It's been 30 years since the television show that made him a star went off the air, but Micky Dolenz knows that when he takes the stage these days, there's only one thing the fans want to hear.
Hits including I'm a Believer, Last Train to Clarksville and Pleasant Valley Sunday once were the backdrop of weekday afternoons for teens weened on reruns of a show that aired for only two seasons in the late 1960s.
Playing the wise-cracking drummer for the fictional, down-on-its-luck rock group gave Dolenz a rare open door into pop culture's elite circles, once even scoring him an invitation to hang out with the Beatles during the Sgt. Pepper's recording sessions.
These days Dolenz plays on without his famous bandmates. His sister, Coco, joins him for a series at shows at Busch Garden's Stanleyville Theater today through Saturday. On Tuesday, he sat down for a quick chat about his career, his recent flirtation with country music and the chances for a Monkees reunion tour.
Between standing in line for the Kumba and the Congo River Rapids, what can fans hear at Busch Gardens this week?
They're going to hear all the Monkees' hits for starters, most of which I sang originally. I do them just as people remember them. Then I sprinkle the rest of the show with stories -- like Jimi Hendrix once being our opening act.
A similar thing happened back in '86 when the Monkees played in Clearwater. You had Herman's Hermits and the Grass Roots as opening acts. None of the kids in the audience knew who they were!
[Laughs] It's happened before! There are classic stories about Guns N' Roses opening for the Rolling Stones and everyone yelling "Get off!" Those stories go back a long, long time.
What accounts for the enduring appeal of the Monkees?
Foremost, it's the songs and the songwriting. I had some of the greatest songwriters of all time writing for me. People like Carole King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and Paul Williams. And when you start with material of that quality, the songs stand up over the years regardless of the times and the production.
Carole King wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday. What a classic.
I just signed a record deal to do a tribute album to Carole King called King for a Day. I'm going to sing all Carole King tunes because she wrote so many great tunes for me, including As We Go Along and The Porpoise Song for the movie Head.
Yes, Head, the 1968 movie written by Jack Nicholson. That was a little deep for average Monkees fans.
I still don't know what it's about — and I was in it!
Are you comfortable with people calling you "the funny Monkee?"
[Laughs] I don't think about labels much at all. People forget the Monkees were not a group. It was a television show about an imaginary group, and I was an actor playing the part of the wacky drummer. That's still the way I look at it. If people say "you were very funny," well, that was the point. I worked at it. I took improv classes. It wasn't just a coincidence.
Could someone replicate the Monkees' success on TV?
If you look at Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, there have been other instances. There have been so many attempts to develop another Monkees. But the problem is you really can't reverse engineer projects like that.
So what was the secret?
A lot of people miss this: On the television show, the Monkees were never successful. We were always struggling for success, and that spoke to all those kids out there who were trying to be the Beatles. It was the struggle that endeared us to kids, I think.
You're back on TV these days, competing on CMT's reality show Gone Country. How did that happen?
They offered the show, and I turned it down originally. I didn't like reality shows. But it's not like those mean-spirited, back-stabbing shows that I hate. I get enough of that in real life — it's called show business.
Are you a fan of that music?
I've never been a huge country music fan, but my lifestyle and my heritage is very close to country. The thing that really hooked me was being able to write a country tune. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to break into this world. Who knows what will come of that.
So you'd take a real shot at country music?
Oh, absolutely. Maybe not even as an artist. Maybe as a writer.
Any plans to reunite with Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith for another Monkees reunion tour?
There are no plans, but someone's always talking about it. I've learned never to say never.