Monkees bassist Peter Tork — a multi-instrumentalist who wrote or co-wrote some of the band’s most beloved deep cuts — died Thursday of unknown causes at age 77. Although he was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma (a rare form of tongue cancer) 10 years ago, he was back in action only a few years later and continued to tour with the band — in its many latter-year configurations — until 2016.
As recently as October 2018, Tork reassured fans about his health via his Facebook page. “While it is true that my health has required a little more attention these days, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m also cherishing this time with family and friends, and making music. Keep your eyes open for some possible web concerts with friends and other musicians; we’ll see what comes down the pipeline. As for the rest, thanks for your good wishes. This is a private time and I won’t be posting updates.”
Although fellow Monkees Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith sang most of the band’s biggest hits in the Sixties, Tork is responsible for several outstanding tracks in the band’s catalog, including “For Pete’s Sake,” which served as the soundtrack to the end credits on the band’s eponymous hit TV show, and “Can You Dig It?” which he wrote and sang. He also wrote or co-wrote several other fan favorites including “No Time,” “Goin’ Down” and the extra-bizarre “Zilch.”
Although several members of the band were already accomplished songwriters and musicians when The Monkees hit the air in 1966, Jones, Dolenz, Nesmith and Tork often were told which songs they’d be recording — and they weren’t even invited to play on their early sessions.
“I wasn't resentful because we had songs by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carole King and Neil Diamond,” Tork told Guitar World in 2013. "’Shades of Gray’ was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil — masters. We would play these songs and say, ‘Yeah, that's a good song. Let's do it.’ And that's all we cared about, really. Having great songs.
"That said, I wish we didn't have to go through the hassles we did to get to be musicians on the records. I didn't have any desire to get rid of Don Kirshner. Don had the magic touch. ‘By all means, bring us songs, Donny! We just want to be the musicians. And we can bring something extra to these records and make them more fun for the audience. You bring the songs, we bring the fun. Let's work together!’ But Donny took it personally and went off in a huff. A huff, at the time, was like a Smart Car now [laughs].”