Best known as the Monkee in the green wool hat, Michael Nesmith will perform Saturday in Grass Valley during a concert presented by the Center for the Arts.
The comparatively level-headed member of the 1960s teen sensation band and TV show, the Monkees, Nesmith was the most proficient instrumentalist in the group and wrote some of their best in-house songs, rootsy numbers like: “Papa Gene’s Blues,” “You Told Me,” “You Just May Be the One,” and “Tapioca Tundra.”
His composition, “Different Drum” was a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1968.
“I love hearing other people sing my songs. ‘Different Drum’ and Butterfield’s and Run-DMC’s ‘Mary, Mary’ were and are real high points for me as a writer. My primary craft is writing, and songwriting was always what moved me along. I fell into the folk scene early on because of the importance of the song and lyrics there and then followed that with some rock and roll and country efforts,” Nesmith said.
Besides his stint with the Monkees, Nesmith released a series of acclaimed country-rock albums in the early 1970s and helped lay the groundwork for MTV in the early 1980s.
He was the only Monkee to sustain a solo career.
His communications company, Pacific Arts, proved to be an important pioneer in the development of music video.
Born in Houston in 1942, Nesmith grew up listening to blues and playing saxophone.
After spending two years in the Air Force, Nesmith became fascinated with folk music and learned to play the guitar.
He moved to Memphis to play backup on recordings for Stax-Volt.
Nesmith was in Los Angeles by the mid-1960s where he formed the folk-rock duo Mike and John with John London.
In 1965 he joined the Monkees, one of the biggest pop groups of the time.
By the end of 1966, the band had notched two number one singles — “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer.”
The band’s first two albums spent more than 30 weeks at number one.
The group’s fabricated origins and subservience to songwriting teams and session musicians betrayed them in the eyes of rock and roll.
Nesmith led the fight to have the Monkees play instruments and write songs for their own albums.
“I was always outside the main effort of the show’s music. I would’ve liked to have been more accepted as a pop-song writer, but there was little I could do about it since I didn’t know how to write a pop song,” Nesmith said.
On the 1967 record, “Headquarters,” the Monkees played their own instruments, wrote eight of the 14 selections, and produced the album with a little help from their friend Chip Douglas.
“Headquarters” reached number one.
In 1968, Nesmith recorded his first solo album, “Wichita Train Whistle Songs,” which featured new arrangements of his best-known Monkees songs.
He continued with the Monkees for one more year before he left the band in 1969.
In 1992, Nesmith released his first album of new material in 13 years, “Tropical Campfires.” Four years later, he reunited with the Monkees to record “Justus,” the first Monkees album since 1968 to feature all four original members.
Tickets to Saturday’s show are $40 for members of the Center, $45 for the general public and are available at the Center’s Box Office in person, by phone at 530-274-8384 ext. 14, online at www.thecenterforthearts.org or at BriarPatch Co-op.