that it seems to me that the people that come to the shows because it’s The Monkees are only a small portion of the people that I would want to come to my shows, hoping that people who thought that I was more of a musician, or more interesting, or more intelligent or more entertaining would come, but don’t because The Monkee thing puts them off. I don’t know this for a fact this is just my surmise that it’s a wash. There’s no way of testing the proposition damn it.
SE: TV is mightier than the anything I guess.
SE: Like I said, like it or not you’re an icon and the TV thing made you forever… I mean music and TV video and audio, whatever. Your face is going to show up in every documentary, book, whatever.
PT: Mm hmm
SE: And you’re always gonna be a Monkee, and William Shatner will always be whoever he was…
PT: Yep, Yeah, I think I know what my obits is gonna be. (Laughs)
SE: (Laughing) Well I think this covers your upcoming shows in the Bay Area, the new CD, and I had a good time talking about all of it.
PT: Cool, I appreciate it very much Steve.
SE: It’s always a pleasure talking music with you and it’s all from the heart, there’s very few people out there that are like that today…
PT: Bless your heart Steve.
SE: With all the Britney’s and the…
PT: Good performers, good performers, c’mon.
SE: Well, they look good.
PT: No, they’re good performers, they don’t just look good, they perform very well. I mean the bits and pieces I’ve seen, them and the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC and those guys. Those guys are very talented.
SE: Good dancers.
PT: That counts for an awful lot. And they’re not bad singers either. And bless them if they… whoever writes their material and all the rest of it, none of that matters, none of that matters. They do the job… you know, you’re really under an obligation to access people in their own terms, it’s not like they’re pretending to be The Beatles, or hoping that you’ll think that they’re better than the Beatles. You just have to judge them on the basis of what they’re trying to do, crank out good records, be the front people, do a great dance thing, and bring a little bit of that culture a little bit earlier… you know, just shovel things along a little bit. The Monkees made The Beatles palatable to a younger generation, we moved the 60’s influence down a half a generation in age. We brought it to a younger crowd.
SE: Since the last time we spoke, we lost George Harrison which made me wonder about the stuff I read about you and he talking one afternoon in 1967. Do you have a brief recollection of that day?
PT: He was awful nice to me, and we spent just one really great afternoon talking about music and sitars, and those kinds of things. I had a great time and it was a privilege to have known him and a privilege to meet him.
SE: Thanks so much for talking with me.
PT: Thank you and I’ll talk to you again soon.
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