If you own the first two Monkees’ albums, you know that Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote “Last Train To Clarksville”, “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”, “This Just Doesn’t seem to Be My Day”, “Gonna Buy Me A Dog”, “Theme From The Monkees”, “I Wanna Be Free”, “Let’s Dance One”, “She”, and “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day.” Although Neil Diamond wrote two excellent Monkee winners more recently, Boyce and Hart have established the Monkees’ sound: a unique blend of country-western and blues.
Let’s get on with the conclusion of this interview and see exactly how Tom and Bobby create material for the Monkees.
JD: Bob, when you work on songs for the Monkees, do you use your own band to work out the arrangements?
Tom: Sometimes we do when it comes down to production but, when I’m writing, we hear the whole song in our heads. Before we go to a recording session, we know what everybody’s going to do and we teach each person his part. We work it out for an hour or so, and sometimes they get ideas and change our original idea.
JD: Did any of the Monkees have to be taught how to play instruments?
Tom: Michael plays guitar, Davy plays guitar and a little percussion. Peter plays bass and he’s very schooled on the piano. He had a lot of music theory in New York. Micky was starting to learn to play drums before he became a Monkee. He took lessons for a while and became much better. Micky used to play guitar and was the lead singer for a group called the Missing Links.
JD: Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
Tom: I like Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Bob: I like Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
JD: You also produce the Monkees. What exactly does a producer do?
Bob: A producer co-ordinates the whole thing. He calls in the musicians and tells them what instruments will be used on a particular song, what songs will be recorded, what vocal background is needed; and a producer actually conducts the date. He tells the musician what to play, he tells the singer what to sing and where to sing. He also tells the engineer how to balance all the channels. It’s quite a job.
JD: Are the Monkees making any attempts at writing their own material?
Tom: Yes, they are. Michael is the most likely in the group, but recently Micky has had some very good ideas. I don’t think Peter or Davy write. Michael is good, though. He’s country-western oriented.
Bob: “Steppin’ Stone” was recorded along with “Clarksville,” and there’s still a lot of singles in the can that my band played on. But lately, the Monkees have been playing their own instruments.
JD: Where are the guys in your band from?
Bob: Jerry McGee is from Shreveport, La., and he came out to L.A. to work with Ricky Nelson. Larry Taylor is from L.A.; he used to work with Jerry Lee Lewis. Billy Lewis is from Santa Monica. I don’t know where the other guys are from.
JD: How long has the band been together?
Bob: I worked with these guys in different combinations and in different capacities over the last four or five years. We were part of a review that backed up Teddy Randazzo in Las Vegas. As the Candy Store Prophets, we’ve been together for six months. We played local clubs for about two months to get tight but there’s no time for that now. We’re recording a lot now.
JD: Tommy, will you form a band?
Tom: I might, but it will be different from Bobby’s band. It’ll be sort of slapstick. I already have a record on A&M where I did some yodeling. Bobby and I wrote it. I picked up the yodeling from my father when I was very young. He always listened to Jimmy Rodgers’ records, the old blue yodeler. I always wanted to bring back his yodeling. Herb Alpert really liked it but said it was six months ahead of its time. It came out before “Winchester Cathedral.”
JD: What do you think is the next thing to come in music?
Bob: Trends are always coming in and going out. It’s hard to say what will come in. Country music is always there. You don’t really notice it, but all of a sudden there are four or five country songs on the pop charts. Nashville was always represented. I don’t think hard rock is as predominant now. A lot of softer things are coming in, like the Association and the Innocence. And as for jazz, I don’t know. They’re playing an Eric Burdon song out here about a Cadillac. It has a jazz solo on it. I don’t think jazz will take over, though. It needs a driving beat to tie it together, like Ramsey Lewis jazz.
Tom: The New Vaudeville Band has caused a lot of excitement. I don’t know about the East, but out here Rudy Vallee is cutting records. Right now, I think people are doing what they want to do. There’s nothing definite around.
JD: Do you think guitars will ever be replaced by horns?
Tom: I don’t think guitars will go out completely. Sometimes one may be used more than the other. Horns are pretty much back now, though. They sound real good together.
Bob: I think both have always been here but horns are being used more and more now. The music business is branching out. You don’t have to be limited to any one thing. For a while you had to cut a record with two guitars, a drum and a bass. But now you can use any instrument you want—if it’s an exciting and appealing sound.
JD: Would you say the music scene in Los Angeles is different from New York’s?
Bob: It’s different in the sense that in the East it’s concentrated in two or three square blocks—Tin Pan Alley. When you go to your office, you pass fifty other people in the hallway and the elevator who are in the same business as you. It’s faster moving because you’re talking deals in the elevator. You’re always seeing people that are thinking along the same lines as you. In Los Angeles, you have to drive from one office to the other and you have to make an appointment to see somebody. It’s as exciting but not necessarily as fast as the East.
JD: What are you working on now with the Monkees?
Tom: We have three albums in the can right now. The records are having unbelievable sales. We’ve been writing, rehearsing, and recording day and night for three months. Suddenly they needed a lot of records—the demand was so great. We have about three or four smash singles in the can. We’ve taken a break for the last couple of weeks. We decided we’d take a little rest. But we’ve got lots of new ideas and we’re going to start again full force. We never know what will finally be chosen as a single. We might still release “The Monkees Theme” because it’s made a lot of top forty charts from the album. They didn’t release Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” until a year after the show went on. So we have to have a lot of stuff in the can to choose from and keep up with the present demand.
Bob: In between we’ve produced some other artists. We cut Del Shannon for Liberty and we’re going to be concentrating on ourselves as artists, too.
JD: What was your first impression when you read the Monkees TV script?
Bob: I remember I was laughing out loud and I thought that was kind of unusual for just reading a script. The concept of old slapstick keystone cops was very funny—the way they treated it. It’s also very fresh and today.
JD: How long can you keep coming up with fresh things for the Monkees?
Tom: As long as we want to. It’s no different from coming up with new songs for anybody. We tailor-make songs for the Monkees because we’re like a big family now. We spent so much time together we’re always on top of what’s happening, so we have a good feeling.
JD: Are you involved in the soundtrack music of the TV show at all?
Bob: Sometimes they use our songs in different forms. They score them differently. Maybe they’ll use “The MONKEES Theme” or some of the songs from the album. The soundtrack will be variations of those songs.
JD: Did you ever have to watch a scene and create music for it?
Tom: We did for the pilot. We had to create three songs for three different scenes. When we did “The Monkees Theme,” the scene started off where they were going down the street. So we pictured just four kids walking down any street in any town in the U.S.A. Just four buddies in long hair and everybody noticing them. So we just started off, “here we come, walking down the street; we get the funniest looks from everyone we meet; hey, hey, we’re the Monkees.” Then, later on, they needed a song for Davy walking on a beach by himself, very lonesome because he wanted to be hung up with a girl, and then he didn’t want to be, and he loved her; so that’s when we did “I Wanna Be Free;” and in the first show they had a final scene when the Monkees played at a dance. They tried to get the job all week. They needed a rock number, so we did. “Let’s Dance On.” Sometimes they’ll write a whole show around our song, like “Clarksville.” They wrote a whole script for that song, but we don’t watch many scenes any more because we’re so close now. We pretty much feel what kind of songs they need.