One fine day in 2002 (or perhaps early 2003), The Turtles came through town to play at the local casino (where else?). So naturally, I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to Mark Volman, who was more than willing to chat about every facet of his long and varied career with partner Howard Kaylan. I can only find a bunch of notes from the call, so I can’t put together a full transcript. But here’s what ran in the paper and online:
After more than 40 years, Flo and Eddie are still blissfully happy together.
“We really do get along very well,” maintains Mark (Flo) Volman of the legendary vocal duo that also includes Howard (Eddie) Kaylan. “Our relationship has lasted longer than a lot of people’s marriages — including mine.
“But it’s odd — we really don’t have to work hard at it at all. We just have a lot of respect for each other. We never really fight about any decision we make. If one of us is really strongly opposed to something, we just don’t do it. We’ve never taken a job unless it was something both of us wanted to do.”
Over the decades, the things they’ve wanted to do could fill — and in fact have filled — volumes on the history of rock ’n’ roll. From The Turtles to Frank Zappa to Alice Cooper to Marc Bolan to Bruce Springsteen to Blondie to Joey Ramone, Volman and Kaylan have been there, done that, sung the harmonies and lived to tell the tale.
Not bad for a couple of choir boys from Westchester, Calif. That’s where the teenage pair first crossed paths in the early ’60s, and where they formed teenage rockin’ combo The Crossfires. By the time they finished high school they had a new name — The Turtles — and their first hit in a jangly pop remake of Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe. Plenty of others followed, all characterized by Volman and Kaylan’s soaring, exuberent vocals and the band’s spry, upbeat pop. There was She’d Rather Be With Me. Outside Chance. Can I Get to Know You Better. She’s My Girl. You Showed Me. Elenore. And, of course, the song that became their signature: Happy Together.
“Whether you’re six years old or 100 years old, the song Happy Together has somehow permeated your life,” claims Volman, who hears the song’s spirit to this day in the music of Barenaked Ladies. “It has become, in its own way, a musical icon. It represents the best part of a very spirited period of American history.”
Volman and Kaylan’s history took an abrupt turn when The Turtles imploded in 1970. While the vocalists soon found a new home in Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, contracts prevented them from using their own names. So, adapting the nicknames of their two road managers, Volman became The Phlorescent Leech — later shortend to Flo — and Kaylan became Eddie.
“They’re us, but they’re also characters,” explains Volman. “Having these alternate onstage personas has really been a joy. It keeps it loose and makes it so much easier to walk on stage when you know it’s not really you.”
Their tenure with Zappa included four albums, the film 200 Motels and a fiery gig in Montreaux that sparked Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, but ended when a crazed fan pushed Zappa off the stage in London. Volman and Kaylan started from scratch again, garnering a cult audience with their humourous solo albums while serving as hired-gun backup vocalists on hits including Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart and T. Rex’s Bang a Gong.
“When I hear that on the car radio, I think one thing: Without us, Marc Bolan would have been nothing. Nothing!” cracks Volman. “No, what I really think about is how much I miss him. And Frank. And so many other dear friends from that time who are gone.”
Amazingly, Volman and Howard have not only survived but have continued to grow. They’ve done morning radio, children’s TV and movie soundtracks. Volman is a published horror novelist and screenwriter. And he is now Prof. Flo. After returning to college at age 45 and earning his master’s degree in education, he teaches music and business courses at two California colleges, trying to help aspiring musicians survive the industry’s shark-infested waters.
Oh, and somewhere in all that, they still perform some 70 Turtles shows a year, like the two sets they’ll do at Club Regent Casino, trying to hit all those high notes one more time.
“Actually, our voices are still pretty strong,” says Volman. “It’s like weight-lifting; after you’ve done it for all those years, it’s pretty easy.”
Getting him to pick a high note of his career, though, is another matter. “If you lay out all our work, you’d see this massive list of near-accomplishments, near-successes and some bombastic moments of stardom. But the real accomplishment is our relationship. The blessing of finding each other and being able to work and still be friends, and knowing that we can speak every day in harmony … that’s what life is all about. It gives us such an appreciation of who we are and what we do. We just want to keep on doing it.”