Michael Nesmith from 60’s pop band The Monkees was born 30th December 1942in Houston, Texas. his parents, Warren Audrey Nesmith and Bette Nesmith Graham, divorced when their son was four. He and his mother moved to Dallas to be closer to her parents, sister, aunts, and grandmother. Bette took temporary jobs ranging from clerical work to graphical design and developed very good secretarial skills, including shorthand and, auspiciously, touch typing. When Nesmith was 13, his mother invented the typewriter correction fluid later known commercially as Liquid Paper. Over the next 25 years she built the Liquid Paper Corporation into a multimillion-dollar international company, which she finally sold to Gillette in 1979 for US$48 million. She died a few months later, aged 56.
Nesmith was enrolled in the Dallas public school system in 1949, aged 6. Describing himself as an indifferent student, he participated in choral and drama activities during his years at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. He also began to write verse poetry. When he was 15 he enrolled in the Dallas Theater Center teen program. Without graduating from high school, Nesmith enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1960. He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, was trained as an aircraft mechanic at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, and then was permanently stationed at the Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base near Burns Flat, Oklahoma. While in the Air Force, Nesmith obtained a G.E.D. and was discharged under honorable conditions in 1962
After a tour of duty in the Air Force, Nesmith was given a guitar as a Christmas present from his mother and stepfather. Learning as he went, he played solo and in a series of working bands, performing folk, country, and occasionally rock and roll. His verse poems became the basis for song lyrics. He enrolled in San Antonio College, a community college, where he met John Kuehne (later to be known as John London) and began a musical collaboration. The duo won the first San Antonio College talent award, performing a mixture of standard folk songs and a few of Nesmith’s original songs. He met another SAC student, Phyllis Ann Barbour, whom he married in 1963
Nesmith moved to Los Angeles with Phyllis and John London, so he could pursue his songwriting and singing career and began singing in folk clubs around Los Angeles and had one notable job as the “Hootmaster” for the Monday night hootenannies at The Troubadour, a West Hollywood nightclub that featured new artists. Here Nesmith met, socialized, and performed with many different members of the burgeoning new L.A. music scene. Nesmith began his recording career in 1963 by releasing a single on the Highness label. He followed this in 1965 with a one-off single released on Edan Records followed by two more recorded singles; one was titled “The New Recruit” under the name “Michael Blessing”, released on Colpix Records. Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary” was recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, while “Different Drum” and “Some of Shelly’s Blues” were 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. coincidentally Davy Jones, was also on the Eden Records label although they did not meet until the Monkees formed.
Randy Sparks from the New Christy Minstrels offered Nesmith a publishing deal for his songs, and it was while Nesmith was at this publishing house that Barry Friedman, also known as the Rev. Frazier Mohawk, brought the ad for auditions for a new TV series, The Monkees, to Nesmith’s attention And Nesmith landed the role as the wool-hat-wearing guitar player “Mike” in the show, which required real-life musical talent (writing, instrument playing, singing, recording, and performing in live concerts as part of The Monkees musical band). Nesmith played a Gretsch 12-string electric guitar while he was performing with The Monkees. The Monkees television series aired from 1966 until 1968, and has developed a cult following over the years.
When the TV series ended in 1968, Nesmith enrolled part-time at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and studied American History and Music History. Michael and Phyllis’s second son Jonathan was born in February 1968. Nesmith’s third son Jason was born in August 1968 to Nurit Wilde, whom he met while working on The Monkees. In 1969, Nesmith formed the group First National Band with Kuehne, John Ware, and Red Rhodes. Nesmith wrote most of the songs for the band, including the single “Joanne” which received some airplay and was a moderate chart hit for seven weeks during 1970, rising to number 21 on the Billboard Top 40. The First National Band has been credited with being among the pioneers of country-rock music. The songs, “Some of Shelly’s Blues” and “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” were made popular by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1970 album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy. In 1970, 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 was part of the project; Nesmith’s musical partnership with Rhodes continued until Rhodes’s 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 and recorded the singles “Joanne,” “Silver Moon” “Nevada Fighter” “& “Propinquity”. Sadly the First National Band broke up so Nesmith followed up with The Second National Band, a band that, besides Nesmith, consisted of Michael Cohen (keyboards and Moog), Johnny Meeks (bass), jazzer Jack Ranelli (drums), and Orville Rhodes (pedal steel), as well as an appearance by singer, musician, and songwriter José Feliciano on congas. The album, Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1, was a commercial and critical disaster. Nesmith then recorded And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’, featuring only him on guitar and Red Rhodes on pedal steel.
Nesmith also became more heavily involved in producing, working on Iain Matthews’s album Valley Hi and Bert Jansch’s L.A. Turnaround. Nesmith was given a label of his own, Countryside, through Elektra Records, as Elektra’s Jac Holzman was a fan of Nesmith. It featured a number of artists 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. Countryside folded when David Geffen replaced Holzman, as Countryside was unnecessary in Geffen’s eyes.
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,” both of which were recorded by Hargrove. Of these 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. In 1983, Nesmith produced the music video for the Lionel Richie single “All Night Long”. In 1987, he produced the music video for the Michael Jackson single “The Way You Make Me Feel”.
In 1972, Nesmith started the record label Countryside Records with Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records. Nesmith and Phyllis also divorced and he moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. In 1974, Nesmith started Pacific Arts Records and released what he called “a book with a soundtrack”, titled The Prison, as the company’s first release. In 1976, he married Kathryn Bild. Nesmith won the first-ever Grammy Award given for (Long-form) Music-Video in 1982, for his hour-long Elephant Parts and also had a short-lived series on NBC inspired by the video called Michael Nesmith in Television Parts. Television Parts included many other artists who were unknown at the time but went on to become major stars in their own right. Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Whoopi Goldberg, and Arsenio Hall all became well-known artists after their appearances on Nesmith’s show. The concept of the show was to have comics render their stand-up routines into short comedy films much like the ones in Elephant Parts. Nesmith assembled writers Jack Handey, William Martin, John Levenstein, and Michael Kaplan, along with directors William Dear (who had directed Elephant Parts) and Alan Myerson, as well as producer Ward Sylvester to create the show. The half-hour show ran for eight episodes in the summer of 1985 on NBC Thursday nights in prime time. In 1988, following the ending of this second marriage, he returned to Los Angeles where he met Victoria Kennedy. They moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1992 and then returned to Carmel, California, in 2000. They were married in April 2000 in Monterey, California. They separated in 2011 and Kennedy filed for divorce.
In 1986 The Monkees had a 20th anniversary reunion however Nesmith did not participate in the Monkees’ 20th-anniversary reunion. However, he did appear during an encore with the other three members at the Greek Theatre on September 7, 1986. Nesmith appeared again in 1989 with Dolenz, Tork, and Jones when the Monkees received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. In 1995, Nesmith was again reunited with the Monkees to record their studio album (and first to feature all four since Head), titled Justus, released in 1996. He also wrote and directed a Monkees television special entitled Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees. To support the reunion, Nesmith, Jones, Dolenz, and Tork briefly toured the UK in 1997. The UK tour was the last appearance of all four Monkees performing together. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, after Jones’s death, Nesmith reunited with Dolenz and Tork to perform concerts throughout the United States. Backed with a 7-piece band that included Nesmith’s son, Christian, the trio performed 27 songs from The Monkees discography (“Daydream Believer” was sung by the audience and played by the band). Despite not touring with Dolenz and Tork for The Monkees’ 50th anniversary reunion in 2016, Nesmith contributed vocally and instrumentally to the Monkees album Good Times!. Nesmith additionally contributed a song, “I Know What I Know” and was reportedly “thrilled” at the outcome of the album.
In1974 Michael Nesmith formed the Pacific Arts Corporation, Inc to manage and develop media projects. Pacific Arts Video became a pioneer in the home video market, producing and distributing a wide variety of videotaped programs, although the company 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. The dispute escalated into a lawsuit that went to jury trial in Federal Court in Los Angeles. On February 3, 1999, a jury awarded Nesmith and his company Pacific Arts $48.875 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, but the appeal never reached court and a settlement was reached, with the amount paid to Pacific Arts and Nesmith kept confidential. Nesmith’s current Pacific Arts project is Videoranch 3D, a virtual environment on the internet that hosts live performances at various virtual venues inside the Ranch. He performed live inside Videoranch 3D on May 25, 2009.
Nesmith was the executive producer for the films 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. It was developed originally as an online project and was later published as a hard cover book by St Martin’s Press. 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. A video and CD, both entitled Live at the Britt Festival were released capturing the 1992 concert. Nesmith’s second novel The America Gene was released in July 2009 as an online download from Videoranch.com. Nesmith also teamed up with satirist P.J. O’Rourke to ride his vehicle Timerider in the annual Baja 1000 off-road race. This is chronicled in O’Rourke’s 2009 book Driving Like Crazy. During the 1990s, Nesmith, as Trustee and President of the Gihon foundation, hosted the Council on Ideas, a gathering of intellectuals from different fields who were asked to identify the most important issues of their day and publish the result. The Gihon ceased the program in 2000 and started a new Program for the Performing Arts. Nesmith also spent a decade as a board of trustees member, nominating member and vice-chair of the American Film Institute. Nesmith continues to record and release his own music. His last album, Rays, was released in 2006. In 2011, Nesmith returned to producing, working with blues singer/guitarist Carolyn Wonderland. Nesmith produced Wonderland’s version of Robert Johnson’s “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” on her album Peace Meal. Wonderland married writer-comedian A. Whitney Brown on March 4, 2011, in a ceremony officiated by Nesmith.
In 2012, Nesmith briefly toured Europe prior to re-joining The Monkees for their tours of the United States. Intermixing the Monkees concerts, Nesmith also launched solo tours of the U.S. Unlike his 1992 U.S. tour, which predominantly featured music from his RCA recordings, Nesmith stated his 2013 tour featured songs that he considers “thematic, chronological and most often requested by fans”. Chris Scruggs, grandson of Earl Scruggs, replaced the late Red Rhodes on the steel guitar. The tour was captured on a forthcoming live album, Movies Of The Mind. In 2014, he guest-starred in Season 4, Episode 9 of the IFC comedy series “Portlandia” in the fictitious role of the father of the Mayor of Portland, Oregon.