Saved by The Blues
VERBALS : Pete Sargeant VISUALS : per Peter Noble
With the surviving Monkees and band due to play in the UK this autumn, what better than a chat with guitar man Peter Tork re his blues and folk roots, side project band and much more…
JLTT: Thanks for coming through on time! I know you are a keen blues player…
PT: I was actually about twenty seconds late, but never mind …I want you to to know that I do a number called Saved By The Blues..
You’re psychic, Peter! that very song is on my list of things to mention ! now your original roots before you went to the Monkees audition and that all happened, were in the folk-blues scene, performing and singing..could you tell us about those days?
Well yes – I guess my main inspiration was Pete Seeger and in so many ways..now he himself was a pretty bluesy guy, if you listen to him do a blues song he’s very moody and accomplished at it, he had a lot of soul..he came out of a music tradition where the blues is at the heart..and you can hear it in the rhythm of pop music
Yes and I’m also thinking of Woody Guthrie, in that field …
Woody wasn’t just a folkie, Pete – he was very open-minded and a very genial gentleman,,but Seeger really came out of popular 40s music and then we are talking about Big Band music, jump and swing..a fair amount too of boogie-woogie..and that was pop..there’s still a lot of bogie-woogie around BUT it’s not on the charts
Louis Jordan springs to mind – Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens
Yes that’s what I’m talling about – and even the big white bands, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman..that was mixed-race..he swung like nobody’s business ! That beat was common parlance..Pete Seeger came out of the blues to some extent and for some reason the blues has always captured me..to an enormous extent and even though I wasn’t aware of it, at the time. Took me a long time to wake up to it – but now, it’s just about all there is !
You must I guess have heard Dave Van Ronk, Glover..and someone I much admire, Fred Neil…
(Warmly) Yes !! Fred was a great blues guy and much more..in fact I looked very much to him as a model, for the kinds of music that I wanted to do ..and interestingly of course, Fred Neil got a hit, but not by his own performance..the Harry Nilsson take of Everybody’s Talking
It’s weird Nilsson because although he wrote lots he’s well-known hereabouts for Without You, which was of course a BadFinger song
Harry got upset because his big hit records were mainly other people’s songs that he did
And Fred wrote Dolphins…
(Sings beautifully) Searching for the dolphins, in the sea…..The Porpoise Song in the Monkee movie, was written by Carole..and Tony Sterns
I put it to you, Mr Tork that you would have fitted very well into The Lovin’ Spoonful
(Laughs) I think I might well have ! no place for me, I guess – John Sebastian was doing all the singing and Zal was playing all that great stuff…but you’re right, I am friends with John
John is bluesy, melodic, tongue in cheek..I suggest you two do have a lot in common
And as I have I have grown more self-aware and more fearless, as I have shed fears I have become more and more attracted to the blues..it’s the music of nothing left to lose, you know ?
It is a fine medium of expression..and you had to overcome Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma..you had to get through that!
I noticed a change in my voice and so I went and had it checked out and next thing I knew I was in the hospital and somebody was carving a part of my tongue..and since that treatment I have felt wonderful..turns out that ACC as we call it does need to be monitored so I am never out of the woods..but right now I’m feeling just fabulous
Did you ever see Jimi Hendrix/James in New York?
No but Jimi was on The Monkees tour with us, of course
And The Daughters of the Revolution weren’t too keen on him…
Nah it was the kids – he comes out and goes dang! dang! whoosh! and they were like…help! Haha …’we want The Monkees !’ – completely confused them! I did get to hang with Jimi here and there and I have to stop and give a word of praise to him because he was very very human, kind, good-natured – listened to you, looked at you when you spoke..offered comments directly to whatever you were saying…
I have a picture of you with your Shoe Suede Blues group and you have a red custom Strat I think …
It’s not actually a Strat, there’s not a Strat part on it. The body is an ESP when they were making imitation Strats..it has EMG pickups..I love the tone of it. But I might not be bringing that over..I’ll likely bring my new PRS single-coil..it’s playable,it’s like butter..
And you also play bass, banjo and keyboards and even French horn
Yes, I did play French horn, I had to give it up because there were just too many things going on..it was my orchestral instrument in college..not much call for it in pop music…there’s a classical piece I wrote that you can hear on my website. I may throw in some blues bits in the live show..the real thing about the blues is that we have all had the blues, whoever we are..and it brings us to know that we’re human..unlike most pop music it can be so therapeutic, as far as I’m concerned.
You have been known to do Lucille, Route 66, Hound Dog, Crosscut Saw…Treat Her Right, Come On In My Kitchen even
With SSB I do stone blues, bluesy pop and some Monkees songs..all mixed in to please the audience..hey I went to a Paul McCartney show and he didn’t do any Beatles songs and I was so annoyed! Ha! but I do them differently – a slow version of Clarksville, the point being that it’s not a pure blues experience BUT I do make it as bluesy as I can manage
If you play Pleasant Valley Sunday at half the speed, it sounds like a Hank Williams tune…
(Pause) Wow. I’ll have to try that out…I always thought that was the best song we ever put out as a single..the country people are aiming at a different thing from the blues people and the pop crowd..but there is sometimes a kind of overlap…oh and Saved By The Blues was written for me, by a friend of mine – Michael Levine – writes music for TV and movies..he took things we had both talked about and put them into this song! I do it as a shuffle now,,so I hope you get to come and hear it.
The Monkees featuring Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork play London Hammersmith Eventim Apollo on Friday September 4th. Tickets are on sale from www.alt-tickets.co.uk and the 24-hour hotline: 0844 871 8819