Happy Together Tour 2018 poster
The Turtles’ Mark Volman is more excited than ever about this summer’s venerable Happy Together Tour—now going on its ninth consecutive year.
After all, the “Flo” of Flo & Eddie—Eddie being Turtles lead singer Howard Kaylan, Volman’s musical partner since high school in Los Angeles--will return to headline fellow Happy Together Tour returnees, Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night), Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Association, Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere & The Raiders) and The Cowsills, with Volman and the Turtles, whose perpetual 1967 hit “Happy Together” gives the tour its name, as ever closing it out.
But this year’s tour, which begins June 7 at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, promises to be different. Kaylan is taking a medical leave of absence, with Ron Dante, the voice of hit bubblegum pop group The Archies among other notable music achievements, filling in. So instead of advertising the show as a presentation of The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie as in the past, the Flo & Eddie tag has been dropped for now so “there’s nothing shady about it,” says Volman.
In fact, the absence of one of the two enduring Turtles founders is something that’s long been considered.
“‘If somebody goes down, bring somebody else in’--that was always the plan,” says Volman. “It’s the show, and the important thing is to keep the show going and figure out the best way to do it.”
This would make Ron Dante the perfect fit.
“He’s toured with us before with The Archies and on his own last year, and believe it or not the guy can sing and sound like just about anybody,” says Volman. “He respects our songs so much that he’s learned everything exact to the record.”
Kaylan needs major back surgery.
“His back has been bothering him for over a decade, and it was recommended that he not tour because he can’t ride on buses and has a tough time flying and didn’t want to deal with a wheelchair,” continues Volman. “We don’t know what the outcome will be, but he has to have surgery or he’ll never tour again anyway. Once we realized that he wouldn’t be prepared to tour this year after having surgery, we needed to get somebody to fill in—and take ‘Flo & Eddie’ out of the press release.”
As deep Turtles fans know, Flo & Eddie is who Volman and Kaylan respectively became as an act during the period after the original Turtles broke up and they were prohibited from using the Turtles’ name. Not only did the duo do Turtles hits and work with such artists as Frank Zappa, they incorporated hysterical comedy into their show.
“We [Volman and Dante] can’t do Flo & Eddie because of it’s one-of-a-kind comedy history, but The Turtles are those great songs that we can still do—including ‘You Showed Me,’ which we’ve never done on this tour ever,” says Volman. “It might not be the same kind of show Howard and I do but we’ll sing those hits as well as some of Ron’s like [Archies’ hits] ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and ‘Jingle Jangle.’”
He compares the situation to that of AC/DC, which enlisted Axl Rose to replace its ailing lead singer Brian Johnson on tour.
“It’s like we have our own Axl Rose joining our band—which is something that’s become very hip to have!” says Volman. “A lot of groups have done the same thing, and while people will be disappointed that Howard’s not there, they won’t be disappointed in the show itself: It won’t be the same but it will certainly be very professional. And with Ron, it’s not like we couldn’t find anyone online to do Howard’s parts—which we thought about doing, too!”
Volman notes that in subbing for Kaylan, Dante will also be the center of attention.
“Howard’s such an integral part of the songs, but he’s also the spirit of the tour,” he says. “So we asked Ron to learn to do everything exactly like Howard, and he did—and the show’s going to friggin’ rock! It certainly won’t be the same, but everyone’s excited to be out there and keep the show going with all these hits by the original voices.”
And returning for the sixth year is a group of Volman’s students from Nashville’s Belmont University Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business (where Volman is assistant professor and chair and is known as Professor Flo), who learn all the ropes of the touring business by participating on the first leg of the tour and traveling in their own tour bus.
“The first students who went out on the road with me are already six years out of college!” says Volman. “One of the girls later worked for Kings of Leon and then got to tour-manage Hozier and just got a new job with Keith Urban. Other students have gone on to work with other artists or promote shows: One guy from last year worked on a big festival with 20,000 people in Tennessee. So they end up doing a lot of good stuff, and it’s a real treat to have them out with us.”
But in light of Kalyan’s absence, there still looms over the tour a realization that it can’t go on forever.
“Just how long can we keep it going?” Volman wonders. “We’re all at the stage now that every time we pick up the phone, we’re worried about what we’ll hear.”
He relates that “just the other day”—March 7—the pioneering album cover artist Gary Burden died.
“We go back to 1966 with him,” notes Volman, “and now Neil Diamond has retired from touring because of Parkinson’s disease. We’re losing the people we grew up with. We’re falling and can’t get up!’
Indeed, Volman himself successfully underwent throat cancer treatment in 2016—the same year Kaylan had to stay seated for some of that year’s Happy Together Tour shows after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
“I know how I feel when I finish a show—but we want to keep going as long as we can,” Volman says. “I’m just glad to bring this show out this year and think it will be one of the best, and everyone who’s in it is excited about it.”
So are the promoters.
“We only wanted to do 30 or so shows, and we already have 47 scheduled—and then we’re going to stop and do some stuff around Christmas for the first time!” says Volman. “It’s fantastic that the promoters love it,and the artists care enough about it not to look like a bunch of drooling old men!”
Volman quickly excluded Susan Cowsill from the “drooling old men” remark. But he did note that “this era of music is going to be lost soon. If luck holds out we’ll get three-to-five more years out of this, because quite honestly, we’re all in a very crucial part of our lives where touring and riding buses isn’t normal for 70-year-olds.”
Volman actually turns 71 this month.
“We’re all there, man!” he continues. “We want people to know that whoever’s coming to do this is part of this history and loves being out there. In fact, Chuck and Mark love it as much as The Turtles and don’t care who does it next year so long as they’re in it, too."
“We’ll keep us old grifters out on the road as long as we can do it--and Howard’s a vital part,” adds Volman, noting that he and Kaylan hope to do a “two-and-a-half man show” where they sit on stage and show videos and answer questions next year.
“I hope he can get back out there as quick as he can, but we’re very excited that Ron’s agreed to do Happy Together. He’s the perfect fit and the greatest guy, and having Howard’s blessing is really fantastic.”