AND THE BLOG OUTTAKES
- Name: Michael Gray
the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)
Jones, Mickey [1941 - ]
Michael Jones was born in Houston, Texas on June 10, 1941, but grew up in Dallas, learning to play drums early in life and dropping out of high school to play on tour with Trini Lopez, whom he followed to Los Angeles, where Lopez had a regular gig at PJ’s nightclub. When Lopez was signed to Reprise, they wanted an album Live at PJ’s, and this, released in 1963, launched Lopez’s career. From it came his big hit single of ‘If I Had A Hammer’, which he had learnt from a PETER, PAUL & MARY records. Hence even Mickey Jones’ first recording success had a tenuous Dylan connection - and yes, that finger-snappy, thin, echoey drum sound on Lopez’s irksomely chirpy ‘If I Had A Hammer’ is Mr. Jones.
From Lopez he went to work for smoothed-out-rock’n’roll hitmaker Johnny Rivers (an act Bob Dylan seems to have been inordinately fond of, and whose 1968 version of ‘Postively 4th Street’ Dylan says he liked better than his own, even calling it his favourite cover version). Mickey Jones stayed with Johnny Rivers for three years, playing on seven of his albums and including in his touring a March 1966 trip to Vietnam with Ann-Margret.
Before that trip, Dylan caught Johnny Rivers at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in LA, called Jones over to his table, told him he loved his playing and offered him a job. The job began straight after the Vietnam trip: it was playing live on the Hawaii-Australia-Europe tour of 1966 with Dylan and the Hawks, after LEVON HELM had earlier dropped out and been replaced by SANDY KONIKOFF, who had played the February-March 1966 US dates. Mickey Jones made his début with the group on April 9 in Honolulu. He rode it out right through till after the London Royal Albert Hall concert of May 27 - and he was up for the further North American dates he’d been led to expect, including New York’s Shea Stadium, till Dylan had his motorcycle crash and cancelled everything. Except, apparently, Jones’ paychecks. ‘I had a two-year deal, and Bob never tried to renege,’ said Jones. ‘He’s a man of his word.’
Opinions vary as to the quality of Jones’ contribution. Barney Hoskyns writes scathingly about him, as musician and personality, in his biography of THE BAND, Across the Great Divide (1993), calling him ‘the overweight Texan’ with a ‘penchant for collecting Nazi regalia’, whose ‘sensibility was as different from that of the Hawks as his ham-fisted drumming technique was from the rangy, loose-limbed style of Levon Helm.’ And he quotes D.A. PENNEBAKER as saying: ‘The Hawks’ hearts were down in the swamps of Lousiana…. Mickey’s wasn’t, I’ll tell you that. He’d gotten out of Texas as fast as he could, and he wanted the bright lights.’
It’s true that Levon Helm’s playing was more subtle and flexible, but for many, Mickey Jones’ drumming was perfect for the radical, incendiary electric music that Dylan and the Hawks were hurling out at their audiences. The uncompromising defiance of his snare-drum attacks, like volleys of machine-gun fire, cranking up the pitch of excitement unfurled by this most glorious music, propelled the sound and the spirit of the whole fiery ship on through hostile oceans. It was the surely the best rock drumming since its obvious precursor, D.J Fontana’s thrilling, galvanising rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat on ELVIS PRESLEY’s ‘Hound Dog’ ten years earlier.
Even the ‘overweight’ jibe seems slightly unfair. Alongside the Bob Dylan of 1966 nearly everyone else in North America looked overweight. None of which lessens the pleasing witticism of the editing on a fleeting moment of the concert footage of ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ put together by Pennebaker as a promo for Eat the Document (back when he thought Dylan would co-operate with his version of that project). Before the extraordinary riches of extant 1966 concert film were glimpsed more generously in SCORSESE’s No Direction Home in 2005, bootleg copies of this would-be promo film, centred upon a Scandinavian concert’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, offered the only complete song-performance to be seen - and there’s a neat moment within it where Dylan sings that chorus line ‘You know something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?’ and as he completes the question, the film cuts to Mickey Jones, pudgy and blonde, in the dark behind his drumkit.
It isn’t a fair connection, and isn’t meant to be - plenty of people were in the dark at the time, while Mickey Jones understood the thrust of the music and helped make it - but it was a gem of editing (and it was surely HOWARD ALK who devised it).
After the tour, Jones’ moment of glory, his contribution to history, was over. It was straight downhill into Kenny Rogers & the First Edition after that, and ‘I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In’. When Kenny Rogers went solo in 1976, to become rich as Croesus in the multi-platinum late-1970s country superstar stakes, Mickey Jones concentrated on acting, encouraged by a small part alongside Rogers (and with music supplied by the First Edition) in the TV film The Dream Makers in 1975. As he grew larger, hairier and more piggy-eyed he became increasingly suited to rôles as the menacing biker, the creepy backwoodsman, ‘man at pizza joint’ and ‘burly miner’. He enjoyed a starring rôle as the Ice Man in Misfits of Science (supported by Courteney Cox), played the character Peter Bilker in the TV series ‘Home Improvement’ throughout the 1990s, and according to Edna Gundersen in USA Today, ‘he became a household face as the burly biker in a long-running Breath Savers commercial.’
In 2002 he released the video/DVD Bob Dylan - World Tour 1966: The Home Movies - Through the Camera of Dylan’s Drummer Mickey Jones. Its anecdotes, told by Jones with some verve, are inevitably interesting, though as one punter-review on Amazon noted, the overall package was ‘heavily criticised by fans, who felt that a DVD with the words “World Tour 1966” in the title should contain at least some concert footage. (It does, but without sound.)…. It is a collection of primitive silent home movie clips, some of which actually include Bob Dylan in the frame.’
In 2007 Jones finally succeeded in publishing his memoir That Would Be Me: Rock & Roll Survivor to Hollywood Actor by settling for the print-on-demand process.
[Mickey Jones: That Would Be Me: Rock & Roll Survivor to Hollywood Actor, Bloomington & Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2007. Barney Hoskyns, Across the Great Divide: The Band and America, London: Viking / Penguin, 1993 (New York: Hyperion, 1993); 2nd edn London: Vintage / Ebury, 2003. Edna Gundersen, USA Today, US, 16-18 Oct, 1998; this is also the source of the Jones quote re his salary from Dylan. DVD review by ‘Docendo Discimus’, seen online 4 Feb 2006 at www.amazon.com.]