Michael Nesmith


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Michael Nesmith (born Robert Michael Nesmith on December 30, 1942; died December 10, 2021) was an American singer-songwriter and musician, perhaps best known as a member of The Monkees. A pioneer of country rock, Nesmith notably composed "Different Drum", a hit for Linda Ronstadt (by way of The Stone Poneys). In 1981, Nesmith won the inaugural Grammy Award for Video of the Year for Elephant Parts, a "video record" consisting of humorous sketches and visual representations of songs, breaking new ground for the concept of music videos, which would shortly become ubiquitous with the advent of MTV.

Born in Houston, Texas, Nesmith was an only child, and his parents, Warren Audrey Nesmith and Bette Nesmith Graham, separated when he was very young. With his father gone, Nesmith's mother worked as a secretary. Their fortunes changed when Bette invented typewriter correction fluid, later known commercially as Liquid Paper.

Nesmith was an indifferent student, and in his teen years an occasional prankster. An urban legend says a prank with a firecracker went wrong, leaving Nesmith with a hand injury, and that a doctor suggested he learn to play guitar to recover his dexterity (the incident never actually happened). An early accident with a hammer smashed the ring finger on Nesmith's right hand, and he did not learn to play guitar until his twenties. He did, however, participate in choral and drama activities during his years at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. He also began to write verse poetry.

In 1962, Nesmith's mother married Robert Graham, triggering a rebellious phase for Nesmith. He took the family car without permission and drove to California. Upon his return, he discovered that his mother had enlisted him in the U.S. Air Force. Nesmith was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas and he later claimed that he had been discharged after he tipped over a general's airplane while washing it.

After leaving the Air Force, Nesmith obtained a G.E.D. and then moved in with an uncle, Chick Adair. Nesmith enrolled in San Antonio College, where he met John Kuehne (later to be known as John London) and began a musical collaboration. He also met 16-year-old Phyllis Ann Barbour, whom he later married.

During this time John Kuehne decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a musical career, and Nesmith decided to follow him. Nesmith and Barbour moved back and forth from Texas. Nesmith landed a role in the Monkees pilot, which was filmed in October 1965. In October 1967, the episode "Monkees in Texas" was filmed, in which a brief cameo appearance was given to Nurit Wilde, a socialite and former mistress of John Phillips (of The Mamas & the Papas), and close friend of Peter Tork.

In late 1967, Barbour was pregnant with the Nesmiths' second child when she suffered a head injury in a car accident. Because they were practicing Christian Scientists, they decided to just rest instead of seeking medical treatment. Their second son, Jonathan, was born in February 1968.

Nesmith was divorced and remarried to Kathryn Bild from 1976 to 1988. In 2000, he married Victoria Kennedy.

Early work
After a tour of duty in the Air Force, Nesmith won a singing spot with a band by knowing a number of Chuck Berry's songs. He bought a guitar with his parents' help, learning as he went, and joined a series of working bands, performing folk, country, and occasionally rock and roll. His verse poems became the basis for song lyrics, and after moving to Los Angeles with Phyllis and friend John London, he published a number of his own songs. Nesmith's "Mary, Mary" was recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, while "Different Drum" was recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. "Pretty Little Princess", written in 1965, was recorded by Frankie Laine and released as a single in 1968 on ABC Records. Later, "Some of Shelly's Blues" and "Propinquity" were made popular by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1970 album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy.

Nesmith began his recording career in 1965 with a one-off single released on Edan Records. He followed with two singles recorded under the name "Michael Blessing", released on Colpix Records—coincidentally also the label of Davy Jones, though they had not met.

The Monkees
From 1965 to early 1970, Nesmith and Jones were members of the pop rock band The Monkees, created for the television situation comedy of the same name. The only Monkee to learn of the audition from the famous press advertisement asking for "four insane boys", Nesmith won his role largely by appearing blasé when he auditioned. He further distinguished himself by carrying a bag of laundry to be done on the way home, and wearing a wool cap to keep his hair out of his eyes, riding his motorcycle to the audition. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider remembered "Wool Hat", and called Nesmith back.

Once he was cast, Screen Gems bought his songs so they could be used in the show. Many of the songs Nesmith wrote for The Monkees, such as "The Girl I Knew Somewhere", "Mary, Mary", and "Listen to the Band" became minor hits. One song he wrote, "You Just May Be The One," is in mixed meter, interspersing 5/4 bars into an otherwise 4/4 structure.

The Gretsch guitar company built a one-off natural finish 12-string electric guitar for Nesmith when he was performing with The Monkees (Gretsch had a promotional deal with the group). He earlier played a customized Gretsch twelve-string, which had originally been a six-string model.

As with the other Monkees, Nesmith came to be frustrated by the manufactured image of the whole project. He was permitted to write and produce two songs per album, and his music was frequently featured in episodes of the series.

The Monkees succeeded in ousting supervisor Don Kirshner (with Nesmith punching a hole in a wall, to make a point with Kirshner and attorney Herb Moelis), and took control of their records and song choices, but they worked as a four-man group on only one album. The band never overcame the credibility problems they faced when word spread that they had not played on their first records (at Nesmith's instigation, calling the band's first non-studio press conference, where he called More of The Monkees "probably the worst record in the history of the world"). However, their singles and albums continued to sell well, until the disastrous release of Head.

Nesmith's last Monkees commitment was a Kool-Aid commercial, in April 1970. With the band's fortunes continuing to fall, Nesmith asked to be released from his contract, and had to pay a default: "I had three years left...at $150,000 a year," which he had to pay back. He continued to feel the financial bite for years afterwards, telling Playboy in 1980 "I had to start telling little tales to the tax man while they were putting tags on the furniture."[citation needed]. Indeed, while Nesmith had continued to produce his compositions with the Monkees, he withheld many of the songs from the final Monkees' albums, only to release them on his post-Monkees solo records.

Later career
As he prepared for his exit from The Monkees, Nesmith was approached by John Ware of The Corvettes, a band that featured Nesmith's friend John London (who played on some of the earliest pre-Monkees Nesmith 45s as well as numerous Monkees sessions) and had 45s produced by Nesmith for the Dot label in 1969. Ware wanted Nesmith to put together a band. Nesmith said he would be interested only if noted pedal steel player Orville "Red" Rhodes would be a part of the project, and a long musical partnership was born that would continue until Rhodes' untimely death in 1995. The new band was christened Michael Nesmith & The First National Band and went on to record a trilogy of albums for RCA Records in 1970.

Nesmith has been considered one of the pioneers of country-rock (along with Gram Parsons) and had moderate commercial success with the First National Band. Their second single, "Joanne," hit #21 on the Billboard chart & #17 on Cashbox, with the follow-up "Silver Moon" making #42 Billboard/#28 Cashbox. Two more singles charted ("Nevada Fighter" #70 Billboard/#73 Cashbox & "Propinquity" #95 Cashbox) and the first two LP's charted in the lower regions of the Billboard album chart. No clear answer has ever been given for the band's breakup, the albums they recorded remain on par with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and New Riders of the Purple Sage as some of the best country-rock music.

Nesmith followed up with the Second National Band, a band that besides Nesmith, consisted of Michael Cohen (keyboards and Moog), Johnny Meeks (bass), Jack Panelli (drums) and the always present Orville Rhodes (pedal steel), as well as an appearance by singer, musician, and songwriter Jose Feliciano (conga drums). The album, [album artist=Michael Nesmith & The Second National BandTantamount to Treason, Volume One[/album], was a commercial and critical disaster. Nesmith then decided to cut one of the best albums of his career, featuring only him on guitar and Red Rhodes on pedal steel, And the Hits Just Keep On Comin'.

Nesmith got more heavily involved in producing, and was given a label of his own through Elektra Records, Countryside. It featured a number of artists that were produced by Nesmith, including Garland Frady and Red Rhodes. The staff band at Countryside also helped Nesmith on his next, and last, RCA album, Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash.

In the mid-1970s Nesmith briefly collaborated as a songwriter with Linda Hargrove, resulting in the tune "I've Never Loved Anyone More," a hit for Lynn Anderson and recorded by many others, as well as the songs "Winonah" and "If You Will Walk With Me" which were both recorded by Hargrove. Of all three songs, only "Winonah" was recorded by Nesmith himself. During this same period, Nesmith started his multimedia company Pacific Arts, which initially put out audio records, 8-tracks and cassettes, followed in 1981 with "video records." Nesmith recorded a number of LPs for his label, and had a moderate worldwide hit in 1977 with his song "Rio", the single taken from the album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. More importantly, Nesmith created a video clip for "Rio" which, in a roundabout way, helped spur Nesmith's creation of a television program called Pop Clips for the Nickelodeon cable network. The concept was sold to Time Warner/Amex, who developed it into the MTV network. His single "Cruisin'" was the first video of the MTV generation. Nesmith also won the first Grammy Award (1981) given for Video of the Year for his hour-long Elephant Parts and also had a short-lived series inspired by the video called Television Parts.

Pacific Arts Video became a pioneer in the home video market, producing and distributing a wide variety of videotaped programs. Pacific Arts eventually ceased operations after an acrimonious contract dispute with PBS over home video licensing rights and payments for several series, including Ken Burns' The Civil War. On February 3, 1999, a jury awarded Nesmith $46.8 million in compensatory and punitive damages, prompting his widely-quoted comment, "It's like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo. You're happy to get your stereo back, but it's sad to find out your grandmother is a thief." PBS appealed the ruling and a settlement was reached with the results kept confidential.

He was the executive producer for the movies Repo Man, Tapeheads, and Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, as well as his own solo recording and film projects. In 1998, Nesmith published his first novel, The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. His latest studio album, Rays, was released on April 4, 2006.

Since 1990, Nesmith has hosted the Council on Ideas, a gathering of intellectuals from different fields who are asked to brainstorm solutions to world problems.

In 1992, Nesmith undertook a concert tour of North America to promote the CD release of his RCA solo albums (although he included the song "Rio", from the album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. The concert tour ended at the Britt Festival in Oregon. The Live at the Britt Festival recording was released on both video and compact disc.

In 1995, he reunited with The Monkees to record their last studio album (and first to feature all four since Head) titled Justus, released in 1996. He also wrote and directed a Monkees television special, and briefly toured the UK with the band in 1997. He re-departed when the tour came to America later in the year, following media criticism of his recent stage performances.

Nesmith spent a decade as a board of trustees member and nominating member of the American Film Institute and is currently President and chairman of the board of trustees of the Gihon Foundation.

Nesmith's instigated a project titled Videoranch 3D, a virtual environment on the internet that hosts live performances at various virtual venues inside the Ranch.

In 2017, he released a memoir and companion "soundtrack" album titled Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff.

In 2019 Nesmith toured focusing on his 1972 album, And the Hits Just Keep on Comin', in a two piece configuration with pedal steel player Pete Finney, the first time in this format since 1974 with Red Rhodes. Read more about Michael Nesmith on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.

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