Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman have had one of the more storied careers in rock ’n’ roll, making records with John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Alice Cooper, T. Rex, Frank Zappa, The Ramones and Duran Duran, among many others.
They’ve had eight Top 20 singles, toured the world and been in a couple of movies, and, in some ways, they define a particular aspect of 1960s music — and of the ’60s in general.
Still not ringing a bell? You probably know them better as The Turtles, although the fringe-dwellers and iconoclasts will be equally familiar with them as Flo & Eddie, the name they adopted when working with Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.
By whatever name, Kaylan and Volman possess two of the more distinctive voices in pop and rock, and they’re responsible for classics such as “Happy Together” and “Elenore.” They also headline the “Happy Together Tour” that returns Thursday for a third consecutive year at the Kentucky State Fair as part of the free lineup of shows in Cardinal Stadium.
As always, Kaylan and Volman will bring with them a batch of contemporaries, bands and singers with whom they’ve shared stages for nearly 45 years. Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Gary Puckett and Gary Lewis will join them this year.
“If you had a good time listening to those songs back in the day, you’re gonna have a great time now because everyone sounds better than they did 40 years ago, way better,” Kaylan said from his California home. “It’s like going to summer camp for us.”
Kaylan and Volman were part of the original California pop scene, and the roots of The Turtles go back to a 1965 surf-rock band called The Crossfires. They then began singing folk-rock as The Tyrtles, but that “y” never caught on and they changed it to The Turtles and had a Top 10 hit in 1965 with a vibrant cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
The next three years were busy, with the impeccable harmonies of Kaylan and Volman sparking hits “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “She’s My Girl,” “You Know What I Mean,” “You Baby,” “Let Me Be,” “You Showed Me” and, of course, “Happy Together.” The group’s signature song displaced The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” at No. 1.
This all happened as the ’60s began to turn volatile, but The Turtles never got into protest music beyond a nice cover of P.F. Sloane’s “Eve of Destruction.” Years later, Kaylan and Volman were asked to be part of Hippiefest, a package tour dedicated to all aspects of ’60s music, but Kaylan said it wasn’t for them.
“We were always perceived as a flower power band, as a good-time group, bubblegum or whatever, and it just seemed ridiculous to put us on a heavy show,” said Kaylan, 66. “We wanted something that was more evocative of our time in the music business and not so much the war protest years.
“I didn’t want to take out a tour that reminded people of how jaded this country became politically. There were a lot of negatives. The ‘Happy Together Tour’ has none of those negatives, absolutely none.”
Kaylan took a different approach with “Shell Shocked,” an autobiography released in March. While the book is filled with plenty of entertaining stories — the one about how he and Volman got themselves classified 4F to avoid going to Vietnam is a classic — it also doesn’t sugar-coat his formerly cavalier approach to marriage and parenthood.
Kaylan said that co-writer Jeff Tamarkin persuaded him to be completely honest. The fallout has included therapy twice a week, but Kaylan said he feels unburdened.
“I read an awful lot of autobiographies where the writer sets themselves up to be some kind of a hero, and I was never that, never, so I just wanted to tell the truth,” he said. “I was always this bumbling little guy, and I made it through this business just by following my heart and not doing what anyone else told me to do.”
It took Kaylan a year to write “Shell Shocked,” and it will take him “many more years to recover from it,” he said, but life is good for him and The Turtles.
“We’re getting four or five generations of people singing along with all of these hits, and it’s pretty amazing to see,” he said. “Everyone wants to hear a good show, and everyone wants to leave an audience happy, and it’s really, really gratifying.”
Contact Jeffrey Lee Puckett at (502) 582-4160 and firstname.lastname@example.org.