HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR FEATURING THE TURTLES, CHUCK NEGRON, MARK FARNER, MITCH RYDER AND GARY LEWIS & THE PLAYBOYS
MAYO CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, MORRISTOWN, NJ!
RATING: FIVE STARS/A+!
By Anne M. Raso
There is one set of Turtles that moves really fast (especially in the summer), and I don’t have to tell you who they are! I consider catching the Happy Together Tour the highlight of every summer for the “classic rock” crowd and it is currently celebrating its 30th year. Every Happy Together Tour has a slightly different bill but the Clown Princes Of ‘60s Pop-Rock always are the headliners. Howard Kaylan told me, “Yes, I still enjoy doing this after all these years. There is a real camaraderie and the tour is bigger than ever. We now have a total of 31 people traveling on three tour buses.” Kaylan confesses that he takes things on the road a little easier than his friend and musical partner of 52 years, Mark “The Phlorescent Leech” Volman. He revealed, “Mark gets to each gig at like 11 AM in the morning and stays there all day until after show time. I do not do the sound check because I can safely say that everyone knows the songs by now and we do have a musical director who can oversee things. I get in a car with whomever is the co-headliner, and many times it has been Micky Dolenz that I have shared that car with—and show up about 8:30 PM.” (Don’t let Howard fool you, though—no one works harder on or off the stage than he does. “Eddie” writes books, scripts, DJs on Sirius—you have probably heard him on Sixties On The 6—and hinted to me that he soon might tour with a smaller show that includes a performance and Q&A session for fans. Don’t worry—the Happy Together Tour will still be in existence!)
The Happy Together show I caught this year was in Morristown (where I also caught it last year) and I loved the interesting mixing of artists. Gary Lewis started off the show both this year and last, and if you think he was a one hit wonder, think again. He had at least five hits, including “Everybody Loves A Clown,” “Count Me In” and the #1 hit from 1964, “This Diamond Ring” (which is left to the end of his set). Mr. Lewis looks about 20 years younger than he is, and I do not know how he does it.
Mitch Ryder is an artist we never get to see in the NY-NJ tristate area, so seeing him run down his high-energy hits including “Devil With A Blue Dress On” was a real pleasure. He slows them down a bit these days, and there is plenty of hysterical banter between songs. He told the audience Tuesday night, “We have a living legend here in the audience—George Foreman!” The spotlight then headed to the fifth or sixth row, and there was no former heavyweight champion there. (As everyone in the crowd looked around for a couple of seconds, I was halfway expecting a George Foreman grill to be sitting on a chair, LOL!) Autographed copies Mr. Ryder’s highly touted autobiography Devils & Blue Dresses is available at the Happy Together merch stand, and lots of fans made a B-line for it, probably because the Detroit legend has always kept his private life so guarded!
Mark Farner’s set was magical. This man’s voice and axe-wielding abilities are tighter than ever, and while one can argue that Grand Funk Railroad was really a 70s act when all other acts on the Happy Together bill are from the 60s, Farner fit in seamlessly. He’s as energetic as ever and the audience responded especially well to “Bad Time,” “The Locomotion,” “I’m Your Captain” and “We’re An American Band.”
After a 15 minute intermission, Chuck Negron formerly of Three Dog Night came onstage and proved that he still has vocal chops. Yes, he still holds the incredibly difficult notes of “Eli’s Coming,” and the Happy Together Band led by incredibly gifted guitarist and Queens, NY native Godfrey Townsend provided killer background vocals. (Actually, members of the band would get to do lead vocals here and there, and did an incredibly admirable job.) Negron is quick-witted and makes up funny banter on the fly. After downing a large amount of water between numbers, he muttered, “Now I’ll be up all night!” It was great to see vintage footage and pics of Three Dog Night behind Mr. Negron—as it was behind all the musical artists on the Happy Together Tour. Introductions to each act are pre-recorded and provided by legendary deejay Shadoe Stevens, a personal friend of The Turtles.
When it was time for The Turtles to take the stage, excitement was at a feverish pitch. The last two tours they have started off the set with funny pre-filmed footage of them dancing to “Gangnam Style” by Korean rapper Psy. Then they come out doing it live and Howard suddenly cuts things short saying something like, “Is that really music? Does anyone remember when music sounded like THIS…?” And of course, then Kaylan and Volman launch into an hour-long never ending stream of their hits as the audience stands up and sings along.
The Turtles’ onstage banter is as legendary as their music. I have been laughing for about eight years non-stop about one comment Kaylan made onstage during a Turtles show at the Flower Power Concert Series in Epcot Center. He introduced Volman as “Ruben Studdard’s mother”! The Turtles customize their banter to each town and they could not resist commenting “Morristown has more bars in a quarter mile square area than anywhere else in America”! Besides getting all the hits from The Turtles, the audience gets their brief two or three minute homage to Frank Zappa, whom they provided background vocals for throughout the 70s to much acclaim. Howard told me with a chuckle as he reflected back to 1970, “That was an interesting situation and the best option we had when we were not able to use our own band name due to our legal situation. We were able to help bring Zappa to the mainstream…and he sent us flowers every Mothers Day.”
The finale of The Happy Together Tour is what makes it really magical, though. All the performers come out and sing on each other’s hits. It does not get better than that if you love these artists. At the Morristown show, poor Mark Farner cut his ear on the E string of his guitar and spent a lot of time afterwards applying pressure with a large white towel. I was fortunate enough to go backstage and notice this and still feel guilty about not offering to ask security for the First Aid box. I originally met him when he was a counselor at the Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp at Gibson Studios in New York and he was so attentive to each camper’s needs and welcomed me warmly into the studio he was working in. The fact the former Grand Funk leader was so patient with my spastic tambourine playing proves that he might be worthy of sainthood in the future, LOL!
The tour had to roll on to Richmond, VA right after the Morristown show but I was lucky enough to see everyone hanging out by their dressing rooms. I complimented Howard Kaylan on his Pucci-esque stage jacket than night—he jokingly held it up and asked if I wanted to buy it from him. Chuck Negron and his girlfriend perused his rack of stage wear, deciding on the next show’s wear while Mitch Ryder walked by on his cell phone, speaking to his wife back in Detroit. He stopped long enough to talk to me and other backstage visitors and told my friend Linda and I that he “loved our New Jersey accents.” I have never gotten a compliment on my New Jersey accent before (and have actually lived in New York longer than I have lived in New Jersey) but there is a first time for everything!
I strongly recommend you check out this special 30th anniversary Happy Together Tour. The bill rocks and all the performers are on the top of their game. (I am not saying that just to be “nice.”) This tour has been selling out so get your tickets ASAP. As we go to press, there are over 30 dates left for Summer 2014 and here is the link to see where the tour comes next: http://theturtles.com/tour/. It makes me smile to think that 30 years ago the tour started out with only 16 dates and now is up to over 60 each summer. The Turtles and company work hard and really bring the best out of their co-starring acts. (Should I go as far as saying that they bring the other artists “out of their shells,” LOL?) Let me also commend the powers-that-be on this tour for keeping prices down—you can get seats for as little as $39.50 in an age where some legendary acts charge $200 or more for the cheap seats!
(Shot of official Happy Together Tour poster courtesy Paradise Artists.)