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Monkees singer-songwriter Michael Nesmith dies at 78: musicians react

Michael Nesmith
(Image credit: Gems/Redferns)

Monkees singer, songwriter and guitarist Michael Nesmith has passed away from heart failure at the age of 78. 

Micky Dolenz, that last surviving member of the band paid tribute saying, "I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost a dear friend and partner. I’m so grateful that we could spend the last couple of months together doing what we loved best – singing, laughing, and doing shtick.

"I’ll miss it all so much. Especially the shtick."

In November, the pair had completed what was billed at the Monkees' farewell tour, ending at the Greek Theatre in Los Angles on 14 November.  

Alongside Dolenz and Nesmith, the four-piece also included Peter Tork and English actor/singer Davy Jones. While they reunited for periods over the years, and Dolenz would reactivate the name with other musician, the height of the Monkees fame came between their formation in 1966 and 1970. The band was originally formed to star in The Monkees TV comedy series, inspired by the Beatles' Hard Day's Night, that ran between 1968 and 1970.

Its success would make The Monkees one of the most popular groups of their time with huge hits including I'm A Believer, Last Train To Clarksville, Pleasant Valley Sunday and Daydream Believer.

Nesmith penned acclaimed songs for the band including Listen To The Band and The Girl I Knew Somewhere and his 12-string and vocal harmonies loomed large in their sound. Gretsch even built him a custom 12-string electric guitar to use in the band. 

"Gretsch was my guitar of choice," Nesmith told Australian Musician in 2019. "I had gotten the idea of playing a Country Gentleman from Harrison playing it with the Beatles.  

"That lead to conversations with Fred Gretsch," he added. "I said, 'Can you make one of these Country Gentlemen into a 12-string?'"  

He was far more talented than given credit for

Gary Newman

“I’m sorry to hear about Mike Nesmith. The Monkees had some great songs, those were fun days,” tweeted Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson. “Love & Mercy to Mike’s family and friends.”

WOW! Sometimes it’s hard to know why someone’s passing hits you a certain way but this is another one that hit me,” Kiss singer/guitarist Paul Stanley tweeted in shock. “I watch my world change as people that I thought to be timeless pass on, and that is sobering. Lives end and life goes on. RIP Mike Nesmith.”

Michael Nesmith

Nesmith onstage in 1974 (Image credit: Gus Stewart/Redferns)

“This is sad news,” tweeted musician Gary Numan in his own tribute. “When I was about nine or ten my friends and I formed a ‘band’ called The Monkee Juniors. We mimed to The Monkees records in people houses in our street for sweet money. I was the Mike Nesmith in the line-up. He was far more talented than given credit for.”

Nesmith's talents stretched beyond music. He was executive producer of the 1984 film Repo Man and won a Grammy Award for his hour-long music and comedy TV show Elephant Parts in 1981. 

He also produced the videos for Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel and Lionel Richie's All Night Long. 

Nesmith became one of the pioneers of country Rock formed the First National Band in 1969, writing most of their songs including the single Joanne. He last toured with the band in the US in 2019. 

The musician continued to be inspired by music. "I live in a world of music, in a house of music; a planet, a star of music," he told Australian Musician in 2019. "It goes on in my head all the time. And people say' 'How do you write a song?' and I say, to their surprise usually, 'I'm writing a song right now and if I started singing you'd recognise it as a song right now. Not one you know because I've just made it up but there's something about music in my life that if like food to a starving man. 

"Everything comes right when I'm playing music. The phrase is, the devil has no access to the singing man… I love that idea. Sure enough it's true. When I start singing the world is golden too."

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MusicRadar Team

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