Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE TURTLES: Music’s Pride & Joy (Etc.) [1988]

Text by Dawn Eden / FFanzeen, 1988
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview / article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #15, dated 1988. It was written by Dawn Eden.

The only time I ever had the opportunity to see a version of the Turtles was when lead singers Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman had their bookended Flo and Eddie stint, opening for Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies tour at Madison Square Garden during June of 1973. Eventually, they returned to the Turtles name, after their Greatest Hits CD helped make Rhino Records a solvent company. Also, a good friend of mine interviewed Kaylan at some point, and when asked why the name return, he was quite open, stating how much they earned as Flo and Eddie compared to payments for the Turtles.

One of the more interesting aspects of this article is that it is usually Kaylan who does the interviewing, but here, Dawn manages to strike up a convo with the wild-haired Volman.

On that note, Kaylan recently released an absorbing autobiography, co-written with music historian/mensch Jeff Tamarkin, titled Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. [reviewed HERE]. – RBF, 2015

In today’s incestuous Top-40 world, musicians switch from one band to another faster than you can say Sammy Hagar. It’s rare for a band to stay around for 10 years, let alone 25 years. And the number of successful bands whose members have played together since high school can be counted on the gaps between David Bowie’s teeth. Which makes it all the more unusual to look at Flo and Eddie, the nucleus of the Turtles.

FFanzeen caught up with Mark “Flo” Volman in his suite at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza the day after he and partner Howard “Eddie” Kaylan played there.

Volman and Kaylan met in their Westchester, California, high school’s a capella choir. In 1962, Volman joined Kaylan’s surf band, the Crossfires, who became one of Redondo Beach’s most popular groups. The Crossfires were the house band at the Rebelaire Club when they were discovered by White Whale Records in 1965. After changing their name to the Turtles, they recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and almost instantly found themselves elevated to the ranks of rock and roll royalty.

Volman reflects fondly upon the Turtles’ early, innocent years: “When you think [about] what happened to us, and how few bands that happens to in history – how you start as a high school band and years later, find your songs making it into the Top-10 and competing against the biggest in America – you don’t really consider that plausible. That is a dream. When you’re in high school, your main thing is to get out of high school. I mean, for me it was to get out of science class.”

Recently, “Happy Together,” the Turtles’ 1967 No. 1 hit and biggest seller, was being revived in a number of forms. It was used as the theme song of the film Making Mr. Right, and a video of the song mixing scenes from the movie with live Turtles footage was added to the VH-1 cable station’s playlist. The single was also reissued by Rhino Records, the label that reissued the Turtles’ entire catalog of albums.

Oddly enough, “Happy Together,” which is still Our Song to millions of love-struck couples, is really about unrequited love. According to Volman, “A lot of people overlook one very important part of the song. Even as we made the record, we may not have been concerned with its actual philosophy… It starts out, ‘Imagine me and you…’ If you say one thing [about] that record, all we’ve immediately done, to anybody who’s really listening, is paint a picture that this is all a fantasy. It’s all make-believe. It’s the story of a boy who’s fantasizing over a girl who he doesn’t have. ‘Imagine me and you…’” Volman repeated. “There is no relationship. They are not ‘together,’ but, ‘I can’t see me loving nobody but you.’ Lyrically, this record never pays off. The boy never gets what he wants.”

After the Turtles broke up in 1970, Volman and Kaylan performed and recorded with Frank Zappa’s infamous Mothers of Invention. During the same period, they released several solo albums. Because legal hassles prevented them from recording under the Turtles’ name at the time, they took on the nicknames of their former roadies: Flo (short for “The Phlorescent Leech”) and Eddie [The Best of Flo and Eddie, on Rhino Records, is an excellent introduction to their solo career – DE, 1988]. They also embarked upon a second career, that of singing back-up on other artists’ albums. Volman and Kaylan backed up just about every major artist, from John Lennon to Bruce Springsteen.

Ronnie, Bruce, Howard and Mark
Volman says that he and Kaylan met Springsteen by a fluke. They were friends with his road manager, who invited them to attend a Cleveland concert on the Born to Run Tour. Volman picks it up from there: “While we were at the soundcheck, Bruce called me and Howard out of the audience and asked if we wanted to join him, singing [back-up] with Ronnie Spector. I was real surprised he even knew who we were. We rehearsed right there at the soundcheck, and we ended up singing with him and Ronnie in that night’s show! It was real fun.” Volman and Kaylan later did several more shows with Springsteen, and even sang on The River [1980].

In light of the recent commercial that uses “Happy Together” to hawk Golden Grahams, Flo and Eddie have truly come full circle. More than a decade ago, on one of their classic albums, they performed a sketch about a practice that was almost unheard of then. Volman recalls: “What Howard and I were raving about was taking rock and roll and using it as a commercial product. We were saying, ‘What if you took Fleetwood Mac’s big hit and used it to advertise McDonald’s Big Mac?’ It was [meant as] comedy. You go back and listen to it and it’s not dated at all. It’s me and Howard singing to ‘Rhiannon’: ‘You deserve a break today, so come to McDonald’s.’”


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