The Turtles, along with Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night) Gary Lewis and The Playboys and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels will be playing the Free Stage at the Indiana State Fair tomorrow. We chatted up Turtles member Mark Volman before Tuesday's show.
NUVO: Now you’ve worked with Howard Kaylan for most of your professional life: what steps do you take to maintain that relationship? Is it akin to a marriage of sorts?
VOLMAN: I think at the bottom of it all is the fact that we sort of made a commitment to each other. You know the challenge of just telling our families that we were going to pursue the music industry instead of trying to pursue what our parents wanted us to pursue. I sort of think we owe that to each other to kind of stay with this as long as we can. And that’s one of the things that we continue to do. That we told our parents that the music business was something we wanted to stay with, and that’s what we’ve done.
NUVO: Did you ever imagine one day that you’d be a college professor? How did your friends and family react to that?
VOLMAN: I never had that. That was something I never planned. The university I was going to began to cultivate me to teach courses in the business of music. I think had it not been for the university, I probably would not have thought too much about it. That was kind of a surprise to me, to find my way into that. I’m glad it did though, because it’s really been something that’s driven me, in terms of preparing for school every semester. It keeps you busy for sure.
NUVO: What’s it like having your students work as part of the crew during these summer tours?
VOLMAN: Well, not all of the tour, there’s only about a two and a half to three week period of time because of the expense of the bus and the travel. Plus we want them to have a part of summer, too. Basically, from our standpoint it is something we try to schedule in the first segment of summer school, so that it kind of acts as a summer school course. And it’s worked out really well. It’s hard to time it all. That has been one of the really hard things to do, to make it work. But it’s panned out okay. The kids really like doing it. We see tremendous positive feedback at the end of the semester. We’re already looking ahead to next summer and being able to continue offering it. It sort of depends on the summer tours, whether we’ll continue to tour as well.
NUVO: I know this is the 30th anniversary of the tour. What initially prompted the Happy Together tours?
VOLMAN: I think they’re always trying to create an angle and a hook that ties together with the tour. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of The Turtles. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of somebody who will be on tour with us. So I see that kind of being an exciting possibility. I’m not sure what it was the 30th anniversary of. It’s more of a producer’s thing. The agents of the show, Paradise Artists, get together, try and find connections. ... The state fairs are always fun, the combination of the state fair and the other elements that go into the state fair. We just came from the Wisconsin State Fair that was really fun.
NUVO: Those are always great, especially if you’re new to the state or just visiting, it’s a nice showcase of the state.
VOLMAN: The state fairs have been going a lot longer than The Turtles, that’s for sure. They’re part of the culture. We do a lot of these during the summer. They’re fun and there’s a lot of atmosphere, a lot different things that get tied together with them. So we really like doing the state fairs.
NUVO: Did The Turtles play many state fairs in the early days of your career?
VOLMAN: Not really, nobody then had any idea that this would still be going on. I think I said the other night on stage that if you had told me I’d be doing this, this long into my career. I would have probably agreed with my father that this was not going to happen. It was quite a surprise for us, too, that’s for sure.
NUVO: What’s the audience makeup like for your shows?
VOLMAN: At the state fairs you see a wide demographic. Especially at the fairs, the families come and they go to the shows, those are really fun. Even at the regular shows we do.
NUVO: Do you get a special thrill out of seeing kids my age and younger at shows?
VOLMAN: That hasn’t just been this year, that’s been the last five or 10 years. We see a huge fanbase of people who are just loving the music of the 60s. And we see more and more of that coming to our normal shows, not just the state fair shows. That’s one of the interesting things about the music of the 1960s, it has such a tremendous inspirational part of it. That’s one of things that makes it fun on these summer tours, all the different artists we’re out with. These are all people who we’ve toured with since the mid-60s. So it’s kind of fun hanging out with Mark Farner, Mitch Ryder, Gary [Lewis] and Chuck [Negron]. So it makes for great camaraderie when you’re traveling together so much. We’re sort of at the bottom end of it right now, we’ve got about little less than half the summer left to go, so we’ve got about three weeks and that’s gonna keep us busy..
NUVO: What do you think it is about the music of the 1960s that makes it so enduring?
VOLMAN: I think there’s just a tremendous sociological reflection of many different reasons. I think the mid-'60s ties together one of the halcyon times in American history that had to do with technology and the recording studio. That played its role. The technology differed from even the early-'60s to the mid- to late '60s. Technology had a tremendous influence on music. Those two artforms coming together were a really big part of American history during that period of time. You even look at the tremendous reflection of the Vietnam War and drugs. There are just so many elements that come into play when you start saying, ‘What caused the music of the 1960s to be such a valuable art form?’ There’s no singular one thing and that’s a big part of it.
NUVO: Is there any song of yours that’s your favorite to perform on stage?
VOLMAN: Not really, every one has great memories to it. The most obvious answer is “Happy Together” because it gave us a reat big living in terms of ownership and money that we made from that song, from the last three or four decades. But they’re all fun for different reasons. Maybe “Elenore.” Elenore is such a powerful pop record. I think that it stands out as one of the records, when we perform live, that’s fun to see audiences respond to. “Happy Together,” you know another obvious choice
NUVO: "Elenore" is from The Turtles Present The Battle of the Bands that’s where you did stylistics parodies of other bands. And you parodied yourself with “Elenore” that why there’s the line, “You’re my pride and joy, etc.” That’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing?
VOLMAN: Well, I think Turtles, even before The Battle of The Bands, that was predominant in our songwriting and just the way we treated the group. We never really took The Turtles seriously. We never imagined that it was going to be something that lasted as long as it did. You also have to take into consideration today, there’s a really strong reference to music and business and music tied together. When we were growing up we never really thought of ourselves as a business. The success of the band, a lot of it was luck and I think we see it that way in a lot of respects, how fortunate we were to be able to pick out some really great songs from such really different songwriters. I think we were really, really fortunate in that respect. We never really took what we were doing that seriously, I think that’s what kind of made it fun to see the songs become hits. They became hits despite the fact that we weren’t taking it seriously. I see these groups who pass through the decades and all they want is to be successful and that wasn’t really on our minds.
NUVO: Is there any song you get tired of singing onstage and if so, what do you do to bring the passion back to it?
VOLMAN: At one time or another, I probably got tired of them all. During the 1970s we were all kind of tired of singing the songs of the '60s. When we were working with Zappa we sort of stopped playing the music. When we left Frank, came back out and started bringing some of the songs back into our show. As we were making Flo & Eddie records we were sort of not doing Turtles songs for periods of time. It was one of those things where you were forced to perform it so much, that it probably became something we did. Fighting back the boredom was to just not perform it. At a certain point, we realized there was not going to be the ability to do that. We had to finally come along and say, ‘You know, this is what we do, these are the songs that have helped us do that and we’re going to have reevaluate our boredom.” And we did and kind of came back around.” You sometimes forget how fortunate you are and that’s something we’ve used to keep it still happening. When you put together a tour like this where you’re only singing your hit songs, that’s another kind of situation where you say, ‘The tour is bigger than what we want to do.’ When we made the commitment to do the Happy Together Tour five years ago, we realized that was just going to be it. We were going to do these hit songs and that’s what people paid to see and that’s what we’re going to do. From that commitment, comes the realization that we’re just not gonna do anything else during the summer.
NUVO: What would you tell someone on the fence about attending the show?
VOLMAN: It’s a fun show; it’s two-and-a-half hours of hit music featuring some of the great songs and best artists of that period of time. All these artists are just really great and really are excited about being out on this tour playing their hits. And that just comes across every night when we start the show and it comes across in the reviews of the show. The reviews have been really excellent this year and I just think that people will have a really great time. It’s a lot of fun. There are a lot of memories that come from the two hours on stage.