The Monkees and Charles Manson

It’s the most intriguing question in any field of endeavor: What if?

But in the volatile world of rock music, it often seems more like a mandate when trying to recruit a workable line-up of musicians?or, more crucially, replace an already departed key member. Consider then the bands that might have been, the rumors of potential members who never were?and the sometimes strange fates that befell them.

TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider knew a good thing when they saw it, and when raging Beatlemania stubbornly refused to succumb after almost two years, the die was cast?their Raybert Productions would give a young American television audience its own pre-fab-four. Thus, on September 9, 1965, an ad in the Hollywood trade journal Variety sought variously “Folk & Rock Musicians Singers” and “4 Insane Boys, Age 17-21,” a casting call for “Acting roles in a new TV series.” Some 437 young hopefuls were auditioned to become the Monkees, a made-for-TV outfit eventually split evenly between musicians (Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork) and young stage/screen performers (Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz). It turned out that of the band members eventually cast, only Nesmith had even seen the ad.

Stephen StillsOne of those hopeful young stars auditioning was indeed Stephen Stills, not quite an “insane boy” but definitely an up-and-coming folk/rock musician. He’d most recently found success in the Greenwich Village-based harmony group the Au Go-Go Singers, a nine-piece outfit that also included a young Richie Furay, his future partner in Buffalo Springfield. Though Stephen’s musical abilities were impeccable enough to get him on the producer’s short list of potential Monkees, the 20-year-old musician was reportedly not cast because of prematurely thinning hair and dental problems, cosmetic issues that added years to his appearance. He’d also been resistant to surrender publishing rights of his songs to Screen Gems, the show’s corporate production entity, an issue that would later mushroom when the band tried to wrest control of their music from the Hollywood machinery that had assembled them.

“They could have fixed my teeth,” Stills later said of his rejection by the Monkees producers. “What I really wanted to do was write songs for the show. But I found out that they already had a pair of staff writers in Boyce and Hart.”

Conversely, producer Bert Schneider recalled that Stills “had a little less abandon. In order to do this kind of thing, guys really had to have a lot of abandon. I suspect Stephen was a little more inhibited.”

Ironically, it was Stills who introduced the producers to Peter Tork. Though he went on to found Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Stills would also play uncredited on several Monkees recording sessions.

Rumors also circulated for years that convict/cult figure Charles Manson had been an unlikely participant in the Monkees auditions as well. Now serving a life sentence in San Quentin for organizing the infamous Tate-LaBianca killings that terrorized Los Angeles in 1969, Manson was indeed a fringe figure in Hollywood’s music scene during the ’60s, a wannabe songwriter who eventually manipulated his way into the circles of Columbia producer Terry Melcher and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson.

Beach Boys Bluebirds Over the Mountain/ Never Learn Not to LoveWilson not only briefly played host to Manson and his “family” of outcasts, but convinced the Beach Boys to record one of Charlie’s songs, “Never Learn Not to Love,” for their 1969 20/20 album and the B-side of their “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” single.

Manson’s persistently rumored Monkees connection likely comes courtesy of longtime KROQ radio personality Rodney Bingenheimer, the veteran L.A. scenemaker/male groupie who’d also failed his Monkees audition, yet remained close enough to the band to be cast as Davy Jones’ double in an episode of the show. Bingenheimer claimed that Manson was a part of the Monkees auditions so frequently that the story even made it into Eric Lefcowitz’s biography of the band, Monkees Tale. But a quick review of Manson’s extensive criminal record puts the kibosh on Bingenheimer’s oft-told legend: Charlie served time at the U.S. Penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington and Terminal Island prison from 1961 until March, 1967.

Other notables who failed their Monkees audition include Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton and songwriters Paul Williams and Harry Nilsson, both of whom would go on to eventually have songs recorded by the band. Yet, strangely, it was Charles Manson who made it to the cover of Rolling Stone.

Go figure.