Posted October, 2014
Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan
Have any of y’all ever met a real, gol’ dern rock and roll professor? No, really. This is a serious question. Have you? Did you know that one even existed?
That’s what I thought.
Well, I didn’t, either, until I called The Turtles’ Mark Volman to chat about the new box set offering by him and his bandmate and business partner, Howard Kaylan. As I was dialing the number to call Mr. Volman, I realized that the area code was in the greater Nashville area. When he answered my call, I asked him about it.
“I live in Franklin, Tennessee. I teach at Belmont. I’ve been teaching at Belmont, well, seven years full time and I was an adjunct for two or three years. I’m in the Mike Curb School of Music Business and Entertainment.” I asked the rock and roll professor how he liked teaching.
“Well, I’ve been teaching for eighteen years. I taught for nine years in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount. So, yeah, I teach more than I play live, now. Ha! Ha! Really, that’s what I do. We came here in 2003. We really like it!”
As for the reason for our call, I wanted to talk to Mr. Volman about the release of an eight disc (45 RPM vinyl. Yeah. Seriously) entitled, “The Turtles 45 RPM Vinyl Singles.” I had an advance copy of the collection and enjoyed it. I knew that many others it the music press community had, too. So I broached the subject of it by asking him about what the feedback has been, so far, on it.
“You’re right; it’s finally reaching the public for the first time. But, actually, have been selling the box set at our shows for two years. The first was at Hippiefest 2011, we put together this box. It was different. What had happened is that we had been in a lawsuit with the company called Collectibles who was a company out of New Jersey. We won the lawsuit and were able to, pretty much, shut them down.
“They didn’t have, financially, what the court asked them to pay us so what they did was gave Howard and I all of their product and all of that product went into a locker, holding onto all of the recordings of The Turtles that they had put out on 45’s. So, what we did was we took all those Collectibles and we put together some really limited box sets – about a thousand box sets of the material – and we sold them at our show. It was the only place you could get them – these 45 RPM versions.
“One of the things that we wanted to do – which we started working on in getting all of the recordings together – was to bring it to a stage of re-mastering everything. We wanted everything to come out of the same place. We got together with the people who we work with over at Rhino and went into the studio last year and we put together the first box set of the FloEdCo version that you have. The only difference was that the next thousand we did, we sold at our 2013 shows and we had a different configuration. The box didn’t list everything. It didn’t have all of the 45’s listed with the A and B side and so forth.
“We knew we were heading towards a finished product and that’s the one you have. That is a collector’s dream for us which was to get all of the 45’s together, re-mastered, high quality state. The vinyl is really heavy so that it won’t skip and it sounds just as great as the original 45’s. There was a certain sound on 45’s that you couldn’t even get on 33’s – especially when we went to digital. That really changed.
“We worked really hard and it’s really exciting to be able to get the things out of it that we wanted to. So, this version is the first available to the public on a large scale. I’ve seen some great reviews with the Guitar Player magazine and a few others. You know, there are a lot of new writers writing about music and the people who have stayed with us for the past fifty years – there was never a question that they loved the Turtles. They knew that the Turtles were always going to bring a quality musical piece. There are a lot of younger people now who are discovering the band. The release has opened up the door for people to see how really valuable the Turtles were to that part of American music history.”
I wanted to make sure that I understood Mark correctly so I asked: These are not reproductions of the original 45 RPMs, correct? In other words, these are the singles matched up with different “B” sides, right?
“We did the greatest hits. We did the Happy Together album. We did the It Ain’t Me Babe album. Those things sounded really great and were the things that got us thinking about the 45’s because we thought, ‘Wow! Let’s do the singles!’ And, then, the singles became, ‘Well, let’s do a double-sided single so that it’s not just an A side with some goofy B side.’”
Continuing, Volman shared, “We made a decision – instead of the original A/B because they weren’t as good of songs – we just felt that we wanted to go with the highest quality of music. So, the B sides we changed – putting ‘Happy Together’ with ‘Grim Reaper.’ Putting ‘Elenore’ together with ‘Outside Chance.’ ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe,’ with ‘You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain.’ We wanted to introduce people to some of the singles that didn’t get the consideration as a lot of the others. Records like, ‘You Know What I Mean’ and ‘Let Me Be,’ or ‘Love In The City.’ There’s some really good recordings that are taking the place of the B side which were some fun records but just not the quality we felt the singles were.
“So, what we did is we brought together all of the records that were released as singles. ‘Story Of Rock And Roll,’ ‘Sound Asleep,’ ‘Can I Get To Know You Better,’ – those were all released as singles. So, what we did is we put together the singles for this particular release.”
I wondered if, during the process of putting this together, did Mark and Howard find themselves thinking, “If we’d known then what we know today” or, “If we had this kind of gear back then, we would have . . . “?
He laughed while replying, “You mean a revelation kind of thing? I think there’s always a revelation whenever you get a chance to listen to piece of music over and over and then kind of remembering back to the time we were making the records. I think if you take a record like ‘Love In The City’ or you take a record like ‘Story Of Rock And Roll,’ putting those on and hearing those records and thinking to myself, ‘My god! These were fantastic recordings!’ I mean, ‘Story Of Rock And Roll’ is an insane record! It’s a fantastic arrangement. It’s just a fantastic record and when you hear ‘Story Of Rock And Roll’ or you hear a record like ‘You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain’ and you think to yourself, ‘The time we spent making this record!’
“The unfortunate thing was that there was so many problems that were beginning to escalate through the business part of The Turtles with White Whale Records. Sometimes you forget it. Yeah, maybe we could sit back and go, ‘Gee, isn’t it too bad that we weren’t on Capitol Records or we weren’t on Columbia Records.’ Or, artists like the Beatles and artists like Paul Revere and artists like The Mamas and the Papas, they all benefited from the fact that they were with major record companies who had a lot of money, who could allow them to make records for months on end; hiring the best studio musicians to come in and play ‘Pet Sounds’ and to play the records of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blain and all of those fantastic musicians! We couldn’t do that!
“We were on such a small, little record company – White Whale Records – that is mind boggling to me how our records even got heard, sometimes. It’s amazing to me that a record on White Whale like ‘Happy Together’ could knock a record like ‘Penny Lane’ out of the number one slot in the United States. It was just a small, little, tiny company. We had to play on every record we made. The records you’re hearing are Al Nichol and Jim Tucker and Howard Kaylan and Don Murray. We’re not celebrating the great musicians of Hollywood with The Turtles music, at all. The only Wrecking Crew we had was the record company who almost wrecked our records! Ha! Ha!”
Circling back around to answering my question, Professor Volman said, “Yeah, I mean, you can sit there and go, ‘Wow! What if we had been on ABC Dunhill? What if we’d been on those big record labels? Imagine what would’ve happened!’ But I think that every record we were fortunate enough to have – take a record like ‘Happy Together’ – it took ‘Happy Together’ to open up the next two years of recordings. People saw that we were more than a one hit group. Yes, we were fortunate to have one of the biggest records ever made. It’s probably in the top ten most played records on the radio in history – maybe more. But I think we were fortunate that ‘Happy Together’ introduced us into the public to records like, ‘She’d Rather Be With Me,’ ‘Elenore,’ ‘You Showed Me.’
“That was what was amazing about putting this box set together – sitting in the studio and realizing that The Turtles were really something. Being away for as long as we have, we were able to listen to it and we would look at each other and go, ‘My god! This record is friggin’ crazy!’ When you listen to a record like ‘You Know What I Mean’ – it’s crazy! It’s full of music and the arrangement is fantastic. What we hope is that, with the Happy Together tour being out in the summer time and people getting the box set; you introducing a whole bunch of readers or online people to this music. Maybe it will finally solidify what The Turtles did in music history. That’s exciting to hear that the stuff has held up so good. I’m excited to see that it’s finally come out like this.”
Because Mark referenced the arrangements a couple of times, I asked him if he felt that it was the arrangements that made the songs stand the test of time or if it was the lightheartedness of their music that has given it such strong staying power.
“I think that we’ve been fortunate that we found ourselves connecting at a lot of different musical styles. We had that first little blast of folk rock with a lot of jingle jangle and twelve string guitars. Then having that ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’/’Let Me Be’ period that opened the door to a more pop record era which was going to be the ‘You Baby’, ‘Outside Chance’ – that period of time that opened the door, ultimately, for ‘Happy Together’ and the pop music of that era; the kind of tongue-in-cheek/comedy side of things when we got a record like ‘Battle Of The Bands’ where we had ‘Elenore’ come out. We were making fun of ourselves in record.”
Continuing, he added, “I think you see the Turtles’ career is not one style or one era of music. It really held strong for about five or six years and, then, I think, maybe, when Howard and I went off with Frank (Zappa) and we continued performing the Turtles songs in the Mothers of Inventions shows that sort of opened up to where people really saw that we were more than a singles flash in the pan/hit record band. It had a sense of humor. We had a sense of organization.
“I think our biggest fault was that we didn’t have the financial fire power in that era to be able to follow through building the audience that other artists could because of the amount of success a record company like Capitol Records with the Beach Boys was an asset we never got the benefit of. We never had the financial ability to hire a press agent month to month to be able to keep us on the cover of those magazines back then – the ‘16’s’ and the ‘Tiger Beat’s’ and all of those when groups were beginning to become more cheerful to the audience.
“We really had to fight our way through and I think that’s what made the Turtles music so strong. We couldn’t just put out a record and think that it was just gonna sell a million copies. We really had to continually be out there promoting it, continually be out touring with it. We were doing a lot of dates every year to sell those records. It’s hard to say but I think we’re seeing kind of a re-birth. The Happy Together tours the last five years have been highly successful. We did fifty-six cities. I’m kind of thinking we are sort of solidifying our place a little bit more. The tours really helped to do that. People come out to the shows now because they know that they’re going to get a quality show.
“We’re already having meetings about next summer. The ‘Happy Together’ moniker has really tied together the really great acts who couldn’t afford to be out there on their own. The tours have really helped us put together acts like The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, The Association, Cowsills, and Mark Lindsay and put those people together and try to tell them what you’re trying to do, philosophically, and just bring hit songs, one after another. Two and a half, three hours of just top ten records. People love that about those shows. It’s really been a fantastic reward for us on the back end.”
When I asked Volman if he and Kaylan would’ve likely still wound up with their music catalog if they had been with a major label, he replied, “It’s hard to speculate because of the way it all took place. It was totally unplanned. It was just one of those things that ownership happened as a by-product of some really negative stuff. I mean, the fact that we had the problems that we did with White Whale Records certainly is a big part of it. But I think, also, the thing I think about is that it might not have allowed us to perform.
“I think the thing that I think was kind of interesting for us is that we had the ability to play on everything. That was the thing that, when you to our shows, it was probably the reason that things ended up the way it did. It was us playing the music. It was us playing at the concerts. We weren’t trying to re-produce the music of the Turtles. We were the same people who made the records were out there playing the records. That was also a big part of it. I’m not sure how things would’ve come out had it have been different. I just know that all through it all, we played it all.
“Ownership wasn’t something we even considered. That just was not in the cards, at all, until the end and the lawsuits. Those were not great times. I mean, think about it: we were given the recordings because there was no money left. So, when we got those recordings, it was second to what we really wanted which was to get our money out of the record label. The record label spent all the money so we ended up with these recordings. That’s the great thing about it. The bad thing about it is that it took four years and in those four years, the band ended. We never really got to finish what we had set out to be as a band. That was the problem with everything in that it just ended. We kind of said goodbye one afternoon. We’re going into this lawsuit. Four years later, the lawsuit ended. There was no band. The band had pretty much ended. There wasn’t an ending that you could be happy about and that’s too bad.”
The professor’s reply was insightful when I asked if things have changed in putting out a vinyl offering today as compared to back then.
“Of course. A lot of that is just technology. You have to really ‘rope’ technology and bring it back to a much more basic feel to it. I’m not sure that this will be the last of it. I think that we’re at a really good place with this particular version – this box set. I’m not sure that we shouldn’t aspire to maybe do what the Beatles have just done which is because of our ownership we can go one more step with this which I think would be really fun and that’s do monaural. The original recordings that were made were made in monaural. In thinking about, ‘Now what do you do?’ We’re really right in the middle of all this stuff. It’s really fun because we have the support of Manifesto Records which is really a chief part of this – having one person who really gets it and says, ‘Let’s do this.’
“We’re doing small runs of these things because this is not a money-making kind of thing. Of course, our CD is out. People can get our CD. I think, last year, downloading of ‘Happy Together’ was over a hundred thousand downloads of the song itself, which we own. We’re trying to cover all the bases. One of the things we’ve been considering doing was a seven record box set for overseas of the Flo and Eddie albums, the reggae album, the crossfire stuff. We’re fortunate that we have just a lot of crazy shit. It’s really funny when you think about it because what was sort of building was this little vinyl fan base which is really excited. There was a lot of goofy stuff on the B side. These were all released as singles so that was a big part of it. We wanted it to have the best of the stuff. When you look at the titles, to the collectors who collect Turtles stuff, they were the best of it. They’re the same songs as our greatest hits we did as A and B sides. So, now, we’re thinking, ‘Now what?’"
Answering his own question, the professor said, “We’re kinda thinking Crossfires (their group before The Turtles). We’ve wanted to do the Crossfires for a long time. We were able to pull together a Crossfire record for Rhino back in the seventies or eighties. It’s available on digital on iTunes. When you think about how crazy it is to have an album made in high school – The Crossfires – is available on iTunes! It just makes us laugh because the things we have available are really fun. It’s fun stuff and like this guy mentioned to me a few days ago, he said, ‘I went to this garage sale and going through the records . . . I discovered a record you guys did called ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ which was a vinyl record that played from the center out. Rhino put that out and we’re now talking about re-doing that.
“We’re collectors, Howard and I. We collect. So, when we’re doing these kinds of things, we’re always thinking, ‘What would a collector think, too?’ I go to gatherings here in Nashville of people who just bring vinyl and everybody brings a half a dozen vinyls and throughout the night, a guy will go up and put it on. It will go from the door to 20 or 30 minutes of dialog, talking about this particular record. ‘High On Love’ by the Knickerbockers and all of a sudden, you’re off for a half hour talking about the Knickerbockers and vinyl. It’s like being a collector of vinyl art. It’s one of those things that brings people together.
“I know a couple of the guys who come to the vinyl party like Gary Tallent of the E Street Band and Henry Gross who wrote ‘Shannon’ and Bill Lloyd from Foster and Lloyd – it’s just a whole group of a bunch of guys from Third Man Records who are all involved in vinyl collectibles. So, a lot of the stuff we’re doing is for those people. We’re not trying to build a new fan. I mean, it’s great if we do but this was really done from the perspective of our deepest fan that really will get it – who will really be excited about having the eight 45 RPM singles of The Turtles; something that they could never get, really, in one place. It makes it really fun. That’s all it was really ever for.
“It’s so crazy because we’re really excited about the fact that we’ve been selling this for two years at our show and it paid for itself. If you did two thousand copies the first year – we were selling the box set for something like $50 or $60, autographed by me and Howard. We were selling six a night. Now, that doesn’t seem like a lot but if you do fifty shows, that’s about three hundred and fifty of those box sets we did. Then, the second year, we probably did about the same but we lowered the price because we were trying to make it more accessible. Then, the third year we actually did two thousand copies because through Manifesto (Records) we were able to put together the record stores and the international market place now where we’re selling our records to England and Scotland and Ireland and a lot of countries who still are fans of Flo and Eddie.
“Now we’re starting to see that there are a lot of vinyl stores! In Nashville, you’ve got, like, four very popular vinyl stores. Having our box set finally available to get out into the market place is exciting and it will be fun to see it get out there. I’m already seeing some really nice reviews. Guitar Player did a really nice review. People who are collectors and people who love vinyl are really going to enjoy the fun of having this."
When I told Mark that I had suggested in my review of the box set that you buy two so that one can be kept in its original wrapping, he laughed and said, “That’s what it’s become – this little secret has grown up. Jack White has made a living out of what he’s doing with his vinyl business. That record that he did with Neil Young – they did a direct to vinyl – we knew about that. I knew Ben – the guy who works with Jack – brought that record about six months before it came out. He was playing at the vinyl party for us parts of that record. It was just crazy! It was crazy because we were sitting there hearing a major artist – I mean, Neil is quirky enough – but Neil is a major artist and the fact that other artists have come to him to make records direct to vinyl, it’s really eerie. When you listen to it, you can hear the entire history of popular music comes to life. It really does. It just gives me the chills to think that’s the way records were made! And the fact that we can get that close, putting our records out on vinyl, it’s really exciting. It’s really fun. It’s fun to be in the studio and re-master it. It’s fun to put the cover together. It’s great to be able to look at; to be able to contemplate the history that is part of those records. It’s really fun.
“That’s the thing you lose when you go to digital – you lost that combination of cover to music where you could put it on and you used to sit there and look at this cover. It was all one. It was art! That’s the thing that we love about having our stuff coming out. It’s like when you hold this box in your hand and it opens up and you see the length of these records and feel of those sleeves and the fact that we were able to get a little plastic 45 and play it on your old player! It’s just really fun! It’s like having a Lionel train set at Christmas, you know? That’s how it sorta feels. It just feels like a something that’s a part of American music history. Howard and I just love that. It might not get us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but, you know what? It’s still really fun to spend the time and know that we’re doing this for about four hundred people. That’s just great because those four hundred people are turning into about four thousand of you, now. They’re all part of this kind of secret society! Ha! Ha!”
You can join Professor Volman, myself and a select few others in this secret society by clicking here (read the Boomerocity review of it here) and ordering your own copy of this limited edition box set. It’s history. It’s quality, and it’s fun!