On his recently released debut solo album, former Squeeze front man Glenn Tilbrook sings, "The Monkees weren't a real band, but I still love them."
It's a sentiment that probably speaks for millions of music fans, who long ago fell for the prime-time primates, and refuse to let issues like authenticity and organic band interplay get in the way of those feelings.
The Monkees phenomenon has often been confusing for Peter Tork. A hard-core Greenwich Village folkie purist in the early '60s, seeing himself become famous for faking it on TV had to have been a serious mind fuck. But Tork, while probably the most hippy-dippy of the Monkees, might also have been the most practical. He was the first to quit, after the 1968 box-office rejection of the film Head made it clear that the Monkees were yesterday's papers. And he was the first back on board in 1986 when the Monkees' "rediscovery" on MTV made a tour a commercial necessity.
But what Tork really gets off on these days is playing blues and R&B covers with a modest four-man combo he put together in 1994. Going by the name Shoe Suede Blues, the group is a loose, rough-hewn bar band with no delusions of anything more. Amiably lending his "Shades of Grey" pipes to war-horses like "Hitchhike" and "Cross-Cut Saw," Tork plays the gracious crowd-pleaser, as he always did with the Monkees. The crowds might be smaller, and the units might not shift at the same rate, but he also doesn't have Don Kirshner breathing down the neck of his banjo anymore.
"The gutbucket stuff that always interested me was the blues," Tork says. "I just didn't think I had what it took to do it. I don't know why I couldn't dedicate myself to it then, but I can now, insofar as I'm ready to dedicate myself to anything."
Tork particularly loves to tell the story of a woman who went to see Shoe Suede Blues open for the Monkees in 1997. After the show, she told one of Tork's bandmates that although she'd gone to see the headliners, Tork's blues band had changed her life. "You dine out on that psychically for a week," Tork says with a laugh. Betcha no one ever told Davey Jones that his jockey work changed their life.
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