Every so often, long after you thought you had heard or seen the last of the rock group The Monkees — not to mention that entire “British invasion” — one of those nickel and dime lyrical ditties will come blaring out of the past from an AM radio station in your car, and visions of moppy hair and bell-bottom pants will fill your head once again:”Hey, hey, we’re the Monkeeeees…”
“Wash your mouth out,” you can almost hear Renny Simno saying. Simno is a development officer at Loyola University. That’s in real life. But those Monkees are in every breath he takes and every bit of food he ingests.
“I’ve been a fan of the Monkees for 30 years … I was 10 years old when I saw them on TV. I was hooked immediately,” Simno says.
At the Metairie Family Gras this year, two of the original Monkees — still-impish Micky Dolenz and pal Peter Tork — kicked off the group’s 50th anniversary tour. Simno, needless to say, was there.
“Fifty years,” Simno muses, as he sits behind the drum set in his living room — the very drum set once used by Dolenz. Simno bought the set at an auction in New York for $2,800, and had it shipped to his home in Metairie for an additional $1,000. If you’re sensing “rabid Monkees fan” here, you hit it right on the money.
When he opens the front door of his home, a giant screen showing a Monkees feature is going strong. The walls in this room are heavy with covers from Monkees magazines, album covers from long ago, and here there are Monkees toys, key chains, stuffed pillows, wall emblems. If it’s Monkees anything, you can bet it’s somewhere to be found in this house.
In another time it was said that “The sun never sets on the British empire.” The same is true of Renny Simno’s Monkees empire. Only, contrary to popular opinion, these one-time mop-heads were not British.
They got their start in Los Angeles.
Of the original quartet, three remain. The only British Monkee, Davy Jones, died of a heart attack in 2012. Since that time, the group has operated as a trio.
“I’ve been a fan of the Monkees for 30 years,” the 39-year-old Simno says. “I remember MTV did an all-day marathon called ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday.’ It was the 20th anniversary of the Monkees that year … a resurgence of the group. That’s when I first saw them and heard that great sound they made, I was hooked. They had the biggest tour of the year in 1986. They were on Nick at Night and Nickelodeon all the time.”
That was 20 years after their two-year run as a sit-com on television, 1966-’67.
“You’ve got to remember,” says Simno, the Monkees historian, “in 1967, the Monkees music outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. They were everywhere during that time. Their music was great.”
During those television years, the Monkees show beat out “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Bewitched,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “Get Smart” for audiences and won two Emmys. When things cooled off and the plug was pulled on the Monkees TV show, syndication brought them back on Saturday mornings from 1969-’72.
“And then it was their touring and their music and everything from T-shirts to posters to toys that kept them going big,” Simno says.
“Their voices, their talent, you won’t find anything like what they offered, what they offer anywhere,” he says. “The more and more I read about them, the more fascinating I found that whole story. Way back in 1965, they ran a small ad in a newspaper looking for musicians to join their group. When the four of them finally came together, it just clicked. I truly think theirs is the most interesting and unique story in all of music history. Way back in the ’60s, four guys forming a music group kind of, like, an American Beatles coming together and doing a TV show. There was never anything like it.”
As he talks, seemingly recalling every move the Monkees ever made, Simno points out this wall plaque and a Monkees throw rug transformed into a wall decoration. Other names and connections float by.
“Mike Nesmith actually wrote one of Linda Ronstadt’s songs and Neil Diamond and Carole King and Neil Sedaka.”
“Last Train To Clarksville” wafts through the house and you’re not sure if its a piped in sound effect Simno has set up or your imagination. “Naaaaa,” you say to yourself. “The man will think I’m daft if I ask about it.”
“I’ve seen them live 10 times all around the country,” Simno says. “My brother has a place up in Manhattan and when they play anywhere in the area I would be up there. I would.” Simno stops in mid sentence and plows into a newly discovered mountain of memorabilia: Monkees lunch boxes. Monkees trading cards, bubble gum …
“When Davy Jones passed away, I ended up having a little party of about 50 people where and I displayed all of my Monkees collectibles and I had the TV show playing in the living room and I had the Monkee’s movie, ‘Head’ from 1968 playing.”
As an afterthought, Simno says, “That movie, ‘Head,’ from 1968 … It was actually produced and directed by Jack Nicholson. Not a lot of people realize that.”
But you can bet Renny Simno knew that. And he didn’t have to look it up.