It may well be the greatest show on earth, but it most certainly is, as Mark Volman says, “the craziest show on earth.”
He means, of course, the Happy Together Tour--the annual summer package tour headlined by the legendary and ever zany Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie (Volman and Howard Kaylan), this year also starring previous participants Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Paul Revere & the Raiders frontman Mark Lindsay, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and The Cowsills, along with newcomer Spencer Davis Group.
The tour, which originated in 1984 but restarted in 2010 following a hiatus, begins June 3 at IP Casino, Resort Spa in Biloxi, Miss. Volman says that there are 56 shows booked so far with four more being scheduled.
“That’s the plan—stopping it at 60,” says Volman. “But we could have done 100 shows this year, I think. Howard doesn’t want to do more than that, and I’m still teaching.”
Volman, who lives in the Nashville area (Kaylan lives in Seattle), continues to teach at Belmont University--where he serves as a professor (“Professor Flo”) in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business--limiting his touring to summer dates. But even then, the Happy Together Tour just keeps getting bigger.
“It’s a big show this year, with some new theaters,” says Volman. “And the good thing about the lineup is that it brings some reliable artists back to the tour--people that we know and that the audience just loves, like Chuck and Mark and Gary and the Cowsills. There’s not an act that can’t go on to play their own show as a headliner, and that’s what makes it fun: No one has to sell tickets—we all just carry our weight. And now we’re introducing a new artist in Spencer, who’s been our friend for 45 years and whom we used to interview on our [1989-1991 K-ROCK New York] radio show. It’s great moving us in the direction of the British rock vein and opens the door to Happy Together being more of an international package tour.”
One of the new theaters this time out is New York’s Beacon, June 16.
“It’s been many years since we’ve played New York City,” notes Volman, whose annual Turtles New Year’s Eve shows with Kaylan at the Bottom Line remain storied. “For us it’s a premiere theater—and the Happy Together Tour should have been coming to the city every year. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it will become an annual thing.”
The Happy Together Tour has traditionally played Westbury in Long Island every year and returns to NYCB Theatre At Westbury on June 18. Other area tour stops include the Tarrytown Music Hall on June 19 and Staten Island’s St. George Theatre on June 21. For the fifth year the tour will be accompanied for the first 20 dates by a tour bus filled with Volman’s Belmont students, who will again learn and participate in all the facets of concert production.
Meanwhile, Volman and Kaylan are finishing up a box set of five discs, to be issued both in CD and vinyl LP formats, to include all the original Turtles albums and using their original packaging elements. Already out is a green vinyl single of the 1967 single that gave the Happy Together Tour its name, that has lived on ever since in movies, TV shows and commercials.
Additionally, the longtime partners, who have been performing together since their high school days in Los Angeles, have put together some live material for an album geared for “what we sort of call ‘the low-end music business’: truck stop-release only. That’s a big area for oldies [sales], and places like Costco and Sam’s Club--where vinyl does great but CDs are still an important selling point. So we’ll continue to package and release Turtles history as much as we can over the next three to five years.”
The Turtles will have the green vinyl “Happy Together” singles—containing both mono and stereo versions—for sale at the Happy Together Tour shows.
“We’ve been selling vinyl now for six or seven years and it’s been a high selling point—and now the public’s finally caught up with us,” continues Volman, referring to the return of vinyl recordings as an audio configuration of choice.
“We expect our vinyl sales at the concerts to be better this year, because a lot of people—not just old people—are going to vinyl, and that’s helped sales of our catalog dramatically. Tying it into the Happy Together Tour, we play to a million people a year and 50 percent think about buying a record, and 50 percent of those do, so we’re selling 25 percent to a new audience that we hope to reach—because there’s no place on the radio for us: It’s hard for the audience for ‘60s and ‘70s and even ‘80s music to find oldies on the radio, so we’re keeping our little record store going.”
Volman concedes that today, “we get more notoriety from lawsuits than anything!” He refers to legal actions against music programmers that he and Kaylan have spearheaded in efforts to secure royalties for artists whose songs were recorded prior to February, 1972.
“Now everyone’s involved in it, but we’ve always just stood up for ourselves,” he says. “We couldn't sit back and wait for somebody to do it for us, and we paid the price: We’ll never get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Then again, they can rattle off over 20 artists in the RockHall that they’ve recorded with, including John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa, The Ramones, Alice Cooper, Blondie and Jefferson Airplane.
The Turtles’ recording of “Happy Together,” however, was indeed inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.
“That’s significant acknowledgement!” says Volman, who was treated earlier this year for throat cancer.
“I was laying in the hospital and I realized that the important thing for Howard and I is to have stayed together as friends and still be able to go out and tour,” says Volman, who formed the Turtles in 1965 with Kaylan and other high school friends.
“When we left high school we never thought we’d still be together and able to go out and draw an audience, and we’re probably as surprised as anybody that the Happy Together Tour has been so successful—not just for us but for the promoters and cities that we play,” he concludes. “It’s been a fantastic situation for everybody—and we appreciate it.”