"Vagabond John" was written by Derek Lord, who was the drummer for the Peter Tork Project in the early 1980s. The song has remained a part of Peter's repertoire for years. In the video below, Peter performs it at a solo stop in 2012, while the audio file features a live version from a Project show at The Jetty in 1985 (with Lord on lead vocals). Thanks to Kevin Schmid for passing along the Project live version!
You might recall that the late Jerry Renino was a member of the Peter Tork Project. He also toured with The Monkees between 1989 and 2002. After the 1989 US Monkees tour, Jerry's band, Breakaway, became Davy’s road band in the early 1990s. Breakaway consisted of Steve Avitabile (keyboards), VJ Riccitelli (drums), and Rory Gordon (guitar). The group later added sax player Steve Barlotta, along with Wayne Avers (guitar) and VJ's brother Jimmy Riccitelli (keyboards). Monkees fans, of course, know Wayne Avers as the veteran guitarist in The Monkees' backing band. (The Riccitelli's have also toured with The Monkees through the years.)
According to longtime Monkees fan Helen Pantuso (who also was largely responsible for the campaign to get The Monkees a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), the Avitabile's in both the Peter Tork Project (Scott was the lead guitarist of the Project) and Breakaway are not related! (What are the odds?!)
THE PETER TORK PROJECT...L to R behind Peter: bassist Jerry Renino, drummer Derek Lord, and guitarist Scott Avitabile (From the collection of Kevin Schmid)
Helen talked more about Breakaway with the Live Almanac. "Scott and Jimmy were in a band called Rush Hour. I think VJ was in it, too, before joining Breakaway (there were 2 other drummers in Breakaway before VJ). They were all good friends and hung out together and even lived together. I think that Steve and Scott and maybe Jimmy shared a house at one point before Steve got married. I know VJ lived in the downstairs apartment in the house Jerry lived in for a while. I'm not sure how they all connected with Wayne (Avers)."
Helen continued. "Steve was found by Wendy Kaye. She was a booking agent with the Mars Agency. They handled Gary U.S. Bonds. Steve was Gary's sax player and musical director. Mars had just started booking Davy Jones so when Davy decided he wanted to add a sax player to Breakaway, Wendy recommended Steve."
A big thanks to Helen Pantuso for all of the information in this post about Breakaway, as well as Fred Velez, who helped facilitate this conversation about Davy's former backing band. Fred recently published a book, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees From a Fan's Perspective. You can download the electronic version of the book, and a hard copy is also now available. (Thanks, Fred!)
Thanks again to Helen for also providing some pictures of members of Breakaway:
Rory Gordon, guitarist for Breakaway (Photo courtesy of Helen Pantuso)
L to R: Rory Gordon, Jerry Renino, Steve Avitabile of Breakaway (Photo courtesy of Helen Pantuso)
Steve Avitabile (Photo courtesy of Helen Pantuso)
Breakaway associate Helen Pantuso (far right) and company (Photo courtesy of Helen Pantuso)
Monkees Band It's Not - But Let Tork Tell It by Ann Kolson for the Philadelphia Inquirer July 6, 1983
New York - Hey, hey, he's no Monkee. But he still monkeys around.
Meet Peter Tork. Unshaven, wearing a sleeveless sweatshirt, jeans and no shoes, he is sprawled on his manager's black vinyl couch. Tork, 40ish, of the long-defunct Monkees, is heading up a new band, the Peter Tork Project, on the bill tonight at Ripley Music Hall.
Remember The Monkees? During the late '60s, they flashed like a comet across the pop-culture skies with their hyperkinetic NBC series The Monkees and an outpouring of bouncy hits - "I'm a Believer," "Last Train to Clarksville," "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Daydream Believer," and "Valleri." Their movie, Head, appeared in 1968. They were the most successful pop act in the country for two years (1967 and 1968) according to Billboard magazine.
The Monkees were the creation of producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who in 1966 advertised in Hollywood trade papers for "four insane boys, 17-21." Of 437 applicants, they chose Micky Dolenz, who was "Circus Boy" on the TV series of that name; Davy Jones, a British jockey with some acting experience; Mike Nesmith, a sometime folksinger, and Tork, a professor's son, born Thorkelson, who had some experience playing in New York coffeehouses before heading for Los Angeles.
They caught on quickly, even though they initially could not play instruments well enough to record their tunes (written for them by some of the best in the business). And acting? Well, as a TV Guide article said at the time, "they didn't really act, either. They 'romped,' to use their director's favorite term."
In spite of it all, The Monkees series was innovative, suing quick takes, inventive editing and new techniques popularized by The Beatles' movies Help! and A Hard Day's Night.
The Peter Tork Project, Tork likes to emphasize, is not a revival, although the band members do play some Monkees songs "better than the first time," says manager Carol Gore. "Peter will never get the Monkee off his back," she adds.
The atmosphere in Gore's tiny West Side apartment is chaotic as drummer Derek Lord and bass guitar player Jerry Renino play court jesters to Tork, king of the quips. (The group's lead guitarist, Scott Avitabile, is not present.)
"I'm so old that if I told you how old I was you'd think I was too old. Whereas if I don't, you'll think I'm too old," Tork says, admiring his own wit. He repeats the quotation until it is duly recorded.
After Monkees fever abated, Tork, the father of two, taught school in Southern California for three years before receiving an offer to go out on the road in an oldies show. The project failed. Tork knocked around in five bands before the Peter Tork Project came together in January. Besides doing lead vocals, he plays guitar and piano in the band.
"I think I will find ultimate spiritual fulfillment, now," he jokes.
In a more serious moment, Tork calls the Project's loud, driving music "kick-ass rock 'n' roll." The best description for the band's sound, he says facetiously, is "Archies clone. We revere The Archies' heavy mental second only to The Partridge Family."
Since the group got together, it has performed in some small New York clubs. Tonight's Ripley date is the first in a summer of one-nighters. By September they hope to cut a record - no firm deal yet.
Gore is busy mapping out a strategy for the Project that includes doing "a small amount of opening, pre-product" (translation: Before they cut a record they'll open for a bunch of groups). In the beginning, Gore thinks, Tork will be the draw. Audiences "will come because of the name, but will be blown away by the music," she predicts.
The group maintains that this gig at Ripley - billed as "Monkees Nite featuring Peter Tork plus Exclusive Monkees Video" - is the only show scheduled with a Monkees tie-in. Monkees night at Ripley could be just one indication of renewed interest in the group, however: On August 18, the Monkees movie Head will be shown at the Theater of the Living Arts.
Back in the old days, The Monkees liked to think of themselves as revolutionaries, preaching love and peace. But The Peter Tork Project has seen the revolution and they say it is charcoal. Charcoal?
Yes, say the band members, laughing uproariously. Charcoal that doesn't need any lighter fluid. "That's the revolution we've been waiting for."
L to R behind Peter: bassist Jerry Renino, drummer Derek Lord, and guitarist Scott Avitabile (From the collection of Kevin Schmid)
I found this online recently with the following caption...
In this edition of the Edwin O. Smith School yearbook from Storrs, Connecticut, future Monkee Peter Thorkelson is pictured holding his French horn on page 22 as a member of the concert band, again on page 29 as a staff member of "Stuff," the school's humor magazine, and finally, in his senior picture on page 49, where he is listed as being accepted at Carleton College.