By John London, Mike Nesmith’s long-time Texas buddy
When Mike and I finished our “legendary” two-man tour of just about every grade and high school in Texas, it was Christmas, 1964, and we went to our respective homes—mine in San Antonio and his in Dallas—to spend the Yuletide with our families. After the holidays, I went to Dallas and joined Mike, and once again we started practicing, practicing, practicing. Up until that time, we had both been totally in the “folk bag,” but now we decided to work with electric instruments and use a drummer. Mike busily set himself to the task of writing material that was more rock oriented. Though he loved his folk tunes, he felt that the rock sound and lyrics would enable him to reach a bigger audience.
“The monkey bar”
After weeks of practice with Mike’s new material, we went back to California and started auditioning to perform in the various clubs. We didn’t do too well, so we ended up on the outskirts of town—and I do mean ‘way out. Like Las Vegas, Nevada! No joke. Mike still worked his special magic with audiences and was able to hold them in the palm of his hands and change their mood almost on musical command. After every set, we got overwhelming applause and this, more than the money, meant a great deal to us.
Next, we got booked at a place called “The Monkey Bar” in San Jose, Calif. “The Monkey Bar” catered to a younger set, and they really took to the fast beat of Mike’s music. Little did we know that this first brush with Monkee-ism was quite auspicious for Mr. Mike Nesmith. Finally, we got booked back in Los Angeles. Randy Sparks had left the New Christy Minstrels and formed a group called The Survivors. He wanted Mike and me to be a part of that group. Although there were many talented performers and potential leaders in this newly conceived group, Mike was clearly the only one with enough professional polish to be the true leader—and we all knew that and, in conjunction with Mr. Sparks, we voted him “Head Survivor”. Mr. Sparks’ “Ledbetters” Club for youngsters in Los Angeles began the trend towards these kind of clubs, which have now popped up all over America!
One night we were playing away and someone remarked that we were really creating a blaze. Another auspicious omen—for three minutes after we closed “Ledbetters” that night a fire started (no one knows the cause) and the joint burned to the ground within an hour.
World’s first youthquake
We remained with The Survivors, but Mike and I went home for one final swinging engagement. We, along with Jim Messenger and Bill Chadwick, played the background music for the first rock ’n roll youthquake mod fashion show. It was held in San Antonio, Texas, and—talk about starting trends—well, (as they say) the rest is history.
Mike and I returned to Los Angeles and continued to play with The Survivors. We all chipped in and worked for nothing to help Mr. Sparks rebuild his nightclub. We finally got it back together and, though everyone involved was broke, we were ready to put “Ledbetters” back on the map again.
Monkee madness begins
One day, Barry Friedman, who worked for Randy at the time, wandered in and threw a copy of Variety, the show business newspaper, at Mike. “Why don’t you get yourself a steady job?” he said jokingly, as Mike perused a strange ad which called for “four zany, young, and insane musicians” for a television plot. Mike cut out the ad and wandered down to the Screen Gems office for the auditions—mostly out of “Texas curiosity” to see what Hollywood films were all about. During his interview, Mike’s distinctive mannerisms, quickness of tongue and promptness of reply immediately secured him the title of Monkee—thought [sic] it was several weeks before Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson told Mike that he was in.
In terms of most people’s definition of success, Mike has really made it. But to one who knows Michael, as I do, his greatest success lies in his creativity, and his creativity lies in his future. No matter what he does, or how well he does it, he will continue to improve because he has the talent and the energy and the ambition and the will—and it is that last ingredient that makes it possible for anyone who wants to go all the way. What is will? It is best described in an oft-used quote of my good friend, Mike Nesmith: “When there is no wind—row!”