From The Commercial Appeal, Memphis TN
Saturday Dec. 3, 1994
Tommy Boyce's old Beale pals are planning a memorial service that the former Memphian might have enjoyed.
"It's 'An Evening With Tommy Boyce Swap Meet,' " said Phyllis Presley Collas, a friend of the singer-songwriter who shot himself to death on Nov. 23 at his Nashville home.
"We're going to get together and tell stories about Tommy," added Collas, who was given the nickname "Presley" by Boyce and later had her name legally changed. "If anybody wants to sell or swap any of the things he gave them, here's the night to do it."
When Boyce, 55, came to Memphis in the mid-'80s, he was already well-known as one of the talents behind The Monkees TV show, writing and singing many of the Pre-fab Four's songs for the pilot and debut album. With his partner Bobby Hart, Boyce, born in Virginia, had written such hits as the show's Hey Hey We're the Monkees theme, I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone and Last Train to Clarksville. With weekly television exposure, the music of Boyce & Hart became some of the most widely known, popular music of the era.
The duo later had hits under their own names, including I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite? (1967). In the mid-'70s, Boyce & Hart, who had originally been promised places in the band, finally got to be Monkees of a sort when they toured and recorded with Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz as Jones, Dolenz, Boyce & Hart. [sic]
Boyce first wrote a Top 10 hit in 1959, when Fats Domino took his Be My Guest to the top of the charts. He joined with Hart, and the team's earliest success came in 1961 with Curtis Lee's hit, Pretty Little Angel Eyes, but their careers were made with the Jay & the Americans hit of 1964, Come a Little Bit Closer. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll says Boyce & Hart compositions have sold more than 42 million records. That number should increase with Rhino Records' recent CD reissue of the entire Monkees catalog. Boyce also wrote the theme for the TV soap Days of Our Lives.
But those who knew him during his Memphis days remember a wild, spontaneous character, not a rich rock star-songwriter.
"He never bragged about what he did, he was just happy to be here," recalls New Daisy manager Mike Glenn. Boyce was known for giving away hundreds of dollars to total strangers in need and his generosity to friends remains the stuff of local legend.
Glenn remembers Boyce coming into his office one morning and asking for a cold beer. "I told him, 'Tommy, I don't have any place to keep a beer cold around here.' And the next morning, I come in and there's a brand new refrigerator in my office with one beer in it and a note."
Glenn remembers the night Boyce was hanging around at the New Daisy long after it was closed, saying he wanted to go to Nashville for breakfast. With dawn about to break, Glenn figured he was kidding, but Boyce enlisted E. C. 'Cabby' Benton, who ran the hotdog cart outside the club, and the two drove off in Boyce's jeep, which he lovingly called "Johnny B." A couple days later, Glenn said, Benton was back. "He told me they went to the airport, chartered a plane and flew to Nashville for breakfast."
Benton remembers Boyce hanging around his cart "for nearly a month before I realized who he was."
The two soon became fast friends, despite the fact that Benton was 20 years Boyce's senior. "He treated me like I was family," says Benton, 75. "He always tried to be upbeat about everything. He was the kind of fellow who would just go out with no plans and whatever happened, happened."
Boyce was a serious Elvis fan and one night, he, Benton and Collas drove out to Elvis's alma mater, Humes High School. "He was goin' south on Manassas and he turned and drove up to the school and doggone if he didn't take that thing and drive straight up that walkway and up the steps," Benton said with a chuckle. "I was getting nervous, 'cause he'd had a toddy or two and the police frown on that."
Tommy's fondness for his "toddy" is another thing his friends remember. "I always kept a bottle of Jack Daniel's and Tia Maria for Tommy," Glenn said. "He loved his Jack and Coke and his Tia Maria straight up and his little pep vitamin pills (amphetamines)," agreed Collas.
Boyce never stayed anywhere for long and he eventually left Memphis for Nashville, where the past couple of years found him getting married and starting to settle down. Then a year ago he suffered a brain aneurysm that almost killed him. His wife Carolyn nursed him back to health, but Tommy was never the same after that, Collas said.
"He went from this incredibly energetic guy to somebody who had to stop drinking, smoking, change his diet. He just became really tired."
Boyce had lined up a job with a Cincinnati oldies radio station, WGRR-FM, and was set to start after Christmas. Some of his Memphis friends say Boyce had fallen on hard times, but WGRR program director Marty Thompson saw no evidence of it. "When we were talking about money, he said, 'I don't care about the money, I just want to have fun,' " he said.
Thompson recalled Boyce being optimistic about the future and excited about a book he was writing, an autobiography he called The Greatest Rock and Roll Stories Ever Told. Part of the book dealt with Boyce's longtime friendship with rocker Del Shannon, who shot himself to death in February 1990. Like Boyce, Shannon was 55 when he died.
On Nov. 23, Boyce followed Shannon's lead. Collas blames it on his deteriorating health. "He decided to pull the plug so he wouldn't be a burden on anybody," she said. Collas recalled some friends from Nashville telling her that one night Boyce had gotten into his Jeep and found a headlight was burned out. "He said, 'You're falling apart, just like I am.' "
"Tommy was not the kind who could stand pressure or pain," she continued. "I don't think he felt himself getting better. He refused to be sick, refused to think sick."