Peter Tork is as busy entertaining audiences today as he was when he started to “Monkee around” in 1966. One-fourth of the Monkees, a made-for-TV pop-rock band whose 58 sitcom episodes aired on NBC for two years before syndication perpetuated its legacy, Tork has taken a new solo show on the road.
“In This Generation: My Life in the Monkees and So Much More” comes to the River Club Music Hall in Scituate on Saturday.
What can patrons expect?
“A fly-by by the Royal Canadian Air Force, elephants, circus acts — the usual stuff,” Tork, an articulate storyteller, joked during a phone interview from his home near Storrs, Conn. “No, seriously, it’s a solo show and I’ll be on stage with my guitar, a banjo, and piano, telling stories and singing songs. It’s pretty much a personal history.”
Employing photo projections, Tork will feature previously unseen photos and footage, as well as songs not heard in public. Now 71, Tork will trace his musical career from its Greenwich Village folk roots to friend Stephen Stills’s encouragement to respond to a casting call that culminated in “The Monkees” television series modeled after the Beatles, to the present.
In Tork’s one-man show, one song begins on screen and segues to a live finish by Tork on stage. A dramatic highlight, Tork calls it “technological interplay.”
Tork will sing some Monkees songs in full, others in partial versions. He’ll also perform tunes he wrote before, during, and after the Monkees TV program, as well as a sampling of bluesy offerings from his band Shoe Suede Blues. SSB has been performing for more than a dozen years and is currently promoting the new album “Step by Step.”
The River Club will be the fifth venue to host Tork’s solo show, which debuted May 3 to an enthusiastic reception at the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo, N.Y. The “Generation” tour will have embraced 17 shows in 15 venues when it wraps up June 14 in San Francisco.
Tork and the two other surviving Monkees — Micky Dolenz, 68, and Michael Nesmith, 70 — recently announced a 2013 Monkees reunion tour, 24 dates from July 15 in Port Chester, N.Y., to Aug. 18 in Portland, Ore. Labeled “A Midsummer’s Night With the Monkees,” the reunion tour will hit Boston July 16, at the Wang Theatre.
Tork will also schedule a set of shows by Shoe Suede Blues, featuring Tork as lead singer, Arnold Jacks on bass, Joe Boyle on guitar, and Sturgis Cunningham playing drums.
The Monkees stem from 1965, when the pilot was produced in advance of the TV program’s production run from 1966 to 1968. Syndication followed, and concerts were played to screaming crowds around the world until the quartet’s breakup in 1971. Reunion tours and albums cropped up, and five decades later the Monkees remain a viable institution.
“Once we got done making the [TV] pilot,” said Tork, a Washington, D.C., native whose real name is Peter Halsten Thorkelson, “I was able to tell a friend that if this thing goes at all, it’s going to be very big because I could see that the producers had their hands on the levers of power. They knew which end was up with all of these things.”
After years of reruns and a brief period of waning public attention, MTV aired a 20th anniversary “Pleasant Valley Sunday” marathon in 1986. MTV ran all of the foursome’s TV episodes and the Monkees phenomenon was revived. That triggered reunion dates in 12 of the next 27 years.
Tork said he was “exhilarated” when the TV show struck a positive chord with 1966-68 viewers.
“We were very lucky to have a great songbook,” Tork said, citing songwriters such as Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, “and we all contributed songs ourselves.”
Among the Monkees’ biggest hits were “I’m a Believer” (by Diamond), “Daydream Believer” (by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio), “Last Train to Clarksville” (Boyce and Hart), and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin and King). The show-opening “Theme From the Monkees (‘Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees’)” was penned by Boyce and Hart.
“So the best of us plus the best of a really good crew and we had some good songs,” Tork said. “I think the Monkees’ songbook is one of the great pop songbooks of all time. Not as good as the Beatles, maybe. Maybe not as good as the [Rolling] Stones. But up there.”
Did Tork consider the Monkees equal to the Beatles in fan attraction, and reaction?
“The popularity certainly was up there, but, I think, no,” he said. “We followed in the Beatles’ footsteps. We were on television what the Beatles were worldwide. The Beatles were a cultural phenomenon. We picked up some of what they were doing and ran with it on television only. Television is not as big as the arena the Beatles dominated. They dominated not only music but were really in charge of culture for a long time.
“We weren’t anything like that. As a pop phenomenon we were quite, quite big. As a cultural leader, no. It was a thrill to be as close to them in stature as we were. But we weren’t the Beatles. We weren’t the Stones.”
When the Monkees conduct their 2013 reunion tour, it will be their second straight without Davy Jones. The diminutive Briton died Feb. 29, 2012, of a heart attack, at age 66, and there’s no replacing him.
“No, no, no, no, no. My God, no,” Tork said. “It’s three of us. Last year [after Jones’s death] we went out as a trio. The man was unique and a huge, huge talent. We’re not going to replace him. We’re not even going to do very many of the songs he sang. And when we do, it’ll be just a verse or two.
“He was such a little heartthrob. I don’t think people knew how bright and talented and gifted he was in all things. I’ve come to believe he was, in his own way, the smartest, most musically talented and best actor among us.”