R.I.P. Peter Tork of The Monkees
Image: AP Photo / Ray Howard
Casting The Monkees was a difficult task, Eddie Foy III told Archive of American Television. "It was a carnival of freaks," he said, describing the types of actors and musicians turning out for the auditions. Then Michael Nesmith caught the eye of someone while standing on his head in his signature wool cap, and later a cute guy named Micky Dolenz lied to Foy that he could play drums, but when it came to Peter Tork, he was the only Monkee other than Davy Jones that the studio sought out to hire, on recommendation of a musician that Tork had worked with while coming up in the folk scene in New York City.
That musician was Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame, and when his own audition for The Monkees didn't go so well, Foy said that Stills was the one who pointed producers to a little nightclub in Long Beach, California, called The Golden Bear. That's where they found Peter Tork, Foy said, in the same restaurant that hosted Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. And though The Monkees weren't allowed to play their own music, once the band evolved beyond the show, the multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork would eventually come to be known at live shows as one of the least predictable parts of the act, wearing outrageous outfits and being a general ray of sunshine to see live, likely instincts all stemming from his long history as a musician and performer.
In the band and on TV, Tork played keyboards and also bass (despite being much more proficient at guitar), lending a distinct charm with each offbeat bassline. You can thank him, though, for other key musical contributions, including that piano intro on "Daydream Believer" and the picking banjo on "You Told Me" (a charging song clearly penned by Michael Nesmith). His songwriting credits include "For Pete's Sake" off Headquarters and the goofy "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" off Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
On The Monkees TV show, Peter was dubbed the naive one, and they'd give his character great gimmicks like finger guns that actually worked. As an actor, he'd appear in a handful of bit parts in the 1990s on shows like Boy Meets World (he played Topanga's hippie dad), California Dreams and 7th Heaven, but for the most part after the show ended, Tork would focus on music, collaborating with George Harrison in the 1960s and forming his own bands and projects that occasionally featured other Monkees like Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith. Then, to the delight of fans, came the Monkees reunion tours and albums, including last year's Christmas album.
On February 21, Peter Tork passed away at the age of 77.