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POP MUSIC : For the Turtles, a Musical Trip Down Memory Lane Is a Reason to Frolic

March 14, 1988|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

SAN DIEGO — Mark Volman has no patience with the scores of rock bands from the 1950s and '60s plying the oldies concert circuit with nothing but faithful renditions of long-ago hits.

"Most of these groups take themselves too seriously," said Volman, who four years ago resurrected his own 1960s band, the Turtles, with fellow founding member Howard Kaylan. "They try so hard to recapture the past that they forget all about having fun."

So, when the revamped Turtles come out of their shell tonight at the Bacchanal nightclub on Kearny Mesa, expect more than just a musical romp down memory lane. Sure, they will run through their parade of 20-year-old hits, buoyant pop songs like "Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be With Me" and "You Showed Me." But they'll also travel some side roads.

They'll do comical parodies of contemporary chart-toppers, they'll do a medley of hits by vocalists that Volman and Kaylan have done backup work with, they may even throw in a couple of kiddie songs the pair wrote and performed for albums featuring cartoon characters Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears.

"Over the years, Howard and I have realized that a career is not something that revolves around one album or one song but around an entire lifetime," Volman said. "That's why instead of a straight Turtles nostalgia show, our concerts are a kind of history of all the elements Howard and I have been a part of."

Friends since high school, Volman and Kaylan began their musical careers in 1962, joining forces in a Los Angeles surf-rock band called the Nightriders and, later, the Cross Fires. Kaylan sang lead, while Volman harmonized and played guitar.

After winning a "battle of the bands" in 1965 they signed as the Turtles with White Whale Records, converted to folk-rock music, and landed a Top 40 hit with a version of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe." In the next four years, the Turtles ground out eight more Top 40 hits, including the 1967 million-seller, "Happy Together." They were the first rock band ever to play the White House.

Volman said he and Kaylan decided to break up the band in 1970 because the charts and the airwaves were dominated by underground psychedelic bands playing to the counterculture. Volman and Kaylan decided to go underground themselves by joining Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.

Volman and Kaylan weren't as shocked by their move to Mothers as others did. The Turtles had a reputation as a lightweight pop band, but they said it was hipper than its image.

After leaving the Mothers of Invention in 1974, Volman and Kaylan set out on their own as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, which was soon shortened to Flo and Eddie. They have since cut nearly a dozen albums of music, comedy and satire; sung background on records by such artists as Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Keith Moon and Alice Cooper, and written and performed songs on 16 children's albums, including all five by the Care Bears.

In 1984, Volman and Kaylan resumed touring, this time fronting a new and improved model of the Turtles.

"A promoter had this idea to put together a national 'Happy Together' oldies tour, so we decided to bring back the Turtles name because it made sense financially, and also to introduce a whole new audience to our old music," Volman said.

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