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The Turtles still Happy Together


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Imagine if during one of his TV performances, Paul McCartney was singing "All My Loving" and behind him was a chubby guy with an afro in an orange silk shirt dancing around with a French horn.

You would have something approaching The Turtles.

Those wacky live performances of "Happy Together," "Elenore" and other hits -- with Mark Volman goofing around behind Howard Kaylan -- were a curiosity at the time and now live in immortality on YouTube.

Happy Together Tour

With: The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Chuck Negron, Mark Farner, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Mitch Ryder.

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Tickets: $49-$149; www.heinzhall.org.

What was he thinking?

"Who knows," Mr. Volman says laughing. "I watch that stuff and just wonder, why wasn't somebody stopping me?!"

Their stage antics went back to Westchester High School in Los Angeles when they were in the surf-rock band The Crossfires, and Mr. Volman would transform into a monster during the song "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

"Howard was the valedictorian of our high school, and I was the class clown," he says. "Even going as far back as 1962-1963, there was this need to make Howard laugh and to make Howard flustered. We grew up big fans of Martin and Lewis, and Stan Freberg, and Louis Prima and Keely Smith, and a part of our humor was just me trying to make Howard respond to me. It was sort of like, how far could I go before he's just going to smack me or push me away?"

The Turtles -- who headline the Happy Together tour Monday at Heinz Hall -- formed in 1965 and hit the Top 10 with a cover of Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe," then struggled to repeat that success until two years later when the group knocked the Beatles' "Penny Lane" off the top of the charts with the nearly era-defining "Happy Together," written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon.

The Turtles went back to the Top 10 over the next few years with such hits as "She'd Rather Be With Me," "You Showed Me" and "Elenore," the latter two coming from a fourth album, "The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands," on which they pretended to be a different group on every song.

"The essence and the spirit of those songs are just upbeat, fun, happy," Mr. Volman says of the '60s hits. "People love the feeling of that period of popular music, and I don't think we were smart enough to plan that. That was just us coming out of high school, the same dopey individuals that we were in high school, and now we're out on tour."

With the music scene changing and the band clashing with its small label, White Whale, The Turtles disbanded in 1970, throwing its principles into uncharted waters. They joined The Mothers of Invention as The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie (later shortened to Flo & Eddie), employing their same comic approach, which was "to try and make Frank [Zappa] laugh, so the audience saw his humanity by the fact that we could get him."

They toured with the Mothers and appeared on "Fillmore -- June 1971" and "Just Another Band From LA," but the partnership came to an abrupt end when Zappa was pushed off the stage by a fan and nearly killed in London in December 1971.

"That was tragedy for several reasons, first and foremost Frank's injuries and the psychological problems that it set him into. That was a pretty terrible fall," Mr. Volman says. "He fractured his skull and broke his leg. No. 2 was, it broke the band up. It wasn't his fault, but at that point he had such a bad feeling about the way all of that ended that he really wasn't interested in restaging the work. It's too bad because there was a lot of stuff we were doing that never really got finalized" -- including a proposed full-length cartoon and musical for rock opera parody "Billy the Mountain."

Unable to use the Turtles name due to contractual reasons, they launched a series of Flo & Eddie albums in the '70s starting with an enduring psych-folk-rock debut, backed by members of the Mothers.

"It was highly evolved for us in terms of writing it and producing it ourselves and putting the band together," he says. "That grew. The next record was an interesting record with Bob Ezrin involved, moving to the next record with John Stronach, who had done the REO records. So, our fans base in Flo & Eddie, they like that era of music. When we do live shows, we do some of that stuff."

Flo & Eddie went on to do everything from working on the "Strawberry Shortcake" and "The Care Bears" series to writing for Creem magazine to singing backup vocals on more than 100 albums for T Rex, Stephen Stills, Alice Cooper and Bruce Springsteen.

"I still today listen all the time to the album we did with Stephen Stills. I love that record," Mr. Volman says, picking a highlight. "We did 'Illegal Stills,' which was really a fun record. More recently, I got tuned back in after Ray Manzarek died and went back and listened to the albums we did with Ray. Those are really fun projects. The record we did with Keith Moon, of course, was one of our most infamous years in the studio.

"The other night I was watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame [induction] and Bruce mentioned the Turtles as part of his introduction to Steve Van Zandt, and it was interesting because we're kind of tied to that part of Bruce's history when we did 'Hungry Heart' with Bruce. I don't hear that record very much, but they play it a lot of as part of Bruce's history, and that's me and Howard."

They also got pulled in during the punk era to work on songs with the Ramones, Blondie and Psychedelic Furs.

"I think a lot of artists who brought us in were bringing that clash of vocal harmony to their music. I think Springsteen's a good view of that. I don't think that's what his fans expected at all out of him. When Steve and him created that with Jon Landau, I don't think any of us expected what it ended up doing, which was open up AM radio for Bruce Springsteen to be discovered as a hit singles artist."

Speaking of hit singles, it's the focus and "philosophy" of the Happy Together tour.

"We all have touring careers, and we can all go out and do two hours of our deep tracks and B-sides and that kind of stuff. This show is not like that. This show is nothing but hit songs. That's a big thing, going to each artist and saying, 'This is a tour about playing the most recognizable songs.' It's like a Broadway show in that [it has] a lot of visuals behind each act. Shows them when they were young and made those records -- that's fun."

This version of the Happy Together Tour -- which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year -- ventures more into the early '70s than they've gone before, with members of Grand Funk Railroad and Three Dog Night.

"Early '70s had a little bit more guitar, not maybe as many voices. Chuck Negron bridges both sides of the coin. Three Dog Night was kind of '68-'72, something like that. They had a little bit of both. Mark [Farner], obviously the music of Grand Funk, even though it was late '60s/early '70s, you think of them as more FM-radio driven.

"Instead of having five jam bands, we have five hit-making groups that sold a lot of records. When you put a package together you wait and see how the promoters are going to react, because they're the ones that have to come to the table with the money. I guess that's the first review. Well, we got 56 shows this summer -- that's your answer."


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