Segarini – Michael Nesmith

Editor’s Note -Due to circumstances beyond my control, I cannot finish this tonight. I will finish it up within the next 24 hours and repost the finished column. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I am sad and gutted due to Michael Nesmith’s passing, and I am angry and frustrated with the ongoing computer problems and other stress plaguing me at this time. My apologies for that, and my sincere condolences to all of you who cared for this man and his talent.

The irony of this moment is not lost on me.

After researching and working on a column addressing the “Get Back” documentary and the realities of John Paul George and Ringo at the time it was filmed to give it some context for well over a week, I was stopped in my tracks by the sudden unexpected loss of one of my heroes.

A hero who also needs some context, and whose body of work matches if not surpasses The Beatles influence on my life.

The Beatles can wait until next week …after 60 years, I don’t think another 7 days will matter.

Old news to Nesmith fans, but Yes, his mother did invent White Out, so unlike the members of the Beatles, Nesmith didn’t grow up below the poverty line, looking for a way to get out of the projects and escape the drizzle of a dull and pointless career mining coal or selling insurance or bagging groceries at Von’s or waiting tables at Hamburger Hamlet.

Yes, we all loved ol’ Wool Hat, the “smart” Monkee/John Lennon of the Pre-Fab Four, but his tenure in that institution isn’t why he was and is an inspiration and a hero.

There was so much more to him, starting with a childhood spent with his mostly single mother, (she was briefly married twice), to his quitting high school and joining the Air Force, finishing his high school accreditation while still in the service, and setting out in civilian life to become a singer/songwriter.

And, boy, could he sing.

He first recorded as “Michael Blessing” and appeared on Lloyd Thaxton’s Bandstand-like TV show singing a song newly written by Canadian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the first to record it before Elvis Presley and all the other artists who would cover this beautiful piece of music.

One of Nesmith’s early songs was recorded by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and became a blues standard covered by several other artists. Butterfield was produced by Paul Rothschild, another friend and neighbor who lived one street up from me in Laurel Canyon on Ridpath.

Another Nesmith penned tune (originally covered by folk group The Greenbrier Boys) was a hit by a group called Stone Poneys. Their lead singer was Hollywood Hottie/Troubadour regular, Linda Ronstadt and at some point the band also contained a few future Eagles. When they played The Hullabaloo nightclub on Sunset across the street from the Hollywood Palladium (home at the time to both Hollywood Palace and The Lawrence Welk Show), I was standing between scrims next to the revolving stage (one band would play themselves off while the next artist played themselves on …the music never stopped) while the house band (The Palace Guard featuring Emmitt Rhodes rolled out of view and Linda rolled in. There were 4 or 5 of us standing in the wings next to the stage, including a beaming Michael Nesmith.

Nesmith’s songwriting output was offered for consideration while he was in the Monkees …but they were mostly rejected as not right for the band. He only managed one hit with The Monkees, “You Told Me”. but a few others, including “Listen to the Band”, barely made a dent …they didn’t fare well as “Monkee” songs. The handling of the material he submitted to The Monkees must have been beyond frustrating to him. In order to accommodate Colgems perception of the Monkees audience, they were mangled into what amounted to Beatlefied grade D rip-offs, one that did well, was so blatant, it became nothing more than a badly written re-write of “Taxman”.

After the Monkees, his musical endeavours became a series of terrific country-pop records, performed by himself and hand picked players, and released under a couple of different band names. His biggest hit came with this gem.

His self effacing humour allowed him to make fun of himself without embarrassment, a trait more “rockstars” should cultivate.

Witness the short parody of “Joanne” from Elephant Parts contained in this 1983 interview with David Letterman.

Still, like everyone else obsessed with both rock AND roll, and the attraction of anything Beatlesque, I watched The Monkees faithfully every week, but soon lost interest in the music. “Last Train to Clarksville”, written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, was the first, and best song in the Monkee catalogue. Tommy was a friend back then, and I have always remembered his advice to me; “Write what you know”.

Nesmith was writing wonderful songs, but they weren’t right for the Monkee mileiu …their worth would become evident later in his career.

No, it wasn’t the music that brought me back to The Monkees every week.

It was the humour.

A Mashup of the Marx Brothers and the Beatles public persona, it was driven by Nesmith’s wry, droll, sarcastic wit, evident not only in his words, but in his perfect smirk and wide-eyed innocent demeanor. While the other three pratfell and Benny Hill-ed physical silliness, Nesmith, as often as he was allowed, remained laconic, smart-mouthed, and ever so slightly sardonic.

He made me laugh.

After the Monkees faded into semi obscurity (so tragic …as they were becoming an actual band and playing well), they had begun recording less filler and more well written material, when the TV series was cancelled. Bill Drake top 40 stations stopped playing their releases, a knee-jerk decision that was a big mistake then, and a thoughtless, stupid thing to do). They could have toured and continued to sell records for years. Drake assumed they would disappear with no TV show, not realizing that rock band fans are forever.

 The Family Tree (pictured here at RCA), my first recording band met the Monkees in early 1967 when we started to record at RCA’s Hollywood studios where the Monkees also recorded. They were in one of the smaller studios every day, rehearsing constantly to become a better live band and be able to play on their next album, “Headquarters”, without so many studio musicians underfoot. They were extremely dedicated, and serious about their music. We jammed with them a few times, got into a water gun fight that escalated into an all out war that was stopped by RCA security when we started taking fire extinguishers off of the walls while a photographer ran after us in the halls who then sold the pictures and a ridiculous story to one of the teen magazines. It was a great time, and they were great guys, deserving of much more respect than they ever got. As Nesmith pointed out years later, “ We were actors that became a band, Robert Young (Marcus Welby M.D) never became a real doctor.”, which I’ve seen quoted as “We were actors not a band, and Marcus Welby isn’t a real doctor.” Either way, they became a band and remain a very interesting story. A year after the Monkees broke up, I would find myself living across the street from Mickey Dolenz, who was as fine a neighbor as you could hope for.

Mickey and I shared some good times together, Harry (Nilsson), Dolenz and I had a few adventures, but I had always hoped that Nesmith would pop in to see Mickey and I’d get a chance to get to know him. Unfortunately, no other Monkee came to visit Mickey while we were neighbors.

MORE TO COME – WATCH THIS SPACE

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Segarini’s regular columns invite you to buy art by the pound, enjoy Elvis Drugs, Fly down to Rio, Dance in the Dark, and don’t catch Bee Gees Disease

Please leave any comments in the “Reply” section below

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Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

2 Responses to “Segarini – Michael Nesmith”

  1. Warren Cosford Says:

    I’m surp;rised you didn’t write about Nesmith’s influence on City-TV. It was you who introduced us to what he was doing at the time.

    • Hi, Warren …funny you should say that. Was unable to finish the column yesterday, and am updating it now. …working on the very subject you bring up here. You even get quoted.
      You’ll get an email when it’s posted.

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