Peter Tork, famous for his role as the lovable, if not somewhat goofy, guitar player with the 1960s pop musical group The Monkees, will perform a benefit concert in Kenosha Saturday night.
Tork will be the headliner for the concert at the Rhode Opera House. The Southside Johnny band will be the opening act. Proceeds from his performance will benefit the restoration of the Rhode Center for the Arts.
Born Peter Halsten Thorkelson in Washington, D.C., in February 1942, Tork is now a Connecticut resident. He came to Wisconsin a few days ahead of time to visit with friends and took some time out to talk with us about his current projects and his days with one of America's favorite pop culture television shows, "The Monkees."
Unlike his fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, Tork was a working musician prior to being recruited for his role as a teen idol. Through the years, he has continued to perform both with Monkees reunion groups and a number of other bands and solo gigs.
Tork, who is more witty than goofy in real life, also spent some time teaching - English and algebra - and has appeared in guest roles on several television sitcoms including "Boy Meets World," "Wings" and "King of Queens." His current musical project is a group called Shoe Suede Blues, which performs at dance clubs, theaters and private functions across the nation.
What brings you to Wisconsin?
I actually have Wisconsin roots. My grandfather taught at UW-Madison and my father, mother and brother all went to school there. My mother and father got married in Racine in 1940 and my two favorite aunts lived in Wisconsin until they died. I lived in Wisconsin from the time I was 6 or 7 until I was 9, in a little town that is no longer there called Badger (near Madison). Today, as I'm driving through Ripon, I'm seeing and experiencing all kinds of things that remind me of those days. I'm a sucker for a Wisconsin accent. Every time I hear one of those Wisconsin "Nooooo's, it melts my heart.
Who will be playing with you at the Rhode Opera House in Kenosha on Saturday?
Mine will be a solo show.
What type of music will you performing?
I was thinking about doing some Gregorian chants, some Klezmer music and maybe a few Japanese folk songs - just kidding! I'll be doing some folk and acoustic pop, some cover songs and a few Monkees songs. You can't get away from that.
Tell us about your current group Shoe Suede Blues?
This is what I want to do when I grow up. Some friends and I were asked to put together a band for a benefit dance for a women's recovery home and child care program in Venice Beach. We got ourselves down there and went out and rock and rolled the place. After that performance, we began getting requests for performances for other benefits, corporate events and clubs, so we went out and did it again and again. Once we got national exposure on Cox Cablevision, we started getting inquiries from around the country. That was 10 years ago and we've been doing it ever since. We're in the process of setting up a tour along the Eastern Seaboard in the next few weeks.
Is benefit work something you hope to continue?
Yes. It is a great way to give back to the community. You've got to pay it forward, as they say. We aren't really sure where our talent comes from, are we? So it's best to share our gifts as much as we possibly can.
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Is it true that Stephen Stills is the one who encouraged you to audition for The Monkees television show?
Yes. I was playing in a band with Stephen at the time and he knew one of the producers who was putting together the television show. The story goes that the producer told Stephen that he wanted to ask him, but he couldn't because Stephen's teeth and hair weren't telegenic enough. When Stephen tried to think of someone with better teeth and hair, his old friend Peter was the first to come to mind. Poor Stephen, he had to go on and settle for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Poor sot. I really feel sorry for him. Don't you?
How did your time with the Monkees shape what you are doing today?
That is difficult to say, as I don't really have any other experience to compare it to - I don't know what my life would have been like if I hadn't been a Monkee. My best guess is that it would have to do with the good and bad that came from having witnessed how a big time entertainment project is assembled. Granted, this wasn't Tom Cruise in "War of the Worlds" but it was big time entertainment on television. I am positive of this - every type of payoff has its price.
You were the first Monkee to leave the group. Why did you leave?
For me, the goal was always to be with a group of musicians who could create music together (without corporate dictating what could and couldn't be done). I get transported every time Shoe Suede Blues plays. And actually, I really enjoyed making our third album with the Monkees, because that's when we started to step away from the studio (executives) and do more of what we wanted. We had a great time when we made the "Headquarters" album. I think it has more resonance to it than the first two.
You play a variety of instruments (guitar, banjo, keyboards, French horn, bass, trumpet and ukulele). Is there one that is your favorite?
No, not really. I learned to play so many because as a teacher, I realized that in order to teach something well you need to understand what your student is going through as they try to learn.
What projects do you have on the horizon?
I'm going to be appearing at the Cult TV Festival in the United Kingdom in October and we're hoping to book a few dates for Shoe Suede Blues there, too. We'd love to be able to take the band to Europe.
Tork's advice to young musicians and Monkee fans (young and old) out there -
Be a hero to yourself.
For more information about Peter Tork, visit:
http: / /www.petertork.com