Michael Nesmith, who shot to fame in the 1960s as the wisecracking guitar player for the rock pseudo band The Monkees, and later established himself in his own right as an accomplished musician and video artist, passed away Friday from heart failure. Nesmith was 78.
Nesmith was a Texas native. His mother invented Liquid Paper, a staple for every typist in the pre-word processor days. After a stint in the Air Force, Nesmith started working the folk music scene, playing various clubs, including the Troubadour. In 1965 he auditioned for what would become The Monkees.
The Monkees aired on NBC from 1966 through 1968. The band, which despite its artificial creation, was a genuine music ensemble, was a unique phenomenon in pop music. While multiple artists in the rock’n’roll era had used television stardom as a springboard for their music career, most noticeable Ricky Nelson, The Monkees were a fictional band, albeit one in which the members more or less played themselves. The finest songwriters and studio musicians provided the band’s sound, its members initially adding almost nothing but vocals, which irked all members to no end. Led by Nesmith, The Monkees eventually forced their way into both instrumental and songwriting entries on the string of records the band released during its relatively brief and wildly popular existence.
Nesmith’s songwriting skill was amply demonstrated in 1967, when The Stone Poneys, featuring Linda Ronstadt on lead vocals, took his song “Different Drum” into the Top 20.
Nesmith penned several songs for The Monkees, including “You Just May Be The One.”
Post-Monkees, Nesmith dove into the then-barely birthed country-rock genre, along the way producing this 1970 hit.
In subsequent years Nesmith added video and filmmaking to his resume. His 1982 combination of music videos and sketch comedy segments Elephant Parts won a Grammy. Nesmith also participated in various Monkees reunion efforts on stage and in the recording studio.
The Monkees was mandatory viewing every Monday evening in my house during its three seasons on the air. Its mix of goofy humor and top-flight music earned the show and the band, real or not, a permanent place in my then-quite youthful heart. To this day, when a Monkees song comes on the oldies station, the dial stays there until the end. The band is almost completely gone; Mickey Dolenz is now the sole living member. But the laughter, and the songs, remain. Godspeed, Michael Nesmith.