Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Exclusive Interview: Music Legends 'Micky Dolenz of The Monkees' & 'Gary Puckett of The Union Gap' -Happy Together 2012


By Ray Shasho

Micky Dolenz the unmistakable and charismatic lead singer of The Monkees along with Gary Puckett pop/rock troubadour for The Union Gap will be performing together on the Happy Together Tour 2012. The tour launches June 8th in Columbus, Georgia and arrives at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fl on June 15th.
This year’s Happy Together Tour spotlights another who’s who of Top 40 Chartbusters including- The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Gary Puckett of The Union Gap, The Buckinghams and The Grassroots. Last year’s similar lineup was a sell-out for Ruth Eckerd Hall’s 2180 seating capacity.

Micky Dolenz began a career in show business as a child actor in the 1956 TV Series Circus Boy. Micky played Corky; a 12-year old adopted by the traveling circus who eventually becomes a water boy to Bimbo the baby elephant. The TV series ran through 1958.
Los Angeles, California native Micky Dolenz auditioned for a TV series in 1965 called The Monkees. He won the role as the impetuous singer/drummer for a fictitious rock and roll band that mocked The Beatles but would never become successful. But in reality, The Monkees became pop/rock superstars and Monkeemania was born.
The Monkees debut single “Last Train to Clarksville” was an instant smash reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. The tune had similarities to The Beatles “Paperback Writer.” The Monkees were led by Micky Dolenz on lead vocals and drums, Davy Jones on vocals and tambourine, Mike Nesmith on guitar and Peter Tork on bass and keyboards. The band was profoundly supervised and produced by Don Kirshner. Many of The Monkees songs were written by legendary artists like Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), Neil Diamond (“I’m a Believer” #1 Hit) (“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”), Boyce and Hart (“I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”), (“Theme from) the Monkees”), (“Last Train to Clarksville”#1 Hit), and John Stewart of The Kingston Trio (“Daydream Believer” #1 Hit). The Monkees became one of the most lucrative acts of the 60s.
After The Monkees impassioned breakup with Producer Don Kirshner, They released a psychedelic theatrical project called Head. The movie featured cameos by Jack Nicholson and Frank Zappa. Both the movie and soundtrack were shunned by the critics only to become a cult classic. Micky’s vocalization on The “Porpoise Song” written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King were sublime and surreal.
Micky Dolenz chatted with me about Happy Together 2012, The Monkees, his relationship with The Beatles, and the passing of his dear friend Davey Jones. Dolenz continues to tour and sing all The Monkees classic hits. He also acts in various musical stage productions worldwide.
Clearwater, Fl resident Gary Puckett began his trek to Top 40 superstardom with the release of the 1968 Jim Glaser and Jimmy Payne penned “Woman, Woman.” The song was a smash hit during one of the most spectacular years for Top 40 radio history. The tune hit #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Like so many bands of the decade, every group seemed to need a visual gimmick. Under manager Dick Badger, the band wore Union Army Civil War uniforms. Gary Puckett and The Union Gap churned out hit after hit throughout 1968 and 1969 chalking up six consecutive gold records. “Young Girl” #2 Hit, “Lady Willpower”#2 Hit, “Over You” #7 Hit, “Don’t Give Into Him”#15 Hit, and “This Girl Is A Woman Now” #9 Hit. Legendary Songwriter and Producer Jerry Fuller wrote (3) of those classic hits.
The Union Gap disbanded in 1971. Puckett has performed on more than thirty network Television shows and prime time specials in his career. In 1986, Puckett was invited to tour with The Monkees for their reunion tour.
In 2001, Gary Puckett released In Europe and a critically acclaimed Christmas CD entitled At Christmas. In 2002, Puckett released a collection of hits called Gary Puckett "Live" featuring the single “Home” and dedicated it to all of our troops around the world.

Here’s my interview with (2) legendary pop/rock artists. First we’ll chat with Gary Puckett of The Union Gap followed by Micky Dolenz of The Monkees.
Ray Shasho: Thanks for being on the call today Gary. We’re only about 53 minutes apart from each other, you in Clearwater and me here in Bradenton.
Gary Puckett: “We came here in 2000 from Southern California. We’re happy to be here, we love the gators and all the wildlife, birdlife, the turtles… and all that in our backyard.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, we’re all excited about Happy Together Tour 2012 which kicks off June 8th in Columbus, Georgia and arrives in your backyard at Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 15th.
Gary Puckett: “I was actually on the very first Happy Together Tour that went out in 1984. It was The Turtles, The Association, Spanky and Our Gang, and me. That was the first one that went out there as an oldies tour, and the promoters were not really sure how to do it, to make it profitable. But we ended up touring about eight months of the year. It was just amazing; we were constantly on the road. We all ended up buying vehicles of our own to get around and through it. There were some fly dates of course but generally we were in a big black Ford that held 15 passengers which I bought for my bunch … and we called it the Puckett Bucket. (All laughing)”
“It was one of those things …Happy Together became very successful in ‘84 and ‘85… then in 1986; it turned into The Monkees 20 year reunion tour which I was invited to be on. It was wildly successful; I think it was the biggest tour of that year. Then years later… they find out that these package tours really do work, giving the concertgoer their bang for the buck. And they get lots and lots of hits in one evening and there are five acts on the bill now … and great memories.”
Ray Shasho The nostalgia and karma these types of shows generate is so important for so many people … especially the Baby Boomer Generation.
Gary Puckett: “Mark Volman of The Turtles said to me years ago, “You do an interesting thing when you walk out on stage.” I said what’s that? He said, “You take off your wristwatch.”
Ray Shasho: So I guess Professor Volman is on summer break from his classroom so he can go out on tour again?
Gary Puckett: “They had to plan the tour around his school schedule. But he’s tenured I think. He’s got a great class that everybody loves, in fact when we spoke just last week he said we’ve got to get you into my class to chat with the students and let them in on your experience.”
Ray Shasho: Talk a little bit about your relationship with Producer Jerry Fuller; was that a similar relationship as with Don Kirshner and The Monkees?
Gary Puckett: “Well yea in a way …but Jerry and I to this day we now have a good relationship. We had some rocky times but Jerry is a talented, songwriting, producing guy. He was an artist and had some regional successes on the radio, things that he had written and recorded. He wrote “Travelin’ Man” for Ricky Nelson and to this day is probably responsible for about 120 million record and CD sales etc. He worked with everybody from me, Johnny Mathis, John Davidson to others. He wrote and produced Al Wilson’s “Show and Tell.” Jerry was extremely talented but was also a¬ ‘my way or the highway’ kind of guy. And if you disagreed with him …tough! But on the flipside to that he was given responsibility to have control of the budget he was given by the record company and to find talent to make hit records. So we did really well for a couple of years together and then got to loggerheads for some stupid reason and it’s probably me. Who knows at this point in retrospect… so there was a parting of the way at some point. But we did a concert about a year ago now at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and Jerry and his family live in Southern California. I invited him to come up and for the first time in our entire career we sang “Young Girl” together on stage and it really was terrific. So the relationship is good.”
Ray Shasho: And you also had a couple of other great songwriters working with you in Jim Glaser and Jimmy Payne.
Gary Puckett: “Yup… “Woman, Woman” was written by those guys. Jerry had the song in his hand and he knew what to do with it. He said, “This is a hit song, we just got to take it out of the country genre and put it into a pop genre.” And so we did. In any case it was a huge hit and sold a million and half records. To this date, I found out from a publisher some time ago, that it’s on its way to 16- million copies.”
Ray Shasho: I always believed that 1968 was one of the greatest years of all-time for Top 40 radio. What was it like after “Woman, Woman” became a huge hit?
Gary Puckett: “It was a huge whirlwind of activity and experience and we got to work with all the great groups from The Beach Boys to The Human Beinz. Memories that sort of pass by me …I remember an evening at Yale Bowl with 12,000 people sitting there and waiting for a concert. And we were down on the grass with The Association throwing a Frisbee around waiting for them to say okay its time.”
“Things like that … and working with Junior Walker & The All Stars to Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels to being booed off the stage. We were the closing of the first half of a show that really featured Mitch Ryder. We only had the one hit record at that time and for the twenty minutes we were on stage we heard nothing but 20,000 people in the Pittsburgh Arena booing until we got to “Woman, Woman” and then they quieted down.”
Ray Shasho: You also performed on countless Television programs.
Gary Puckett: “Ed Sullivan (3) times, The Red Skelton Show, and all those variety comedic- type of shows, even Virginia Graham pops into mind and Mike Douglas.”
Ray Shasho: FM radio and the arrival of album rock led to the demise for many of the 45 singles ‘Hitmakers’ of the 60s. Tommy James was able to extend his longevity with “Crimson and Clover.” What was it like for Gary Puckett & The Union Gap?
Gary Puckett: “I didn’t work publicly from 1970 through 1980. It was very difficult. I kind of made the decision to not to go back in the studio when I should have gone back in the studio. I should have just let Columbia Records continue to drive the bus. I wanted to have a little more control over my recording career. My foresight was not what their foresight was and my ability to find hit songs wasn’t what there’s was. So it really was the decline. Unfortunately for me making the decision that I made to take a year off to write songs and come roaring back didn’t work.”
Ray Shasho: Do you still talk with any of the original Union Gap band members?
Gary Puckett: “Yea, from time to time. I spoke a couple of months ago to Dwight Bement, he’s up in Colorado Springs, spoke recently with Kerry Chater he’s in Nashville. The other guys I haven’t talked with in quite some time. Gary Withem is up in Indiana retired, Paul Wheatbread is down in San Diego still with his family, and I haven’t talked with Paul for many years.”
Ray Shasho: Do you have children …grandchildren Gary?
Gary Puckett: “Our oldest daughter just got married and she’s returning from her honeymoon. She was married on a Disney Cruise on the private island. It happened a week and half ago. Saturday night we were having her reception out here at the house. So there was a lot of physical labor around the house … everything from weeding and planting and mulching to cleaning the roof and sealing the pavers and all that stuff to make it beautiful for her reception.”
“But she just got accepted into USF Medical School, so we kind of think that grandkids with her are down the road a bit. But the younger one who is going to turn 23 has just fallen in love and we think that this might be the guy for her. So we have a feeling that she’ll be the first and a grandchild.”
“They were both Florida Gators … Michaela the older one was the drum major for three years for the Gator band. The younger one Sydney played clarinet in the band at that time. We got to go in 2006 when they beat the Ohio Buckeyes and Michaela was the first one out on the field of course because they come out in that high stepping routine.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, recent recordings you’d like to talk about?
Gary Puckett: “I have the “Lost Tapes” CD which is a snapshot of Gary Puckett. In the mid 70s, my brother David and I, he wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music then I produced it and played most of the guitar. It’s a great, sensitive, beautiful album and you cannot get it anywhere except from my website or in the merchandise line after the show. And my Christmas album that everyone seems to like a lot.”
“All you troops out there that are reading this column go to my website and on the opening page it says veterans please click here, click on the link it’s called maggivets.com (MAGGI Veterans Solutions) and if you qualify you can receive benefits from the U.S. Government that you may not know about. So please go there if you are a veteran.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, thank you for spending time with me today. But more importantly for all the great music you gave to us over the years. We’ll see you at Happy Together 2012 in Clearwater, Fl on June 15th.
Gary Puckett: “Ray, it’s really been a pleasure talking with you and you’re welcome. And thank you for being interested in me today. See you at the show.”

A few hours after I hung up with Gary Puckett, I connected with Monkees legend Micky Dolenz. Micky was doing a solo gig in Illinois that evening.
Ray Shasho: Hello Micky, thank you for being on the call today.
Micky Dolenz: “Hi Ray, I actually just left your part of the world at Epcot in Orlando.”
Ray Shasho: Micky, we’re all excited that you’ll be performing at this year’s Happy Together Tour and making a stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.
Micky Dolenz: “I love that venue too; I’ve played there so many times on different shows and had a great time.”
Ray Shasho: Micky, I lost a dear friend unexpectedly recently, and he was only 52 years of age, so I can somewhat relate to how you must have felt when you heard of the passing of your dear friend Davey Jones.
Mickey Dolenz: “Yea, it was tough, and it hit me a lot harder than I even realize that it would. We had just been on the road together on tour and he seemed to be in pretty good shape, and it really came out of the blue. These days you never know.”
Ray Shasho: Besides the Happy Together Tour what else have you got going on?
Mickey Dolenz: “I tour as a solo of course like tonight and the last few days at Epcot. I won’t be doing too many of the solo gigs in June or July because of the Happy Together Tour, it’s pretty constant and a lot of cities. I’ve also been doing an awful lot of musical theatre; in fact I’ve been at Ruth Eckerd Hall a number of times doing musical theatre. Shows like Aida, an Elton John and Tim Rice musical and the revival of the 70s show Pippin. Last year I was in England doing Hairspray in the West End. So that’s kind of what I do when I’m not on tour as a solo act.”
Ray Shasho: I heard a rumor that you auditioned for a role as the Riddler on the Batman Forever movie in which Jim Carrey actually won the role.
Micky Dolenz: “(Laughing) I heard that rumor … I was never asked or never went on an audition or interview for it. They may have been thinking about it but I would have no way of knowing. But I’ve heard that rumor and I don’t know if it’s true.”
Ray Shasho: Besides reporting on classic rock music, I’ve added a segment to my column and have begun interviewing classic TV icons, so I ‘m getting the best of both worlds by chatting with you today Micky. I never had an opportunity to watch Circus Boy before, but because of today’s modern technology, I can finally watch you on that great TV series. How did you land the role of Corky on Circus Boy?
Micky Dolenz: “My parents were both in show business. My father was an actor, my mom an actress, and both singers, dancers and actors. They met in Los Angeles doing a play together and so I grew up in a show biz family. My father was working as a working actor and I guess his agent one day said, “Should we have Micky go down and audition for a show?” I must have said okay, I don’t remember ever being pressured into it or anything like that, but I do remember going to some interviews when I was younger. And one of them was this show called Circus Boy. Obviously I screen tested for it and got it.”
Ray Shasho: Were there tons of other kids at the audition?
Micky Dolenz: “No, I don’t recall being around a whole lot of kids. It wasn’t like the cattle call audition, but it wouldn’t have been because I had an agent and my father was an actor. It might have been if there was dancing involved, a big dance call or music call for singing or something.”
Ray Shasho: Do you regret not continuing in an acting role as a kid, maybe landing another TV character role or perhaps as an actor in a motion picture right after the Circus Boy series ended?
Micky Dolenz: “No I don’t at all. What happened was, my parents after Circus Boy decided to take me out of show business for two years to go back to normal school. It was the smartest thing they ever did. Because those are the years …after you have a hit show and you’re young, those are the tough years trying to make it, people think you’re too old for this part or too young for that part and you’ve already had a show so you’re kind of already a has been at 12. And those are the years that could cause problems. My parents very wisely took me out of the business. I just went back to school …and by the time I got out of high school, I kind of decided what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an architect. And so then I went back and started doing a little bit of acting jobs in some of the shows in the early 60s like Mr. Novak and Peyton Place, and I was in college studying to be an architect and along came The Monkees interview.”
Ray Shasho: The documentary Making the Monkees from 2007 was actually on television several nights ago. The thing that stood out the most about that documentary was Mike Nesmith’s animosity with Producer Don Kirshner.
Micky Dolenz: “He was … Mike wasn’t getting his music, and his songs, his influence …none of us were. None of us were really consulted … in the early days that is. We were never consulted about the music.”
Ray Shasho: That situation reminded me of the movie Rock Star, where a tribute band singer is called in to play for the real band but just as a hired singer. He wants to add his songwriting talents to the band but is rejected, so he walks off the stage, quits, and does his own thing.
Micky Dolenz: “In our case, it was a slightly different kettle of fish because The Monkees was a television show. And we were cast in the television show to play this imaginary band. Because that’s what The Monkees was …it was a television show about a band. And they must have had in mind that we were going to sing and play because they cast us like that. We had to be able to sing and play, act, and do everything to get through the audition so I played guitar, Johnny B. Goode on the guitar for instance, and Mike would have played something, Peter would have played something on the banjo, and you had to be able to sing, act, and improvise. So they had in mind that they wanted us obviously to sing and play, but then the mechanism of RCA, NBC, and Screen Gems television … the mechanism was pretty powerful and when the ball started rolling it was very difficult to stop it.”
Ray Shasho: Did you guys know that you may be actually touring as a real band?
Micky Dolenz: “I think they implied that because we started rehearsing immediately. So I think that was in the master plan absolutely to go on the road and play. Otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered to hire people who could play. The closest thing these days to what The Monkees was as a paradigm is Glee, which is a TV show about an imaginary Glee Club. But they can sing, and they can dance, and they can act, and I heard they went on the road.”
Ray Shasho: I read a quote from Michael Nesmith in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine after Davey’s passing that read, "For me, David was The Monkees. They were his band. We were his side men.” I don’t mean disrespect in anyway … Davey was a great talent, and Mike may have been just caught up in the moment after Davey’s passing, but I was really shocked over that statement. I’ve always believed you were the true voice of the Monkees and I hope most of the fans would agree.
Mickey Dolenz: “Well … thank you and I really appreciate that.”
Ray Shasho: What was it like for you after The Monkees went out on their very first tour?
Micky Dolenz: “It was pretty crazy and I don’t remember a whole lot about it, and not for the reasons people might thing. But it was just because there was so much going on so fast and also because it was 45 years ago. It was a harrowing experience …the whole thing, including the tour. You move so fast and are constantly in motion. I have glimpses of massive crowds and limos and cars and stuff like that. But I couldn’t tell you if you asked me where I was or what I did on any particular day, time, city, or venue because I’d have no idea.”
“And it happens today when I’m on tour, even when I was doing Hairspray in England recently and we were in ten or twelve cities in twelve or fourteen weeks. You’re moving in and out of hotels and apartments and then doing eight shows a week and having time to just sleep and eat and move on to the next one. It’s very difficult … for me anyway, to keep track of where I am and what day it is. (Laughing)”
Ray Shasho: “Micky, you had a special relationship with The Beatles and actually hung out with them at the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions.”
Micky Dolenz: “Yea, I was just visiting. I was lucky to meet all The Beatles and as you say … to get into some of the Sgt. Pepper sessions and had a great time. And over the years spent some time with all four of The Beatles … I would say mainly Ringo and John out in LA. And I just saw Ringo a few weeks ago.”
Ray Shasho: What were the Hollywood Vampires all about?
Micky Dolenz: “(Laughing) Alice Cooper organized it and had some shirts made. It was a weekend softball team and get together. We’d play softball on weekend out in the valley and decided playing at some charity gigs. It was a lot of fun and went on for quite a while.”
Ray Shasho: Was that also part of the infamous lost weekend that everyone seems to talk about?
Micky Dolenz: “Not the Hollywood Vampires … that was John’s lost weekend, but he was around. I don’t recall him playing a lot of softball because he would have probably been playing soccer. But I remember seeing him during those months …yea.”
Ray Shasho: Mickey, as a critic, I really liked the Head soundtrack. I think the time was right for that release. After all music was about to go through the transition into FM Album rock anyway.
Micky Dolenz: “I’m very proud of that album. Last year when we went out as The Monkees, David, Peter and I, we did that whole album in its entirety and in order … and it was really great. That was a great tour and I had fun on that.”
Ray Shasho: I know Carole King was a contributor on the Head album, and I Frank Zappa appeared in the movie, but did he contribute to the album in any way?
Micky Dolenz: “No, he didn’t. Carole wrote a couple of great songs on that album …“The Porpoise Song,” “As We Go Along,” and “Swami -Plus Strings.” I’ve always loved her material; in fact I did a tribute album to her called King For A Day.”
Ray Shasho: I was a radio deejay back in the late 70’s and you became a morning deejay on WCBS-FM in New York in 2005?
Micky Dolenz: “Yea I was. I had a great time. It was very-very hard …it was tough. People don’t realize what a tough gig that is. Especially that early morning thing like I did. It’s a lot of work and you can’t use all of your senses, just your voice and ears.”
Ray Shasho: Micky, do you believe The Monkees should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Micky Dolenz: “Oh …it’s not for me to say. I’m very flattered that people, fans, and even the press have gone out there, signed petitions and stuff like that. I’ve never been one to chase awards or anything like that to be honest. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not a public democratic organization; it’s a private club basically. It’s like a private golf club and they decide who they’re going to let in the club. Like I say, it’s not a democratic decision it’s a very private -one. Like a golf club … like Augusta deciding if they’re going to let women in the club. It’s their business and they can let enter or keep out anybody they want. But it’s a great organization too; I’ve done some charity work for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame foundation. They do a lot of great charity work but like I say it’s a private club. There’s really no rhyme or reason, it’s just the musical preference of a few people there.”
Ray Shasho: Micky, I want to thank you so much for being on the call today and especially for all the great music you gave us over the years. I’ll see you at Happy Together 2012 in Clearwater on June 15th.
Micky Dolenz: “Thanks very much Ray, I’ll see you at the show…bye-bye!”

The Happy Together Tour 2012 KICKS OFF June 8TH in Columbus, GA. and arrives at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL on June 15th. Buy your tickets now at www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400.
Micky Dolenz official website- www.mickydolenz.com
Gary Puckett Official Website- www.garypuckettmusic.com
Happy Together Tour 2012 schedule- www.theturtles.com/documents/tour.html
Special thanks To Jeff Albright of The Albright Entertainment Group -Official website http://rockstarpr.com

Contact columnist/author Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com
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