PCA Tribute: Davy Jones (1945 – 2012)
Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict
REMEMBERS DAVY JONES
1945 – 2012
“Life is so precious and you got to live it to the fullest and just be considerate to other people.” – Davy Jones in a 2006 PCA Interview
The first time I met Davy Jones he wasn’t wearing any pants. I’m serious. This is the kind of pop culture memory that you just can’t make up. Me and Verne Pickford stood in the doorway to his darkened trailer where he and his band were snacking on sandwiches and fruit. Davy Jones sat on the bench facing the doorway and beckoned us to come in. “Come in, come in” he motioned to us with a smile and a wink. We stood there stunned for just a moment. Not because we hadn’t been near celebrities before. Both Verne and I were regulars around the autograph show circuit. But the two of us were paralyzed as we gawked at these two little naked legs jutting out of a pair of red silk briefs. “Sit down! Sit down!” he said, patting the seat beside him. Well what was I to do? As strange as it was that Davy Jones wasn’t wearing any pants, when he tells you to sit down, you just gotta sit down so I took the seat next to him.
“Hey Davy? Don’t you think you should put on some pants?” Davy’s road manager said to him.
“No man. These guys want to see the real Davy Jones, y’know.” Davy replied with a grin. Well we did, and the real Davy Jones was what we got. This was in 2006. Candace Shaw and I had just started PCA and, at that point, I had only done a few random celebrity interviews. We really weren’t really sure what we were doing, and I hadn’t developed the contacts nor the network that I have now. We were completely green. But when Davy Jones rolled into our town, Verne Pickford did the impossible and scored us an interview with one of the 60’s biggest teen idols. How did he do it? It was ridiculously simple. All he did was called Davy Jones’ hotel room at the local Holiday Inn and asked. Davy told him to come and ask for him at the show. That’s all it took. But then that was Davy Jones. Warm, friendly, accessible and giving. I can honestly say in all my years of interviewing celebrities very few have been as kind and generous as Davy Jones.
Davy Jones’ career is a true adventure in pop culture. Born in Manchester, England Davy started his acting career at age eleven when he got a regular gig on Coronation Street in 1961, but was cut short when his mother died suddenly and he decided to try a more stable career as a horse jockey. A short little guy, Davy had a love for horses and was the right height and build for an expert jockey. It was while training with championship jockey Brian Forster that Davy was spotted by a casting agent who was putting together a brand new musical based on Charles Dickens’s bookOliver Twist. Foster tipped the agent off about Davy’s acting background, and Davy soon found himself off the race track and on the London stage in the role of The Artful Dodger in the original cast of Oliver! An immediate hit, the production was transplanted from London to New York and Jones, only fourteen at the time, bid farewell to his father and three sisters and headed for America.
New York would be a whirlwind for Davy, who was not only nominated for a Tony Award, but was spending his most formative years growing up on his own on the New York Stage. However, possibly one of the most memorable nights of his life would happen on February 9th, 1964 when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with the cast of Oliver! But they were hardly the headliners that night. The same night was the night that The Beatles made their North American debut on the Sullivan show, bringing in a record breaking viewing audience and becoming one of the most revered television performances in pop culture history. Billions watched The Beatles from their living rooms while Davy peered at them from backstage. Watching the girls go wild in the audience, Davy thought he’d like a piece of that action and recorded his own solo pop album under the name David Jones, but it gained little attention. But an agent from Columbia saw potential in Davy from his performance inOliver! and signed his to a seven year contract to Columbia Pictures. Yet as time went by, they really weren’t sure what to do with this guy. Not really an actor, not really a pop singer, Davy had a cheeky charm and a ton of personality but was sort of between two worlds.
Enter producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. Inspired by The Beatles’ second feature film, Help!, Rafelson and Schneider approached Columbia Pictures with a brand new TV show about a rock n’ roll group called The Monkees. They would put together a group of four guys, release records and singles and put them on a weekly TV series. Nothing like it had ever been done before. Columbia bought the idea, but requested that Schneider and Rafelson put Davy into the mix. Davy was probably not exactly what the duo had in mind, but he was British and he was a cute so they signed him up. In the long run Davy was the only Monkee who didn’t have to audition. The Monkees were the first manufactured rock band, consisting of broad stereotypes that teenage girls could choose from to be their favorite. There was the leader, Mike Nesmith, the dumb but sweet guy, Peter Tork, the zany off the wall guy, Mickey Dolenz and, of course, the cute romantic guy, Davy Jones. The Monkeeswas a runaway hit, and almost immediately their songs began to make their way onto the Billboard Charts. Although Mickey Dolenz was the primary lead singer on most of the hits, Davy had his own string of songs as lead singer including A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, Valerie, I Want to Be Free and, of course one of The Monkees biggest hits of all time, Daydream Believer, which hit Billboard’s number one spot in 1967. Meanwhile, as The Beatles became more way out and psychedelic, the younger sisters of the girls that screamed for the Fab Four were buying 16 Magazine and hanging up pictures of The Monkees on their bedroom walls. Soon The Monkees rivaled The Beatles in popularity, and Davy Jones was the lead dreamboat. Although serious music fans started a backlash against the band because they primarily didn’t play their own instruments (not acknowledging that Mike Newsmith was writing half of all the songs released on singles), The Monkees were pop sensations and became one of the most important recording groups in pop culture history.
Although The Monkees was cancelled after two seasons despite winning an Emmy, Davy Jones managed to stay in the public eye for a number of years afterwards. Shortly after the shows cancellation Davy and the rest of the group made the psychedelic cult film Head with mixed results. Davy also appeared on one of the most celebrated episodes of The Brady Bunch where he performed a new single, Girl, and trumped Desi Aranz Jr. as Marcia Brady’s teen dream hunk, and was even animated on an episode of Scooby Doo where he sang a fun little pop rarity called I Can Make You Happy. When The Monkees became a popular Saturday morning staple in reruns by the early 1970’s, Davy reunited with Mickey Dolenz, as well as Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who composed many of The Monkees biggest hits, for a series of concerts. But by the mid 1970’s The Monkee train had pretty much ended and Davy settled back into musical theater, as well as revisiting his love for horses and racing.
However you can’t keep a good Monkee down, and good music lasts forever. Monkeemania would find itself reborn in 1986 when MTV reignited the fire by rebroadcasting The Monkees. Soon a new cult following rose from the ashes, and twenty years after he first became a teen idol, Davy Jones found himself in teen magazines again. That summer Davy, Mickey and Peter went back on the road for a Monkee reunion tour, putting the music of The Monkees back in the hearts and minds of the fans once again. What was astounding was that Davy Jones once again began to pull on the heartstrings of another generation of girls who were just discovering The Monkees for the first time. Davy Jones had the unique experience of being a teen heart throb for three generations of girls, while most teen idols only become a heart throb for just one. From that moment on, either together or alone, Davy Jones was a solid draw on the concert circuit, and maintained a presence and popularity as an entertainer with audiences.
Now I don’t know why Davy wasn’t wearing pants when I first met him. I often wonder if it was a test of some sorts. If it was a way to see how Verne and I would react and to see if we were going to be comfortable enough to be let into his inner circle. Well, we must have passed the audition because instead of reacting to his red briefs and his skinny little legs, we just fell into the lively conversation and the laughter with Davy and his band and, before leaving, Davy invited us to join him for breakfast at the hotel the next morning. The following day Verne and I returned to the hotel and found a very different Davy Jones in the hotel restaurant. Dressed in a black sweater and sunglasses, Davy quietly sipped on coffee with his assistant Aviva Maloney. The zany Davy of the night before was replaced by a much quieter and more thoughtful man, who hummed along with the music of a guitar player who strummed in the restaurant, and quietly talked about soccer games and British war movies from his childhood. Davy invited Verne and I to spend the morning talking with him but, once the recorder came out, Davy wasn’t as interested in doing an interview as much as just telling us about his thoughts about almost everything. It can only be described as sort of a “verbal diarrhea” as Davy talked about everything from sex and religion, to politics and laundry, to Beatles and Monkees, to his sisters and his daughters, to entertainment and the soul. Davy Jones became more philosopher then Monkee, and what Verne and I came out with was a unique oral manifesto of a former teen idol. Our morning with Davy Jones is still one of the most popular features at PCA and it can be read here.
But let me tell you the truth about the real Davy Jones as I experienced him. Over two days I had two different encounters with Davy Jones. I saw him with his pants on, and I saw him with his pants off. I saw him with his friends and his band, I saw him with his public, and I had my own unique one on one with him for three hours. I’m not saying that I knew Davy Jones, but I do believe I saw him for the man that he was. The Davy Jones I spent the morning with was one of the kindest and most approachable individuals that I ever met. As we had morning coffee a woman sheepishly approached the table to speak to Davy. Davy greeted her with a warm smile and made her feel at ease, listened to her as she told him how much he enjoyed his music and how much she loved him when she was growing up and then he thanked her and gave her a hug. But as we were about to leave the restaurant, he turned to look for the woman and this time he approached her table, took her hand and thanked her again, shook hands with her husband and left the restaurant giving them a smile and a wave. Why did he do this? Because he wanted to let her know how much she meant to him. In our interview Davy spoke of the encounter by saying “People are nervous enough and they don’t really know. In the middle of all this somebody can come and talk to us, as if you’re just another man. I mean that’s like familiarity that you can’t buy. That makes me feel good that they feel so causal about the idea. It’s sort of empowering.” Davy was like that as we walked through the hotel. He was full of smiles and hugs and handshakes and kind words to the people we ran into. He would stop and talk to anybody who recognized him, sign autographs, make jokes and just liked to make people feel happy. Davy Jones just liked people, and spread as much love around as he could. But what I found most interesting was that no matter if he was in a calm mood or a zany playful mood, or if he was with his inner circle or the public, Davy was only about one step removed from the same guy that we saw on television. I can speak by experience that celebrities are different people on screen then they are in real life, but Davy was pretty much the same guy that we got to know on The Monkees. He was kind, giving, approachable and fun. He was just this gem of a guy.
Davy Jones is special to me for one very real reason. It was Davy Jones who really helped lift me to a platform in which I could do the work that I continue to do at PCA. As I stated before, PCA had just started out. We were nothing. Davy Jones didn’t care who I was, or Verne or Candace was, or what PCA was. We had almost no readership. We had barely any interviews on our roster, and the few we did have came by total fluke. But all it took was a simple phone call and Davy Jones was giving enough to tell us to come down and he’d meet us. He was kind enough to invite us to breakfast and drink coffee with us. He was cool enough to tell us his stories, allow us to spend a few hours with him, and give us a memory we’ll take with us for the rest of our lives. But most of all, by giving me this experience he opened the doors that gave me enough credibility that helped prove to other entertainers, representatives and mangers that I was good at what I did. He brought me to a platform that I needed to be on to start my career, and he did it without really knowing who I was or what kind of work I’d do. Davy Jones took a chance on me and as a result built one of the first bridges that allowed me to cross over to a credible level in my career. He didn’t have to do it, but he did because he had a few hours to spare and was a nice man. For this I’ll always remember him, and I’ll always love him.
Davy, you helped me believe in my daydreams, and they all came true as a result. Thank you for your music, your kindness and one of the most memorable mornings of my life. You helped change my life although you probably will never knew it. Thank you Davy Jones. Thank you with all my heart.