I met Davy Jones twice: once in California, once in Virginia.
The latter occasion was the most recent, and it was only a fleeting encounter, a quick backstage meet-and-greet before a co-headlining performance with Peter Noone at the Ferguson Center for the Arts, in Newport News, VA. I had done phoners with both gentlemen for The Virginian-Pilot in advance of the show, so my wife and I were granted a brief audience with them and had a picture snapped to commemorate the occasion.
In addition, although Jones wasn’t doling out any autographs at that precise moment (they did, after all, have a show yet to perform), he and I had discussed the matter beforehand, so thanks to the kind folks at the Ferguson serving as middle man a bit later when Jones wasn’t surrounded by fans, I’m proud to say that I possess an autographed copy of Jones’s autobiography, They Made A Monkee Out of Me!
As for the first time I met Mr. Jones, it was at the Beverly Hilton, during the Television Critics Association press tour. In attendance to support a PBS special that he was hosting, Jones agreed to a 15-minute sit-down. I’d hoped to do a lengthy Set List piece for the Onion AV Club, tackling his pre- and post-Monkees career as well as some highlights of his work with Messrs. Dolenz, Nesmith, and Tork, but the conversation didn’t go quite as I’d intended. In fairness, I’d only just dipped my toe into the Set List waters, so I probably could’ve pushed Jones a bit more and, in turn, gotten him to wrap up answers sooner. Instead, I just let him go until he stopped. What I didn’t realize, however, was that Davy Jones is not particularly prone to stopping, a fact which–now that I’m aware of it –makes his sudden death even harder to accept than it already would’ve been.
When we sat down for our conversation, the first thing I asked him about was not the Monkees but, rather, the work he’d done when he’d played the role of the Artful Dodger in Oliver! To be specific, I wanted to know what came to mind when I mentioned the song “Consider Yourself.”
“You know something?” he asked me. “When I was in the stables in 1961, the agents came–there was other actors that owned horses, so that’s why they where there–and they took me to London. I rehearsed the song…”
At this, he burst into the first few lines: “Consider yourself at home / Consider yourself one of the family…”
Then he slipped into a brief impression of the encounter that went down after the rehearsal.
“All right, and what’s your name?”
In a heavy Manchester accent. “David Jones.”
“And where do you come from?”
“I come from Manchester.”
“Uh, excuse me, but…do you speak like all the time?”
“Yes, I do. You’re right there, I do.”
Jones grinned. “They gave me six weeks to go away and come back having learned a Cockney accent,” he said. “Me trying to sing in a Cockney accent…it’s like Mick Jagger trying to sing like he’s from the South!
“When Lionel Bart wrote the whole show,” he continued, “he had a singer/entertainer called Max Bygraves come to see him. I’m not sure if he’s still alive, but if he is, he’s living in Australia, as most artists do from England that have any success. Australia or America. They can’t afford to live in England. But Max Bygraves bought the score from Lionel Bart before it ever went on the stage for 300 pounds…because he wanted ‘Consider Yourself.’ Oliver! was at the Wimbledon Theater, and Lionel and whoever he was with went to see Donald Albery at the New Theater, on Shaftesbury Avenue in London, and he wanted some money to take the show from the Wimbledon to this theater…and they gave him 300 pounds. They moved it, and it was an instant hit.
“Soon after that, David Merrick came over, saw the show, took it to America with Georgia Brown and all the cast, including their Oliver and Artful Dodger, toured it for six months, and then to it up to Toronto. He came over to see the production in England, and he came backstage to me and asked, ‘Would you like to come to America?’ I said, ‘Who are you? Maverick?’ ‘Cause I didn’t know who he was. ‘No, Merrick. David Merrick. Would you like to go to America?’ ‘No, I’m not, I’m going back to the stables. I’m almost finished. I’m going back to be a jockey.’
‘Well, we want you to come over to America.’ And the reason why he asked me was to replace the current boy that was doing it (Michael Goodman) and to give Georgia and the rest of the cast lessons in how to speak, ’cause nobody could understand what anybody was saying! And me being from Manchester, I talked like this…”
In his best Dodger: “All right, Fagin, I’d like to say it’s nice to see ya, because I’m talking very slowly, ’cause I’m wanting to sound like I come from London.’”
He grinned again.
“That’s why I went there,” he said. “And that’s how it all happened. I went to Toronto, spent a week there in a room at the Royal York Hotel, and finally they put me in the show. The stage was three times as long as this” – indicating the table – “and the stage that I’d come from was no bigger than this” – indicating his coffee cup – “and it was amazing.
“But I was like an orphan. No one would speak to me, no one would accept me. Except for Georgia. So we went to New York, we opened without reviews in the newspapers, ’cause they were on strike. David Merrick called up Walter Winchell, Clive Barnes, and a number of other reporters…except they weren’t those people. They were just names in the phone book that were the same. But he said, ‘Walter Winchell says this is a smash! Clive Barnes says this is the best thing he’s ever seen!’ And he put them on the billboards outside…without, of course, saying that it was Walter Winchell from New Jersey or Clive Barnes from Virginia or wherever. Smart man.
“So we ran. Georgia was nominated, Clive (Revill) was nominated, and I was nominated for Tony Awards, and I remember going to the Tony Awards, and they said, ‘And the winner for Best Supporting Actor, David…’ And I leaned forward in my seat…and they said somebody else’s name. But I’m glad it wasn’t me that won, ’cause that guy died six months later. It could’ve been me!”
At this point, since I was talking about Oliver!, I wanted to make sure that I tied in Jones’s often-forgotten contribution to one of the greatest TV episodes in rock ‘n’ roll history: appearing with the rest of his fellow cast members on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night as the Beatles.
“So,” I ventured, “was ‘Consider Yourself’ the song you guys sang on ‘Sullivan’?”
“No, we sang…”
Again, he burst into song. “I’d do anything / For you, dear / Anything!”
“And then Georgia sang ‘As Long As He Needs Me,'” he explained. “So it was about the cast and the kids and the feel of the show.”
“In retrospect, it must’ve been pretty remarkable to look back realize just how much of a rock and roll landmark that particular episode ended up being,” I said.
In the manner of a man who prefers to keep the spotlight on himself (and rightfully so, given that the interview was, after all, about him), Jones chose to sidestep any discussion of the Beatles and simply say, “Well, for us, the reason we wanted to do The Ed Sullivan Show was because, supposedly, if you went on The Ed Sullivan Show, that made your career,” said Jones. “But no one show makes your career. It’s like the kids on American Idol or the contestants on Dancing with the Stars or what have you. It doesn’t mean they’re gonna get the Chita Rivera part in West Side Story just because they danced well. It doesn’t mean they’re gonna get a long career. It all depends on who you’ve got around you, who’s supporting you, and how grounded you can become in regards to your success. Booker T. Washington said, ‘Success is not to be measured by the position you reach in life but by the obstacles you overcome to reach that success.’ And most careers are fishbowls: Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, they go up, they go down, and they settle for somewhere in the middle of the bowl and end up with a long and successful career. And that’s what I’ve got: the most unused recognizable voice in America.”
Jones laughed at this last bit. But not very hard, and – I rather suspect – without nearly as much of the humor his accompanying smile was intended to convey.
All right, that’s all I’ve got time to transcribe for the moment. More soon, I promise…