Robert Michael Nesmith (b. December 30, 1942) in Harris County, Texas, is an American musician, songwriter, actor, producer, novelist, businessman, and philanthropist, perhaps best known for his time in the musical group The Monkees and on the TV series of the same name. Michael Nesmith is also notable as a hit songwriter, including "Different Drum" sung by Linda Ronstadt with the Stone Poneys. Nesmith also won the first Grammy Award (1981) given for Video of the Year for his hour-long Elephant Parts.
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 Sheppards 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 Phyllis 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 and the Papas), and close friend of Peter Tork.
In late 1967, Phyllis 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.
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.
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, early in 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.". 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.
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 and the First National Band and went on to record three 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 Rhoades (pedal steel), as well as an appearance by singer,musician and songwriter Jose Feliciano (conga drums). The album, Tantamount to Treason, Volume I, was a commercial and critical disaster. Nesmith recorded a second album that was known as "Tantamount to Treason, Vol. 2," an album featuring heavier rock oriented songs which RCA refused to release. 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, 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 new 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 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. A video, Live at the Britt Festival, and a CD, Live at the Britt Festival were released capturing the 1992 concert .
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's current project is Videoranch 3D, a virtual environment on the internet that hosts live performances at various virtual venues inside the Ranch.
In a promotional video to support for Pacific Arts' video release of "Tapeheads," Michael Nesmith is introduced with a voice-over making fun of his Monkees persona. The narration teases Nesmith, who approaches the camera to speak by poking fun of his "missing hat".
An opportunistic lookalike from the US cashed in on his similarity to Nesmith by appearing on talk shows and doing interviews in Australia during the 1980s. The scam was successful, the lookalike being far enough from home to avoid detection as a fraud, as could happen in the US where the real Nesmith has many media and show-business acquaintances. An entertaining interviewee, the impersonator had the last laugh, his charade not being discovered until after he had fled Australia.
|Date||Label/Catalog #||Titles (A-side / B-side)||Billboard Top Singles||Cashbox||Billboard Adult Contemp||Notes|
|1963||Highness HN-13||Wanderin' / Well Well|| || || ||Credited as "Mike Nesmith." Vanity pressing.|
|1963||Omnibus 239||How Can You Kiss Me / Just A Little Love|| || || ||Credited as "Mike & John & Bill." John London is the bassist, later of Nesmith's First National Band. Bill Sleeper is the drummer. (The trio broke up when Sleeper was drafted into the US Army.)|
|01/1966||Edan 1001||Just A Little Love / Curson Terrace|| || || ||A-side is same as Omnibus 239. B-side is credited to "Mike & Tony" and has no Nesmith involvement.|
|10/1965||Colpix CP-787||The New Recruit / A Journey With Michael Blessing|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Blessing."|
|01/1966||Colpix CP-792||Until It's Time For You To Go / What Seems To Be The Trouble Officer|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Blessing."|
|04/1966||RCA 47-8807||Do Not Ask For Love / Buttermilk|| || || ||Credited to "The New Society." A-side has no Nesmith involvement. B-side was verified by Bill Chadwick, member of the group, as having Nesmith as a background vocalist.|
|07/1968||Dot 45-17152||Tapioca Tundra / Don't Cry Now|| || || ||Credited to "The Wichita Train Whistle." Group was created and led by Nesmith, though he does not appear on the recordings as either musician or vocalist. "Don't Cry Now" is edited from LP version.|
|07/1970||RCA 47-9853||Little Red Rider / Rose City Chimes|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band."|
|08/1970||RCA 74-0368||Joanne / One Rose|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band."|
|11/1970||RCA 74-0399||Silver Moon / Lady of the Valley|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band."|
|04/1971||RCA 74-0453||Nevada Fighter / Here I Am|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band." Issued with picture sleeve.|
|06/1971||RCA 74-0491||Texas Morning / Tumbling Tumbleweeds|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band." Single released as promo with both songs on B-side and "Texas" only on A-side with release #SPS-45-263.|
|06/1971||RCA 74-0540||I've Just Begun To Care (Propinquity) / One Rose|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band."|
|01/1972||RCA 74-0629||Mama Rocker / Lazy Lady|| || || ||Credited to "Michael Nesmith and the Second National Band." "Mama Rocker" is faded out early versus LP version.|
|08/1972||RCA 74-0804||Roll With The Flow / Keep On|| || || ||"Roll With The Flow" is edited from LP version.|
|1976||RCA 447-0868||Joanne / Silver Moon|| || || ||Reissue credited to "Michael Nesmith and the First National Band." Early pressings on red label, later pressings on black label.|
|03/1977||Pacific Arts WIP6373||Rio / Life, The Unsuspecting Captive|| || || |
|06/1978||Pacific Arts PAC-101||Roll With The Flow / I've Just Begun To Care|| || || ||Both songs are edited from the LP versions.|
|1978?||Pacific Arts PAC-104||Rio / Casablanca Moonlight|| || || ||Issued with picture sleeve.|
|06/1979||Pacific Arts PAC-106||Magic / Dance|| || || |
|08/1979||Pacific Arts PAC-108||Cruisin' / Horserace|| || || |
|1998||Collectibles COL-4759||Joanne / Silver Moon|| || || ||Reissue.|
|Date||Label/Catalog #||Title||Highest Billboard Position||Notes|
|07/1968||Dot 3861 (mono) / 25861 (stereo)||The Wichita Train Whistle Sings|| ||Nesmith does not appear on this album vocally or instrumentally. Album is credited to "The Wichita Train Whistle." Mono release is promo-only.|
|07/1970||RCA LSP-4371||Magnetic South (album)|| ||Album is credited to "Michael Nesmith & The First National Band." Some copies came with a "Joanne" sticker on the shrink wrap.|
|11/1970||RCA LSP-4415||Loose Salute|| ||Album is credited to "Michael Nesmith & The First National Band." Some copies came with a circular sticker on the shrink wrap saying "Contains the hit single 'Silver Moon.'"|
|05/1971||RCA LSP-4497||Nevada Fighter|| ||Album is credited to "Michael Nesmith & The First National Band."|
|02/1972||RCA LSP-4563||Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1|| ||Album is credited to "Michael Nesmith & The Second National Band."|
|08/1972||RCA LSP-4695||And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'|| |
|10/1973||RCA ALPI-0164||Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash|| |
|03/1975||Pacific Arts PAC-101||The Prison - A Book with a Soundtrack|| ||Issued with 48-page book to be read while the LP is playing, allowing for a "soundtrack" to the story. Original copies issued in a box cover, while later copies came in a cardboard slip jacket. Some of these later copies had two stickers on the shrink, one saying "Michael Nesmith" and the other "Contains Record and 48-page Full Color Illustrated Book." Record was also sold in book stores.|
|02/1977||Pacific Arts PAC7-106||Compilation|| |
|03/1977||Pacific Arts PAC7-107 / Pacific Arts ILPA-9184||From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing|| ||Early pressings utilized the overseas catalog # ILPA-9184 used by Island Records.|
|??/1978||Pacific Arts PAC7-113||The Wichita Train Whistle Sings|| ||Reissue of 1968 Dot release with new album jacket design.|
|??/1978||Pacific Arts PAC7-116||And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'|| ||Reissue of 1972 RCA release with standard jacket (RCA release had gatefold jacket).|
|??/1978||Pacific Arts PAC7-117||Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash|| ||Reissue of 1973 RCA release with standard jacket (RCA release had gatefold jacket).|
|08/1978||Pacific Arts PAC7-118||Live At The Palais|| ||Some copies came with a 3" circular sticker on the cover itself proclaiming "Contains the hit single 'Roll With The Flow.'"|
|05/1979||Pacific Arts PAC7-130||Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma|| |
|06/1979||Pacific Arts PAC7-1300||The Michael Nesmith Radio Special|| ||Promotional LP featuring all the tracks from "Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma" as well as interview snippets|
|??/1989||Rhino R1-70168||The Newer Stuff|| ||Contains five new tracks and five tracks from "Photon Wing" and "Infinite Rider." CD release featured additional tracks from the LP release.|
|1999||Cooking Vinyl||Live at the Britt Festival|| ||Recorded live at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, OR, in 1991.|