HERMAN'S HERMITS' PETER NOONE TO INTERVIEW THE MONKEES' MICKY DOLENZ
A Conversation with Peter Noone About Conversations with Micky Dolanz and More...
Mike Ragogna: Peter, rumor has it you're getting together with The Monkees' Mickey Dolenz for something or another. What's the devil in the details?
Peter Noone:Well, we're not performing together, it's called "In Conversation" and there's no music, it's just a conversation. We're just going to have a chat.
MR: What will this conversation entail?
PN:I don't know...I think of myself like a modern day David Frost. I'm genuinely interested in hearing who Micky Dolenz is, as if I don't know anything about him. I want to find out all about him, and "In Conversation" means I will only ask him questions that he can ask me, so obviously they will be pertaining to Monkees and recording sessions and who disliked who and how he felt about things, you know what I mean? All that stuff, what he thought about Lester Sill and all the people in the background of the Monkees stuff and Screen Gems and who he really is. Who is he, Micky Dolenz? We know who he pretends to be when he's on stage and when he's an actor--because I think musicians are really actors with some songs to get by, or comedians maybe. When Mick and I are together we talk a lot and time flies. We had a lunch last week and in an hour and a half we didn't touch on all of the things I wanted to talk about. I want to be David Frost. I think I want to be David Frost and have a clipboard and say, "Yeah, but in this newspaper article you said that," and that stuff. How his relationship with Davy went and stuff like that, because we all know the same characters. It's fascinating. I thought if it goes well I'll do "In Conversation with Eric Burdon" and other ones that would be fun for me to do.
MR: You mentioned the connection between musicians and acting. A lot of people don't remember that Micky Dolenz was a successful actor first in the series Circus Boy.
PN:In my case, and I'm sure in Micky's case, when he goes on stage to present the Monkees songs the people want him to be that character from the Monkees. A lot of successful entertainers know that and they basically give the people what they want. I remember Micky as being the drummer, but he isn't the drummer anymore, he stands up front with a guitar and he sings the songs and tries to sound like the records, which sort of fulfills this music fan's need. We try to a look a little bit like we did then as well. All actors do this. We created these characters--maybe caricatures--and the whole thing becomes, in my case, Peter Noone as Herman as Peter Noone. I have to go on stage and do "I'm Henry VIII." Most of the time, I can use my Stanislavsky method thing and become the person in the songs, but that doesn't work on "I'm Henry VIII," and maybe it doesn't work on "Last Train To Clarksville."
MR: Peter, what are you trying to get at generally when you're interviewing your guests?
PN:I want to know who they are. Everybody plays somebody. When you're at home alone, who are you then? Who are we? Nobody knows who we are. Maybe your wife knows who you are--well, whoever you've let her in on. But I think that most entertainers have two separate characters. Maybe some of us have three. If I went to a psychologist he would say that when I'm at home I'm my father, committed and parental, and when I'm on the road I'm my mother, a teenage runabout. It's very easy with Micky, by the way, because he's very entertaining. His speech patterns are never dull. When I meet with Eric Burdon in real life he's a grumpy old man. Micky may be a grumpy old man at home, I'd like to find out. I'm not going to ask him what he thinks of Bill O'Reilly or any of that stuff, I don't care. I don't care what religion he is, or what species he believes in. I don't think people are really that interested in that, that's just when you've run out of stuff to talk about. I think when people have run out of things to talk about they talk about politics and all those things that should be kept for your own thinking.
MR: What have you discovered about Peter Noone as you're interviewing Micky Dolenz and the others?
PN:I can't ask a question that can't be asked of me, so probably in the conversation they'll say, "Well what do you think of that?" and then I'll answer. It will be partnered. "In Conversation" doesn't say, "This is an interview," it's a conversation. I will tell people what I think about what he thinks. I'm very bad at doing interviews because there are very few people that I'm interested in. All of the people I'm interested are dead people. "I wonder what John Lennon thought about this."
MR: When you look at your career, what do you think evolved for Peter Noone over the years?
PN:I found out that I was actually addicted to live performances and the heat that that gives me. I was in denial for about twelve years; I refused to sing my own songs. I think every entertainer does that. Then somebody offered me a job. They kept calling me back and said, "We've learned all of your songs, you don't need to do any rehearsals, you'll just come on stage and sing your songs. We know all the songs." I found every excuse not to do it. Even the name of the place had little appeal. It was called "Lulu's Club"--I didn't know it was a three thousand-seater club called "Lulu's" in Kitchener, Ontario. Everything about it sounded like it was a huge step backwards, but I was on stage and in the middle of the guitar solo for "I'm Into Something Good," which I always open with, I looked out into the audience and I said, "Oh my God, this is who I am. This is what I do."
I'd done Broadway--I loved the idea of being something where somebody else was in control of everything--so what I learned from Broadway was I should start letting somebody else take control of what they do, not be the big shot lighting man, sound man, camera man doing everything, just be Herman, I guess, was what I learned, or be Frederic, if you're on Broadway. All I had to do was be Frederic for an hour and a half. And like Keith Richards says to Ronnie Wood, "Ninety minutes of peace and quiet on stage." They go on stage and all they think about for ninety minutes is Rolling Stones. That is a refreshing thought for me, and I'm going to talk to Micky about this because maybe he doesn't' see it like I do, but I always thought of show business as like being an athlete. Compare it to baseball. In England I compared it to football and cricket, but I'll compare it baseball: You work hard all week and you train and everything to go on that field and hit home runs. If you stop hitting home runs like once every three times then you go to the minor leagues and that, for an entertainer, is the Holiday Inn Express in Poughkeepsie. I don't want to go there. I insist that everybody on stage with me believes in that theory. What we've got to do is take care all day so that this ninety minutes is precious to us. The audience always knows the difference. I would like to know what other people think about that, because in Micky's case, he had to share the glamour with three other people, because they were actors and they were equally billed.
What happened to me with "Herman's Hermits" is I was the face and the spokesman of my band. Micky wasn't that. "And how did that feel?" In Herman's Hermits, we were like Marines. If someone was light on something, somebody took over for that lightness. If the drummer wasn't good at time somebody would stamp their foot for him. They didn't have that in The Monkees. They weren't necessarily friends. I wasn't friends with any of The Hermits, we didn't know each other musically, we'd met and played songs together but we weren't school friends or anything. Micky had a similar experience. When I was much older I realized that I was probably unkind and thoughtless to the Hermits, which isn't in my nature. But what I did probably hurt their feelings and I was so naïve that I didn't even realize that something like that could hurt their feelings. If I got Jimmy Page to play on a record and didn't invite them to the session; that was an act of unkindness. "No, no, he plays it good and fast and by the time we get it live you'll be able to play it better than he did on the record!" I'd like to know what people think about that. Imagine walking into the studio and everything's done except for your vocals.
MR: But in the case of The Monkees, I believe each member portrayed as close to their real personalities as they were. Micky was the clown, Mike Nesmith was the intellectual straight man-meets-wise guy, Davy Jones was the heartthrob, and Peter Tork was the goofball. I think in their case, their stage presence teetered on the edge of reality, whereas I think in Herman's Hermits, you played a certain character with the fun songs like "Henry VIII," but you also had depth in songs like "No Milk Today."
PN:Yeah, but you know the difference is Herman's Hermits was really who we were. We played ourselves. Herman is Peter Noone as Herman. At the time, I was that person. I chose to do "Henry VIII," I chose to do "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter," because that made us different from The Beatles and the Stones and the Zombies. In those days everybody had to be unique. What happened with the Monkees is they tried to get a conglomerate of different types of bands. We just fell in together and drove around in a van somewhat like the Beatles, and grew as a band. We knew each other. We got rid of the guy who had gas, we got rid of the guy who drank too much, but the Monkees were in it. If the guy had gas in the Monkees, you were stuck with him. He was in under contract. It isn't like that in a real band. But as they grew together and somebody decided--probably Michael Nesmith--that they could be real musicians, I love Micky's take on that: "Luckily we weren't Dr. Kildare and believed that we were all brain surgeons after the first scene," because they were pretending to be musicians and then they turned into musicians. They were actors playing musicians who then believed that they were musicians, so luckily it was only music and they couldn't hurt any children.
Differently, we were the original boy band, because we were just boys. We were so naïve that we thought we could compete with the Beatles and other real musical bands. The reason we did "Henry VIII" and "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" was because we had to do songs that were different from everybody else. I was the only one who used the English accent. All that started at The Cavern. We used to play the cavern and we'd do "My Boy Lollipop," which was a girls' song, but we'd do it because no one else did it, and the audience got it. We would sing "Mother-In-Law." I don't know if you understand the joy of that, but a fourteen-year-old singing a song called "Mother-In-Law" is brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
MR:You and The Hermits are part of the British Invasion. The Monkees were the next generation of that, mimicking the elements of what came from it. Maybe a good question for Micky would be, "How do you relate to the British Invasion?" because you kind of influenced the direction of his TV group.
PN:I always like to ask him, "Did you smoke dope with The Beatles at Abbey Road?" because I was there and I know the answer. But I think people would like to know his relationship with The Beatles. I was there when we were in one studio with the Beatles doing one show and the Monkees were in the other. There were more people at the Monkees' stage door than there were at The Beatles' stage door that day. Me and George [Harrison] and I think John [Lennon] walked over to have a look at the Monkees and Micky and Davy were extremely nice to us, but the other two were a bit flippant. It is The Beatles, you know. They were taking being stars seriously, but not Micky and Davy, they were just so happy to be famous. Gratitude is a wonderful thing for people in the music business. It's so very limited. There's so little to be grateful for, but I think being on a TV show in England with three thousand girls outside the door--I mean next week it was Shaun Cassidy. It was really like that. Everybody had their little turn and the people who made it first new there was somebody else coming along, and The Beatles knew it was them. "Oh good, now we can continue to grow. We don't have to be the teen band for now." There is something warm about that. And I liked Micky's relationship with them, they invited him into the studio--not many people got invited into the studio.
MR: So there was a relationship there.
PN:Yeah, because he's a cool guy and they found out he wasn't a gawky drummer, he was just a nice bloke. And he was much smarter than the person he played on the TV, which is common. A lot of TV people are complete imbeciles, but he wasn't a child star who didn't know how to take care of himself. He was a child star who managed to take care of himself and managed to turn it into a career.
MR:When you look at The Monkees' legacy, what are your thoughts? And what do you think they ultimately contributed to music history?
PN:The Beatles created this new thing where everybody was a songwriter. It didn't matter how good you were musically, because Ginger Baker would've had hit records if it was how good you were as a musician, right? So The Beatles, who were completely self-contained, wrote all the songs that they played together, which was kind of brand new. They were independently creating their own music and they had no outsiders involved. That was a first. Maybe Sam Cooke was the only person who did it before them. Then the Monkees came along and they did nothing except be the characters on the records. The records area absolutely brilliant, some of The Monkees' records are in my top ten records of all time, because it's The Wrecking Crew, Hal Blaine played on this record, and the background vocals are brilliant. If you didn't know who it was and you were hearing the Monkees for the first time and didn't judge it based on seeing them on the television show where they're not the real people--The Byrds isn't the real people either! They showed up and sang to other peoples' tracks, but they didn't have a TV series. The Mamas & The Papas didn't have a band; they couldn't even play the guitars. They made these great records in this new thing where all the songwriters wanted to get a song to the Monkees because they were the end of that period of the Fabians and all those bands that had songs written for them. All the bands before The Beatles had songs written for them and then somebody did a production and slapped some fairy dust all over it and that was a record. Well, The Monkees were the end of that thing because after the Monkees everybody decided, "We want to be like The Beatles and The Stones, we don't want to be like The Monkees, we want to be completely self-contained and write all our own songs and everything." Micky, amazingly enough, had a number one record in England with a song he wrote.
MR: So they were a transition band?
PN:It was the end of an era. The Monkees finished it up.
MR:It's almost like it brought people along from the credibility perspective. The more credibility The Monkees got from critics, etc., it seems they were taken more seriously by their peers though not necessarily by the general public.
PN:You know, the word "credibility" has credibility. If credibility is having other musicians like your music, then you shouldn't be in the music business. You should not be bothered with that. Once The Beatles decided they wanted to impress other musicians; that was the end. They were writing songs for their audience, they wrote all of these beautiful songs that were pop and wonderful, but once they decided that they wanted to impress other hippies then the world closed up. No musician ever made it by impressing other musicians. Nobody cares, nobody buys a record because they like the guitar player on it, they like it because they like the lick that he played. Once the music business became about impressing other musicians; that was the end of the enthusiasm for the music business. And it will come back to that, people will become enthusiastic again, they'll go, "Ah, who cares." We didn't have a good drummer; we still sold sixty million records. Ginger Baker was the best drummer; he still hasn't sold sixty million records.
MR: What do you think about the landscape of entertainers and kids that are getting into music now? Do you see a trend or something that's repeating itself?
PN:I believe it's cyclical. I think we need another Nirvana, another Beatles, or Sex Pistols. I'd even take the Spice Girls. We just need something that gets young people get excited. I saw that One Dimension [sic] thing playing in Vegas and all that and it's all a bit fake to me. It's not real. People connect to their haircuts, sort of like a TV show. But I bet somewhere in a bar somewhere in the world there's some bunch of guys that have got an idea that will take it all back again. I think right now we're in about 1961. There's all this great music around, but nobody's figured out what to package it as. The British Invasion replaced beach party bingo. It really was like that for teenagers in America. Look at The Beach Boys, they were all wearing referee shirts on the covers of their records, and then The Beatles came along and it was all really different and cool, and I get the next time was probably The Sex Pistols, where people were anti-fashion. It's gotten into fashion and music being partners and that's always unpleasant. They tried to do that in England during the British Invasion, they tried to think that music was fashion, but all of us hated fashion people. "Aw Jesus; not fashion people." It would be Mary Quant and people on "Ready, Steady, Go," and it was all about what clothes we were wearing and I thought, "Oh, I'll get rid of this and get something she doesn't like." And they would always name it, "Edwardian Jacket," "Naw, that's just something I bought in a junk store. "It'll come back around to that, and it isn't going to be t-shirts. I think we've had about twenty years of t-shirts now, that's enough of that.
MR:But even in the anti-fashion stage, there's fashion. Look at The Sex Pistols. That was fashion.
PN:Not by them. They hated fashion, they played against it.
MR: Yet their anti-fashion ended up being fashion, you know what I mean? And for whatever reason, that scene in The Life of Brian when the sycophants exclaim, "It's his Holy Sandal!" just popped into my feeble brain.
PN:[laughs] Yeah, right? But what I mean is it's cyclical. The Beatles were really artists and they came up with an idea, "What we'll do is we'll replace that fake band and all that faff," I think it was called in those days, "lights and girl singers and saxophones and twelve people on stage just to do a bloody song, we'll get all the gear in a van and we'll cut all of those people out of the business by just being self-contained and showing up in our van. We'll even make money and we won't have to have all that faff and production and all that." The Beatles had two people in their crew at Shea Stadium, two! It's quite amazing, isn't it, playing a big stadium with two people working for them? Not two hundred and fifty. I'm hoping it goes back to that. That's why Bob Dylan was kind of unusual at the time, because he showed up with a guitar. He had no faff, it was just pure. And everybody who like pure got pissed off because he got an amplifier and a drummer.
MR:Do you go pure once in a while?
PN:I do it frequently. Me and my guitar player do benefits and stuff like that, we just show up with a guitar and I do the same songs and I tell stories and I truly enjoy it. It's good fun for me. My songs stand up. Like the Monkees songs they're such good songs you can do them with just a guitar and everybody gets it.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
PN:Never record a song that you don't love, don't even play it live. Fall in love with the song. Even if you wrote it, be absolutely certain that it's finished and can't be better and then go for it. Everybody just keeps recording stuff right now and they always regret it, you know. Herman's Hermits were lucky, we didn't have very good taste but we never recorded a song that we didn't like, ever. Some kid got into Abbey Road and found all the tracks, hundreds of things that never got a vocal on them because we just couldn't fall in love with it. I don't think the Monkees had that opportunity. "Have a go, Davy. Oh, you can't sing it. Micky, you put your voice on it." It must have been really distressing, that part of the process. Probably one of the greatest records of all time is "Daydream Believer." I bet Micky would've liked to have sung that as well. After two takes of Davy, "He's not going to get it, let me have a go."
MR:Are you sure you guys aren't going to show up with an acoustic guitar and sing at least one song in this conversation?
PN:I'm going to try not to because what it should end on is, "If you want to hear Micky Dolenz sing, buy a ticket for a concert. Here's where he's playing." We may have guitar player on the side of the stage just noodling, referencing songs that we talk about, but we're not going to sing. We're going to try not to. One day when we can't sing anymore, we're going to have another gig.
MR:So no Noone-ling.
PN:Exactly. Good line.
MR: When you look at your legacy both as Herman and as Peter Noone, what are the things you're most proud of?
PN: I think my legacy as a working class person is to finish with all my mortgages paid off. I never really much cared about legacy, really. I think all that stuff is just important. I think that most music momentary, you have a moment in time and I think Herman's Hermits just landed on the right spots. I think my whole life, I was in the right generation for who I am. I think the best fifty years of my life were the last fifty years and probably the best years for the planet. For fifty years, things just got better and better in England. It just got better and better every day for fifty years and that's not something that happens in life. So my legacy is that I was at the right moment. In 1965, I think we put out eleven singles and they were all hits. That's my legacy; that I had a moment. And when I started I thought my moment was hearing my song on the radio. I thought, "That'll do it. I can retire once I hear my song on the radio." To me, in my panglossian English head, I thought that if you were on the radio, you were with Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley and The Beatles and Dionne [Warwick] and The Four Seasons and everything that was absolutely brilliant in the music business. You joined them.
MR: You were part of the British Invasion, which changed everything musical in America. What are your thoughts on that period now?
PN:It was as if we'd been plumbers and we went to a convention in Las Vegas. It was that same feeling. We all knew each other. People didn't like my records, but they liked me. I wasn't trying to impress them with my records, we were all a bunch of lads and we all did the same thing so we all knew each other. It was quite a small scene, the British scene, you know that? I used to see Jack Bruce before he died, and he was part of that British music scene. He was in a band and we were in a band and sometimes we would see them in a transport café where we would have to gang up against all the truck drivers who wanted to beat the shit out of us. We all knew each other. "Where are you playing? And people would say, there’s a new place open in Warrington that used to be a pool room but there's bands there. and we'd say, "Oh really? And make a phone call to that place and try and get work."
People shared information. It was the music business, we were all comrades; we weren't enemies. I think in 1971 it turned into a competition and it was like American Idol for bands. I was part of the scene that created a brand new opportunity for musicians to be self-contained. You didn't need a saxophone player, you didn't need a girl singer; you could put your band together and do your music in a small way. Somewhere along the way somebody figured that out and turned it into a competition where by the time we gotten to Cow Palace, Herman's Hermits--think about this: We'd do Wembley with The Beatles and they would loan us their gear. "You can use our gear and save all that changing gear around," because they knew us. They wouldn't lend it to The Who, but they'd lend it to us, right?
So we got to America in 1967 and there's a band called the We Five. One of our amps wasn't working and we asked, "Can we borrow your amp?" They said, "No." We were like, "What?" The Beatles would say yes, but the We Five said no. We were shocked. So my guitar player had to go through another amp with the rhythm guitar player, which was a first, because 1967 had already created these kinds of "we're cooler than you" people, whereas before, everyone was equal and we were helping each other out to stay in the business. We were basically sharing gigs. "The Beatles are gone now, The Undertakers have got the gig, but this Thursday's open," and people would say, "Oh, we'll try and get Thursday! Oh, The Searchers got it." It was one of those kinds of world and then it just suddenly changed. The Summer of Love didn't include musicians.
PN:"Our amp's blown up, can we borrow yours?" "No!” “Unforgettable!”
MR:So what's the plan for the future?
PN:Oh, I've got loads of stuff, you know me. I think I'm called an entrepreneur in America, but in England I'm a hustler. I've got fabulous men working on a Broadway idea, I've already got a great director and a great writer and a great producer, I've got the three best people. I said, "I'm going to do it if I've go the three best men," and I got them all. We're working towards this British invasion on Broadway idea which is a story of a night in a club in England and a fantasy romance between me, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull--not a romance between me and Mick Jagger, but between both of us and Marianne. I'm going to do a hundred concerts, maybe more, next year because I love to work. I love my songs and it's truly panglossian, the fact that I am naïvely optimistic and say to my agent, "Only ten more years," every year. When people say, "Living the dream," I think I'm dreaming.