Michael Nesmith, the guitar player and most iconoclastic member of the 1960s rock group The Monkees, has passed away. His family has indicated that it was from natural causes. Nesmith was 78.
“I know that Michael was at peace with his legacy which included songwriting, producing, acting, direction, and so many innovative ideas and concepts,” Monkees biographer and manager Andrew Sandoval wrote in a statement on Facebook. “I am positive the brilliance he captured will resonate and offer the love and light towards which he always moved.”
Born in Houston, Texas, Nesmith was brought up in Dallas and eventually moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s. Nesmith originally attempted to make it as a songwriter, but was in need of money when he heard about an audition for a television show from an ad in a local paper in 1965. Although he had little acting experience, Nesmith auditioned and eventually won a role in a show built around a young group of musicians who took after The Beatles‘ sound and personalities: The Monkees.
Almost immediately, Nesmith was unhappy with the arrangement of his contract. The band were expected to film the television show during the day and record at night, although all production and instrumental contributions would be handled by professional studio musicians. Nesmith was able to negotiate his way into producing two songs from the band’s first album, one of which he wrote entitled ‘Papa Gene’s Blues’. Even though Nesmith’s ‘Mary Mary’ appeared in a number of episodes on the show, he remained discontent with the arrangement.
After not being consulted for the assembly and release of the band’s second LP, More of the Monkees, Nesmith led the band’s charge to demand creative freedom. Starting in early 1967, Nesmith was the unofficial band leader, choosing producers and handling recording sessions that the band undertook. Under his guidance, the band released Headquarters, their first album as an autonomous group, and notched their third number one album in America.
As The Monkees turned to a more psychedelic sound, one of Nesmith’s songs became a hit for the band The Stone Poneys, which featured a young Linda Ronstadt on lead vocals. ‘Different Drum’ became Nesmith’s first and only Top 20 hit as a songwriter. The Monkees television show ended in 1968, the same year that the band released their theatrical film Head. The band continued in reduced configurations until 1971, with Nesmith leaving the group in 1970.
Nesmith released his first solo album, Wichita Train Whistle Songs, in 1968. He later formed the First National Band and scored one final Top 40 hit with the song ‘Joanne’. Starting in the late ’70s, Nesmith focused on production, including developing a television show around music videos entitled PopClips. When PopClips was sold to Time Warner in 1980, the corporation expanded the format into an entire television channel that they called MTV.
Nesmith went on to produce videos for the likes of Lionel Richie (‘All Night Long’) and Michael Jackson (‘The Way You Make Me Feel’). In 1981, he won the first Grammy for Long-Form Music Video for his hour-long Elephant Parts. Nesmith also reunited with the Monkees occasionally in the subsequent years, including contributing to the albums Justus, Good Times! and Christmas Party.
Nesmith released his memoir Infinite Tuesday in 2017. A year later, Nesmith was hospitalized with congestive heart failure and underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. He is survived by four children.