Perhaps best remembered as the member of the Monkees who usually wore a wool hat, Robert Michael Nesmith was a much more serious musician than many thought. The comparatively level-headed member of '60s teen sensation the Monkees, Nesmith was the most proficient instrumentalist in the group and wrote their best songs, such as "Papa Gene's Blues," "You Told Me," "You Just May Be the One," and "Tapioca Tundra."
Nesmith, who was born in Houston Texas, had written many songs before even joining the group. One of his compositions, "Different Drum," was a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1968. He was also executive producer of the cult film Repo Man, and in 1981 Nesmith won the first Grammy Award given for Video of the Year for his hour-long Elephant Parts.
After he left the Monkees, he became the only one from the group to develop a successful solo career. His dozen 1970s LPs were among the most groundbreaking country-rock recordings of the era.
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Throughout the 1970s and into the '80s, Nesmith continued to record occasionally, though his communications company Pacific Arts began taking up more of his time by the early '80s. Pacific Arts proved to be an important pioneer in the development of music video, the concept he had furthered in the rough-and-tumble pace of the Monkees' TV show.
Growing up in Texas, Nesmith listened to the blues and played saxophone as a youth. After spending two years in the Air Force, he became fascinated with folk music and learned to play the guitar. He moved to Memphis to play backup on recordings for Stax-Volt, and by the mid-1960s, he was in Los Angeles, and formed the folk-rock duo Mike and John with John London. He also recorded several singles as a solo act before auditioning to join the Monkees in 1965.
Almost immediately the Monkees became one of the biggest pop groups of the late '60s. By the end of 1966, the band had notched two number one singles ("Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer") with the first two Monkees LPs spending more than 30 weeks at number one during 1966-1967.
The TV show was a big hit as well, but the group's fabricated origins and subservience to songwriting teams and session musicians betrayed them in the eyes of the rock & roll community. Nesmith led the fight to have the Monkees play instruments on and write songs for their own albums. The band's record label Colgems reluctantly agreed, and on their 1967 album Headquarters the Monkees played their own instruments, wrote eight of the 14 selections, and co-produced the album. Headquarters reached number one (and the Monkees appeared ready to finally enter the rock community with credentials.
Nesmith recording his first solo album in 1968 entitled, Wichita Train Whistle Songs, which featured new arrangements of his best-known Monkees songs. He continued with the Monkees for one more year, but then left the band in 1969. Nesmith's first act independent of the Monkees was the formation of the First National Band, with John London on bass, John Ware on drums, and one of country music's best steel guitarists, Red Rhodes.
|Nesmith and First Natonal Band|
The First National Band signed to RCA Victor and released two albums in 1970, Magnetic South and Loose Salute. The single "Joanne" hit the pop Top 25, and "Silver Moon" also charted later in the year.
Nesmith added several members for 1971's Nevada Fighter, and credited it to the Second National Band. The title track skirted the bottom of the charts for several weeks, but Nesmith proved his pop savvy yet again by providing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with their hit, "Some of Shelly's Blues." The following year, the National Band released Tantamount to Treason.
In 1977, Nesmith focused his efforts on the development of music video by creating a TV chart show called Popclips. When Warner bought the idea from him several years later, the company morphed it into MTV. During the '80s, Pacific Arts became the most important video publishing company in America, and Nesmith moved into film and TV production as well, winning the first video Grammy award in 1981 for Elephant Parts.
In 1969, Nesmith released Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma, which became his last solo album for more than 10 years. He returned to the music business in 1989, appearing with the Monkees once on stage during their reunion tour. Nesmith also released a compilation of rare solo tracks called The Newer Stuff for England's Awareness Records.
In 1992, Nesmith released his first album of new material in 13 years, Tropical Campfires. Four years later, he reunited with the Monkees again to record Justus, the first Monkees album since 1968 to feature all four original members.
Oh yeah; one other tidbit about Michael Nesmith. His grandmother invented the typing-correction fluid, "White Out." I suspect many of you have never heard of it.