Micky Dolenz and Todd Rundgren are both aware there's a bit of irony in having a Monkee be part of a Beatles tribute tour. But Dolenz is confident audiences will know he's not monkeying around when the new tour It Was Fifty Years Ago Today Tour 2019: A Tribute to The Beatles White Album hits the road on Sept. 21 in Atlantic City, NJ.
"There was actually a very good relationship between (the Beatles) and us," Dolenz tells Billboard. He has warm memories, in fact, of attending recording sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at Abbey Road studios and hanging out with John Lennon and Ringo Starr in Los Angeles during the early '70s — with the latter as part of the famed Hollywood Vampires softball team/drinking club. "I put that (relationship) down to the fact that the Beatles got it. They got what the Monkees was about, which was not a group but a TV show about a group that wanted to be the Monkees. They related to us as other creative people, not as another band — the 'Prefab Four' or anything like that."
Rundgren acknowledges that, like many, he viewed the Monkees as "essentially a synthesized product" back in the '60s. But he's equally certain it won't have much bearing on the show, which will feature The Beatles album in its entirety. "Whenever you get an opportunity to play classic music, you usually take it — especially if you've spent a lot of your life being a Beatles fan," says Rundgren, who was part of the A Walk Down Abbey Road tour also produced by the New York-based Flower Power Concerts Inc.
Besides Dolenz and Rundgren, It Was Fifty Years Ago Today includes Badfinger alumnus Joey Molland, former Chicago bassist Jason Scheff and Christopher Cross, while Gil Assayas, who was part of Rundgren's 2018 Utopia reunion tour, will play keyboards. The vocalists will also be playing some of their own hits and have divided up the individual songs from The Beatles — or "fave raves" as Dolenz calls them — with Rundgren getting "the kind of fringe material, which is fine with me." That will include "Buffalo Bill," "Sexy Sadie" and "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey," as well as "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Helter Skelter" — the latter of which Rundgren regards as "a dumb song…just a throwaway. It goes on and on and on with nothing happening, just for the sake of hurting Ringo's hands. And it has one of the worst guitar solos anyone recorded, ever." Rundgren's overall assessment of The Beatles, in fact, is decidedly ambivalent.
"A lot of people forget what their first reaction was because of their nostalgia for the band," Rundgren says. "For a lot of us it was a precursor to the breakup of the band, and in that sense, it was almost an upsetting record to listen to. We learned later that all four guys playing at the same time was a relative rarity for that record and that it was put together piecemeal and it was everybody working separately on their own thing. That was the omen everybody was getting antsy to go their own way. The upside of that, I suppose, is it gave each of them a greater degree of freedom — which was especially beneficial, I think, for George Harrison because that was probably the most George Harrison material that appeared on a record up to that point.
"As it turns out there was some collective vision left because Abbey Road turned out to be one of the best records they ever made, but (The Beatles) was kind of a downer."
Dolenz isn't giving away his selections yet and will only say "I'm very happy with what I ended up with." His own view of The White Album meanwhile, is it "was pretty unique in many ways. It was very diversified, as you know, so it's hard to say. There was so much good stuff. Frankly I was just always a big Beatles fan. I loved every album and listened to them religiously."
Fifty Years Ago Today has two legs, an east coast run that wraps Oct. 20 and another week of dates during December. Dolenz, who toured earlier this year with Monkees mate Michael Nesmith, will return to doing his own shows as well as to his boutique furniture business. Rundgren, meanwhile, is planning to release a collaboration with Mike Keneally this fall while a second album of collaborations akin to 2017's White Knight is coming in spring of 2020.
The full It Was Fifty Years Ago Today itinerary includes:
Sept 21 – Atlantic City, NJ – Golden Nugget
Sept 28 – Akron, OH – Akron Civic Theatre
Sept 29 – Danville, KY – Norton Center
Oct 1 – St. Charles, IL – Arcadia Theater
Oct 2 – Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater
Oct 5 – Beverly, MA – Cabot Theater
Oct 6 – Concord, NH – Capitol Center For The Arts
Oct 7 – Orono, ME – Collins Center For The Arts
Oct 8 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
Oct 10 – Staten Island, NY – St. George Theater
Oct 11 – Boston, MA – Berklee PAC
Oct 12 – Westbury, NY – Theatre @ Westbury
Oct 13 – Morristown, NJ – Mayo PAC
Oct 15 – Glenside, PA – Keswick Theatre
Oct 17 – Red Bank, NJ – Count Basie Theater
Oct 18 – New London, CT – Garde Arts Center
Oct 20 – Washington, DC – Warner Theatre
December 4, 2019 – Grand Prarie, TX Verizon Wireless Theatre
December 6, 2019 – Phoenix, AZ Celebrity Theatre
December 7, 2019 – Las Vegas, NV Westgate
December 8, 2019 – El Cajon, CA Magnolia PAC
December 11, 2019 – Los Angeles, CA The Wiltern