When the Monkees present the Mike and Micky Show at the Keswick on Thursday, the gig will be more than a celebration of the famously fabricated 1960s pop band elders Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. It's a chance to tie the band's TV series The Monkees, which ran from 1966 to 1968 on NBC, to Philadelphia entertainment fixture Jerry Blavat, who guest-starred on the program in its final season.
"These guys started it all, as far as music television goes," says Blavat. "Beyond the songs that were written for them at first, they were great musicians, and funny, too."
Known initially as a manufactured band, the Monkees evolved into a self-sufficient act with unique psychedelic and country leanings. Nesmith and Peter Tork left the band in 1969 — the former for a career in California country rock in the 1970s and music video production in the 1980s; the latter to play solo folk and blues — with reunions featuring Dolenz and Davy Jones throughout the ensuing decades.
After Jones' death in 2012, Dolenz and Tork recorded the brisk, contemporary pop album Good Times! in 2016 with songs from Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, XTC's Andy Partridge, and contributions from Nesmith. The usually reluctant-to-tour Nesmith even played gigs when Tork couldn't make the show.
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"I came up with the idea to do this new tour when Peter was unable to make a few dates in 2016, and Michael graciously stepped in," says Andrew Sandoval. "The shows with just Mike and Micky were tremendous amounts of fun."
When it comes to fun with the Monkees, Sandoval wrote the book, literally: 2005's exhaustive The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation. He also acts as the band's tour producer and their A&R man at Rhino Records (co-producing several reissue packages). "When Peter told me he was unlikely to do anything more than one-offs for the foreseeable future, I approached Nez about trying another show with Micky," says Sandoval, pleased at how the current tour takes fans from the Monkees' first number-one single – 1966's "Last Train to Clarksville" – to wherever Dolenz and Nesmith choose.
"Mike is one of the best songwriters on this planet and any other, and I'd be delighted performing his songs, with or without him by my side," Dolenz said before the 2016 tour.
Blavat's episode, "Some Like It Lukewarm," aired 50 years ago. "My whole episode was a takeoff on Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, which meant that a Monkee had to dress like a woman – that was Davy – and someone had to play the big shot who dug her," says Blavat. "That was the Geator."
At the same time The Monkees was a hot property on television, so was Blavat. From 1965 to 1968, his Discophonic Scene dance television program — filmed in Philly at WCAU — was syndicated by Warner Bros. "In Los Angeles and station KTLA in 1967, the Geator was hot, as those West Coast kids never saw a guy who danced and did my thing," says Blavat. "Donnie noticed that."
"Donnie" is Don Kirshner, aka "the Man with the Golden Ear," who produced hit records, was a songwriter and talent manager, and held sway over some of pop music's biggest publishing enterprises. At the time, Kirshner was The Monkees' music supervisor, and he wanted Blavat in on the action. "Donnie thought I'd be perfect for his show," says Blavat.
In December 1967, Jerry flew to L.A. and went from limo to television production studio, straight into his first scene with little preparation because the director had messed up the schedule. Though Blavat knew his lines as Mr. Arnold, he instead tried out his usual scat-riff-improvisation for the cameras. "And they loved it – I was the Geator! – doing my own shtick."
The episode aired in March 1968. "It actually was the very last episode filmed of The Monkees series, though it was not the last broadcast," says Sandoval. "I always thought The Monkees looked a little out of steam, but it is funny nonetheless and the two songs – "Door into Summer" and "She Hangs Out" – are two of their best."
The Monkees even repaid the favor to Blavat by appearing on his TV show Jerry's Place to promote their film Head, which was co-written by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson was also in Philly at the time for a preview screening of his next acting gig: Easy Rider. "Jack told me he was amazed at how I was able to enter the studio with the kids chanting, 'Go, Jerry, Go!' and dance on one foot all the way up the ramp where I would begin the show," says Blavat. "And the Monkees were as great as they've always been."