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Sunday, June 19, 2011
The Turtles profound & witty Professor Mark Volman lectures Examiner Ray Shasho
By Ray Shasho
THE TURTLES featuring Flo (Short for “The Phlorescent Leech” and who is really Mark Volman) and Eddie (Who is really Turtles frontman Howard Kaylan) are headlining the Happy Together Tour 2011. Remarkably, the tour recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and still remains one of the highest grossing tours.
The Turtles were one of the most unprecedented bands of the swinging psychedelic sixties. Despite the accustomed music biz entanglements with management and record executives (White Whale records) the group’s aptitude for creating idealistic feel-good music pacified millions during turbulent times.
The Turtles have sold over 60-million records worldwide and remain a mainstay on classic hits radio. They generated countless Top 40 radio classics. “It Ain’t Me Babe” “Happy Together” “She’d Rather Be With Me” “You Baby” “Elenore” “She’s My Girl” and “You Showed Me” are just a few of their continual string of chart topping hits.
After The Turtles disbanded in 1970, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan became members of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. The tenacious duo went on the road as Flo & Eddie, then became radio stars, and continued as session’s players for legendary performers like John Lennon, Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Stephen Stills, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen, Blondie, Duran Duran and The Ramones to name just a few.
At the age of 44, Mark Volman decided to go back to school. In 1997, he graduated Magna Cum Laude and Valedictorian at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. While touring and teaching at LMU, he finished his Masters in Fine Arts with an emphasis in Film Studies and Screenwriting. Mark is now Professor Volman and Coordinator of the Entertainment Industry Studies program at Belmont University in the Mike Curb School of Entertainment and Music Business.
The Happy Together Tour 2011 will be unpacking and setting up for a terrific show on July 19th at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Headlining this year’s tour is -The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie. Other legendary performers on the tour are -The Association(“Windy” “Cherish” “Along Comes Mary”), The Grassroots, (“Let’s Live for Today” “Midnight Confessions”) The Buckinghams(“Kind of a Drag” “Don’t You Care” “Susan”) and Mark Lindsay former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders (“Kicks” “Just Like Me” “Good Thing” “Indian Reservation” “Arizona”).
Tickets and further information about the Happy Together Tour 2011 can be found here.
I was able to speak with Mark Volman and Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders courtesy of Jeff Albright from the Albright Entertainment Group. Here’s my interview with Professor Mark Volman of The Turtles/Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
Professor Volman, thank you for spending some time with me today. I think it was admirable that you went back to school after a brilliant career in show biz.
“I’d never imagine that it would end up the way it has. I didn’t have a plan to do it that way, I think once I got into school everybody sort of pointed me in that direction. The University pointed me in that direction in terms of realizing the possibilities of being able to do it because the school was open for it. That really kind of opened the door with that opportunity and at that point, I finished my Bachelor’s degree and was approached by the Dean at one of the LA Universities who said that they would really like me to teach there but I would need to have a Masters. I was really excited about teaching there so I made the commitment to continue with my Masters and with that commitment I was allowed to teach as long as I was going for my Masters.”
You went back to school when you were around 45 years old right Mark?
“I think so, because I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 1997 and I was 50. It took me about four and half years to finish my Bachelor’s degree. And then I did two years of Masters.”
You were also class Valedictorian correct?
“That was totally a shock. I was a Valedictorian in 1997; I graduated on the Dean’s list for four years and I was actually Magna Cum Laude, then I was Alpha Sigma Nu, which is the Jesuit equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa, there’s only 4% of a graduating class that makes that, so I think there was two of us in our graduating class. And all of that was quite a shock to me because I had done so poorly in high school.
Yea, my first few years of high school were no picnic for me either. I hung around the long haired guys, skipped school, and all I cared about was going to rock concerts.
“I was very much involved in the surfing part of it; the guys that were the surfers were the hip guys and they didn’t care about school. That’s where I got all my drive to be a failure.
It was a lot better going back to college because I think I reached a maturity in education and it really helped me accomplish a lot. And I had a reason, the end result in front of me was significant, and that was a big thing instead of saying that I was going to college to get a degree, I was getting a college degree so I could teach.
I really didn’t understand the politics of academia but once I got into it, it definitely was an eye opener and it helped me in the music business because it made me realize that the politics in the music business weren’t really that different then the politics that were going on at the university. And now that I’m at the university and the job I have now, I’m part of the problem. I’m an entire chair and I run a department instead of just being one of the professors who can kind of come in -which I really love doing which was coming to work, teaching and leaving. I have a lot more administrative responsibilities in terms of hiring professors and actually creating courses for the major that I have been given this responsibility for and so that has been an eye opener and has really made me long for the days when I can get back to just teaching.”
A lot of professors can teach the theory behind the topic or major that they are teaching, but you actually lived it.
“I’m the manager of The Turtles since the last three decade and the fact that we’re out on a 30-city tour with all of these artists, and the fact that we’re going out with Dweezil Zappa, the fact that we’re repackaging our music and on a year to year basis I’m living exactly what I’m teaching.”
Do most of the students know about your history with The Turtles and Frank Zappa?
“Well the university sort of plays that on when there promoting the university for the parents who are considering spending their money. I think that part of the foundation that they use is we are a university that prides ourselves for having people in place that actually are in the music business so I am one of the things that they use as part of the propaganda, there’s no doubt about that. I’m actually getting paid to go to other universities to teach because now people are realizing financially that there is a reason why Belmont had been so successful. We have 1500 students studying one part of the music industry. Weather its songwriting, entertainment industry or technical, the technical aspect with the engineering; I think a lot of universities are starting to realize that they can do that from where they are.”
Between all your duties as a College Professor and managing and touring with The Turtles, it doesn’t sound like you have much leisure time.
“I think my wife said the other night, it was the first time in our eleven years of being married that I had like one month off and it really bugged her. It’s much better when I’m either touring or at school because I can do the things she does. These months it’s sort of like I wake up and go okay what are we doing?”
What is your take on the music business today as compared with the 60’s?
“It’s moved on so much. I think you and I grew up in a time that is an antiquated system now. I don’t think the systems are worst, they are different. I think the phase that we are in is much faster, the entertainment system gets to the immediacy and that’s what they have today that we didn’t have. A movie being released now and within almost three weeks it’s available on DVD. Then a CD will be available from the movie and then a video game and everything else. I mean that is the fantastic part of what the music business is today. I think we have to stop referring to it as the music business and open up the scope to the concept of entertainment industry business. If we can just take the semantics of the language than the music business is doing well. It really is. The sales of music is up for the artists today, the live concert business is booming, I mean The Eagles, Lady Gaga…I mean the biggest tour in the world is still out there drawing people, I mean McCartney is packing houses, U2 is making over a half a billion dollars by the end of this year. So I think the music business has just changed.
All of the genre’s are now a very healthy part of television, commercials, motion pictures, and video games, I think today is probably bigger and more successful than it’s ever been. I think it’s an exciting time for a young entrepreneur as long as he doesn’t restrict himself to making a record and going out doing 14 concerts and seeing if the record starts to do good. I think it’s more of… I’m going to get into the entertainment industry as an entrepreneur; I have to think of myself now in that respect because I can’t count on the big companies to pick me up and make me big. I think that’s the one thing that we’re sort of seeing is that the demand now is for a young musician, singer or songwriter, performer, touring, show, all of those things have to have a lot more of a plan to it. And I think that’s what I’m sort of basing my classroom study on. I want my students to think way beyond the recording art form.
I think a music star is only successful because he lets the people around him become successful and he will become a byproduct of that.”
The Happy Together Tour celebrated 25 years recently.
“Song for song, entertainment dollar value, it’s probably one of the best tours to see. It’s close to three hours of recognizable hit songs performed by the voices that recorded them. And the key is that it’s by people who still enjoy doing it. And it’s a low priced ticket compared to everything else out there. And so if you’re a fan of music from that particular era this is where you get your money’s worth. And there are a lot of memories that are kind of unleashed.”
Ringo Starr and his All Starr band are only on their 11th year; do think Ringo got the idea for his tour from you guys?
“Of course he did. That was not his idea that was not even our idea. I mean that was Dick Clark’s idea. Those package tours, the reason they’re great is that you get a lot of bang for your buck. And even then you take the tour that we have and put it up against Ringo’s… I think our tour for the price is a better tour.
Howard and I when we put Happy Together we wanted to have a show that had artist who didn’t just show up, they came and they performed with an energy and vitality because they care about being there.”
The Turtles were one of my favorite bands ever, you guys were American and you dressed liked we did but were a lot cooler. And so many great Top 40 Hits on my favorite station- WPGC Good Guys radio. My favorite Turtles song was “She’s My Girl.”
“We were like every other high school band. We didn’t have like a superstar look; we didn’t have a 16 magazine cover, I think what we did have that played out in the background of everything was we were on such a small record label which had positive elements and negative elements. The negative elements were we didn’t have the promotions and financial fire power to compete against The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The Buckinghams were on CBS, Mark Lindsay was on Columbia and CBS, The Grass Roots were on ABC Dunhill. The Turtles were on White Whale. I think the benefit of the small record was that our records were not made by studio musicians. So the positive was because we didn’t have any money the record company couldn’t afford to do anything but make our own record. So we played on every record that made it to the radio. There’s no Hal Blaine, there’s no Larry Knechtel, there’s none of that -Tommy Tedesco all those famous people who have books written about them because they played on every record. I mean The Grassroots are the same band that made The Byrds records and those records were made by the same guys who made The Beach Boys records. We didn’t have that luxury, I think that because of that there’s an endearing quality to The Turtles. Probably like The Beatles, that endearing quality is that we played the music that became our signature.
Entrepreneurship was not taught in universities when we came up. We had to understand Entrepreneurship with The Turtles break up and becoming singers with Frank(Frank Zappa) then coming out and becoming Flo & Eddie, and working with kid’s music like Strawberry Shortcake and writing commercials for record companies and becoming disc jockey’s. Howard and I became exactly what you and I were speaking about. We wrote comedy at NBC, we created music for Strawberry Shortcake, we worked for Miss Universe productions and we were writing for radio. It was a unique experience but without that experience in the recording business we might not have had the career that we had.”
Have you written your memoirs, plans for writing a book?
“Howard and I are doing exactly what you would imagine and that is we’re each writing a book. I think Howard’s book will be a little bit more traditional, as it will be kind of a tell-all on the Turtles history. I think my philosophy on the book that I’m working on is about a middle aged ex rock & roll star who decides to go to college at the age of 44 and why? And the fact that I went from a1.9 high school GPA to class valedictorian at the age of 50. I think that’s a very unique story that I want to tell.”
And your parents got to see you do that right?
“My folks watched me graduate in May of the year 1997 and then my mother died in July and my father died in November. So they did get see their dream to see at least a son in college.
I’m fascinated over the relationship that you and Howard have held all these years. It’s amazing that you’ve stayed together, you’ve worked as a business, as a team, and that’s really difficult to do.
“And I think the third part of that is I truly believe we’re still really good friends. But I think it has a lot to do with that we’ve put our lives in such a place where our touring, our ownership of our recordings, our reissuing of our songs, and the success that it has had on-line and the fact that we own our music has given us a prospective that a lot of artists don’t get. The fact that we can license a song and we actually benefit from the reissue and the fact that it’s on-line when somebody downloads our music we actually get it, we are the record company.”
You guys actually sued a few hip hop acts for playing your music right? (De La Soul)
“I think there’s a difference of opinion when it comes to ownership but I don’t think that’s limited to hip hop artists. I think there’s a lot of people who are uneducated about what illegal downloading and intellectual property is. My feeling on that is that we as an education system don’t teach that and because of that young people download and don’t understand who their undermining. I think it’s gotten better but I think the problems have gotten bigger. The problems are not just with music now; the problem is now in books, motion pictures, television, and the reproduction of a lot of things. I think the problem is that there are a lot of threats about illegal downloading but we don’t do anything really about it.”
What was the transformation like from the commercially successful top40 airplay Turtles to Frank Zappa’s experimental - progressive rock/Jazz fusion Mothers of Invention?
“I think there are kind of two answers there. All the success factors that we had with The Turtles, I think that made it not as big a change as you’d imagine. Frank was just so big; I mean he was such an enigmatic individual and he was such a bona fide genius. I think there probably in rock & roll maybe three really geniuses of our maybe lifetime and I would have to say Frank because of his unique genre, there’s never been anybody like him, before him, or after him.
For the creative part of it, I think that we probably grew more as singers and performers than we knew we were capable of. In The Turtles we were always good Pop band, sang great music on stage, had a great show, but I think when it went to the Frank Zappa era the show part of it -we learned more about theatrical parts of our abilities in terms of improvisation on stage, the elements that took place onstage tying together the visual and auditory parts of our show. We did some music that we sang in other languages, there was a tremendous testing in terms of integrity and how much we could bring to this. Frank really gave us so much room, it wasn’t just Frank Zappa, it was Frank kind of said join me in doing this thing and so we all really brought what we did to it and that was a really interesting band. I mean there was George Duke and Ian Underwood, Aynsley Dunbar; Donnie Preston I mean it was a very unique group of individuals brought together.”
Professor Volman, I could talk with you all day, you’re a fascinating man and I’m in awe of all of your incredible accomplishments in life thus far. Thank you so much for spending your afternoon with me today and I look forward to meeting with you in person on July 19th at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater for the Happy Together 2011 Tour.
“Ray, it’s been my pleasure, I’ll see you at the show.”
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