Monday, February 7, 2011

Tommy Boyce: The Fifth Monkee

Text by Nancy Foster; introduction by Robert Barry Francos
© 1986, FFanzeen; introductory comments © RBF, 2011
Images from the Internet

The following article on 1960s music icon Tommy Boyce was originally published in
FFanzeen magazine, issue #14, in 1986. It was written by Nancy Foster.

Around 1985, I was hanging out at Nancy Foster’s apartment on Third Avenue, just south of 14th Street, listening to some music. While the building had once been a high class high rise, now it was a bit of a roach-infested hovel. We had gone out to dinner, as we often had, and she was waiting on a visitor.

A ring of the bell, and Tommy Boyce was at the door. We all hung out for a little bit and joked around, and then I took some pictures, none of which came out well (it was a darkly lit room, and I had no flash yet). After a few minutes, I left Nancy to interview Tommy for the following piece.

Sidney Thomas Boyce, suffering from some physical and mental ailments, pulled a Del Shannon and did himself in with a gun almost a decade later, in 1994, but the music he wrote and inspired keeps on going. – RBF, 2011

What do Jay and the Americans, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees, the Lettermen, The Sex Pistols, Showaddy Waddy, the Darts, among many others, have in common? They all recorded songs written or co-written by Tommy Boyce.

It’s not surprising that Tommy co-wrote, with partner Bobby Hart, the theme to Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, but the fact that they wrote the theme for that long running soap opera The Days of Our Lives is outrageous.

Talking to Tommy Boyce is fab and fun – like taking a crash course in pop. There are a lot of great stories out there, and he got a million of them.

Tommy Boyce’s first hit came when his father told him, “Write a song for Fats Domino and call it ‘Be My Guest’.” This was a hot tip. The phrase comes from the song “Sea Cruise”: “Be my guest / You got nothin’ to lose / Won’t you let me take you / On a sea cruise.”

So, Tommy wrote the song in 1959 and called Imperial, Fats’ record company. The guy at the record company said, when Tommy suggested the idea, “Fats won’t like it.” Well, Tommy wasn’t satisfied with that. A friend in the industry told Tommy the name of Fats’ hotel, so Tommy went, demo in hand, and waited in the hotel lobby for six hours. When he finally gave up his vigil, he walked out, only to bump into Mr. Domino himself.

Tommy was beside himself: “Uh – Mr. Domino – uh – I have a – uh – song for you. I know – uh – you’ll like it. Just – uh – listen to it. That’s – uh – good enough – uh – for me. My God! – uh – He –uh – touched it!”

One of Fats’ bodyguards tried to cut Tommy off, and the man himself spoke: “Let the boy talk. I like how the boy talk. Calm down, boy!”

So, Tommy gave Fats the demo and Fats promised to give it a listen. The record company contacted Tommy a few weeks later with the good news: Fats would record it. Even better news – Fats had a hit with it soon afterwards.

But then the drought hit. No hit for two years. So Tommy checked out Billboard and Cashbox. There he noticed something pertinent – the songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Morty Shuman had three hits in the Top-Ten! “Wow!,” thought the budding pop god. “If anyone knows the secret of writing hit songs, they must!” Tommy saved his money and made a 3,000 mile trek to find the key to songwriting.

When Tommy arrived in New York City, he hung out at the Brill Building. Then he approached Doc and Morty at their fave teatime hangout. “I wrote one hit and I can’t seem to do it again. I came 3,000 miles to find out the secret of writing hits.”

The answer was simple: “The title.” With this valuable information, Tommy had a hit three months later with “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” sung by Curtis Lee. Tommy mixed the doo-wop of “Blue Moon” with the romance of the Everly Brothers’ “Ebony Eyes,” to come up with the world’s first romantic doo-wop record with a white guy singing lead and black guys singing back-ups.

Tommy had some solo singles: “Sweet Little Cathy,” followed by “I Remember Carol,” in 1962. In 1964, Jay and the Americans had a hit with “Come a Little Bit Closer,” a by-then-songwriting-team Boyce & Hart composition.

Then, the men behind the Monkees wanted Boyce & Hart to put their musical Midas Touch on the Monkees’ first album (The Monkees). They wrote the TV theme, “I Wanna Be Free,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day,” “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day,” “Let’s Dance On,” “Gonna Buy Me a Dog,” etc., as well as added their production know-how.

Yet, it wasn’t all “peaches and cream” behind the scenes of the Monkees. Mickey was fooling around during the recording of “Last Train to Clarksville.” Tommy chastised Mickey and the air turned blue. Mickey returned in kind saying only he could sing the song right. Tommy left the studio and Mickey kept his promise, and such is the way great hits are made.

After leaving the Monkees' songwriting stable, Boyce & Hart, the reflex hitmakers, had three albums on their own on A&M Records, as well as writing the theme to the film Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.

In 1975, five years after the Monkees’ demise, David Jones had the idea to put together a new version of the Monkees, with Mickey Dolenz, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. He could not get the legal rights to use the name “Monkees,” so the group of Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart was born. It was so successful that they did a year-long international tour and put out two albums, one studio and one live in Japan.

After the tour, Tommy decided to visit London. He planned to stay a few weeks and ended up staying nine years.

A band called Showaddy Waddy (the British Sha Na Na) recorded religious version of Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” and “Under the Moon of Love.” Then Tommy got together with Richard Hartley of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame and said, “Let’s put everything I know about the Monkees with everything you know about Rocky Horror, and put it together. The Darts had three albums produced by Tommy, as well as recoding some of his songs, like “Peaches and Cream,” originally done by Tina Turner in 1965.

Tommy also produced the wonderful Pleasers, which included a couple of singles, such as their version of the Who’s “The Kids are Alright.” Tommy said he really enjoyed producing them, and the only thing that held them back was a “rotten manager.”

One of my favorite anecdotes of Tommy’s was the Johnny Rotten story: When Tommy first met Johnny, he introduced himself as the writer of “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” and added that he dug the Sex Pistols’ version. Instead of taking a compliment graciously, the ungrateful Mr. Rotten answered Tommy with a beer can in the face.

Years later at the Peppermint Lounge in New York City, Tommy ran into Johnny again and decided he deserved a second chance. So, he introduced himself again. This time, Johnny was more civilized: “You’ve got a lot of money, donca? How about buying me a drink and giving me a few bucks?” Tommy showed his Southern hospitality (he’s from Virginia) by indulging the no-so-rotten one.

Another great story is when Tommy was producing cuts of Iggy Pop’s album, Party. It was a high pressure situation. Iggy said, “Produce me a hit, Tommy, or I’ll kill myself!”

Then there was the time when Christopher “Superman” Reeves asked to meet Tommy. Tommy was impressed with his size and wondered, “Where’s your cape?” Christopher was impressed by Tommy’s wit, but he had a confession to make: “When I was living in the Midwest and I was fourteen, ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ was my favorite song.” When you have Superman on your side, you know you’re okay.

Tommy, who has never been out of the swing of things for long, will soon be back in the public eye. Lorimar Productions wants to do a video on the history of Boyce & Hart. Slated to star in the video are Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden, who will show the Boyce & Hart clip of “Out and About,” from the I Dream of Jeannie show, circa 1965. Elizabeth Montgomery will present another clip from Bewitched, as well. There will also be various and sundry acting and musical personalities, including Tony Orlando, Connie Francis, Chris Reeves (who will aspire to reveal how “Clarksville” was written), etc.

The video will be filmed mostly in Los Angeles, but Tommy took time out to visit New York City and some long-time musical cohorts, like the inestimable Keith Allison (of the Crickets, Where the Action Is, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc., fame). Where he’ll be next is inn the watching!

Fats Domino

Curtis Lee

Tommy Boyce

Days of Our Lives Theme

Jay and the Americans

The Monkees

Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows


I Dream of Jeannie

Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart

The Darts

The Sex Pistol

Iggy Pop

My favorite of the Boyce & Hart songs

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