When was the first time you met Mike Nesmith?
I met Mike at San Antonio Jr. College in San Antonio. We were both freshmen. The music department was in one section of the school and when I had my music class over there I used to pass him going to class and we would sometimes talk in the hall.
The thing I remember more than anything is that Mike would always play his guitar and when he wasn’t in class he’d sit on the grass and there would be four or five girls around him and he would just sing songs.
He gave us the impression he wasn’t too popular. Was he?
Mike wasn’t the type of person where you would say his name and everybody knew who you were talking about. It was a small group of the music department—all those kids knew him, but the school as a whole didn’t know him. They knew me only because I raised such a fuss all the time—just carried on and spent a lot of time in the student union building when I should have been in class.
What was your first impression of Mike?
He seemed like the typical folk singer to me. He was a nice guy, polite and we talked a lot. Later on he became interested in me because I played guitar. I had my own band and we played at different functions. Mike played in the talent show and I think he was in the singing division.
Why didn’t you appear in the talent show?
I was playing professionally. I would have liked to because it would mean that I could have contracted some jobs for dances. But I was afraid that if I happened to lose, it would do more harm than good.
Do you remember the kind of music Mike liked when you first met?
He used to like Bob Dylan and that type of music. He was very much into folk music. Most of the folk information I got, I got from Mike. He taught me how to play Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” We sat down in the hall one day and he taught me how to play it.
Did you know Phyllis at the time?
I had just met her. We all went to school together. I used to see Mike and Phyllis a lot, but I didn’t know her very well. When they first came to California they came by my apartment the very first afternoon.
How did they know where you lived?
A mutual friend of ours, Charlie Rockett, knew where I was staying. I came to Hollywood in January of 1964 and I had worked with Peter and Gordon for a while. I went to Hawaii and played with Jan and Dean and I also worked for Ray Peterson. I would back up the guys at big shows like at the Hollywood Bowl and the Cow Palace.
Had “Action” come along yet?
No, that was a year and a half later. I had just been working for different people and then I started doing some sessions with the Crickets. Then I joined the Crickets and I was with them for almost a year.
When Mike first came to California he brought Phyllis, they had just been married, and they came out here. They had a new car, an MG, and some clothes, and that’s about it. His car, his instruments, and his friend, John London, were with him. They got an apartment right away.
Did you do many things together?
Neither one of us had any money to go out and do things, so we just went to each others apartments, played guitars or whatever.
Did you ever see Mike when he was playing at the Troubadour?
Yes, he was really funny. Mike and John were working there all the time and the kids really dug them. They really did some funny bits. John played bass and Mike played a standard guitar. They played songs and told jokes and John played the dumb guy.
The only problem was, there was no demand for folk singers out here. I called Mike and told him that and before long they got a drummer named Bill and they called the trio Mike, John and Bill. They got a station wagon and then they took off for a tour of the Texas Schools.
Did he ever talk about how far he wanted to go in the business?
No, but I think it was understood that we both wanted to succeed in the business and be respected. I think he was looking to be like Bob Dylan, not exactly, but he wanted to write and sing.
Do you remember any funny incidents you had together when Mike first came to Hollywood?
I can remember that the Paul McCartney look alike thing had started with me. It began in Sacramento. The first thing that happened was my mother sent me a newspaper clipping of the Beatles and she said, “One of these boys looks like you.” This was in April of 1964.
In August, the Beatles came on tour and the day they played at the Hollywood Bowl, there were kids around the Bowl grounds all day. I had an apartment right near there and in the afternoon before the concert Mike and Phyllis came over.
Mike and I were playing Beatle songs and when we’d stop we’d hear some girls yell, “That’s groovy, keep playing!” It was really funny, I didn’t get to go to the concert, my managers made sure I was booked into a club that night.
Also during those times I opened with Ray Peterson at the “Red Velvet” Club in Hollywood. Mike and John used to come in quite often. I had to learn a lot of new songs and I didn’t know all the words to them. One song in particular was “It’s All Over Now” by the Rolling Stones. I just couldn’t remember the words to it, so Mike would mouth the words to me from his booth and I’d sing them.
Do you remember Mike and Phyllis being very excited about the baby?
We have a funny sense of humor about us, and some people wouldn’t understand. We teased Phyllis about the “abdominal bump” she had but she laughed along with us. After the baby was born, Mike would call up and say, “Come on over and see our baby human.” He would call it a baby human.
Do you remember when Mike first began going down for the Monkee interviews?
At the time of the Monkees thing, I was already on “Action”. Phyllis told me one day that Mike was up to do this pilot for a TV show and I said, “Well that’s great!” but I thought to myself it seemed a little fantastic. Not that they were exaggerating, but in Hollywood it seems like everyone has some big deal going.
Do you remember Mike talking about it?
He really didn’t know that much about it, because they just gave him the idea only. The “Action” crew was filming in Phoenix, Arizona and Davy Jones was with us that day. I thought Davy was a really nice guy and I said, “Why don’t you stay overnight.” And he said he couldn’t because on Monday he had to play in a TV pilot.
Did you know any of the other Monkees?
I’ve known Micky for about three years. He used to come into the “Red Velvet” Club when I was playing there. One day he came up to me, this was right after I started on “Action” and he was feeling very depressed. He considered himself a “has been” at 18. He came up to me and he said, “I’m really happy for you, you have a great show. You don’t know what it’s like to be a has been at 18.” I told him I was sure something would come up for him and it surely has!
Do you like the Monkees TV show?
It’s my favorite show. I really like it!
What are you doing now?
I’ve got a new recording contract with Atco records, the same label as Sonny and Cher. Sonny Bono is my manager now. I’m the first outside act that he’s taken in. I’m also up for a TV show pilot, but that’s a long way off right now.