A match made in (someplace far from) Heaven

Mickey Dolenz lays out the fascinating backstory to one of the most peculiar chapters in rock and roll history.

The odd pairing might have been doomed from the start, given the two artists’ very different audiences. But Dolenz had been a fan of Hendrix since the guitar god was still known as “Jimmy James” and performing in Greenwich Village nightclubs with the Blue Flames. “It was 1966 or so, and the Monkees were in New York on a press junket,” he recalls of the first time he saw Hendrix live. “Someone said, ‘You gotta come down to the Village and check this cat out.’ The actual act was, I think, the John Hammond Band or something. But when we went down there, I remember sitting in the front row and there was this young kid, and he was playing guitar with his teeth! I didn’t even know his name at the time. I don’t even know if he was introduced, but he was going under the name Jimmy James at that point. He was just great.”

When Dolenz witnessed Hendrix’s iconic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (a year later), he recalls, “All of a sudden this act comes on, not very well known yet, but very flamboyant — the clothes, the music. And I said, ‘Hey, that’s the guy that plays guitar with his teeth!’ I recognized him. And so simultaneously, just by coincidence really, we were looking for an opening act for our first tour. So, I suggested the Jimi Hendrix Experience to our producers, because obviously it was incredible music, but also very theatrical. And the Monkees were a theatrical act, if you really examine it. I guess that’s why it made sense to me. I just thought it would make a great mix.”

Apparently the admiration wasn’t mutual at first, as Hendrix had previously blasted the Monkees in the U.K. press, describing their music to Melody Maker as “dishwater” and saying, “Oh God, I hate them!” But once the Monkees’ “people went to his people,” says Dolenz, “Chas Chandler and everyone thought it was a good idea.” And so, on July 8 — less than a month after Hendrix had been the breakout star of Monterey Pop — the Jimi Hendrix Experience joined the Monkees for their first joint tour date in Jacksonville, Fla.

While the audience was vicious and unwelcoming, Dolenz was too wrapped up in watching Hendrix’s electric stage show to actually notice what was transpiring in the venue. “I didn’t even pay attention to what the audience reaction was, because I was just mesmerized by Jimi and his art,” he confesses. “We were just blown away by him every night — I know Nez [the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith] especially was. We would just stand in the wings in awe. I was fascinated by Jimi’s showmanship, by his persona. All I knew was, I liked it. And to this day, I don’t care much what people thought.”

Hendrix apparently did care what people thought, as he decided to quit the Monkees’ tour just eight days later, after dates in Miami, North Carolina, and a three-night run at New York City’s Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Later, a seemingly bitter Hendrix told British music paper the NME that he’d been replaced by “Mickey Mouse.” Dolenz can neither deny nor confirm the longstanding rumor that Hendrix flipped the bird at the combative crowd during that final NYC show, though he quips, “I’ve never seen evidence of that rumor, but if it’s true, he certainly ain’t the first person to flip off an audience.”

In retrospect, Dolenz says he “wasn’t totally surprised” that the Monkees/Hendrix tour didn’t work out. “It was just night and day,” he admits of their clashing musical styles. “And we all knew, because he was fairly unknown at the time, that those thousands and thousands of kids were there to see the Monkees. Jimi knew that too.” As for whether he thinks the negative reaction Hendrix received had anything to do with racism, he insists, “No, it had to do with the fact that these fans had spent so much of their money to see the headliners. And if fans like that are really, really anxious and passionate, they’ll make their feelings known.”

Despite Hendrix’s poor reception, reservations about joining the tour in the first place, and that NME shade, he and the Monkees did hit it off, getting up to all sorts of rock ‘n’ roll adventures during their week on the road. “We spent a lot of time together. We went to clubs and wandered around aimlessly, and sometimes non-aimlessly,” says Dolenz fondly. “We got along great and had a great time. We partied; we hung around in the hotel rooms jamming and just singing, having little aftershow parties. I remember once we went to the Electric Circus in New York, a very famous psychedelic place back then.

The article comes complete with a cool photo of Hendrix sitting on a hotel-room bed beside Mike Nesmith, with one of Nesmith’s beautiful Gretsches in hand and Peter Tork looking on in what could only have been stunned delight. A friend of mine, a big Monkees fan back in her pre-teen years, told me once about how her mom had taken her to the disastrous Charlotte show, although she claimed to have little recollection of any details now. I kinda felt sorry for her, actually.

The story of horribly ill-considered combinations of headliners and support acts is a long and old one in the music biz, at just about every level. I’ve been on both sides of that same brand of miserable mismatch more than once my own self, just as any other road-dog touring act either has or will sooner or later. It’s almost inevitable if you’re out there long enough, just part of the game, and can even be looked back on with a certain fond amusement once the passage of time has healed the painful wound. But the legendary Hendrix/Monkees misfire is definitely one for the ages.

7 thoughts on “A match made in (someplace far from) Heaven

  1. I think the mismatch enigma gets answered here. The actual Monkees were not the teen boy band act they were billed as. Dolenz and Nesmith were especially aware of the fact that they had more talent than what they had achieved thus far with the Monkees. Nesmith eventually went on to write several songs that became hits for other artists. He also had a pioneer act in the burgeoning Country Rock genre in the late 60’s that eventually peaked with the Eagles. Dolenz sang for real with the Monkees and on a good portion of their hit songs. Looking back, it’s really good performances he gave as lead singer.

    The same thing was true of David Cassidy. He hated his Partridge Family persona and would turn his guitar up during breaks and start playing Jimi Hendrix style.
    His father was a film and singing star and he actually had talent.

    I imagine if Elvis Costello fans early on knew about his country music leanings and Bachrach penchant his reputation might have faltered too.

    Bottom Line: Too many acts get pigeonholed and yet have talent and ability to “break out” elsewhere. This often results in them admiring artists doing something radically different than their own music, just because they just like real talent.

    Can’t get much more far afield than the Monkees and the Jimi Hendrix Experience audiences though.

  2. I was at a Van Halen show and the organizers had Dio followed by Loverboy followed by Van Halen.

    Loverboy was thrilled to get off the stage. Loverboy following Ronnie James Dio? The crowd did not appreciate.

      1. Utterly agree. Dio had a record signing the day before the show, and I even asked him about it (after waiting in line for an hour). His response?

        “We take turns. They were up first in the last show.”

        1. It looks like it was the 1986 Tour after VH released 5150. Probably the first tour with Hagar.
          Looking at album sales both Dio and Loverboy had their biggest albums behind them and had been fading.
          If I were Loverboy I would just insist on going first. Let Dio and VH be the headliners and try to win some new fans.
          They let Ego get the best of them i think.

  3. About six or seven years ago the wife and I went to see an Emmylou Harris  performance followed by a John Prine performance at Red Rock Amphitheater outside Denver. What I found odd was how the audience basically ignored Emmylou Harris’ show (I always thought she was super popular). People were constantly getting up and moving about chatting with other folks, or went off to get beer or snacks, or have a smoke up at the back, and there was a noticeable buzz of conversation all around. When John Prine came on it was rapt attention all around. The contrast, for me, was pretty striking.

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