Robert Michael Nesmith, 30 December 1942, Houston, Texas, USA. Although best known as a member of the Monkees, Nesmith enjoyed a prolific career in music prior to this units inception. During the mid-60s folk boom he performed with bass player John London (b. John Carl Kuehne, 6 February 1942, Texas, USA, d. 12 February 2000, Rockport, Texas, USA) as Mike And John, but later pursued work as a solo act. Two singles, credited to Michael Blessing, were completed under the aegis of New Christy Minstrels mastermind Randy Sparks, while Nesmiths compositions, Different Drum and Mary, Mary, were recorded, respectively, by the Stone Poneys and Paul Butterfield. Such experience gave the artist confidence to demand the right to determine the Monkees musical policy and his sterling country rock performances represented some of the highlights of the bands varied catalogue.
In 1968 Nesmith produced The Witchita Train Whistle Sings, an instrumental set of his compositions on which he did not appear, but his independent aspirations did not fully flourish until 1970 when he formed the First National Band. Former colleague London joined Red Rhodes (b. Orville Rhodes, 30 December 1930, Alton, Illinois, USA, d. 20 August 1995, California, USA; pedal steel) and John Ware (drums) in a group format that completed three exceptional albums that initially combined Nashville-styled country with the leaders acerbic pop (1970s Magnetic South), but later grew to encompass a grander, even eccentric interpretation of the genre (1971s Nevada Fighter). The band disintegrated during the latters recording and a Second National Band, on which Nesmith and Rhodes were accompanied by Johnny Meeks (bass; ex-Gene Vincent and Merle Haggard), Jack Panelli (drums) and Michael Cohen (keyboards), completed the less impressive Tantamount To Treason, Volume One (also 1971). The group was disbanded entirely for the sarcastically titled And The Hits Just Keep On Comin, a haunting, largely acoustic, 1972 set recorded with Rhodes, and regarded by many as Nesmiths finest work.
In 1972, Nesmith founded the Countryside label under the aegis of Elektra Records, but despite critically acclaimed sets by Iain Matthews, Garland Frady and the ever-present Rhodes, the project was axed in the wake of boardroom politics. The excellent 1973 recording Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash ended the artists tenure with RCA Records, following which he founded a second label, Pacific Arts. 1975s The Prison, an allegorical narrative that came replete with a book, was highly criticized upon release, although later opinion has lauded its ambition. Nesmith reasserted his commercial status in 1977 when the sublime Rio, culled from From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing, reached the UK Top 30. The attendant video signalled a growing interest in the visual arts, and in the same year Nesmith launched a television chart show called Popclips. The idea was subsequently bought by Warner and reinvented as the globally successful MTV channel.
The pop-orientated 1979 recording Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma proved to be Nesmiths biggest-selling US release, and also his last music album for a considerable time as his interest in video flourished. In 1982, the innovative Elephant Parts won the first ever Grammy for a home video, while considerable acclaim was engendered by a subsequent series, Michael Nesmith In Television Parts, and the movies Repo Man and Timerider: The Adventure Of Lyle Swann, which the artist financed through the highly successful video production arm of his Pacific Arts communications company. Interestingly, as an only child Nesmith was also the heir to the considerable fortune his mother accrued as the inventor of typewriter correction fluid aka Liquid Paper.
This articulate entrepreneur continues to pursue his various diverse interests, but only occasionally returns to the studio to record new material, with 1994s Grammy-nominated The Garden the most notable release. In 1996, Nesmith rejoined the Monkees on their 30th anniversary album release, Justus, and the subsequent UK tour. In the late 90s he became embroiled in a messy lawsuit between Pacific Arts Inc. and the PBS network over a home video distribution deal, which ended with Pacific Arts and Nesmith being awarded damages of $47 million. Nesmith has also published the novel The Long Sandy Hair Of Neftoon Zamora (1998), and runs the innovative Videoranch virtual enviroment website.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.