Saturday, August 18, 2012

Peter Tork Performs @ The State Theatre

Peter Tork

In this Generation


 The Canyon of Dreams

Peter Tork was part of one of the most incredible experiments in sixties television, The Monkees. It was inspired by the Beatles landmark movie A Hard Days Night that took the world by storm in 1965. The Beatles juiced things up and oiled the creaky broken down wheel of American Culture through their over the top British charm a placebo of good will and escape from the dark days following the Kennedy assassination. It was as simple and complex as taking American music, transforming it with a big beat, mirroring it back to America and creating a youth culture with the power of a ten ton nuclear bomb. The lies of the governments here and abroad provided the scaffold for the ascendance of the fifties/sixties  anti-heroes and led to an artistic renaissance led Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley, Andy Warhol,  Bob Dylan, the Beatles  and so many more. The not-so-quiet revolution of the mind became the soundtrack for the youth culture in America. It was this internal landscape that created the conditions that led to a golden era of experimentation and freedom of expression. Peter Tork was part of this renaissance. Instinctively, he migrated to the west coast in search for the holy grail of sunshine, good vibes and incredible music. He was standing in the epicenter of new bohemia.  The beatniks gave rise to the hippies and Tork fit-in perfectly. He was a folkie at heart and he hung out in Laurel Canyon with hippie artisans like Van Dyke Parks, Tim Buckley, Steven Stills, Nurit Wilde and Joni Mitchell. In the beginning none were famous and no one had discovered their own unique voice – not quite yet. It was only a year or so later when a convergence of social and musical experimentation led to a kind of artistic epiphany, a freedom born of natural talent and a transformative enlightenment. The good vibrations flowed like the clear cool vision of the new tribal society.

As the Monkees phenomenon exploded exponentially, Tork opened his home to the new rock gods, jamming with Hendrix and hanging out with Zappa. He opened up his home for the early rehearsals for a new super group Crosby, Stills and Nash. Henry Diltz, a photographer and scene-maker was part of the hippie paradise. He knew Peter quite well and talks about Peter’s role in this hub of creativity;

“Peter’s house had belonged to actor Wally Cox. It was one of those substantial homes. It had a swimming pool. It had a whole wing off in one direction with rooms in it used for rehearsals. Peter was very social. He was like a commune type of guy - lot of people around. He was like a yoga and guru guy. In those days you could go over and could stay for a couple days if you wanted. You’d meet somebody there and fall in love.  It was a very open society.”

 Now 45 years later Peter Tork is older and wiser. He performs regularly with Shoe Suede Blues and is about to embark on a limited 12 date tour with the Monkees featuring Mickey Dolenz and Michael Nesmith.

May The Circle Be Unbroken

I listened to some Shoe Suede Blues songs and I liked the laid back sepia toned country blues vibe especially the remakes of For Petes Sake and Your Auntie Grizelda. The Dylan chestnut She Belongs to Me is a perfect country blues. It gave them a whole new feel. How would you describe your music?

I don’t know – perhaps it’s a mixture of the ‘50s and ‘60s blues and rock & roll. Of course the blues had informed pop music for nearly 60 years now. It helped me to really stretch out. Just the other day it occurred to me that maybe what I’m doing is blues music. It’s hard to know exactly, but very much the blues influence, definitely the blues influence.

After you formed Shoe Suede Blue you went on and you opened for the Monkees later.

It was funny being at both ends of that. I wore sunglasses and a Panama hat and as loud checked jacket, and I was the guitar player and one of the singers in the band…What we did in those days is the opening band came out and sang Daydream Believer with the Monkees, and so out comes the band and they bring me out my jacket and hat and sunglasses, and I put them on and there were gasps from the crowd. That was fun.

What convinced you to go forward with the project with Shoe Suede Blues?

Well, it was like I said we just …we got together. A friend of mine who plays blues, harp, and some keys suggested we do a benefit. He was like, “Let’s you and me and that guy over there plays bass. I know he plays bass pretty good, and we’ll do this benefit, this charity thing we’re doing.” I said, “Sure.” We got another guitar player and a drummer, and we did like three of these shows with different drummers and different guitar players, and we thought we sounded pretty good. So just about then a friend of mine said, “Look, I’m responsible for the entertainment at this promotional gig I’m doing at the other end of the country, and you should come, it pays pretty well.” I said, “Yeah, that’s good only it’s not enough. Can you get us a couple more gigs?” She did, and lo and behold we were a national act just like that. We just happened to click and we’ve done for over 12 years or something like that. We’ve rotated members but we’ve been continuous. It’s like the old farmer’s joke. “See this hatchet - it’s had eight handles and three heads, but I’ve had this hatchet for 45 years.”

Who is in the band, any original members?

Michael Sunday was an original, and basically I think he just hated to fly so badly that he just couldn’t take it any longer and resigned. If you look at the cover of Cambria Hotel, sitting there at the bottom smoking a cigarette is Arnold Jacks, AJ. He is still in the band. Richard Mikuls, bless his soul, has passed on. We have a new guitar player, a heavy guitar player named Joe Boyle, and a drummer, Sturgis Cunningham. These guys are both residents of the east coast. Since it’s where I am, it kind of makes it easier. Other than that, it’s the same band. We’re making a new CD. I’m not going to be able to give it to you now, it’s not ready to appear just yet, but when I do you’ll see what we’re talking about. There’s some wonderful stuff on there.

Have you written any new songs for the upcoming tour?

 There will be some new songs. They will go on the tour, not all of them because we love our standards, but there will be a few.

Your two CDs have a lot of great cover songs – original rock R&B and blues – Shake Rattle & Roll, Flip, Flop and Fly, Youngblood, Hound Dog, Route 66. Treat Her Right & so on. What was the process of determining the songs made the cut?

Basically it was whatever felt right -basically that’s all there was to it. Just whatever seemed to fit our style and approach music. There were a few songs that we played that were like other songs in terms of style, arrangements, chords and lyrics, so we couldn’t use them. We had to select one, pick one that we liked better. It was that kind of process of elimination

Are you going to perform any of your Monkees songs on this tour?          

Sure thing. Oh yeah. Absolutely. I love them. Almost a third of the show is Monkees songs – For Pete’s Sake, Auntie Grizelda, Shades of Gray. Last Train to Clarksville and a few others

 Before you joined the Monkees, before you got into the project, you were hanging out with some pretty heavy hitters, Steven Stills, Van Dyke Parks and others from Laurel Canyon. You were really a part of a young elite. How did that help you prepare for the Monkees or did it bump into the Monkees in some way?

Well I didn’t have any sense of that at the time. I didn’t know they were members of the elite until years later when they all had successful careers…so, you know, I didn’t know Richie Havens was doing really well. I didn’t know Jose Feliciano was making it, I didn’t know any of those guys were going to be good until they got good, so it wasn’t like I was hanging out with heavy hitters as far as I knew at the time…

As multi-instrumentalist, do you have an instrument that you prefer, one that allows you to really express yourself?

I like guitar because I’m standing up, and I get to dance, and I like piano because it has the widest, broadest rhythm and the sound of it, those great boogie-woogie songs need piano and also for the harmony range. I like bass. Electric guitar is probably my favorite…it’s more for melody than harmony. So I like those two the most, bass when I’m called upon to play bass. I enjoy it. I love laying down a foundation and then the banjo for the old folky and your folk hat because that’s how I came up, as a folky.

As you look back on you career with the Monkees can you identify what you’re most proud of?

Headquarters. So yeah because that was when the band fought and won…my skills and contribution was being the root. It was a great boost for me. I am extremely grateful that I was able to do what I did in the public arena. It’s a huge debt of gratitude. I owe the Monkees a huge debt of gratitude on that account.

You were the quiet, thoughtful member of the group and the more cerebral. Do you think these qualities helped you as a musician?

I think anything helps as a musician. I know guys who were…but did wonderful, sophisticated, delicate, rhythmic stuff, and I know guys who are marvelously intelligent who can’t play, so there’s  not a great deal of overlap there, but what you’ve got is definitely a help.

I always liked your vocals. I thought you had a great vocal vibe. The Shades of Gray was just wonderful. How do you rate yourself as a singer?

Not very well. No, I’m getting better. I know I’m getting better in every aspect of the thing, but the better I get, the more I realize how far from good I am in almost axis, along any line. My pitch doesn’t always serve me well.  I’m always concerned about my pitch, and I don’t know that I’m a natural singer but I just plug along because it’s important to do.

 What was your opinion of Head? Do you think it turned out well? What was the message?

The message in that one, as far as I’m concerned, the message is that you don’t…The message is always supposed to be how good can you get, what’s the work got to do, or maybe at the very worse, what do you want to avoid? This message says, “You’re stuck,” and I think that’s a bad message. I think that Rafelson did a good job, given the movie he wanted to make. He and Nicholson produced the movie.  I think there are some wonderful scenes, and I think Rafelson did a decent job portraying us, using us to portray us, but as I said, I think the message is a bad one.

I saw the Monkees show at the Fox Theatre last year and felt it was triumphant. You had a front and center role this time around. You talked to the crowd. Introduced songs, sang lead on your songs and played several instruments. It was as if you found your voice after all these years. How did you see it?

Yeah, I think I worked up to my total innate musical capacity. Like I said, singing is not what I do; it’s not my strong suit. I think I have a lot of other attributes as an entertainer… it’s like those guys finally recognized me for my genius. That would be just joking. (Laughter)

Well, you have had a great career, perhaps you are a genius

Define your terms…I really have to go, But if you have some other questions that you really need to ask, send an email to my agent...Peace

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