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Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Jockey Who Became A Monkee

No matter what era you grew up in, teen idols were always present.  You know the ones I mean, right?  The ones on the front cover of such magazines as “Tiger Beat”, or “People Magazine”?

Certainly in the era I grew up in, there was no shortage of teen idols that girls often idolized.  I think when I was in the fourth grade, almost every girl in my class had either a “New Kids On The Block” pencil case or a “Beverly Hills 90210” trapper keeper.  As if that wasn’t enough, the girls would often discuss which New Kid or 90210 star they liked the best.  If I remember correctly, Jordan was the most popular New Kid, while as far as 90210 was concerned, it was a toss-up between Luke Perry and Jason Priestley.

As far as I was concerned, I really didn’t care for those teen idols...though I did have minor crushes on Alyssa Milano, Sarah Lancaster (from Chuck and SBTB: The New Class) and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen...all of whom could have been considered teen idols for boys.

But really, you could go back in time to almost any era and pick out one teen idol that many girls idolized.  Back in the late 1950s, I think it is a safe bet to say that Elvis Presley made every woman’s heart throb with each rotation his hips made.  During the 1970s, I’m sure many women had pin-ups of David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, Andy Gibb, and Leif Garrett plastered all over their bedroom walls.  During the 1990s, Justin Timberlake and the rest of the boys of *NSync garnered almost as much attention as the Backstreet Boys.  And, I suppose that looking at 2012, the current flavour of the month happens to be Justin Bieber, who turned eighteen just days ago.

So, as you can see, the whole notion of teen idols is nothing new.  They’ve been around for decades, and will likely be around for decades to come.

Today for the Sunday Jukebox, I thought we’d celebrate the life of one of these teen idols.  During the 1960s, he was a member of one of the most talked about and loved groups at that time, and he found himself the subject of much adoration from female fans (both real and fictional).  Sadly, he passed away on February 29, 2012.  His memory will forever live on, and today’s blog entry will take a look back on his brilliant career.

I’m of course speaking about the late Davy Jones of the Monkees, who died of a heart attack.  He was 66 years old.

Born December 30, 1945 in Manchester, England, Jones got into the world of show business at a very early age.  When he was 15, he landed a role on the British television show ‘Coronation Street’, playing the grandson of long serving character, Ena Sharples.  Although his time on the soap was brief, it set the stage for future projects, only he didn’t know it at the time.  Shortly after appearing on ‘Coronation Street’, his mother passed away due to complications from emphysema.  He decided to give up his acting career at that time, and was interested in becoming a jockey.

Of course, when Davy Jones’ trainer, Basil Foster, was approached by a friend of his who was looking for people to cast in a stage performance of the musical ‘Oliver!’, Foster immediately recommended Jones.  Jones was promptly cast as the Artful Dodger, and got rave reviews for his performance.  After appearing on the London musical scene, he reprised the role for Broadway, where he was nominated for a Tony Award.

His experience with doing the play garnered attention from all media outlets, and in 1964, he was invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show along with his co-star Georgia Brown.  As luck would have it, his appearance took place on February 9, 1964, which was the same exact date that The Beatles made their American talk show debut.  And Jones would later recall watching the crowd go crazy over The Beatles (by all accounts teen idols themselves), thinking that he wanted to have the same attention that the Beatles had gotten on that night.

I wonder if Davy Jones could have predicted that just two years later, his wish would be granted...

In 1965, Davy Jones released a single with the title “What Are We Going To Do?”, which made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of that year.  Shortly thereafter, he would be signed to Colpix Records (owned by Columbia), and released his first solo album.  It was a nice way to break into the music business, and I’m sure that Jones enjoyed the success a lot.  But, in 1966, his star would glow even brighter when he became a member of the quartet known as ‘The Monkees’.

The Monkees were the brain-child of Robert Rafelson and Bert Schneider.  After seeing the success that The Beatles had with their movie “A Hard Day’s Night”, the duo decided that they wanted to do a television show about a rock and roll group.  Originally, the concept was to cast a pre-existing rock group, and ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’ was briefly considered.  However, since they were already under contract to a record company (which would have prevented Screen Gems Television to market the music from the show on a record), they were dismissed as a possibility.  The search to create a new band for the show began in the autumn of 1965.

Over the next few months, The Monkees would be formed.  The band comprised of Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and of course, Davy Jones.  Their first single was ‘Last Train To Clarksville’, which was released in the summer of 1966, and within a few weeks, the television show debuted on September 12, 1966 on NBC.

Of course, one of the problems that arose with forming ‘The Monkees’ was attempting to figure out what each member’s role was in the group.  Initially, the idea was toyed around for Davy Jones to become the lead singer solely, a decision that was reportedly unpopular with the other three Monkees.  It was eventually decided by the band that Micky Dolenz would become the lead vocalist on most of the Monkees singles, though Jones would sing lead on some songs, one of which you’ll be viewing a bit later in this entry.

Another problem came down to the idea of who would play what instrument.  Particularly the drums.  None of the four members of the Monkees knew how to play the drums.  Nesmith and Tork didn’t attempt to learn how to play, as both of them were already very proficient in guitar and keyboards respectively.  Davy Jones tried it out, and while he did quite well, his short stature made it nearly impossible for people in the audience to see him very well.  Dolenz, being the only member left who could sit in on the drums took on the role of percussionist.  Tork managed to teach Dolenz some basic techniques, and learned how to play professionally on his own time.

So, when you watch a standard episode of The Monkees, you’ll more than likely see a line-up like this.  Dolenz would play drums, Jones would be the front person of the band, Nesmith would play the bass and guitar, and Tork would be the keyboardist.

As the television show screened more and more episodes, the band became more popular as a result, and soon, Davy Jones’ dream to be as huge as The Beatles had become a reality...or least it had in his mind (because let’s face it, it would be very difficult to become as big if not bigger than The Beatles).  The increased popularity of the television show meant that fans were salivating over the idea of the band performing live.

In December 1966, the fans ended up getting their wish, as the four members of the group (against the wishes of Screen Gems head of music Don Kirshner) set out on tour, with Hawaii being their debut performance.  What was even more amazing was the fact that the band did well in their live performances despite having very little time to rehearse.  Between filming the television show and recording songs for record releases, the band didn’t have enough time to sleep, let along perfect their performance skills.  So, the fact that they did do as well as they did not only showcased their natural talent, but showed what quick learners they were.

In fact, some of the live performances were used in the television series!  In particular, in the episode ‘Too Many Girls (Fern and Davy)’ opens with a live version of the song ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’.

And by doing live concerts, the band received widespread adoration from fans, almost to the point where it reached the levels that Beatlemania had.  By 1968, the Monkees were considered to be one of the best selling groups worldwide, and Jones’ dream of success had finally been achieved, as well as the success of Dolenz, Nesmith, and Tork.

But while the Monkees were riding the waves of success and their bonds of friendship strengthened, the relationship that the band had with Don Kirshner was fractured beyond repair, and after Kirshner released an album without the band’s permission, and violated agreements that he had with the band, he was dismissed by the band in early 1967.  Kirshner would later have a hand in creating the fictional band, The Archies.

The television show ran for two seasons, and the possibility of the show continuing for a third was very much possible, but by then, the band had lost interest in the project, and in February 1968, the show was cancelled.  Three years later, The Monkees would split up.

Of course, once the Monkees disbanded in 1971, that didn’t mean that Davy Jones’ career ended.  Not by a long shot.

The same year that the Monkees broke up, Jones started up a New York City street market called “The Street”, and collaborated with Doug Trevor to put on a television special entitled “Pop Goes Davy Jones”, which featured The Jackson Five and The Osmonds.

He would also appear on an episode of ‘The Brady Bunch’, where he would meet Marcia Brady.  He sang the song “Girl” on that episode, which many fans of Jones associate with being his most remembered hit.  He also continued acting over the next few years in everything from movies to sitcoms to even being drawn in animated form (The New Scooby-Doo Movies).  He even managed to revisit a hobby he once loved, which was horse racing.  He won his first race in 1996 (at the age of 50), and was a spokesperson for Colonial Downs racetracks in Virginia for many years.

And, of course The Monkees would reunite with each other several times during Jones’ lifetime.  In 1996, all four members reunited to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band.  A new album was also released that year, “Justus”, which would ultimately be the very last time that the band would play as a foursome.  A second reunion tour for the band’s 45th anniversary occurred in 2011, with Jones, Tork, and Dolenz in what would be the final time Jones would perform as a Monkee before his death.

Jones is survived by his third wife, Jessica Pacheco as well as his four daughters, ranging in age from 23 to 43.  He was also survived by the three surviving members of The Monkees, who all spoke about his passing and his life fondly.  Michael Nesmith’s tribute was particularly touching.  Here’s what he said about his former bandmate and friend, Davy Jones just hours after his passing.

“All the lovely people.  Where do they all come from?  So many lovely and heartfelt messages of condolence and sympathy, I don’t know what to say except my sincere thanks to you all.  I share and appreciate your feelings, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.  While it is jarring, and sometimes seems unjust, or strange, this transition we call dying and death is a constant in the mortal experience that we know almost nothing about.  I am of the mind that it is a transition, and I carry with me a certainty of the continuity of existence.  While I don’t exactly know what happens in these times, there is an ongoing sense of life that reaches in my mind out far beyond the near horizons of mortality and into the reaches of infinity.  That David has stepped beyond that view causes me sadness that it does many of you.  I will miss him, but I won’t abandon him to mortality.  I will think of him as existing within the animating life that insures existence.  I will think of him and his family with that gentle regard in spite of all the contrary appearances on the mortal plane.  David’s spirit and soul live well in my heart, among all the lovely people, who remember with me the good times, and the healing times, that were created for so many, including us.  I have fond memories.  I wish him safe travels”.

Well said, Mr. Nesmith.

I guess perhaps what I’ll remember Davy Jones for the most was his music.  Although I was born 15 years too late to appreciate The Monkees in their heyday, I fondly remember watching the television show on MuchMusic back in the late 1990s, and I remember what incredible stage presence Davy Jones had, both as a young man, and as a man into his sixties.  And, Michael Nesmith was right.  Although Davy Jones has passed away, he’ll never really disappear.

I think this song by The Monkees is the song that I’ll remember the most because of Davy Jones.

ARTIST:  The Monkees
SONG:  Daydream Believer
ALBUM:  The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees
DATE RELEASED:  January 13, 1967
Wherever you are, Davy Jones, keep daydream believin’.

David "Davy" Thomas Jones

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