Former KLRE/KUAR staffer shares experience of meeting musician Michael Nesmith
Michael Nesmith, best known for being a member of the made-for-television rock band the Monkees, died Friday of heart failure, NPR reported. He was 78.
The singer-songwriter stood out from the band with his Texas accent and initially had the strongest musical abilities of a group created by TV executives with a formula designed to appeal to Beatles fans. He appeared alongside Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork. After a two-year run, the program ended in 1968, but Nesmith continued to play music while also becoming influential in television and movie production.
Former KLRE/KUAR Program Director Regina Scruggs was only 11-years-old when she saw the Monkees perform in 1967 at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York. 52 years later, she met Nesmith after a concert in California and shared with him her recollections of that earlier show, including Scruggs and other teenybopper Monkees fans booing a then little-known opening performer named Jimi Hendrix.
Scruggs shared her experiences in an interview with KUAR News. You can listen to the interview above or read an edited transcript below.
KUAR'S MICHAEL HIBBLEN: I remember you telling the story about seeing the Monkees back when you worked here about a decade ago. But there were a lot of nuances to the story, and then two years ago even more. First, before we really dig into this, the Monkees was your first concert. You had the chance to see another band two years earlier. Your dad offered you the opportunity when you were 9. What band was that?
REGINA SCRUGGS: It was a little band you might have heard of called the Beatles.
Ah, the Beatles?
Whatever happened with them?
Just to give you a summary of what happened, yes, I grew up in the South Bronx and right across the waterway was Shea Stadium. And in 1965 the Beatles were going to be appearing at Shea Stadium. Now, I liked the Beetles just fine. I even had one of their albums, I think it was called Beatles ‘65, I think that was one of the first albums I ever bought. But when it was announced that the Beatles were coming to New York and my dad said to me, ‘Do you want to go see them?’ I said nah, it's going to be so loud and crowded and noisy and I’m not going to be able to hear them play and all this. Now here's the kid talking the parent out of going to a rock concert, and I was 9-years-old. The wisdom of a 9-year-old. Nah, I don't want to see the Beatles. I mean seriously, I look back on that now and I go oh my God.
So, what ended up happening was the next year in ‘66 the Monkees show was on the air and I just became completely enraptured by Davy Jones, like a lot of 10-year old girls. He was designed to be the heartthrob and if you’ve seen the show at all, half of the Monkees shows is Davy falling in love with the girl of the week, and all the problems that ended up after that. So, I got totally sucked into the whole Monkees show. Now, in those long ago days before you had cable TV and DVR and the ability to record shows, I could be found every Monday night at 7:30 eastern time in New York watching the Monkees show. And there 58 episodes all together over two years. The first season was 32 episodes. Can you imagine a 32 episode TV season now? It wouldn't happen. You're lucky to get 13 new episodes. And I think I only missed one show of the 58 in first-run which is saying something.
So when, in ‘67, when the Monkees were going out on tour, and my dad again asked me, ‘Well Regina, do you think you want to see the Monkees… Yes!
Yes, yes, yes. So, what happened was that my dad took me to, it wasn’t Shea Stadium, it was Forest Hills Tennis Stadium at the time where the U.S. Open happens. So, the Monkees were appearing there, they were doing three shows in New York July 14th 15th, and 16th of 1967. So of course, I had to go to the first show. I wasn’t going to wait two days. Now there was this opening act.
The Monkees had a couple of opening acts during that tour. I didn't care who the opening acts were. Nobody cared who the opening acts were. We just wanted to see our group. So, on the poster it said opening act, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I didn't know who that was. Who’s this Jimi Hendrix guy?
Yeah, hope he doesn’t take too long.
Right! Jimi at the time wasn't really known in the United States. He had a reputation in Europe and Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork had gone to the Monterey Pop Festival in, I think, June of ’67. And Jimi was there and they were really bowled over by him. They checked with John Lennon who said this guy is legit. So, they said okay, let's get this guy to open some of our dates.
Now who on earth would think that was a smart matchup? But you can't blame Jimi or anybody else at that time because the Monkees were a big act then. Of course, anybody would be happy to open for them. Just to get on-stage with the Monkees would be fine.
Now briefly tell me about Jimi Hendrix's show. Did he set his guitar on fire? All that stuff?
No, he came out, I believe he just swang into “Purple Haze” or whatever it was. The problem with poor Jimi was that I think that was his date number six by them. He only lasted a couple more dates on the tour because the same thing would happen at every show.
We’re all there to see the Monkees and this weird Black guy with his hair all over the place wearing some fur vest and looking like a weird hippy with all the beads would come out and it's like, crank it up. And all the kids would stand up, including me, and go, ‘We want the Monkees!’ ‘We want Davy!’ ‘Where is Micky?’ ‘We want Mike!’ You know, ‘Where is the guy with the wool hat?’ So, poor Jimi, it just wasn't his scene.
And the rumor is that not at my show but the third New York show, supposedly he finally got fed up about three or four songs into his set, threw down his guitar, flipped off the audience and stormed off-stage. That's what I heard happened. Now obviously he quitted the tour and then went out on his own, as he should have as his own headliner a few months later and obviously had a lot more success. But at my show it was like, ‘We want Davy!’ The poor guy. So, I ended up seeing this guitar legend that in all my years since I've never met anybody else who has seen Jimi Hendrix. But I saw him and I didn't even mean to see him.
Anything you want to add about the show? Anything really stick out to you?
All the guys came out and did solo numbers and then most of the rest of the numbers they did as a group. Micky at the time liked to do this James Brown schtick where he would come out and sing “I Got a Woman.” Mike would come over and throw a cape on him, then Micky would fling it off and come back and do another verse. That was an old James Brown schtick, so that was the funniest part. But other than that, I'm not really remembering that much else, that those are pretty much the highlights.
Okay, well, I saw the Monkees twice in 1986, the 20th anniversary tour, first in Memphis and then later that year at Barton Coliseum here in Little Rock. But that was without Mike Nesmith. He had a successful career running a video production company at that point and didn't have time to go out on a reunion show. But in 2019 you were visiting a friend in Los Angeles, heard Michael Nesmith was going to be performing a show in Hollywood. Tell me about that.
Well, I should say that after I saw the Monkees in 1967 I never saw them again either separately or together. Teen idols tend to have a very short shelf life as you know. We kids are all into a group or a person for one year and the next year we don't know who they are. We moved on to the next person and in those days I think most of us moved on to David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman or whoever was popular at the time in 1969,1970, thereabouts. So, I never saw any of them again.
Yes, fast forward up to 2019. What happened was that, as you mentioned, I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles and I heard that at the same time Nesmith was going to be with one of his post-Monkees bands, the First National Band which he had revived a few years before. They were in some little, I forget the venue but some tiny venue in Hollywood, that’s not even 300 seats.
I had a few years before bought a poster, which was very hard for me to find, of the Monkees-Hendrix concert that I'd gone to back in ’67. But I never even bothered to put it up. It was sitting in my closet, rolled-up in a tube. And I was thinking you know, wouldn’t it be cool if I could maybe… I’ll take the poster, I'll try to get to maybe meet him after the show, maybe I can get him to sign it. But it wasn’t any sort of a big deal. Maybe I'll see, whatever.
I go out to L.A., I get a ticket to the show, my friend Cindy didn’t even go with me, I went by myself. She was busy that night. So I Uber over to the venue, took the poster, got in, saw the show. Michael was playing with his son Christian and some other band members, and after the show, it was a little venue, it was announced that Michael was going to be able to take some time to see some folks and of course in the era of selfies everybody had to get a picture. So it was probably, there might have been 20 or 25 people waiting for Michael after the concert. And I decided I got in the line and decided I was going to be the last person so that maybe I’d get a little bit more time with him, so thinking.
Thinking all the time. So I stand-in line, he comes out, they set up a little table for sitting there, that everybody comes up and gets a picture, whatever, chat with him for a second move on this whole thing and then we finally get to me and I'm holding the poster he looks at and he goes, ‘You know that's a very valuable poster. Where did you get that?” And said it's not the original. Some guy in England sent this to me a couple of years ago. I think I bought it for $10 bucks. And he goes, ‘Oh really? Well, what if you're wrong?’ Just trust me, it's not an original. So we chat for a minute. He asked me about the Forest Hills Concert, what I remember about it and I said, “Uh, I booed Hendrix. That’s what I remember about it, and he laughs. He said, ‘Yeah, there was a lot of that going on, unfortunately for Jimi.’
We chat a bit more, about Texas. I live in Houston now, although I grew up in New York. He was born in Houston, although he lives in California and this sort of thing. We talked about Texas for a little bit and then, as we were kind of wrapping it up, I say, well, see you in 52 more years and he looked at me and smiled and said no you won’t. So it was a very nice five minutes I had with him.
Well it’s a great couple of photos you've got with him.
Yes, it was, I wanted to mention also about back in the day when I was still in New York, the Monkees did one movie, it was called Head. Anybody that's seen it, believe me, you won't forget it. There were a lot of cameos in the movie: Frank Zappa, Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Jack Nicholson, who was actually co-screenwriter and producer of the movie. You see him at it for a second, but this was before his fame. But I just wanted to say that Head was such a flop that according to Wikipedia, the box office take was like $16,000. But I took my poor grandmother to see this crazy trippy movie and I don't know what she was thinking while the movie was on with like five people in the audience. This was November of 1968. My poor grandmother sat through it quietly, respectfully, peacefully, and after it was all over, she said: ‘Was that Victor Mature?
May she rest in peace, may Michael rest in peace, may Peter Tork rest in peace, may Davy Jones rest in peace, but the music lives.
Yeah, the music does live on. And on the topic of the music, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork really led the fight for the Monkees to have some creative freedom, to be able to play their own instruments, write their own songs, most of which were rejected by Don Kirshner, the music producer for the TV show. One of the songs Nesmith wrote that was rejected ended up being a big hit for Linda Ronstadt. Here's a quick sample of his version of “Different Drum.”
I still think Linda’s version is better. Sorry Michael.
As you mentioned, yes, we lost Davy Jones in 2012, Peter Tork in 2019. I’ve got to say I regret not going to see Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolans. They played in Memphis a couple of months ago and I saw that was happening and Elvis Costello was playing the same venue, different day, they're the performance center at Graceland and ended up deciding I could only afford to go see Elvis Costello, but I have regretted because I was always a fan of Mike Nesmith. He was always my favourite Monkee and even before that show happened I regretted not going to see it. So how was the show you saw in 2019?
Well again, it was Mike and the First National Band. It was clear that his son Christian was doing most of the heavy lifting as far as the guitar playing, but that was fine. Mike did play, he sang, of course. He did a couple of Monkees tunes, but mostly it was the First National Band and Post Monkees material that he did.
A concession to his age, he did look at lyrics from a tablet, but the spirit was still there. He still clearly loved performing. He still clearly loved playing and this tour that you, you were referring to, where he was in Memphis a couple of months ago, where he and Mike Dolan had gone out on the “Farewell Tour.” There was supposed to be a Huston date but it got cancelled, so I didn't get to see it. I was very disappointed, but they did make most of the dates they had scheduled and from what I hear from the reports of the tour, it was very successful. Now Michael didn't play a guitar, but he did sing and it was pretty emotional apparently at every date, because I think everybody knew that this was probably going to be the last opportunity that we’ll see Michael.
Micky is now the last Monkee remaining and he had already said before Michael's passing that ‘I'm not quitting. I'm going to go out with Michael without Michael, whatever Michael wants to do, but I'll still be out there on my own.’ So I’m looking forward to that. Maybe I can get him. Maybe I can, if I can catch up with Micky, maybe I can get him to sign the poster.