Peter Tork Tribute Show Notes
February 13, 1942 – February 21, 2019
Over time, you may notice I often refer to the Great American Food & Beverage Company, Great American or GA for short. The GA was a very popular restaurant in the 70’s through early 80’s known for it’s singing waiters, fabulous planked feasts filled with gigantic beef ribs and chicken, expedited with grapes, and fresh fruit, and decadent desserts served with humongous scoops of ice cream made to look like boobs, with bananas dripping with hot fudge resting in the melting cleavage. It was called the ice cream orgy. Some well known celebrities worked there for a spell including Katie Sagal, Ricki Lee Jones, Michael Winslow, 80’s rockers Jamie Sherriff and Marc Tanner, and… for a spell…. Peter Tork best known as one of the Monkees. Peter passed away on Friday, February 21st at the age of 77. Today, we remember him with great fondness as a few mutual friends share their stories in a Tribute to Peter Tork on Tales if the Road Warriors!
If you enter the name Peter Tork in Google’s search engine, you will get about 14 million results in about 36 seconds. To say he was a pretty popular fellow would be quite accurate.
How, this is not a recap of Peter Tork’s career with the Monkees. Or a history of Peter’s life. You can find a lot of great articles, interviews and music videos of his all over the internet. But Peter was the sum of many parts before, during and after his association with the iconic band that propelled him to stardom. This is my little piece of the Peter Tork story, and I feel honored and fortunate that I entered his orbit, however briefly. I also encountered several people within that orbit that have agreed to share their stories of working with or just hanging with Peter. A few of the words that come up a lot when talking with the people that ever met him… kind, humble and gracious. I never heard anyone utter an unkind word about him.
Before Peter became a member of the Monkees, he was passing the hat in coffee houses in New York’s Greenwich Village.
The first person to share his story is Tedd Baron, describing those early days. At the time, Tedd was i a rock band called the Hi-5. Here’s a link to the video he mentioned when the group was on “I’ve got a Secret” with Steve Allen. This the Hi-5 performing their original song Did You Have to Rub It In
Next, I talked about my own first encounter with Peter Tork. Peter was about 24 when he joined the Monkees in 1965 and the oldest member of the group. He was 37 when I worked with him briefly, at the Great American F&B Co.
I was clocking in on what was his first night at the GA, and I noticed the name Peter Thorkleson on the time card above mine. My first thought was, “No way”. I didn’t even know that was his real name. However, when I went into the dining room to set up for the dinner rush, there he was. Big as life. Peter Tork. He introduced himself and during the course of the night, I had a hard time focusing, just knowing he was in the place bussing tables. I hadn’t been a waiter that long, having bussed tables for almost a year before getting a waiter position. And here I was waiting tables while Peter Tork was clearing them off for me and bringing water and condiments to the customers. It just felt so wrong. I felt almost embarrassed for the guy.
A few days later, I was walking home from the store and damn! There’s Peter Tork again at the end of my block. I said, Peter Tork! Are you stalking me? Turns out his daycare was at the end of my street and he was dropping his kids off. I took the opportunity to ask him how he ended up at the GA. So he told me…
Two years prior to when I met him, he had moved to Japan with his family. He had bought out his contract with Screen Gems and the high cost of living in Japan helped him burn through the remainder of his savings. Now he was back in the States, trying to get back on his feet financially and emotionally. And as I could see, he also had a family to support. I imagine the stint he put in at the Great American was a dark time for him. When he first started working there, he refused to play any songs from the Monkee’s catalogue. But, he wouldn’t hesitate to jump in with another GA waiter doing cover tunes, or play some of his originals on the banjo in between bussing tables. And he did a mean Chuck Berry duck walk while playing the shit out of his banjo. Yeah, Tork, was a great entertainer.
Johnny Roquemore, a coworker at the GA, told me of his reaction upon seeing this guy who looked like one of the Monkees…
Next – Once Peter Tork began performing Monkees songs at the Great American, the customers were ecstatic. He worked out several numbers with Danny Carey, one of my favorite cohorts. Danny knew the lyrics and chords to most of the Monkees entire catalogue. He and Peter rocked the house with several Monkees hits. Danny recounted his time at the GA working and performing with Peter.
My old friend and partner in crime, DJ Barker (the one Peter yelled at), is also the guy responsible for talking me into moving to California and joining him as a singing waiter. And he shared a similar memory.
In recent years, Peter Tork toured the US in several incarnations.
He did a couple reunion tours with the Monkees; he performed as a solo artist in rooms large and small across the U.S; he also performed with his band Shoe Suede Blues; and in a duo with James Lee Stanley called The Two Man Band.
These last two people were among the last to share the stage with him. First, here’s Laura Cheadle, who I was able to speak with briefly, but the audio is a little choppy because she was in her car driving to an appointment.
Finally, we come to Peter’s life long friend and partner in musical mirth and song, James Lee Stanley. I always like to save the best for last, and to be honest, I almost didn’t want to bother James Lee because I didn’t know if it was a good time to ask him to talk about Peter. I always hate when I see tv reporters shove a microphone in someone’s face right after they lost a loved one or their home is burned to the ground behind them, but it turned out okay. James was happy to talk to me about his friendship and musical partner, Peter Tork. Only problem was, he was getting through a bad bug and his throat was a bit raw, so I told him we’d keep it short. Still, James Lee shared quite a bit with me:
More Peter Tork Online Videos, Music and Interviews
Music from the Show
Intro (most epsiodes): Playa del Spain by Joe Walla
Joe Walla music availble on Broadjam
Outro (most epsodes): I’m Goin’ For a Drive by Hal Cohen
Produced by Barry Keys for Xenon Records
Piano: Barry Keys
Lead Guitar: Aaron Wolfson