The Turtles





The Turtles were one of the more enjoyable American pop groups of the 1960s, featuring beautiful vocal harmonies courtesy of dual frontmen Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. Born within two months of each other in 1947 (though on opposite coasts), Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman attended the same school, Westchester High in Los Angeles. The two sang in the school's a cappella choir, where Volman soon heard about Kaylan's instrumental surf group, the Nightriders (which also included choir members Al Nichol on lead guitar, Don Murray on drums and Chuck Portz on bass). Volman joined the group just before they became the Crossfires in 1963. After high-school graduation, the Crossfires continued on while its members attended area colleges (picking up rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker along the way).

The group finally got its big break in 1965 after local disc jockey and club owner Reb Foster heard them. Foster liked the Crossfires so much, he became their manager and found the group a contract with White Whale Records. The sextet changed their name to the Tyrtles (an unveiled homage to the Byrds, soon amended to the correct spelling) and recorded a Bob Dylan song, "It Ain't Me Babe" as their first single. It was an immediate hit - climbing into the Top Five nationally - quickly establishing the Turtles as a force of their own. Their first concert appearance was before 50,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, opening for Herman's Hermits. The group joined the Dick Clark Caravan of the Stars, and enjoyed immediate stardom and lots of screaming girls. Instead of the band forging their own path by playing a series of clubs to whoever had heard of their one hit, they took the stage to full, enthusiastic houses, supporting much more popular stars.

The Turtles rebellious energy was initially channelled into the whole folk rock, protest period, and while they hit it big in 1965 and 1966 with "It Ain't Me Babe" and Sloan's "Let Me Be", they did initially turn down his "Eve of Destruction", which became a Number One for Barry McGuire. Not ones to make the same mistake twice, the Turtles chose "I Get Out Of Breath" as their next single. It could have been a hit, but it was left in an uncompleted state after "You Baby" (another Sloan-Barri song) became a hit and dictated a candy-coated, poppy direction.

Then and there the Turtles eschewed the grubby, mud-on-the-boots folk rock of their first album cover, and donned the J.C. Penneys clean-cut image of the second. The White Whale honchos, with visions of increasing their bank accounts even more, wanted the group to record one of their own songs, so they could reap the extra income from the publishing. It would take more than a Philip Marlowe to discover why as unlikely a song as "Grim Reaper Of Love" was selected to follow the poppy "You Baby". The song was a very strange distillation of Indian and marijuana influences and odd time signatures, with an uncharacteristic Kaylan vocal, all bathed in a dreary atmosphere. It's a very interesting record, and was selected probably because it was the band's best composition at the time.

Though the Turtles had appeared to run out of steam by the beginning of 1967, the group stormed back with a song they'd heard in a batch of demos, a surefire hit written by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon. "Happy Together" spent three weeks at number one on the American charts, and proved to be one of the biggest hits of the year.

The Turtles' next three singles were written by Bonner-Gordon, and each hit the Top 20: the number three hit "She'd Rather Be with Me" (which eclipsed even "Happy Together" in terms of international success), plus "You Know What I Mean" and "She's My Girl." Chip Douglas, who had arranged the horns on "Happy Together", left the group to work with the Monkees, and was replaced by Jim Pons (formerly with the Leaves). Original member Jim Tucker left the group as well, after a tour of dingy pubs in England caused more than a bit of disillusionment about the group's lack of success.

Like so many other pop groups in the late '60s, the Turtles felt they had to stretch artistically to keep pace with their more critically respected rivals, and beginning with "You Know What I Mean", the Turtles' revolving-door cast of producers and arrangers made their sound progressively more psychedelic, though they were still much closer to the pop/rock mainstream than to the era's premier psychedelic groups. The band asserted their rights in late 1967, and self-produced the disappointing "Sound Asleep", which was the band's first single after "Happy Together" to miss the Top 40.

White Whale Records demanded an outside hand be brought to the studio, so the Turtles compromised by going back to Chip Douglas. The result, "The Story Of Rock and Roll," was shut out of the Top 40 as well, prompting the career-saving "Elenore" in September 1968, which hit number six (the best placing by a single actually written by the Turtles).

The inevitable concept LP came in November 1968: "The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands", on which the group attempted to sound like (and even dress up as) 11 distinct bands -- one for each song on the LP. It was an interesting concept, and a measured success, with "Elenore" to its credit as well as another number six hit, "You Showed Me" (originally written and recorded by the Byrds).

Drummer John Seiter joined the Turtles after the recording of Battle of the Bands, replacing Barbata (who had left to work with Crosby, Stills & Nash). After White Whale attempted to record Monkees-style, with the vocals of Kaylan and Volman added to a generic studio backing track, the duo rebelled and attempted to get back to basics. Inspired by the Kinks' recent "Village Green Preservation Society" LP, the Turtles recruited frontman Ray Davies to serve as producer for their 1969 LP "Turtle Soup". Two singles from the album, "You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain" and "Love In the City," both failed to reach the Top 40.

The Turtles were such a together bunch, when did it all turn sour, why did the group eventually break up? It might be attributed to Dave Krambeck. Back in 1967, the band were still going their merry way when Krambeck, their first road manager, suggested very strongly that The Turtles' manager, Bill Utley (who later went on to manage Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf) was "Screwing them over." In turn, Krambeck with much presumption, told Utley that the group didn't like him and didn't want him to be their manager. At the same time, Krambeck colluded with White Whale, who were more than willing to help get rid of the shrewd Utley in favour of someone (Krambeck) they could manipulate. Krambeck worked an agreement out with Utley, borrowed $550,000 of the Turtles' money from White Whale (unbeknownst to the band members themselves) and made the first instalment payment to Bill.

Briefly, Krambeck was in way over his head. He sold half his share to a New York management firm (again, unbeknownst to the band) and then disappeared to Mexico with the profit from the Turtles' current tour...and with Jim Pons' wife. Suffice to say, more managers followed, none effective. Utley sued the group for three and a half million dollars for breach of contract. As he was never fully paid off, according to his contract, the Turtles management reverted back to him. The New York firm launched another suit. So, wherever the Turtles went, they had these two law suits hanging over their heads. The group hated their record company, who were like a demanding, senile grandfather who only wanted the group to record inane pop songs at the expense of their creativity. The members of the Turtles had had enough and disbanded.

Before the end of 1970, though, Kaylan, Volman and Pons had joined Frank Zappa's early-'70s edition of the Mothers Of Invention. (The use of the Turtles' name or even their own names in a musical context was illegal according to an earlier contract, so Kaylan and Volman appeared as the Phlorescent Leech & Eddie.)

Disaster struck twice. First, the incident at Montreux, Switzerland, chronicled in Deep Purple's song "Smoke On The Water", where the concert hall in which The Mothers were performing burned down. Then Frank Zappa was attacked by the irate boyfriend of a fan during a concert appearance in England. After Zappa's injury in London, Mark and Howard continued touring, as Flo & Eddie, initially with the musicians from the Mothers' line-up, including Jim Pons, Aynsley Dunbar and Don Preston, with Gary Rowles added on guitar.

With the dissolution of the first Flo & Eddie Band, Mark and Howard turned their sites to broadcasting. Howard Kaylan explains: "I began broadcasting in the Summer of '65 at UCLA before the Turtles' career ever took off. "Later, in the early eighties, Mark and I did a guest shot on KROQ in L.A. and they liked it so much they gave us our own Sunday Night show which was produced by, then program director, Shadoe Stevens. When Shadoe left for a loftier position on KMET, the big alternative station at the time, we went with him. "After getting about 30 shows in the can, we formed our own syndication company and edited the shows for distribution all over the U.S. We had about 50 stations going there for awhile, and everybody wanted to do our show...we had Ringo, Keith Moon, Belushi, Nilsson, Kiss, and Queen. This lasted about 3 years.

"Later in the 80's, we brought the same wacky show to WLIR in New York on a Sunday Night basis...sometimes we were actually there, but most times we recorded the shows in Los Angeles and sent them the tapes." Having established a relationship with Murakami Wolf Productions while appearing in Frank Zappa's film "200 Motels", they created the voices and music for the animated feature "Dirty Duck". This led to work on music for the animated series "Strawberry Shortcake" and "The Care Bears". Around the same time, the group evolved "The Two-and-a-Half-Man Show", featuring Mark, Howard and Andy Cahan in a "History of..." presentation, highlighted by their low-budget version of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' called 'Flo & Eddie's The Fence'.

Howard continues Flo & Eddie's further radio adventures: "In 1989, we were offered a real job...and went for it. "We were on the air every day between 2pm and 6pm on 92.3 K-ROCK (WXRK) in New York City...the same station that hosted the Howard Stern show. We did almost 2 years on the radio in Manhattan. So, we go to Cincinnati or Louisville or Atlanta for a week at a time to promote a show or just for the fun of it... just to keep our hands in the radio biz...I still like it...." Mark and Howard continued recording and doing session work, lending their trademark harmonies to T-Rex, John Lennon, Roger McGuinn, Hoyt Axton, Ray Manzarek, Stephen Stills, Keith Moon, David Cassidy, Alice Cooper, Tonio K., Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, The Knack, Psychedelic Furs, Sammy Hagar, Livingston Taylor, Burton Cummings, Paul Kantner, Duran Duran, The Ramones and others.

In 1984, as "The Turtles ...featuring Flo & Eddie", (together with three other groups from the 60's; Gary Puckett, Spanky & Our Gang, and The Association), they travelled across the U.S. and Canada as "The Happy Together Tour". The tour was very successful and was the standard bearer for a resurgence in the interest of 60's music. The following year, they got together with The Buckinghams, Gary Lewis, and The Grass Roots, for a 1985 version. For the eight months the tour was on the road it was consistently one of the top 10 grossing tours in the country.

Kaylan and Volman continued to appear as Flo and Eddie into the new millennium. In the Fall of 2004, the pair co-produced a new remastered collection of their hits called "Happy Together: The Very Best Of The Turtles".

In 2009, a new Turtles compilation CD was released called "Save The Turtles: The Turtles Greatest Hits", which was issued on Flo and Eddie's FloEdCo label. During of summer touring seasons of 2010 and 2011, The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie maintained heavy touring schedules throughout the U.S. as part of both the Happy Together: 25th Anniversary Tour: 2010" and "Happy Together: 2011", along with The Buckinghams, Mark Lindsay, The Grass Roots, and The Monkees' Micky Dolenz (in 2010). Their 2012 schedule had them booked across America with Gary Puckett, The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots and Micky Dolenz.

The Turtles were back in the news again in August of 2013 when they launched a $100 million class action lawsuit against Sirius XM that claimed the satellite radio giant infringed on millions of old recordings from a multitude of artists.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Mark Volman