The baby-faced singer born David Thomas Jones in Manchester, England, on December 30, 1945, began his career as a child actor, appearing in a British daytime soap opera and radio plays and taking a brief detour into being a horse jockey before landing a Tony nomination at age 16 for his role as the Artful Dodger in a Broadway production of “Oliver!” (In a rock and roll footnote, glam-rock icon David Bowie adopted his stage name after worrying that his birth name, David Jones, would cause confusion with the then emerging stage star and future Monkees singer.)
In an ironic twist of fate given his future stardom, he appeared alongside his “Oliver!” castmates on the December 1964 episode of “The Ed Sullivan Show” that featured the legendary American TV debut of the Beatles.
He launched a solo recording career in 1965, the same year he was chosen to fill out the cast of the TV musical sitcom that would launch him to global fame. The group was put together by producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who were inspired by “A Hard Day’s Night” to assemble a Beatles-like band to provide the face for their slapstick series. He appeared alongside American musicians Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, providing lead vocals for many of the band’s most iconic tunes, including “Daydream Believer,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”
The group’s run on TV lasted from 1966 to 1968, and though the bandmembers initially were barred by producers from writing and performing their own music, as time went on, they took over more of the musical reins and the songs took on an increasingly psychedelic tone. Along the way, they scored hits such as “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” with each bandmember contributing vocals but Jones emerging as the “cute one” and de facto maracas-shaking frontman alongside drummer Dolenz.
With wacky premises that presaged the music-video boom of the 1980s, the show was a hit and the band went on tour, eventually breaking from the show’s musical producer, Don Kirshner, to explore increasingly esoteric sounds. The show was canceled in 1968, and Jones appeared alongside his bandmates in the trippy feature-film flop “Head,” which was co-written by then-unknown actor Jack Nicholson.
The “Pre-Fab Four” limped along for several more years, but after the loss of Tork and Nesmith, Dolenz and Jones were left to tour as a duo for much of the 1970s. The bandmates would continue to reunite in spurts — with the exception of Nesmith — and in 1986, MTV helped revive interest in the group with Monkees marathons that rebooted interest and once again sent Jones back on the road.
Jones continued to tour and perform on TV and in films throughout the 1980s and ’90s, appearing on “My Two Dads,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” releasing his final album, the cover LP She, in 2009.
Jones was slated to mount a U.K. tour in honor of the group’s 45th anniversary in May along with Tork and Dolenz.
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