As a teenager , I was working with a false I.D. in a nightclub in Virginia Beach, Virginia called the Shadows. That summer, John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot, The Modern Folk Quartet, The Gateway Trio, Dennis Dougherty and the Halifax Three, amongst many other folk luminaries, passed thru the club. The Phoenix Singers (an offshoot of the Harry Belafonte Singers) came thru and they had two back up musicians, Lance Wakely and Peter Tork.
Now the club had an open mic on Monday nights, (then called a hoot, as in hootenanny, believe it or not) and I always did a few songs, as did all the local acts. The Shadows was the club to be at; the scene to make in Virginia Beach in 1963, (tho the Beatles were about to change all of that in February of 1964.) Peter came into town early and did a guest set that night. He charmed and delighted the audience with his banjo, guitar, style and wit. We hit it off immediately and though it is now forty four years since that fateful evening, Peter and I are still the best of friends.
In 1995, Peter and I worked for eighteen months on his first solo CD, Stranger Things Have Happened, (www.petertork.com) and the label, Beachwood Recordings, at the time published a quarterly newsletter. Here is an abridged version of that interview, seen only by Beachwood Confidential subscribers over a decade ago:
Why, after all this time, do we finally have the first Peter Tork CD?
I don’t know. Shouldn’t I have ever put one out? Oh, you mean why did it take me so long? I don’t exactly know…I needed James and he couldn’t help as long as I lived in the San Francisco Bay area. That’s one thing. I suppose, too, that until recently, I wasn’t equipped psychologically.
What color is the CD?
Oh it’s all different colors, black and blue, red and speckled…my brother Nick did the artwork.
How did you come to work with your producer, James Lee Stanley?
James is about my oldest friend. No, make that my friend of longest standing. I worked with him once before, in my early days, and I thought, as a result of that experience, that it would be very good for me to work with him again. Plus, he was in the neighborhood.
How did you pick the songs?
Each one differently. Some of them I’ve had on my mind to put in my record for a long time. Others we just sort of played and started to record.
Why didn’t Davy sing on this recording ?
We actually anted him to, and we had him here in the studio, but he’d brought along Anita and his daughers, Sara, Jessie, and Annabelle, and by the time we got done talking over all the family stuff, it was time for them to go, and we never got Davy back in the studio. Incidentally, Jessie played us a piece of her own composition that was seriously good work. James and I were knocked out by it. Look for great things from her. And she’s only twelve.
Why didn’t you put Long Title on Stranger Things Have Happened?
We tried, but it’s how these things go sometimes. We weren’t happy with the way it was turning out, so we dropped it. Maybe the next solo album.
How do you write a song. What starts you off.
Pretty women start me off, and there’s no one way to write. Sometimes someone says something that sounds interesting, and you jot it down. Sometimes you find yourself humming something that you realize you haven’t exactly heard before. The hard part is “asking” for the inspiration to get the other parts, other verses, bridges, if any, etc.
Are you going on tour? When? Where?
I sure hope to. The road is my life. Where is another question. Ill tell you as I find out.
Why did you get into the music business?
Approval. Respect. Love. Girls.
How did you get into the music business?
I was in Greewich Village in 1963, with some college buddy of mine, listening to some folksinger, when my buddy said, “go back uptown and get your banjo, you can do at least as well as this character.” So I did, and I could and I never looked back.
How tall are you, really?
No, seriously? Really: 5’10”
Why have you stayed single for so long?
I had an album to make and it wouldn’t have been fair to a wife or girlfriend to have to compete with that.
Do you believe in marriage?
Sure, for the married. Me, I can’t tell you. Things have changed so much in this country in the last fifty years; it’s just possible that one marriage that lasts unto death is not what we want anymore.
So you sleep around?
Well…floors, back porches, that’s porches, not porsches…acura’s maybe.
Do you believe in anarchy?
Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
What happened to the sweet, innocent, slightly slow person that you were on TV?
I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about.
Do you plan on doing any more TV? Movies? Shopping?
Makes me an offer.
What was the happiest day of your life?
Probably the day I was able to quit drinking.
What was the saddest day of your life?
The day I quit drinking…(laughter)…no, that was a joke. Probably the day my cat got run over when I was about nine. I haven’t been close to a pet since.
What do you like better, acoustic or electric shows?
Electric generally. I like a beat, and that means drums and that means electric. It’s also easier with people to support me.
Playing piano or playing guitar?
Each for different reasons. Usually guitar for rhythm, and piano for complex or experimental harmonies.
How do you feel about sequencers and computers in the music world?
I’d rather have them there than in the laundry.
What’s the best record you ever heard? The best song? Why?
Album, Sergeant Pepper, probably. Of coure, as a Beatles fan, I was ready for every new recording that they put out. Plus the buzz was (cuz) Sgt Pepper was exceptional, even for the Fab Lads. I remember driving to David Crosby’s house—he had a copy and the great stereo, don’t cha know, and on the way I heard Fixing A Hole on the radio. Even without knowing in advance that it was Paul, I remember thinking how strong a cut it was; only to discover it wasn’t even the strongest cut on the album. Then to sit down in front of the stereo and put the album on, …well! It was one of the great experiences of art I ever hope to have. Song—Lady Madonna. It was just about the beat and the music; sort of like What A Fool Believes, where there’s just that great combination of beat, melody and instruments.
Did you ever hang with the Beatles?
I was going to , but the sentence was commuted by a grateful Queen (see Happy Ending from the Threepenny Opera). Whaaat? Okay, I first met George in early 1966. I was going with Leah Cohen at the time, who was Mama Cass Elliot’s sister. The Monkees were shooting, but hadn’t hit the airwaves yet. Cass mentioned to Leah that George was coming by and specifically asked us not to come up, which we did anyway…we couldn’t help ourselves, I think. Anyway, George was very gracious and I was very nervous and starstruck. Maybe THAT’s why I got into the business. When I told him about the Monkees thing, he looked very sage an said, “so, you’re one of those guys, eh?”
I didn’t see any of the Beatles again til 1967. I guess it was when the respective staffs arranged for us (actually only Micky and I) to be at the Speakeasy in London one night when they were due to be there. Ringo didn’t come, but Paul was there when we got there, and shortly thereafter John and George came rollicking in singing, “Micky Dolenz, Micky Dolenz, Dolenz, Dolenz, Micky, Micky” to the tune of the Hare Krishna chant. And all the while, George was strumming a ukulele. At the time I was carrying a few tabs of a psychedelic called STP. It was something like LSD, only a little more hardedged. I mentioned it to John and asked him if he wanted any. That’s the way those times were, and he said that he’d been advised against it. I said it’s like anything else, you can freak out if you’ve a mind to. So he said okay and I popped a tab into his open mouth. I never did hear any of the details of his trip, but he evidently survived it. Incidentally, these days I don’t recommend psychedelics for anybody at all, except perhaps withing a VERY narrow range of circumstances—like intensely supervised psychiatry, say. That was all that was noteworthy about that exchange. We spent the rest of the evening shooting the breeze. Paul was with Jane Asher, John and George didn’t have girlfriends with them. The next day, George invited me and Bill Chadwick out to hang with him. He showed us his sitar and we talked about music—Indian and Rock. Afterwards, George drove the three of us out to meet Ringo, whom I found to be very down to earth and calm…even wise. It was all very qauiet in the English suburbs, every upscale, teddibly exclusive, don’t cha know. Well, what did you expect hovels?
If you had it to do all over again, would you? Life, we mean…
I cannot imagine wanting to change the smallest particle. Not that it’s all been pleasant, by any stretch, but I clearly needed every bump on the road and bump on the head to have what I have now, and I wouldn’t want to give up a thing, thank you very much. Thank you very much.