Mike Nesmith, Monkees' Renaissance man, plays solo

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2013 - 5:21 PM
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Michael Nesmith, a puppet no longer.

Photo: ALEXANDRA BATTAGLIA ,

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Of course, he was the Monkee with the stocking cap. But Michael Nesmith was also the Prefab Four’s Renaissance man.

Did you know that he helped pioneer country-rock? That he was a godfather of MTV? That he was executive producer of the movie “Repo Man” and is a published novelist?

First and foremost, Nesmith, 70, is a singer/songwriter. That’s what he’ll demonstrate Friday at the Fitzgerald Theater as part of his first solo tour in more than 20 years.

Don’t expect a lot of Monkees songs; maybe just one or two that he wrote for the band. Do expect to hear “Different Drum,” the 1967 hit he penned for the Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt.

“It is in the show but in a very different form than one might expect,” Nesmith said in an e-mail interview. “The reactions to it so far have been almost overwhelming. I love the song and the way people have commented and their approval and compliments tell me they love it as well.”

It is not a theme for his life, Nesmith insists, merely an observation in general. But he certainly has marched to a different beat.

Although he was able to contribute a couple of songs to nine Monkees albums in the 1960s, he was the most outspoken member about being a puppet. He had to pay to get out of his contract in 1970. Then he started the First National Band, which played a new style that became known as country-rock when the Eagles adopted it.

“It was a natural sequence,” Nesmith said. “The songs on that first solo effort had been piling up in the Monkees closet for a while and not released. The producers and controllers of the music for the show did not want them. So when I had the chance I put them together the way I wanted to — with no thought other than just to make them sound good to me and realize the potentials of the songs as best I could.”

In 1977, Nesmith created a video clip for his song “Rio.” That led the singer, always a thinker, to create “PopClips,” a video program for Nickelodeon. In 1980, the program was sold to Time Warner Amex, which developed the “PopClips” concept into MTV. Nesmith’s fascination with video continued, and he was recognized with the first Grammy ever for a long-form video, in 1982 for the hourlong “Elephant Parts.”

Nesmith continued his work in videos, producing the clip for Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” among other things. His Pacific Arts Video company became an early purveyor in the home video market. He became involved with the movies, as an executive producer (1984’s “Repo Man”) and actor (1988’s “Tapeheads”). He wrote two novels, “The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora” (1998) and “The American Gene” (2009).

What has been his most satisfying creation?

“The music video was a great offspring — and as you might guess was collaborative,” he said. “Many people were involved and it was a great time and great team.”

Nesmith spent a long time trying to get the Monkees off his back but, while the other three members reunited in 1986, he did only one reunion concert with them in Los Angeles. The trio continued with periodic tours but Nesmith participated in only one of them, in England in 1997. Finally, he signed on for last year’s brief reunion tour, which took place after the death of Monkees singer Davy Jones.

Nesmith called the tour “great fun.” He is confident the surviving Monkees trio will tour again.

The singer/songwriter/guitarist’s most recent solo album was “Rays” in 2006. Since 2011, he has been releasing MP3 singles from his videoranch.com website.

His next endeavor will be “virtual net live performance.”

Saying he is motivated by “the principle of love,” Nesmith has always been a creative soul. Maybe that was sparked by his mother, who invented Liquid Paper.

What’s the most creative use of Liquid Paper that Nesmith has heard of?

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