Although they never reached the rock-star status of the Beatles, the Byrds, or Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Turtles were nevertheless one of the most enjoyable American pop groups of the 1960s. Evolving through the decade, they moved from surf-rock to a folk-rock formula inspired by the Byrds, then on to a sparkling fusion of chamber-pop and straightforward, good-time pop reminiscent of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Each song was infused with the vocal harmonies of co-founders and longtime friends Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, two singers and saxophonists whose unwavering faith in the band enabled them to navigate the Turtles through numerous personnel changes without a scratch. The Turtles are known by most for their number-one hit of 1967, “Happy Together.” The group went on to score three more top ten hits before disbanding in 1970. After the split, Kaylan and Volman in the early-1970s joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and also recorded new material as the Phlo-rescent Leech and Eddie—later shortened to Flo & Eddie. Then in 1982, Kaylan and Volman restarted the band as a nostalgia act. Since that time, the revamped band billed as the Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie enjoyed great success on the oldies circuit.
Members include Howard Kaylan (born Howard Kaplan on June 22, 1947, in the Bronx, New York), vocals, saxophone; Don Murray (born on November 8, 1945, in Los Angeles, CA; died on March 22, 1996), drums; Al Nichol (born on March 31, 1945, in North Carolina), piano, guitar; Chuck Portz (born on March 28, 1945, in Santa Monica, CA), bass; Jim Tucker (born on October 17, 1946, in Los Angeles, CA), guitar; Mark Volman (born on April 19, 1947, in Los Angeles, CA), vocals, saxophone.
Formed band in 1961 in Los Angeles; released number-one hit “Happy Together,” 1967; released concept album The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, 1968; disbanded, 1970; reformed as a nostalgic act, 1982.
Addresses: Website —The Turtles Featuring Flo and Eddie, http://www.theturtles.com.
Howard Kaylan, who in 1965 changed his last name from Kaplan, was born June 22, 1947, in the Bronx, New York, living his first eight years in Manhattan before his father accepted a job with General Electric in Utica, New York. After spending about a year in Utica, the family moved to the Los Angeles area and settled in Westchester. Mark Volman was born on April 19, 1947, in Los Angeles; his family lived in Redondo Beach for a brief time before they, too, moved to nearby Westchester. Volman and Kaylan attended Orville Wright Junior High School and Airport Junior High School respectively, and although they didn’t know each other at the time, both youngsters took clarinet lessons from the same instructor in a drafty room above Westchester Music Store.
The two young men finally met at Westchester High School, where they sang in the a cappella choir; Volman sang first tenor, while Kaylan sang second tenor. It was during this time that Volman learned that Kaylan, since 1961, had been playing in an instrumental surf music group called the Nightriders with fellow choir members Al Nichol on lead guitar, Don Murray on drums, and Chuck Portz on bass guitar. In 1963, concurrent with a name change to the Crossfires, Volman joined the band, though initially as a roadie. After high-school graduation, the Crossfires continued on while its members attended area colleges, picking up rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker along the way. Inspired by Dick Dale’s concept of surfer stomp—searing guitar solos over a pounding rhythm section—the Crossfires were known as one of the best local surf bands.
“If you grew up in the South Bay, you either played surf music or else were in a surf club,” Volman, explaining how the singers gravitated to the instrumental style, told Bill Locey of the Los Angeles Times. “At that time, surf music was at its peak. It was an innocent time, and the music was reflective of that. It just allowed us to do something on the weekends instead of working at a gas station or something like that. That band got us discovered and led to a lifelong career. I blame everything on the Crossfires.”
After recording two singles, “Fiberglass Jungle” and “Santa and the Sidewalk Surfer,” the group received a big break in 1965 when local disc jockey and club owner Reb Foster heard them play. Foster, impressed so much by the Crossfires, offered to serve as their manager, finding the group a contract with the newly formed White Whale Records. The sextet changed their name to the Tyrtles in an unveiled homage to the Byrds, but soon amended the spelling to read the Turtles. In addition, they took on a new musical direction—folk-rock—and recorded a Bob Dylan cover, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” as their first single. The group’s version of the song, a fusion of folk music and surf-rock harmonies, reached the Top Five in August of 1965. Soon thereafter, the Turtles made their first concert appearance before 50,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, opening for Herman’s Hermits, followed by a national tour and a spot with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars.
Driven by the rebelliousness that marked the 1960s, the Turtles began to channel their energies into the whole folk-rock, protest scene. An association with songwriter/producer P.F. Sloan, known for his work with the “protest song” fad of the period, resulted in two more hits for the Turtles in 1966 with “Let Me Be” and the upbeat “You Baby.” Reportedly, the Turtles passed on recording Sloan’s biggest hit of the era, “Eve of Destruction,” a melodramatic song recorded by Barry McGuire that touched upon every issue worth protesting.
After these successes, the Turtles commenced a seemingly endless series of lineup changes, with Murray and Portz being the first to leave. They were replaced by John Barbata and, for a short time, bassist/producer/arranger Chip Douglas. Although deeply affected by the departure of two men that had become like family, the Turtles pushed forward, finding a renewed spirit after running across two surefire hits written by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon. In 1967, “Happy Together,” one of the biggest hits of the year, held for three weeks at number one on the American charts. The Turtles’ next three singles, also penned by the songwriting team of Bonner and Gordon, each hit the top 20 as well. These included the number three hit “She’d Rather Be with Me,” a single that eclipsed “Happy Together” in terms of worldwide popularity, “You Know What I Mean,” and “She’s My Girl.”
By now, the Turtles had fans across the Atlantic as well as in America, and that same year traveled to England for the first time. Here, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and the Rolling Stones—all fans of the Turtles and captivated by their West Coast sound—came to see the newest stars of the pop world. Meanwhile, the Turtles underwent further changes in the lineup. Chip Douglas left the group to work with the Monkees, and was replaced by Jim Pons, a former member of the Leaves, on bass. Original member Jim Tucker, disillusioned after the tour of England amounted to nothing more than playing dingy clubs, left the group as well.
Surviving in spite of personnel rotations, the Turtles, now a five-piece, followed their success on the pop charts with an effort to broaden their musical scope. Beginning with “You Know What I Mean,” the Turtles’ revolving-door of producers, arrangers, and musicians resulted in a progressively more psychedelic sound, though they still remained much closer to mainstream rock than the era’s premier psychedelic groups. In late-1967, the Turtles, in an attempt to assert their creative growth, released the self-produced “Sound Asleep.” A huge disappointment, the song was the band’s first single since “Happy Together” to miss the top 40. Bringing back Douglas to help with arrangement duties, the Turtles, under the gun to produce hits by White Whale, tried again with “The Story of Rock and Roll.” However, that single failed to make it to the top 40 as well. Finally, a career-saving song entitled “Elenore” arrived in September of 1968, which reached the number six position on the pop chart.
Still in search of critical acclaim, the Turtles released an ambitious, self-produced concept album, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in November of 1968. Here, the Turtles attempted to sound like 11 different bands—one song for each group. Although it never earned the kind of breakthrough recognition the Turtles had wanted, the concept LP did contain, along with the song “Elenore,” another hit entitled “You Showed Me,” a song originally written and recorded by the Byrds, that peaked at number six. After recording The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, Barbata moved on to work with Crosby, Stills, & Nash, and was succeeded by drummer John Seiter.
Although the Turtles had reclaimed some of their notoriety with their concept project, White Whale continued to express dissatisfaction, attempting to follow the trend set by the Monkees and record the vocals of Kaylan and Volman with a generic studio band for a new single. But the duo, rebelling against the small label, intended to stay true to the band aesthetic. They recruited Ray Davies of the Kinks to produce their next album, 1969’s 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.
Frustrated, Kaylan and Volman subsequently formed their own label, Blimp Records, and signed a few acts, including folk singer Judy Sill, who wrote the Turtles’ last single “Lady O.” Further wrangling with White Whale persisted, and their former label continued to release Turtles material without the group’s consent. Moreover, the Turtles were the subjects of continuous lawsuits; managers hoping to save their images took the band to court so many times that astronomical legal bills drained most of the Turtles’ earnings. By 1970, the Turtles concluded that the only alternative was to break up the group.
Soon thereafter, Kaylan, Volman and Pons joined Frank Zappa’s early-1970s edition of the Mothers of Invention. According to an earlier contract, the use of the Turtles’ name, and even the use of their own personal names, in a musical context remained illegal. Thus, Volman and Kaylan appeared as the Phlorescent Leech & Eddie, also known as Flo & Eddie. In addition to performing with Zappa, the trio appeared on four of his albums from 1970 to 1972—Chunga’s Revenge, 200 Motels, Live at the Fillmore and Just Another Band from LA —before the bandleader was injured in an onstage altercation.
Between 1975 and 1981, the duo of Kaylan and Volman recorded some work for themselves, all the while acquiring a reputation as backing vocalists for hire, most notably for the Bruce Springsteen song “Hungry Heart.” The duo also did some session work, composed music for children’s movies such as The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, and broadcast their own radio show in Los Angeles and later in New York City. In 1982, the reinvented the Turtles as a nostalgia act. The new group, called the Turtles Featuring Flo & Eddie, continued to perform into the year 2000 and beyond. The new lineup includes, in addition to Kaylan (Eddie) and Volman (Flo), Tristan Avakian on guitar and vocals, Joe Stefko on drums, Don Kissel-bach on bass guitar and vocals, and Benjy Kingon keyboards and vocals.
The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, Sundazed, 1968.
Turtle Soup, Sundazed, 1969.
Turtle Wax: The Best of the Turtles, Vol. 2, Rhino, 1970.
20 Greatest Hits, Rhino, 1984.
Happy Together: The Very Best of the Turtles, Music Club, 1991.
Captured Live, Rhino, 1992.
30 Years of Rock ‘N’ Roll: Happy Together, (box set), Laserlight, 1995.
Buckley, Jonathan and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1997.
The Turtles Featuring Flo and Eddie, http://www.theturtles.com (June 20, 2000).
Yahoo! Music: The Turtles Biography, http://musicfinder.yahoo.com/shop?d=p&id=turtlesthe&cf=11 (June 20, 2000).
"The Turtles." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/turtles
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