Dr. David Shevin photograph

THE FIFTH MONKEE

August, 2006

I was not one of the Monroe High kids who went to hear the Monkees play the War Memorial in Rochester in ’67. Greg Lewis went, and so did Joe Schwartz. They came back from the show raving about the opening act. “You should have seen this guy play the guitar! He played it between his legs, and with his teeth, and everywhere. He had this trio. They just blew everybody away.”

That was the tour where Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees. “Some guy was trying to hassle him while he was playing, and Hendrix said -– right from the stage –- ‘I don’t tell you how to push your broom, so don’t tell me how to do my job,’” reported Greg.

It turns out that Jimi did not stay with the Monkees for that entire tour. The idea was that the record companies wanted to promote the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album, which was about to be released in the United States. Hendrix was already on the charts in England, where John Lennon first played tapes of his music for The Monkees. The latter band became immediate fans, and recruited Hendrix for the American tour. But the dynamics were not optimal for what Jimi was trying to do. He tired quickly of the adolescent white audiences at the shows screaming “We want Davey! We want Davey!” all though his performance. This accounts for that remark Greg happily reported from the concert hall to the high school.

I was telling a friend about that Monkees tour recently, and it led me to a fantasy about the culture we were in, back in ’67.

Picture where integrated entertainment stood in the popular mind in that year. While some Southern station boycotted Cosby and Culp’s “I Spy” television series a few years earlier, the program was a huge success. “Laugh-In”, with its integrated cast, was winning one Emmy after another. Diahann Carroll’s program was shortly to go into production. In music, Paul Butterfield’s albums –- a white blues band with a black rhythm section – was doing well on the charts. The Chambers Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone presented racially mixed models for the crowd, with bands like Pacific Gas and Electric hitting well on the West Coast. Hendrix’s altogether new take on psychedilia fronted a black guitarist, with a rhythm section as white and British as Monkee Davey Jones.

Too, those Monkees, those ever-so-popular Monkees, were successful enough that they were to create their own venture into psychedelia not too much later: the critically acclaimed and professionally disastrous film “Head”.

Comes now all of those factors in place: the television medium, like the music industry, was moving the direction of black-white ensembles; the television band was awed with Hendrix, who had not yet established his American audience; the television studio, like the music studio, would both eliminate the disruptions of the unprepared audience; television budgets far outstripped the incomes of the concert stages. Would it be that much of a stretch to imagine that either a Monkee or a producer would propose as follows: “Wow, man. I have a groovy idea. Why don’t we have a black Monkee join the band next season? That would be out of sight. Let’s see what that hot guitarist from the tour thinks of the idea.” Yes, yes. Hendrix would have been a recruit to the band that would have pleased the Monkee musicians no end. There might have even been enough artistic freedom and cash afoot for Jimi to have experimented with the idea.

I drove home after telling the story of the ’67 tour trying to picture the opening theme of the weekly comedy with the new lineup. Some silly slapstick, with Jimi’s flamboyant fashion and big old afro in the mix of mayhem. Then the theme comes up as each Monkee is pictured: Mickey, Peter, Mike, Davey, Jimi. And the reworked theme: “Hey hey, we’re the Monkees / Excuse us, while we kiss the sky.”

Why, they certainly would “get the funniest looks from everyone we meet”. Of course, this did not happen. Jimi never joined the cast. He left the tour after half the dates were played. But somewhere in another solar system, on an alternate planet much like our own, us geezers are waxing nostalgic over that lovable television product where Jimi boards the last train to Clarksville with his zany roomies, Peter, Mickey, Davey and Mike.

By David Shevin

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