Gary James' Interview With Mark "Flo" Volman of
In the mid 1960s, The Turtles were just burning up the airwaves with one hit song after another. Songs like "It Ain't Me Babe", "You Baby", "Happy Together", "She'd Rather Be With Me" and "You Know What I Mean" were big hits for The Turtles.
Mark "Flo" Volman and Howard "Eddie" Kaylan were the original lead singers of the group.
Mark "Flo" Volman spoke with us about the history of The Turtles.
Q - Mark, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock had this to say about The Turtles: "The Turtles were a successful Pop group of the 60s, but they were dis-satisfied with mere hit singles. Their aspirations to more profound statements broke up the band." So, The Turtles were looking to make a Sgt. Pepper record, were they?
A - Well, I think we were always looking to improve our musical context. I think we became relegated as a 60s hit making group. People sort of looked at that and kind of frowned on it. At the time, there was so much taking place in society in terms of drugs. We were hoping to expand our musical base. We felt that our hit singles were really not enough about what we were. We were looking to do, in our minds, more serious, maybe serious isn't the right term, maybe just a bit more hip. We felt that we could do something with a concept to it. It would open up that avenue for us.
Q - Let me quote another reference book. Irwin Stambler's Encyclopedia Of Pop, Rock And Soul: "The Turtles managed to stay among the most successful Rock groups in the US throughout the second half of the 1960s." That said, why don't we hear more about The Turtles?
A - Well, you're interviewing me! I did sixty concerts this year (2002). I'm one of the few 60s groups that continues to have a really successful fan base. Our records still sell. Our re-issues do very well in the marketplace. I don't know how much more you could ask in terms of being heard from. What else would there be that we could do?
Q - It's not so much you, it's the other people.
A - Well, you can't worry about other people. We don't sit around and worry about people giving us our due.
Q - Being one of the most successful Rock groups is quite impressive.
A - I think that's not exactly true. If you say '65 to '70 as the second half of the 60s, yes, that would be true. But, they're probably relating that in terms of "Happy Together". Everybody who writes thinks they're important, you see. When people write, they have this need to expound theory or they have nothing to write about. Quite honestly, people who make statements like that...it just makes no sense. It's not important to me. We never tried to be anything, first of all. The public that got us, the people that bought our records and the people who followed us through the changes we made...we did make a significant contribution. We just don't sit and worry about whether people got it or not. Maybe when we were younger it meant a lot to us to be accepted by our peers. We wanted people who made music, the people that we grew up with living in Los Angeles...Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, all of those people who were kind of related to as being hip, we wanted to be accepted by their fans and by them. That was really important to us. We didn't care much about what the critics thought, what the reviewers thought. You know, I can't sit back and worry about why an audience didn't get us. We never really got that involved in that part of it. We're really not that vain maybe.
Q - Before you were The Turtles, you were in a band called The Nightriders?
A - The Nightriders was the first incarnation of our band as a surfing group. That was really a very early incarnation. It didn't even include all of the members that would eventually become The Turtles.
Q - And then you were in a group called The Crossfires?
A - Yeah. The Crossfires would be the metamorphis of The Nightriders. The Nightriders was just a brief moment.
Q - Would The Crossfires name have come from The Orlons' song "Crossfire"?
A - There was a song called "Crossfire" by Johnny And The Hurricanes which was an instrumental band. We were influenced by the instrumental bands of the late 1950s...Pill Town Men, Johnny And The Hurricanes, Duane Eddy, The Viscounts.
Q - So, that would've been the type of material you were playing in The Crossfires?
A - Yes, exactly the type of material we were playing.
Q - When "It Ain't Me Babe" went Top 10 in 1965, how did life for The Turtles change? Did you tour nationally? Internationally?
A - Almost immediately we were an over-night success after three years. We were immediately slung out on the road. That first year we did about 280 days of touring. We did a Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars immediately, six months long tour with Peter and Gordon, Tom Jones. We were immediately pulled out of high school and flung into an entirely different world. So, it was an immediate change. The seriousness of the music industry was upon us in terms of having hit songs, record company needs for us in terms of having those hit songs. It was a really important thing and up until then, everything had been pretty much a hobby, even though we were pretty serious about it, it was still compared with what was about to happen, pretty much a hobby. So yes, it changed drastically.
Q - Did you tour internationally?
A - Not until 1967. It was our first trip overseas.
Q - Didn't The Turtles play a party for Tricia Nixon at The White House?
A - Yes. We were invited to play The White House along with The Temptations in the latter part of our career, probably 1970.
Q - And wasn't there some criticism directed your way for doing that?
A - We never heard any. I'm sure that there was a certain aspect of the Pop culture...probably a group of individuals who felt there was a certain political gain we were getting out of it. I never really heard any backlash. I suppose that there was a predominantly liberal audience who probably felt that made us Republicans by playing in the Nixon White House. We never really saw it like that. It was just an invitation that happened to be from the daughter of the President. We never made any choices on it. We were not political as a band compared to many of the other artists that were out there.
Q - You were also part of Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention. What was that like?
A - Well, it was a really different change for us. As the 70s approached and The Turtles disintegrated in a montage on litigation with a bunch of different legal things going on. Frank Zappa offered us a job to come sing with the band for one tour. Actually, that was the initial offer, that we would tour with Frank overseas on one particular twelve day tour. It ended up being a two year run for us. But, it was also pretty much a business lifesaver. It was at a period of time when we were in litigation over the ownership of the name The Turtles and the rights to the masters. There was a lot of financial problems. Howard and I couldn't use the name The Turtles to tour. So, Frank came along at just a very opportune time. Frank was very generous with his creativity, availability to us, giving us lots of room to spontaneously improvise night to night as well as musically for records. It took us down an entirely new area that we had never been challenged at, which was the vocal. The musical content was much more challenging. It was 180 degrees from where The Turtles had been. It was really an exceptional time for us.
Q - Had there been no litigation with The Turtles, there would have been no Flo and Eddie? And The Turtles would've gone on well into the 70s?
A - You're speculating now. It's hard to say what would've happened. Maybe something completely different. Certainly The Turtles were working on an album when the litigation began and the group stopped. This was not a planned maneuver. It was very much an emotional thing at the time when we made the decision to file a lawsuit against the record company. We didn't stop and consider the problems that were awaiting us by doing it. The problems that we took on, we were really unaware of. We weren't very business savvy when it came to what was going to happen. We had no intention of breaking up. The album that we were working on that would eventually get released in sort of an unfinished form...Rhino Records released "Shell Shocked". It was the album we were working on at the time we made the decision to file the lawsuit against White Whale Records. If we had been smarter, we might've let the album come out. We might've finished recording it so that we would've had something in the marketplace as this was happening. We were pretty innocent to the possibilities a lawsuit would have. And so, we weren't very smart on how we went about it. That's the one thing I can say.
Q - You were also on tour with Alice Cooper at one point. Where'd you go with him?
A - Well, we went all over the world. In 1972, Alice Cooper did a Billion Dollar Babies Tour around the world and the opening act was Flo and Eddie.
Q - You and Eddie used to host a radio show on KMET-FM in L.A. where you'd interview Rock and Pop stars. Who'd you interview?
A - Actually, that radio show started at K-Rock in Los Angeles. Our first incarnation of that radio show was an idea that was brought to us by the music director at the radio station, a fellow by the name of Shadow Stevens. Shadow came to us with an idea to do a specialty show, a two hour fun, Pop-music, comedy type Sunday show. We were on K-Rock, oh, probably for about a year when Shadow was offered the job at KMET. When Shadow went to KMET, K-Rock really didn't know what to do with us, so we went with Shadow over to KMET. We continued our show at KMET for a about another year, easily. That would eventually lead to an stint in Pop radio in the late 80s, early 90s of The Flo and Eddie Show in New York City, where we had the two year run at K-Rock in New York. We had a lot of guests. We had Dean Torrance (Jan and Dean), America, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Marc Bolan, Jeff Lynne from ELO, Roy Wood from Wizard. The list was really a litany of friends, but also people we truly enjoyed and admired musically. It really wasn't an interview show to bring groups on to sell their music. It wasn't a promotional tool.
Q - You just finished this sixty city tour. What's ahead for you and The Turtles?
A - We tour every year. We continue to enjoy the touring marketplace. Plus, financially it makes a lot of sense for us. The 60s groups who succeed in the marketplace today, the 60s acts who continue to be important are for a lot of reasons, the groups whose music still holds up and people enjoy the songs. We have built up a good reputation as a great 'live' show. Our touring show is a separate entity unto itself that Howard and I started doing in high school and just continued to do...playing out 'live'. We have a lot more control over the places we play. We don't work with a lot of low class individuals that you sometimes do when you're starting out. We work with a lot of quality promoters, a lot of the high end festivals around the United States. City festivals, Summer music festivals. So, our concert touring business is something that will continue until we get tired of it. We are putting together a new product for Turtles fans. We've just finished a two year project putting together an album for Warners / Rhino called "Solid Zine", which was a 51 song anthology of the history of The Turtles, as much as 51 songs can represent in a group's history. That was a very important project. It unearthed a lot of early recordings that we hadn't had at our disposal for many, many years. New, original versions popped up that allowed us to re-organize songs that had been out before, that we now had the ability to go in and re-master and re-organize from original tapes, some of the biggest hits. That was really an incredible opportunity for us. We're working on a Flo and Eddie project right now. We want to get the original five Flo and Eddie albums we made back into the marketplace. So, we're trying through some negotiation to somehow re-establish the Flo and Eddie records so the fans of Flo and Eddie can get them on CD. So, that's going to include a "Best Of" as well as a re-issue of the five original albums that we did during the late 70s, early 80s. We've also been approached by some people about doing some new recordings. So, that is perhaps somewhere on the horizon, within the next year or so. So, there's lot of stuff happening. I think touring maintains that. I think our marketplace is bolstered by our touring. There is, every year, a resurgence and up-swing of our material in terms of it's value to the market place.
Q - Thank God for Top 40 radio.
A - You have to understand, anybody who listens to music for a living, which everybody does for one reason or another, is that music is really wrapped around memories. Young people will never understand what had musically because they don't relate to the music the way we do. When you hear "In The Still Of The Night" or "Image Of A Girl" or something that reminds you of a period of time in your life, those memories flash back and bring you a lot of pleasure. At the same time, we can never forget the people listening to music today are having those same types of memories. The music they're listening to, whether you enjoy it or not, is establishing foundations for them that they will have thirty years from now. It won't be the music, it will be the memories. That's why it's unfair for those of us who are in our 40s and 50s to look back at what we had and say it was so much better. Quite honestly, if you said that and my father was alive today, he would argue with you. My father would never understand how we were able to stand the artistry of the 60s. You really have to relax a little bit and just enjoy the music you grew up with and it's relationship to your history and your past. I have two daughters. I know their history doesn't come out of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Turtles. Their history comes out of the groups they grew up with...Van Halen, Metalica, The Bee Gees...whoever. I have so many people who come up to me and say "The music of our time was so much better." You know, there's an argument to what is better and what isn't. You have a link soulfully with the music of your life and that's why it appears to be the best music to you. I think as we grow older, we get more narrow minded. We can't look at the music of today with the same enthusiasm for the fact that it's not creating any memories for us, 'cause you don't listen to it. There's not really anything there in your mind that connects you to this music, so it doesn't build any memories for you. When you listen to music you put on those songs that bring back good memories. It's kind of weird. I think there's really a lot of good music happening today. Technology has just been an incredible thing to watch. Musically, there is just as many important records being made. I think less of it attracts me because I don't have any connection to it in terms of memories. I don't go to parties anymore and music doesn't fuel my life like it did when I was an 18 year old. We used to drive in cars and put the top down and listen to The Beach Boys. And that's what we remember...the moments. It didn't even matter what the song was. (laughs) Kids are still doing that today. They're just doing it with their music.