Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Late Great Davy Jones

Yesterday, 29 February 2012, the inconceivable for many Monkees fans (including myself) happened. Davy Jones died at the age of 66 from a massive heart attack. The outpouring of grief over Davy's passing has been incredible. According to NME, the plays of Monkees songs increased 3000% following Davy's death. On Google, Yahoo, and Twitter "Davy Jones" was one of the top trending topics, often the number one topic, for much of yesterday into today. Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, and numerable blogs have been filled with tributes to Davy. I know that I spent most of yesterday posting about him to various social media sites. And like many Monkees fans I spent much of yesterday and even today crying.

David Thomas Jones was born in Openshaw, Manchester, Lancashire, England on 30 December 1945. His father was a fan of horse races and often took young Davy to the Manchester racecourse. It was then perhaps natural that Davy would consider a career as a jockey. Before Davy would become a jockey, however, he entered the world of acting. In 1960 he made his television debut on an episode of  BBC Sunday Night Play. He went onto appear on both Coronation Street and Z Cars.

Although he had taken up acting, Davy still dreamed of becoming a jockey. He and his father approached The Manchester Evening News, who then sent them to trainer Basil Foster. Davy left school early to serve as an apprentice to Mr. Foster in December 1961. Davy enjoyed his time as a jockey, even participating in the stable lads' boxing championship. Despite his love of the sport, Davy would find himself drawn back into acting. One of Basil Foster's acquaintances who was a theatrical agent visited him one day in early 1962. Mr. Foster let it slip that Davy had done some acting.

It was only a matter of days before the theatrical agent contacted Mr. Foster to let him know that a production of Oliver! was being mounted on the West End and they needed someone to play the Artful Dodger. Basil Foster urged Davy Jones to audition for the part, although Davy was resistant to the idea as he wanted to remain a jockey. In the end Davy did try out for and won the role of the Artful Doger in Oliver! The musical proved to be an immediate hit. In early 1963 Oliver! moved from the West End in London to Broadway in New York City. On Broadway it repeated the same phenomenal success that it had on the West End.

Like the cast of many popular Broadway musicals, the cast of Oliver! was scheduled to perform a number from the play on The Ed Sullivan Show. As it turned out, Davy and other cast members of Oliver! appeared on what was probably the most historic episode of The Ed Sullivan Show ever, that night on 9 February 1964 when The Beatles made their first appearance on the show. Davy Jones watched The Beatles perform from the wings of CBS-TV Studio 50 (now known as The Ed Sullivan Theatre). Watching the reaction of the crowd to the Fab Four, Davy thought to himself that he wanted to be a part of that.

Davy's chance to become part of a rock band would not be long in coming. His work on Broadway and his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show would lead him to being signed to a contract to Screen Gems (the television wing of Columbia Pictures at the time) by Columbia executive Ward Sylvester. He made guest appearances on both Ben Casey and The Farmer's Daughter (on which he performed "I'm Going to Buy Me a Dog" a full year before it was recorded by The Monkees). He also recorded an album, David Jones, and three singles that were released on Columbia's Colpix label.  He performed on the shows Shindig and Where the Action Is.

Already signed to both Screen Gems and Colpix, it was natural that Davy Jones would be recognised as one of the possible stars of a situation comedy about a down on their luck rock band. Davy would compete for a place on the show against 436 other actors and musicians, including Danny Hutton (later of Three Dog Night), Paul Petersen (of The Donna Reed Show), Stephen Stills (later of Crosby, Stills, & Nash), and Paul Williams. In the end Davy, along with former child actor Micky Dolenz, musician and songwriter Mike Nesmith, and folk musician Peter Tork, was cast in the series The Monkees about a rock group of the same name.

The Monkees would not be an enormous success in the Nielsen ratings, but then it would appear that the Nielsens never reflected the true level of the show's popularity. Indeed, in addition to starring in the TV show, The Monkees were expected to record and perform songs. This would result in the release of five albums while the show was still in its first run, all of which saw phenomenal sales. Indeed, in 1967 The Monkees outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. Monkeemania did not end with the TV show or the records, as there was an extraordinarily large amount of Monkee merchandise on the market in the mid to late Sixties, everything from a lunch box to books to games.  Davy Jones figured prominently in the popularity of The Monkees. He was the most popular Monkee with young women and widely considered by most girls to be "the cutest Monkee."

Sadly, the success of The Monkees would not last long. NBC cancelled The Monkees towards the end of its second season.  Creator and producer of The Monkees, Bob Rafelson, and Bert Schneider produced the film Head, starring The Monkees and released November 1968 (two months after The Monkees left the air). Unfortunately, Head bombed at the box office, although it is now regarded as a cult classic. It was in early 1968 that NBC negotiated a deal in which The Monkees would appear in three specials that would be broadcast in 1969. Unfortunately, the special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee proved so catastrophic both in the ratings and the response of critics that NBC cancelled the two further specials.

Through it all The Monkees continued to record and appeared on such television shows as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and The Johnny Cash Show. Unfortunately, their album sales started to decline after the cancellation of their television show. Citing exhaustion, Peter Tork left the band in early 1968. The Monkees continued with Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Mike Nesmith. In April 1970 Mike Nesmith left The Monkees to form his own band. Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz recorded what would be the last Monkees album for years, Changes, in 1970. A final single, "Do It in the Name of Love"/Lady Jane," was released in some countries as being by "The Monkees," although in the United States it was credited to Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. The Monkees then disbanded for a time in 1971.

Following the break up of The Monkees, Davy Jones continued to perform. In 1971 Davy released a solo album, Davy Jones, as well as several singles. He made guest appearances as himself on the shows Get Together, Make Room For Granddaddy, and, most famously, The Brady Bunch. He also guest starred on Love American Style. It was during this period that something unexpected happen. The Monkees once more started to grow in popularity. From September 1969 to September 1972 CBS aired reruns of The Monkees on Saturday mornings.  ABC aired reruns of The Monkees on Saturday mornings during the 1972-1973 season. In September 1975 The Monkees finally entered syndication, where it became extremely popular. With a whole new generation of Monkees fans having emerged since the show's cancellation in 1968, it should be little surprise that in 1976 the compilation album The Monkees' Greatest Hits actually charted.

To capitalise on the renewed success of The Monkees, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz joined forces with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (who had written many of the band's biggest hits, including "Last Train to Clarksville") to form Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart.toured throughout the United States in the mid-Seventies. They also appeared on the shows as American Bandstand, Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, The Mike Douglas Show, and Dinah!  They also released an eponymous album in 1976. In mid-1976 a special featuring Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart called The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees Show aired in syndication. Despite having a album of all new material out, they performed no new songs on the special.

With little recording success, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce, & Hart disbanded in the late Seventies. Davy guest starred on the show Horse in the House and he continued to perform on stage. It was in the late Eighties that The Monkees would re-enter his life. It was on 23 February 1986 that MTV (which still showed videos and music oriented programming at the time) aired a marathon of The Monkees. The response was so great to the Monkees marathon that not only did MTV add The Monkees to its regular schedule for a time, but Monkeemania re-emerged across the world. Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork then reunited for a "20th Anniversary Tour," with Michael Nesmith joining them for some dates (he could not do the whole tour because of his business commitments). A new compilation album, Then & Now....The Best of The Monkees, combining old material with new songs was released and actually charted, as did the single "That Was Then, This is Now." In 1987  a new Monkees album, Pool It!, was released, in which Mike Nesmith did not participate.

Davy continued to make guest appearances on TV shows, appearing on both My Two Dads, Sledge Hammer, and Boy Meets World. The Monkees reunited in 1996 for their thirtieth anniversary, recording the album Justus. Justus was the first Monkees album since Head in 1968 to feature all four Monkees. In early 1997 the special Hey, Hey We're The Monkees aired on the American Broadcasting Company. The concept of the special is that television shows do not end simply because they are cancelled and, having reached "Episode 781," The Monkees must find a plot that they had not done before.  From 1996 to 1997 The Monkees toured both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Davy continued to appear on television. From the late Nineties into the Naughts he appeared on such shows as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Lush Life, Meet the Royals, and Spongebob Squarepants. He appeared in the B-movie Sexina: Popstar P.I. (2007) alongside fellow Sixties icon Adam West. His last work in television was in 2011 as a guest voice on the animated series Phineas & Ferb. His last appearance on film was in the B movie Jackie Goldberg, Private Dick, which starred comic Jackie Mason.

Sadly, Davy's career came to an end yesterday, 29 February 2012. He had a massive heart attack while tending his horses at a ranch near his home in Florida.  He is survived by his wife Jessica Pacheco; his daughters Talia Jones, Sarah McFadden,Jessica Cramar, and Annabel Jones; three sisters, Hazel Wilkinson, Lynda Moore, and Beryl Leigh; his fellow Monkees Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork; and literally millions of fans.

As in the case of others who have had an enormous impact on my life, I believe any words I write are going to be inadequate with regards to my feelings about Davy Jones, his impact on me, or his impact on Anglophonic pop culture. As for myself, I have never known a world without Davy Jones. From as far back as I can remember I was a Monkees fan. It was the first show I watched faithfully. My sister, who was several years older than me, had the original LPs from the mid to late-Sixties. Throughout my childhood into my teens I played them so much it is a wonder I did not wear them out. The first cassette tape I ever bought was The Monkees Greatest Hits. The first show I ever bought on DVD was The Monkees.

While Mike Nesmith has been my favourite Monkee since childhood, I have always loved all of The Monkees. And I must confess I could identify with Davy Jones quite easily We were both short, brown haired, and slender (although even I was taller than Davy). We both grew up with and loved horses. And while I never had the luck with girls that Davy had on the TV show, I must confess like his character on The Monkees I was always a little bit of flirt. It should be little wonder that I would love Davy Jones. In him I could see something of myself.

 Indeed, I must confess I owe a good deal to Davy Jones beyond enjoying the shows and songs he made. On The Monkees Davy Jones generally conducted himself with an air of confidence, with only the occasional "short joke" to indicate that he was aware of his height at all. What is more, on The Monkees he always got the girl. In real life the girls were crazy about him too (indeed, yesterday when news of his death broke women from 16 to 64 were all saying, "He was my first crush..."). Davy Jones proved to me that one should not let his identity be determined by one's height. One could be short and still get the girl. Maybe that doesn't sound very important to many, but to a young man who is slightly below average in height it was a very important message to see and hear.

As to Davy Jones' impact on pop culture in the English speaking world and beyond, I think the reaction to his death both today and yesterday proves it cannot be adequately calculated. On every social media website or service I frequent Davy Jones was the number one topic of conversation. People posted videos. They posted pictures. They discussed what Davy and The Monkees meant to them. Indeed, as I said at the start of this article, I spent much of yesterday posting videos and posts related to Davy Jones on the various social media sites. That and crying.

In the end I do not think it is enough to say that Davy Jones was a great singer. It is not enough to point out that he was a star of a revolutionary show that was the first regular exposure Americans received to rock video. It is not enough to say that he was the teen heartthrob of both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Somehow he transcended all of these things. He became not only an icon, but a family member, a friend. For many of us guys he was the cool older brother we never had, the one with a great sense of humour who got all the girls. For many girls he was the cute guy they fancied, someone whose wit and charm made him much more appealing and approachable than other teen idols. Ultimately, I think Davy Jones was simply the ideal nice guy, the sort who always had a kind word and a joke for everyone.

Indeed, from the various Monkees fans I know who were lucky enough to meet him and the reports of various celebrities who worked with him, Davy Jones was the nicest person one could ever want to meet. According to Bobby Hart, in the Sixties when they were recording it was not unusual for Davy Jones to pay for the meals of Boyce and Hart and their band, as he knew they made less than he did.  Despite starring in one of the most popular sitcoms of all time and being a member of one of the biggest rock groups of all time, Davy Jones had no pretension. He was known to eat in the stable kitchens along with everyone else at the various racecourses he frequented. He  always had time for his fans and never talked down to them or treated them badly. Quite simply, he was the perfect English gentleman.

Given the many lives that Davy Jones touched, the way he comported himself with both his fellow performers and his fans, it should be little wonder that  his death has seen an outpouring of grief that is but rarely seen. It was not simply that he was a star of one of the most successful shows of all time. It was not simply that he was one of the most successful rock stars of all time. It was not even that he may have been the biggest teen heartthrob of any decade. It was that he was all of these things and yet he insisted on treating everyone, from movie stars to Monkees fans, with equal dignity. Davy Jones was a man who could have been forgiven if he had some arrogance. He was all the more admirable that he did not.

3 comments:

Marla Hughes said...

Best Davy Jones tribute yet. You aced it. My sister and I were the perfect age group when the Monkees were first introduced. We all crushed on Davy of course, though we had our side favorites as well. But Davy was different. Not just cute, not just a nice guy, but as you said, the consumate gentleman. The one we as young girls just discovering what the other gender was all about wanted to walk us home and maybe, just maybe steal a kiss. :-)

Bobbie Today said...

That was a beautifully written tribute. Thank You for expressing what so many of us feel.
I'll share with you Mike Nesmith's facebook status that he wrote about his friend, Davy.
--------------------------------------
All the lovely people. Where do they all come from?

So many lovely and heartfelt messages of condolence and sympathy, I don’t know what to say, except my sincere thank you to all. I share and appreciate your feelings.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

While it is jarring, and sometimes seems unjust, or strange, this transition we call dying and death is a constant in the mortal experience that we know almost nothing about. I am of the mind that it is a transition and I carry with me a certainty of the continuity of existence. While I don’t exactly know what happens in these times, there is an ongoing sense of life that reaches in my mind out far beyond the near horizons of mortality and into the reaches of infinity.

That David has stepped beyond my view causes me the sadness that it does many of you. I will miss him, but I won’t abandon him to mortality. I will think of him as existing within the animating life that insures existence. I will think of him and his family with that gentle regard in spite of all the contrary appearances on the mortal plane.

David’s spirit and soul live well in my heart, among all the lovely people, who remember with me the good times, and the healing times, that were created for so many, including us.

I have fond memories. I wish him safe travels.

Lisa said...

Absolutely wonderful Davy Jones piece. I am still thinking so much about him even several weeks later, and his death has profoundly saddened many of the ladies around my age -- I'm 57. Yours was a wonderful tribute with some beautiful personal touches. Davy's sunny demeanor will stay with all of us who were fans, and we will never think of him without smiling. That's a terrific legacy.

Again, truly wonderful post!