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Peter Cooper On Music: Turtles stars from ’60s are ‘Happy Together’ again

The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, aka Mark Volman, right, and Howard Kaylan (photo: Jenet Macoska).

The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, aka Mark Volman, right, and Howard Kaylan (photo: Jenet Macoska).

Remember The Turtles?

The band from the ’60s that did baroque pop smash “Happy Together”? Remember “Happy Together”? Remember the ’60s?

Probably not. I don’t. I wasn’t alive yet, because I am very, very young. Not as young as Max Batchelor and Karalyn Gillen, though. Batchelor is a senior at Belmont University, and Gillen graduated Belmont in December.

And they don’t remember The Turtles. They don’t have to remember. They tour with The Turtles. Or at least they did last summer, and they’ve stayed in touch.

Turns out that Turtles founding member Mark Volman is a professor at Belmont’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music, where he coordinates the Entertainment Industry Studies Program.

Volman figured it wasn’t enough for students just to read textbooks that explain how the entertainment industry is a kind, fair and rewarding business. He decided he’d take students out in the summers to learn the industry by becoming part of the industry: Jump on the tour bus, find a bunk, get to the gig, lay the cables, sell the merchandise, etc.

Batchelor even wound up playing guitar onstage last summer during the multi-artist “Happy Together” tour, a tour that this year winds its way to TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater on Sunday.

The TPAC show includes “The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie” — music industry legal hijinks in the 1970s forced Volman and founding partner Howard Kaylan to disband The Turtles and they went off to do 10 albums with Frank Zappa, took the nicknames Flo (Volman) and Eddie (Kaylan) and occasionally performed shirtless, but now it’s time for me to get back to telling you who else is coming to TPAC — founding Three Dog Night member Chuck Negron, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Gary Lewis and The Playboys and Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders.

For the students, the tour is a chance for total immersion into hit pop music of a half-century ago. It’s not brutal travel, but it’s time travel.

“It’s interesting to look out into the audience and watch a switch flip in them,” Gillen says. “It’s like they go right back to when they were our age.”

A new generation of fans

Gillen’s mom grew up on The Turtles, The Monkees and other animal-named artists, and she was surprised to find her daughter was getting college credit for touring with yesterday’s stars. That credit comes hard-earned, as the students quickly discover the myriad duties that must be fulfilled in order to put on a show for thousands of fans.

“Every night, you do something different,” Batchelor says. “You work with the regular crew, and you cycle between stage manager, front-of-house mixing, monitor mixing, working merch (short for “merchandise”) and everything else. I like the stage management position best: You have to set up guitars, set up drums, run microphones and wire, and watch out during the show to see if something happens that you need to fix.”

The goal on tour is for every night to be the same, but it never is. A string breaks, a circuit overloads, a bass player gets grumpy, a promoter gets squirrelly with the money, or a promoter is upset because not enough money came in. ... Things happen out there, and the crew’s goal is to take care of those things in a way that keeps the audience from being aware that anything iffy has occurred.

Most nights, it’s a big success, a credit to the crew’s acumen and to a playlist that features only hit songs.

“We went to the artists and said, ‘Put on hold new material,’ ” Volman says. “We all have new things happening, but for this tour it’s just the biggest hits, and the winner in that is the audience. There’s such a strong pull towards the music of that generation. It was musical, it had levity, and there was a fun, good spirit involved in the mid- to late-’60s pop music.

“On this tour, we’re promising people to come out for two-and-a-half hours of the radio records that you’re tied to through your memories.”

The students aren’t tied through memories, though, except the ones being created in the here and now. The new Belmont crew has already made some: This year’s tour started in Clearwater, Fla., and headed to Fort Lauderdale before busing back to Nashville. From here, they’ll head up the east coast.

“The bus becomes home,” Batchelor says. “The bus is the only constant. Everything else is changing. But you get to know everyone so well so quickly that you form tighter bonds than you normally would.”

Volman is over the moon about the endeavor. He’s a natural and enthusiastic teacher, he has wisdom to impart from a lifetime of experiences in music, and he’s pleased that by the end of the tour his hits are on the lips and in the minds of a new generation.

“The exciting thing for me is seeing these 10 students getting a chance to connect to this music,” Volman says. “They get to see the tour, work the tour and develop a relationship to this music that their parents or even grandparents grew up with.”

Reach Peter Cooper at 615-259-8220 or pcooper@tennessean.com.

About Mark Volman

Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan founded The Turtles in 1965. The group’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” was a Top 10 pop hit, and “Happy Together” knocked the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” out of the No. 1 slot on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1967. Other big hits included “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “Elenore” “You Know What I Mean” and “She’s My Girl.”

Disputes with record label White Whale Records soured Volman and Kaylan on their situation. With White Whale denying them the rights to the name “The Turtles,” they joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention for 10 classic albums. As “Flo and Eddie,” they also sang on major recordings including T. Rex’s “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” They also worked in film and television before and after legally regaining The Turtles name in the 1980s.

Volman earned a Master of Fine Arts from Loyola Marymount University in the late 1990s, and he moved to Nashville a decade ago to teach at Belmont University.

If you go

What: Happy Together Tour with “The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie,” founding Three Dog Night member Chuck Negron, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Gary Lewis and The Playboys and Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater, 505 Deaderick St.

Tickets: $45-$65

Details: www.tpac.org

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