Robert Michael Nesmith (December 30, 1942) 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 notable as a songwriter, including "Different Drum" sung by Linda Ronstadt with the Stone Poneys, as well as executive producer of the cult film Repo Man. In 1981 Nesmith won the first Grammy Award given for Video of the Year for his hour-long Elephant Parts.
Nesmith was born in at St. Joseph's Hospital in Houston, Harris County, Texas in 1942) Nesmith was an only child, and his parents, Warren Audrey Nesmith and Bette Nesmith Graham, divorced when Nesmith was 4 and he and his mother moved to Dallas, Texas to be closer to her family which consisted of her mother and father, her sister, four aunts, and her maternal grandmother. Bette took temporary jobs ranging from clerical work to graphics design, and developed very good secretarial skills, including shorthand, and auspiciously, touch typing. When Nesmith was 13 his mother invented a typewriter correction fluid later known commercially as Liquid Paper. Over the next twenty five years she and a select group of executives would build the Liquid Paper Corporation into a multimillion dollar international company which she finally sold to Gillette in 1980 for 48 million USD. She died a few months after the sale at the age of 56 in May 1980.
In 1949 Nesmith, at the age of 6, was enrolled in the Dallas Public school system. Nesmith was an indifferent student. He did, however, participate actively in choral and drama activities during his years at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. He began to write verse poetry. When he was 15 he enrolled in the Dallas Theater Center teen program where he was featured in several plays.
Nesmith did not graduate from high school and instead enlisted in the US Air Force in 1960. He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, was trained as an aircraft mechanic at Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls Texas, and then permanently stationed at a Strategic Air Command base near Elk City, Oklahoma.
In 1962, Nesmith's mother married Robert Graham.
While in the Air Force, Nesmith obtained a G.E.D. and was discharged under honorable conditions in 1962. He enrolled in San Antonio College, a community college in San Antonio Texas 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 Nesmiths's original songs. He met another SAC student, Phyllis Ann Barbour, whom he later married.
While in college Nesmith began to write more songs and poetry and after his marriage to Phyllis in 1963 the two of them decided to strike out for Los Angeles so Nesmith could pursue his songwriting and singing career. At the time Phyllis was pregnant with their first child Christian DuVal. Nesmith began singing in folk clubs around Los Angeles and had one notable job as the "Hootmaster" for the Monday night Hootenannys at the Troubadour, a West Hollywood night club that featured new artists. Here Nesmith met, socialized, and performed with many different members of the burgeoning new music scene in LA. Randy Sparks of New Christy Mintrels fame offered Nesmith a publishing deal for his songs. It was while working at this publishing house that Barry Friedman, also known as the Rev. Frazier Mohawk, brought the ad for Monkees auditions to Nesmith's attention. In 1965 Nesmith landed the role in the Monkees pilot, which was filmed in October 1965.
When the Monkees show ended in 1968 Nesmith enrolled part time in UCLA and studied American History and Music History.
Michael and Phyllis's second son, Jonathan, was born in February 1968. During the Monkees Nesmith met Nurite Wilde who became pregnant with Nesmith's third son, Jason who was born in August 1968.
In 1969 Nesmith formed the First National Band with Kuehne (now London), John Ware and Red Rhodes. Nesmith wrote most of the songs for the band including a single titled "Joanne" that received some airplay and was a mild chart hit. The First National Band have been credited with being among the pioneers of a type of music that became known as country-rock.
Phyllis's third child, and Nesmith's fourth was Jessica born in September, 1970.
Nesmith started a record label named Countryside Records in 1970 with Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records.
Nesmith was divorced from Phyllis in 1972 and relocated to Carmel, 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.
He was married to Kathryn Bild from 1976 to 1988.
In 1988 he returned to Los Angeles where he had met Victoria Kennedy. They moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1992, then returned to Carmel, California in 2000. They were married in April 2000 in Monterey, California.
After a tour of duty in the Air Force, he 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, and after moving to Los Angeles with Phyllis and friend John London, he signed a publishing deal for his songs. Nesmith's "Mary, Mary" was recorded by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, while "Different Drum" was 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. Later, "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.
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.
Further information: The Monkees
From 1965 to early 1970, Nesmith and Jones were members of the pop rock band The Monkees, created for the television situation comedy of the same name. The only Monkee to learn of the audition from the famous press advertisement asking for "four insane boys", Nesmith won his role largely by appearing blas?© when he auditioned. He further distinguished himself by carrying a bag of laundry to be done on the way home, and wearing a wool cap to keep his hair out of his eyes, riding his motorcycle to the audition. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider remembered "Wool Hat", and called Nesmith back.
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, in April 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.
Further information: Pacific Arts Corporation
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 Rhodes (pedal steel), as well as an appearance by singer, musician, and songwriter Jos?© Feliciano (conga drums). The album, Tantamount to Treason, Volume I, 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 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.
During this time, 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. In 1980, Nesmith's Pop Clips was sold to Time Warner/Amex consortium. Time Warner/Amex developed Pop Clips into the MTV network. Nesmith's 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 on NBC inspired by the video called "Michael Nesmith in Television Parts". Television Parts concept however included many other artists who were unknown at the time but who went on to become major stars in their own right. Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Whoopi Goldberg, Arsenio Hall all became well known artists after their appearances on Nesmith's show. The basic 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 Handy, William Martin, John Levenstein, and Michael Kaplan; Directors William Dear (who had directed Elephant Parts) and Alan Myerson, and Producer Ward Sylvester to create the show. The half hour show show ran for 8 episodes in the summer of 1985 on NBC Thursday nights in prime time.
Pacific Arts Video became a pioneer in the home video market, producing and distributing a wide variety of videotaped programs. Pacific Arts Video 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 law suit that went to jury trial in Federal Court in Loas Angeles. On , 1999, a jury awarded Nesmith and his company Pacific Arts $48.875 million dollars 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 the court, and a settlement was reached with the amount paid to Pacifc Arts and Nesmith 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 latest album, Rays was released on April 4, 2006.
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.
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, 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.
Nesmith's first novel "The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora" was developed originally as an online project and was later published as a hard cover book by St Martin's Press. Nesmith's second novel "The America Gene" was released in July, 2009 as an online download from Videoranch.com.
Nesmith spent a decade as a board of trustees member, nominating member and vice-chair of the American Film Institute and is currently President and chairman of the board of trustees of the Gihon Foundation.
Nesmith's current 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. (http:www.videoranch.com/html/musicrise.html)
In the early 1980s, Nesmith teamed up with satirist P.J. O'Rourke to ride his vehicle Timerider in the annual Baja 1000 roadrace. This is chronicled in O'Rourke's 2009 book Driving Like Crazy.
Nesmith had a cameo appearance as a taxi driver in the Whoopi Goldberg film Burglar.
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.