Peter Tork (b. February 13, 1942) is an American musician and actor, best known as a member of The Monkees. Although born in 1942, many news articles report him as born in 1944 as this was the date given on early Monkees press releases.
Tork was born Peter Halsten Thorkelson in Washington, D.C. and began studying piano at the age of nine, showing an aptitude for music by learning to play several different instruments, including the banjo and acoustic and bass guitars. Tork attended Windham High School in Willimantic, Connecticut, then was a member of the first graduating class at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut. He attended Carleton College before he moved to New York City, where he became part of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village during the first half of the 1960s. While there, he befriended other up-and-coming musicians such as Stephen Stills.
Stills suggested Tork audition for a new television series about four pop-rock musicians, when the producers asked if Stills 'had a better looking (musician) friend'. Tork got the job and became one of the four members of The Monkees, who ended up being both characters in a television sitcom and a band in their own right.
Tork was a proficient musician, and though the group generally did not play their own instruments on their first two albums, he was an exception, playing what he described as third chair guitar on Papa Gene's Blues, a Mike Nesmith song, on the first album. After that point he played keyboards, bass guitar, banjo, harpsichord, and other instruments on their recordings. He also wrote along with Joey Richards the closing theme song of the second season of The Monkees, For Pete's Sake. On the television show, he was relegated to playing the lovable dummy, even though he is actually a highly intelligent, literate person, as the other Monkees have always been keen to point out in subsequent interviews.
In commentary tracks included in the DVD release of the first season of the show, Nesmith stated that Tork was better at playing guitar than bass. In Tork's commentary, he stated that Jones was a good drummer and had the live performance lineups been based solely on playing ability, it should have been Tork on guitar, Nesmith on bass, and Jones on drums, with Dolenz taking the fronting role, rather than as it was done (with Nesmith on guitar, Tork on bass, and Dolenz on drums). Jones filled in briefly for Tork on bass when he played keyboards.
Recording and producing as a group was Tork's major interest and he hoped that the four would continue working together as a band on future recordings. However, the four did not have enough in common regarding their musical interests. In commentary for the DVD release of the second season of the show, Tork said that Dolenz was incapable of repeating a triumph.
Tork, once free from Don Kirshner's restrictions, in 1967, contributed some of the most memorable and catchy instrumental flourishes, such as the piano introduction to Daydream Believer and the banjo part on You Told Me, as well as exploring occasional songwriting with the likes of For Pete's Sake (which was used as the closing theme music for the second season of the television series) and Lady's Baby.
Tork was close to his grandmother, staying with her sometimes in his Greenwich Village days, and after he became a Monkee, Grams was one of his most strident supporters. She managed his fan club, often writing personal letters to members, and visited music stores to make sure they carried Monkees records.
Six albums were produced with the original Monkees lineup, four of which went to number one on the Billboard chart. This success was supplemented by two years of the TV show, a series of successful concert tours both across America and abroad, and a trippy-psychedelic movie, Head a bit ahead of its time, but tensions, both musical and personal were increasing within the group. The band finished a Far East tour in December 1968 (where his copy of Naked Lunch was confiscated by Australian Customs) and then filmed an NBC television special, 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee, which rehashed many of the ideas from Head, only with the Monkees playing a strangely second-string role.
No longer getting the group dynamic he wanted, and pleading exhaustion from the grueling schedule, Tork bought out the remaining four years of his contract after filming was complete on December 20, 1968, at a default of $150,000/year. In the DVD commentary for the 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee TV special - originally broadcast April 14, 1969 - Dolenz noted that Nesmith gave Tork a gold watch as a going-away present, engraved From the guys down at work. Tork kept the back, but replaced the watch several times in later years.
After more than two years of the show, six albums, a movie (Head), a television special, and tours across America and abroad, Tork had had enough and quit the group. Striking out on his own, he formed a group called 'Release' with girlfriend Reine Stewart on drums (she had played drums on part of 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee) and Riley Wildflower Cummings on bass. Tork said in April '69, We sometimes have four. We're thinking of having a rotating fourth. Right now, the fourth is that girl I'm promoting named Judy Mayhan. Release hoped to have a record out immediately, and one of their songs almost got on the soundtrack to Easy Rider, but they couldn't secure a record contract and by 1970 Tork was once again a solo artist. During this time, Tork contributed banjo to George Harrison's 1968 soundtrack to the film Wonderwall and was also credited with co-arranging a Micky Dolenz solo single on MGM Records in 1971.
In 1976, Tork reunited with fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz for the recording of a Christmas single, which saw limited release.
To make ends meet, Tork periodically worked as a high school substitute teacher, tutor, and basketball coach.
A chance meeting with Sire Records executive Pat Horgan at the Bottom Line in New York City led to Tork recording a six-song demo, his first recording in many years. Recorded in summer 1980, it featured Tork, who sang, played rhythm guitar, keyboards, and banjo; it was backed by Southern rock band Cottonmouth, led by guitarist/singer/songwriter Johnny Pontiff, featuring Gerard Trahan on guitar/keyboards/vocals, Gene Pyle on bass guitar/vocals and Gary Hille on drums/percussion.
Horgan produced the six tracks (which included two Monkees covers, 'shades Of Gray and Pleasant Valley Sunday"), with George Dispigno as engineer. The four other tracks were Good Looker, 'since You Went Away, Higher & Higher and Hi Hi Babe. Also present at the sessions were Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and Tommy Ramone of The Ramones. The tracks were recorded at Blue Horizon House, 165 West 74th Street, home of Sire Records, but Seymour Stein, president of Sire, rejected the demo, stating there's nothing there. Tork recorded a second set of demos in New York City, but little is known about these (other than the fact that one track was a yet another version of Pleasant Valley Sunday with an unknown rock band, and featured a violin solo).
During this time Tork appeared regularly on The Uncle Floyd Show broadcast on U-68 out of New Jersey. He performed comedy bits and lip-synced the Sire recordings. Floyd claimed Peter was the first real star to appear on the show. (Later, Davy Jones, The Ramones and others would follow in his footsteps.)
In 1981, he released a 45 rpm single, his first solo record, and did some club performances and live television appearances, including taking part in a Win A Date With Peter Tork bit on Late Night with David Letterman.
In 1986, Tork rejoined fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz for a highly successful 20th anniversary reunion tour. Three new songs were recorded by Tork and Dolenz for a greatest hits release. In 1987, the three Monkees recorded Pool It!. A decade later, all four group members recorded Justus, the first recordings with all four members since 1968. The quartet performed live in the United Kingdom, but for the next several years only the trio of Tork, Dolenz and Jones toured together.
Since 1986, Tork has intermittently toured with his former band mates and also played with his own bands The Peter Tork Project and Shoe Suede Blues. In 1991, Peter Tork formed a band called The Dashboard Saints and played at a pizza restaurant in Guerneville, California. In 1994, he released his first album length solo project, Stranger Things Have Happened, which featured brief appearances by Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith. In 1996, Peter collaborated on an album called Two Man Band with James Lee Stanley. The duo followed up in 2001 with a second release, Once Again.
In 2001 Peter took time out from a tour to appear in a leading role in a short film, MIXED SIGNALS, written and directed by John Graziano.
As of 2005, Tork is releasing albums and touring with his band Peter Tork and Shoe Suede Blues. The band performs original blues music, Monkees covers (blues versions of some), and covers of classic blues hits by greats such as Muddy Waters. The band toured extensively in 2006-7 following the release of album Cambria Hotel.
Tork also had an occasional roles as Topanga Lawrence's father on the sitcom Boy Meets World, as well as a guest character on 7th Heaven. In 1995, Tork appeared as himself on the show Wings, bidding against Crystal Bernard's character for the Monkeemobille. In 1999, he appeared as The Bandleader in season one episode 13 (Best Man) of The King of Queens.
In early 2008, Tork added advice columnist to his extensive resume by authoring an online advice and info column called Ask Peter Tork at the webzine The Daily Panic, located at thedailypanic.com.