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THE DAY THE MONKEES TURNED DEL MAR INTO CLARKSVILLE

 

 

Monkee Business 42 years ago (9-11-66), Del Mar was renamed “Clarksville” for the day, as part of a promotion for the Monkees TV show, which would debut the following night. The Sunday event marked the first time the foursome ever performed music in public.

 

Ron Jacobs was a DJ at L.A. radio station KHJ at the time. “One of Boss Radio’s most exciting promotions was staging an actual Last Train to Clarksville,” he says on his website. “A few hundred KHJ winners rode to ‘Clarksville,’ the city of Del Mar…whose train station was hustled by Promotions Director Don Berrigan.”

 

“The tenth callers would get two free tickets to the Last Train to Clarksville,” recalls KHJ promotions associate Barbara Hamaker in the Mike Nesmith biography Total Control. “To this day, I don’t know how we did it. I was the one who had to type up all the releases and all of the stuff that was involved in getting kids onto the train…we used some Podunk town called Del Mar.”

 

 According to Ron Jacobs, “Once the winners debarked there, and ate their fried chicken lunch, whackatawack, a quartet of helicopters slowly alit near the train.” The Monkees emerged, greeted enthusiastically by both contest winners and curious locals who’d been told they’d be meeting “the next Beatles.”

 

The Mayor of Del Mar was there too, officially declaring the town “Clarksville” and nailing up a sign near the train depot saying so. The Monkees single “Last Train to Clarksville” was at #61 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, though it would shortly hit number one. The song’s original title had been “Last Train to Home, Girl. “It’s good we decided on Clarksville,” Peter Tork told reporters. “Can you just see the Mayor saying ‘I now proclaim this the city of Home Girl’?”

 

 Micky Dolenz talked to the press about the group’s rising profile. “We really don’t know where it’s at yet. I mean, like, we just got back from the [publicity] tour, and then we got up this morning, flew down to San Diego, took a helicopter to Del Mar, and now we’re on a train to L.A.

 

Says Jacobs, “The four soon-to-be-American-Idols boarded the caboose and picked up instruments that were set up and waiting, as the Monkees played their first live music in public.” The two songs performed were “Papa Gene's Blues,” written by Mike Nesmith, and a cover of “She's So Far Out, She's In” by Baker Knight (also released as a single by Dino, Desi & Billy in May ‘66). “By the time the train pulled into Union Station,” says Jacobs, “the rumor that the fellows were lip-synching their stuff had been put to rest.”

 

The Monkees debut episode was also screened for the 400 or so contest winners, who had left L.A. at noon and returned just before 8 p.m.

The Monkees TV show debuted on NBC the following night, quickly become popular enough to nearly qualify the “next Beatles” hyperbole as prophetic.

 

The live “Clarksville” performance was filmed by KHJ for an L.A. TV show called Boss City, which aired it on September 17, 1966. “That footage is lost and has never turned up on the collector’s circuit,” says local Monkees memorabilia dealer Duane Dimock, aka Ed Finn, co-author of The Monkees Scrapbook. “All that exists is some silent black-and-white 8mm footage that shows a person donned in a gorilla suit, crawling and pounding his chest along the tops of buildings. The Monkees show up in their classic long sleeved, double breasted shirts, get off the train, and they move through the crowd to the stage.  A prior band had been warming up mostly teenage kids. Then you see the Monkees waving at the crowd from the train.”

 

Davy Jones has fond memories of the day KHJ made a Monkee out of him. “I was a jockey, so of course Del Mar was a big part of that life,” he told the Reader in 2006. “When you see that ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ video, I mean in the [Monkees] TV show, that’s really Del Mar the train goes to…it was really grand fun, even though nobody had really heard of us yet.”

 

HOWEVER – tho this was the first time the Monkees performed in public, the very first time the band EVER performed music together was ALSO in San Diego – a year before the Clarksville promotion!

 

In mid-November 1965, the foursome shot scenes for the pilot episode “Royal Flush” at the Hotel Del Coronado, including the country club and bar sequences. Exterior scenes were filmed on the beach near the Hotel; this footage would also turn up in the series original title sequence, as well as throughout the episode “Here Come the Monkees.”

 

West Coast Iron Works guitarist Gary Carter was a sophomore at Coronado High School at the time, and he recalls the Friday afternoon he and two friends stumbled across the Monkees on the Hotel Del beachfront. “We noticed them in shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and a guy filming them with a handheld camera,” he says. “We had no idea who they were…During a break, we struck up a conversation with Davy Jones, and he asked us if we could take him to Tijuana! We explained that we were underage and not allowed to cross the border.”

 

c17 Jones invited the teens to dinner with the band that evening in the Hotel Del’s Crown room, along with crew members, potential network affiliates, and – in the case of Micky Dolenz – groupies. “That was when I recognized him as the grown up kid [Micky Braddock] from the Circus Boy TV show,” says Carter, “and he had six or seven of the most beautiful Hollywood starlets anyone has ever seen at his table with him.”

 

“As the evening progressed, they [the Monkees] started having fun with each other. I don’t remember which one it was, but someone picked up this big bowl of shrimp cocktail and tossed it…soon, it was a full-on food fight, and we had to leave the table to avoid getting food all over us. I was horrified [for the Hotel]…the carpet in that room alone was worth tens of thousands of dollars.”

 

 The messy dinner notwithstanding, Carter accepted Jones’ invitation to return the following day, to watch a TV scene being filmed in the Hotel’s Circus Room (seen in the series pilot). This shoot marked the first time the Monkees ever played musical instruments all in one room together, as they plugged into the prop amps between setups and took a shot at a few old Chuck Berry and folk numbers.

 

“I got the hint from watching that their show was a satire of the Beatles, which I personally took offense at,” says Carter, who got bored after a couple of hours and departed the shooting.

 

“On the way out, I stuck my head into the Crown Room, and a bunch of people were still cleaning up the mess from the food fight. They were really pissed off.”

 

The Monkees were banned from the Hotel Del – collectively and individually – until September 2004, when Davy Jones returned with his band to perform at a private function. “Memories flooded the moment as we checked in and walked down the longest and widest corridors,” he wrote on his website davyjones.net.

 

“The concert for a couple hundred execs went down well,” says Jones, “and a couple of convention goers helped me sing ‘Daydream Believer’ and ‘I'm a Believer’ to rapturous applause. A good time was had by all. By Thursday, I made my way to the beach and shrunk my vitals. Extreme cold sea.”


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