By Damian Fanelli
Like a lot of Guitar Aficionado and Guitar World editors, I'm a guitar player.
I've toured with a few bands, played back-to-back shows in San Diego and San Jose (what a horrible idea that was), played blues in Austin and Peoria, surf rock in Los Angeles and Louisville and Brooklyn-flavored jump-blues in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
These days, however, I'm usually hauling my Strat, Tele, Jazzmaster or Gretsch Silver Jet to local gigs in New York or New Jersey.
I'm in two bands: Mister Neutron, a heavy-trad instrumental surf rock trio, and the Blue Meanies, a six-piece cover band that plays mostly Beatles, Byrds, Yardbirds, Cream, CCR, Moody Blues, Wings, the Band and more — with an occasional emphasis on the Monkees.
Yes, the Monkees.
It doesn't take a barrel of brain power to deduce that the Monkees recorded — and wrote — some incredible songs. I like to think I add something unique to their music by adapting my Fender Nashville B-Bender Telecaster to a lot of the tunes, especially songs written by the countrified Michael Nesmith. It's actually very fun to play pedal steel parts on a six-string!
The Blue Meanies have performed Monkees tribute shows around the country, including marathon sets at NYC's B.B. King Blues Club, shows at Abbey Road on the River in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., and events at music academies and other semi-interesting joints.
Earlier this month, however, for one night only, I went from being one of four guitarists in a Monkees tribute band to being the only guitarist in a band supporting two actual Monkees — Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz.
The venue was the massive David T. Jones Memorial Monkees Convention in New Jersey. The band was put together by David Alexander, who played keyboards in the Monkees' touring band last year, spent years in Jones' band and now is in Dolenz's band. We had Alexander on keyboards and vocals, fellow Monkees-universe veterans Johnny J. Blair on bass, Rich Dart on drums, Aviva Maloney on keys and horns — and me on guitar.
I got the set list a few days before the show and dealt with last-minute song and key changes in the hotel room by doing some serious cramming with fellow Blue Meanie Gary Owen (and by cramming some serious coffee into my head).
And then it started.
We began — Monkee-free — with a Davy Jones tribute set that included "She Hangs Out," "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," "Valleri" (complete with the Louie Shelton guitar solo), "It's Not Too Late," "Let Them Be Little" and "Girl," which can be heard in Jones' classic appearance on The Brady Bunch. It's all a little hazy now, but at some point, Gary DeCarlo of Steam came up to sing Steam's 1969 hit, "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," followed by Deanna Martin (Dean Martin's daughter), who sang two Dino tunes, and Jennifer Anne Alexander, who sang "What Are We Going to Do," one of Jones' pre-Monkees songs.
Suddenly, a Stratocaster-wielding Peter Tork hit the stage and claimed the Music Man combo I had been playing through. After I moved to a Fender Twin, we played some original blues in G (See the video below) followed by a few Monkees tunes, including "Shades of Gray" and "Early Morning Blues and Greens."
Then Micky Dolenz joined the band, and we finished the set powerfully with the Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (after which Dolenz gave me a high five and said, "Hi, I'm Micky!"), "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "I'm a Believer" (Check out the video below).
During all this, someone brought a birthday cake onto the stage. Or maybe I just dreamed that.
All in all, it was an incredible night, one that I'll remember for a while.
There's something intriguing about when people in tribute bands get to perform with the people to whom they pay tribute — something off-kilter and bizarre. I guess I felt like Mark Wahlberg in Rock Star! (Maybe I should actually see that movie at some point to know for sure.) Now if only someone would give my email address to Paul McCartney, Jimmie Vaughan or Jeff Beck.
OK, one more thing about my evening with the Monkees:
The guitar I used that night was a Gibson Custom Shop 1960 Les Paul that once belonged to Tim Sult of Maryland-based, blues-tinged, heavy rock band Clutch. When I found out GuitarWorld.com freelancer Andrew Bansal of Metal Assault was interviewing Sult about Clutch's new album, Earth Rocker, I asked him to mention our mutual Les Paul (which he's playing in the photo below). Here's how it went:
Damian told me he bought a Gibson Custom Shop 1960 Les Paul in Falls Church, Virginia — and you were its previous owner. Why did you get rid of that guitar?
Well, sometimes I just freak out and get sick of guitars and sell them just to buy another one. Those Les Pauls are so expensive. I’d love to keep them all around, but if I want to buy one, I pretty much have to sell one before doing that. He must have bought it at Action Music in Virginia. That’s the one I played on the Bakerton Group's El Rojo album. Oh, you know what? Now I remember why I sold it. I used that guitar on the Live at The 9:30 Club DVD, and at the time I thought it sounded way too clean. I wanted to go for a heavier sound.
Damian used that guitar on stage with Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees earlier this month. So it went from Clutch to the Monkees in just over a year!
Interesting! The Monkees was probably the second concert I ever went to when I was a kid [laughs]. I’m glad it went to a good owner, because that’s a pretty good guitar, and sometimes I regret selling that one.
Keep Up with Dolenz, Tork, Nesmith and the Blue Meanies:
Michael Nesmith just kicked off a solo US tour. Visit videoranch3d.com for all the dates. Peter Tork will tour in May and June, including a May 5 show at New York City's Iridium Jazz Club. Visit petertork.com for his complete itinerary. Keep up with Micky Dolenz at mickydolenz.com. Follow the Blue Meanies on Facebook.
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar Aficionado and Guitar World. Follow him on Twitter.