FMQB Retro-Active: Ken Sharp Goes Back To The Sixties With Mark Volman of The Turtles
June 14, 2013
"Happy Together"…"She'd Rather Be with Me"…"Elenore"…"Kicks"…"Good Time"…"Indian Reservation"…"Just Like Me"…"Hungry"…"This Diamond Ring"…"Everybody’s a Clown"…"Young Girl"…"Lady Willpower"…"One"..."Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and "Joy to the World" are among the classic '60s hits fans can expect to hear on this summer's Happy Together Tour headed to a city near you, featuring The Turtles, Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere & the Raiders), Gary Lewis (Gary Lewis & the Playboys), Gary Puckett and Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night). Retro-Active's Ken Sharp sat down with Turtles co-ringleader, Mark Volman, for a look back at his life in the Rock & Roll circus as well as his new second career as a college professor.
You’re embarking on a Happy Together tour this summer. What can fans expect?
Mark Volman: We made a commitment when we began considering doing the Happy Together tour and knew what we wanted to deliver to the fans. They weren’t getting wasted minutes. The show was designed to perpetuate the memories and the music of the ‘60s. We wanted to assure the promoters and the fans coming out to the show that you’re only gonna hear our hit records. What we’re trying to do is give people the most bang for their buck. We’re bringing an assurance that for one night they’re gonna get two and half hours of top ten records with the best songs from Gary Puckett, Gary Lewis, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders and Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night plus what we’re giving them with The Turtles.
You've been musical partners with Howard Kaylan both in The Crossfires, The Turtles and Flo & Eddie for 50 years. What's the bond that makes the partnership work?
Our relationship has always been built on the fact that we wanted to do something back when we were in high school. We weren’t really sure what we were good at, but as every year unfolded all of the elements of our career have allowed us to experiment in a lot of different forms. Our relationship is strong because we listen to each other and we have a very succinct philosophy about things when it comes to delivering the different changes of our career. When we wanted to go experimental we were able to go off and do our Flo & Eddie music and make records that were not quite what people expected. It’s just like us going off to work with Frank Zappa. People just didn’t know what to expect. We came up with the first Happy Together tour in 1984 and it was a very successful venture. We went off the track by not doing those tours for 25 or so years but have realized that we have a lot of firepower with the five artists on the bill. One of the really great things that Howard and I really like is when we choose the artists we want to bring onboard these are all people we’re fans of. That makes it fun. We’ve known everyone on the bill for many years; we did one of our first major national tours with Paul Revere & the raiders on a bus with Mark (Lindsay). We knew Chuck (Negron) since Three Dog Night got together; we were managed by the same management company. This is not just a bunch of guys getting together. There’s a lot of camaraderie, we all have relationships between each other that go back a long time and that make it really fun to be out on the road. Plus, we get to play the greatest theaters, from 1,800 seats to 7,000 and up. The mechanics of the show are really like Broadway. There are a lot of visuals that go along with the acts so people have something to watch and relive their memories of growing up with these songs. We also have a fantastic house band that plays the records exactly as they sounded. There’s a lot of firepower in the musicians we’ve brought out as the house band. I think this summer is gonna be a remarkable summer for everyone.
What was your role in The Turtles at the beginning and how did that change over time?
The Turtles were an extension of our high school band, The Crossfires. The Crossfires was a certain type of band that grew around some of our players that were more musical like Al (Nichol) and Don Murray. We had great musicianship in that band. When I came into the group I think I brought a sense of fun and humor and a comedy element. I wasn’t really playing anything in the Crossfires. But as The Turtles changed, I became more and more a part of the sound. By 1965 I was getting a little bit stronger musically in terms of beginning to write material on guitar or piano and that kept growing all the way through ourTurtle Soupalbum. We were all co-writing and adding our own embellishments to the mix. Even beyond that when Howard and I went to work with Zappa, we took on a whole different role. Then as we moved into the Flo & Eddie era I was pretty much writing 98 percent of the music. Howard and I would work on the lyrics but Howard and I didn’t really play so I was relegated to come up with the musical part of our Flo & Edie sound. Going back to the first album, Howard and I always were co-writers but I was always given the job of getting everything started. That’s because I was writing more of the guitar/keyboard stuff. You take a song like “Moving Targets.” I wrote that on guitar and then Howard and I would want to sing about, what moving targets we’d want to write about. “Keep it Warm” was a song I wrote on piano. We liked what was coming from the music and then we had to figure out where we wanted to go philosophically with the lyrics. Howard’s a great lyricist.
Howard recently told me that one of the band’s biggest records, "She’d Rather Be with Me," was a track lacking a real sense of magic yet it became one of your biggest hits in both America and England.
Whether it’s magic or not, it’s a great radio record. It’s a kind of interesting record in that it doesn’t have the dynamics like some of the other records we made like “Happy Together,” which has the obvious dynamics with the soft verses and the sing along choruses. “She’d Rather Be With Me” starts out at 110 percent and it just goes and never really plays off any dynamics at all. Simply put, it’s just a balls out record and a lot of that’s because of our drummer, Johnny (Barbata). That record is probably one of the most drum driven ‘60s hits I’ve ever heard. I haven’t heard Turtles music in a long time but when I do it always amazes me a record like “You Know What I Mean,” which is probably one of the most incredible records we’ve made, was probably the least well known and when you get right down to it, it’s probably one of the most sensitive and beautiful pop songs we’ve ever made.
"She’s My Girl" is also a picture perfect Turtles record.
Yeah, that’s a good one. Another song of ours that gets overlooked all of the time is “The Story of Rock & Roll,” which was written by Harry Nilsson. The Turtles version of that song is one of the most spectacularly produced records--this coming form the same band who recorded “Eleanor.” Sadly, “The Story of Rock & Roll” is often overlooked. Also, a song from our Happy Together album, one of the most incredible Turtle records is a song called “Me About You” written by (Gary) Bonner and (Alan) Gordon who also wrote “Happy Together,” “She’d Rather Be with Me” and “She’s My Girl”. The unfortunate thing is we made a lot of good records but you had no control over what disc jockeys played. If a disc jockey jumps on “Happy Together” and it gets played over and over and has held up so well that it became the record of our career, musically I think “She’s My Girl,” “You Know What I Mean,” “Me About You”, “The Story of Rock & Roll” and a few others are even better records. But every group hopes to have a “Happy Together” (laughs) and that makes us very fortunate.
Along with you and Howard, guitarist Al Nichol was a founding member who lasted through all line up changes. What did he contribute to the band?
Al was a really enormous presence in the beginning of the band. As things went on and the group became more of a group democracy, Al began to see his role deteriorating a little bit more. He wasn’t keeping up with everybody else in terms of where we were going with things. Al was an excellent musician. I think Al had some personal issues that overwhelmed things. We all had elements that came into each of our lives that played a part in the ultimate demise of the group. Sometimes people forget that the lawsuit we were in with (Turtles label) White Whale—Howard and I had gone off to work with Frank (Zappa)—when we came back, we went to each member of The Turtles, Al, Jim Pons, Johnny (Barbata). We gave them the opportunity to really be a part of the future to whatever The Turtles was gonna metamorphose into. There was the possibility of putting The Turtles back together. It was a few years later since we’d broken up and everybody had sort of gone off and done other things—Pons hung in with us and did The Mothers of Invention and some of the Flo & Eddie records with us. That first Flo & Eddie album had a lot of Turtle music on it with “Strange Girl” and “Who But I”. There was a lot of music on there that could have easily translated as Turtles records. At that point, everybody else in The Turtles had become kind of disenchanted with music as a business. I think that probably played an enormous role in their disinterest in wanting to go backwards at that time. Al was probably thinking what he was doing was more important that going back in time.
Tell us the back story behind Flo & Eddie’s 1976 album, Moving Targets, which stands as the duo’s most accomplished work.
Moving Targetsis probably the most poignant of our albums when it comes to anybody looking for what drove us to stop making records. I thinkMoving Targetsis a real eye opener; it’s very auto-biographical in terms of the dissolvement of the art forms for us. The song “Mama, Open Up” and “Moving Targets” in particular, same can be said for the whole album, which was very autobiographical. It was kind of saying “at this point we’re gonna go on hiatus.” It was really candid. (recites lyrics from “Mama, Open Up)”…”it started out so simple and got so far out of hand." The whole lyric choice of (recites lyrics)...”Making show business out of what was fun” really kind of opens up what was really coming down on us; the concept of going back to the womb, the idea of getting back to the beginning was something we really felt comfortable with. I think we were really getting into some really good stuff. When I wrote “The Love You Gave Away” I was messing around and listening to a lot of Brian Wilson and I was really kind of fascinated with a certain of simplicity, the same goes for “Keep it Warm” and that inert simplicity comes down to was I not that great a player or overly schooled at writing but I knew what I liked and knew how to use the tools I did have. Howard was really good about feeding that. Howard and I sang the vocals on that song in unison. We were doing a lot of vocals in unison. It’s got a nice horn arrangement; Ray Pohlman did that. It kind of showcases the music we always liked, that combination of Chicago and Beach Boys.
The intro lick to “Hot’ reminds me of “And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles.
The song I thought of when I originally kicked that song off and went to Howard was "Layla." When you listen to the ending and we tagged it with Donnie Dacus and Jeff Baxter both on slide guitars, I wanted it to have this "Layla" kind of ending with the freedom of these two guitars tearing out on their own.
Are you playing most of the rhythm guitar on the Moving Targets album?
All of it. I did all the rhythm guitars; I played on all the Flo & Eddie albums. On our first album, there were four songs Howard had pretty much done and the rest were mine.
When you're not touring with The Turtles, you have a day job as a college professor.
That's right. When Howard and I decided at a certain point that we were gonna manage ourselves, I took on the role of manager and used Howard to bounce off any ideas. I don’t make any decisions without the two of us talking about it. When I decided to get into the management side of things I also made a choice somewhere along the way in the mid 1990s to go to college. I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to college and felt that I now had the time to see if college and I would work together. I ended up going to community college and it worked out really well. I went on all the way through to earning my Master’s degree. I graduated to the opportunity of the university I was at who asked me to put together a course of study wrapped around the business of music. I went out and did some research and I found there were universities who were already kind of moving in that direction. So I took the job at LoyolaMarymountUniversity creating a music business course for students in the music and recording arts department. I taught at Loyola for about seven years and during that time I developed my music business course, my music history courses, my management courses, copyright and music publishing courses. When I moved to Nashville in 2003 one of the fellas who I’d used as a mentor at the university level offered me a chance to come up and do some filling in for him at BelmontUniversity where he taught. I hadn’t really come to Nashville to teach but I ended up taking the job and had been an adjunct professor for a couple of semesters and then they offered me a full-time position. I’ve been full-time at Belmont since 2004. I really enjoy it. I teach four classes a semester. I teach course in music business, I also teach courses in entertainment/industry wrapped around film and music supervision. I teach courses that connect students to screenwriting and writing for television. I love teaching. Teaching has become more full-time for me than touring. Fortunately I can balance most of it. I’ve been teaching since 1997 so I’m about 15 years in as a full time professor. I’m the chair of the entertainment industry studies programs at Belmont and I’m an assistant professor so all of this keeps me really busy. On this summer's Happy Together tour, ten students form BelmontUniversity will travel with us working the show. We did it last year and we’re gonna do it this year. They’ll be working 17 concerts over 23 days. They have their own tour bus and my assistant rides on the bus with the students. Every day they get a different job, lights, merchandise, working the tour manager, working with the stage manager. They have to write about it and do a class every day with me. The students really love it. I have great people at the university that allow me to come to the table with good ideas like that. It's a unique way for students to learn being under fire like that.
Happy Together tour dates:
Friday, June 14 - Ruth Eckerd Hall -Clearwater, Florida Saturday, June 15 - The Pavilion at Seminole Casino - Coconut Creek, Florida Sunday, June 16 - Tennessee Performing Arts Center / Polk Theater - Nashville, Tennessee Tuesday, June 18 - Lebanon Opera House - Lebanon, New Hampshire Wednesday, June 19 - Keswick Theater - Glenside, Pennsylvania Thursday, June 20 - State Theatre - New Brunswick, New Jersey Friday, June 21 - NYCB Theatre at Westbury - Westbury, New York Saturday, June 22 - Tarrytown Music Hall - Tarrytown, New York Sunday, June 23 - Wolf Trap Filene Center - Vienna, Virginia Wednesday, June 26 - Cain Park - Cleveland Heights, Ohio Thursday, June 27 - Penn's Peak - Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania Friday, June 28 - Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom - Hampton Beach, New Hampshire Saturday, June 29 - North Shore Music Theatre - Beverly, Massachusetts Sunday, June 30 - American Music Theatre - Lancaster, Pennsylvania Thursday, July 4 - Del Mar Fairgrounds / Grandstand - Del Mar, California Friday July 5, Saban Theater, Beverly Hills, California Monday, July 8 - Ed Kenley Centennial Amphitheater - Layton, Utah Tuesday, July 9 - Sandy City Amphitheater - Sandy, Utah Wednesday, July 10 - Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino - Lemoore, California Thursday, July 11 - Chumash Casino - Santa Ynez, California Friday, July 12 - Fox Tucson Theatre - Tucson, Arizona Saturday, July 13 - Talking Stick Resort - Scottsdale, Arizona Saturday, July 27 - Count Basie Theatre - Red Bank, New Jersey Tuesday, July 30 - Bergen Performing Arts Center - Englewood, New Jersey Wednesday, July 31 - Mayo Performing Arts Center - Morristown, New Jersey Friday, August 2 - Casino Rama Entertainment Centre - Rama, Ontario, Canada Saturday, August 3 - The Colosseum at Caesar's Windsor - Windsor, Ontario, Canada Sunday, August 4 - Wisconsin State Fair / Main Stage - West Allis, Wisconsin Tuesday, August 6 - Indiana State Fair / Marsh Free Stage - Indianapolis, Indiana Wednesday, August 7 - Fraze Pavilion for the Performing Arts - Kettering, Ohio Thursday, August 8 - Centennial Terrace - Sylvania, Ohio Friday, August 9 - Iowa State Fair / Grandstand - Des Moines, Iowa Saturday, August 10 - Ho-Chuck Gaming / Black River Falls - Black River Falls, Wisconsin Sunday, August 11 - Peoria Civic Center Theater - Peoria, Illinois Wednesday, August 21 - Effingham Performance Center - Effingham, Illinois Thursday, August 22 - Kentucky State Fair / Fairgrounds - Louisville, Kentucky Friday, August 23 - Paramount Arts Centre - Aurora, Illinois Sunday, August 25 - Corn Palace Festival - Mitchell, South Dakota Monday, August 26 - Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, Minnesota Tuesday, August 27 - Sanford Center - Bemidji, Minnesota Wednesday, August 28 - McPhillips Station Casino - Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada Friday, August 30 - Little River Casino Resort - Manistee, Michigan Sunday, September 1 - New York State Fair / Chevy Court - Syracuse, New York Saturday, October 5 - All Seasons Arena - Minot, North Dakota
ROCKSHOW!... As Paul McCartney continues to wow audiences around the globe on his current trek, replete with tour premieres of many songs he's never performed live ("Eight Days a Week," "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," "All Together Now") and some he hasn't played live in over 35 years ("Listen to What The Man Said," "Hi Hi Hi") comes the long awaited DVD/Blu-ray release ofRockshow (Eagle Rock), which captures McCartney & Wings at the apex of their popularity. Showcasing the classic Wings lineup -- McCartney and wife Linda, lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, Moody Blues founding member Denny Laine and drummer Joe English -- the DVD, fully restored and remastered from the 35mm print, chronicles the band's lone North American tour in 1976. The show, filmed at Seattle's Kingdome Stadium, finds Macca and band in fine form, inciting the crowd into mass hysteria reminiscent of his other band, four fine lads form Liverpool. While his previous European tours found him ignoring the Beatles catalogue, on Wings' 1976 U.S. tour McCartney dipped back into this Fab Four past, dusting off such jewels as "Blackbird," "Lady Madonna," "Yesterday," "I've Just Seen a Face" and "The Long and Winding Road." But what makes this show so special is its immersion into Wing's musical oeuvre; robust and explosive performances of "Venus and Mars/Rock Show," "Live and Let Die," "Magneto and Titanium Man," "Let Me Roll It," "Silly Love Songs," "Jet," "Listen to What the Man Said," "Beware My Love," "Hi Hi Hi" and "Soily" demonstrate the the band's well-oiled musicality and onstage combustibility.