Very much like the winner in the old story of the race between the turtle and the hare, the two principals of this aptly-named seminal 60s band, through sheer stick-to-it-ability, have run an enduring but successful race for over 40 years.
Born within two months of each other in 1947, principals Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman attended the same school, Westchester High in Los Angeles. They sang in the school's acappella choir, where Volman heard about Kaylan's instrumental surf group, the Nightriders (which included fellow choir members Al Nichol on lead guitar, Don Murray on drums and Chuck Portz on bass). Volman joined the group in 1963, just before they became the Crossfires. After graduation, the Crossfires continued to play out, while the members attended area colleges, recruiting rhythm guitarist Jim Tucker along the way.
In 1965, local disc jockey and club owner Reb Foster heard them, then became their manager, getting the band signed to White Whale Records. The Crossfires changed their name to the Tyrtles (an unabashed homage to the Byrds) and recorded a Bob Dylan song, It Ain't Me Babe as their first single. It was an immediate hit - climbing into the top five nationally - quickly establishing the band with the record-buying public. Their first concert appearance was for 50,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, opening for Herman's Hermits. After joining the Dick Clark Caravan of the Stars, they found instant stardom by continuing to open for more popular stars. The band name became The Turtles.
The Turtles' musical and philosophical interests embraced the folk rock, protest genre, and while they hit it big in 1965 and 1966 with It Ain't Me Babe, and P.F. Sloan's Let Me Be, they turned down his Eve of Destruction, which became a Number One for Barry McGuire. The fluffy, infectious You, Baby (another Sloan-Steve Barri song) became a hit, and set the band on a path toward catchy bubblegum pop.
The Turtles next discarded their rough-around-the-edges/folk grunge look, and adopted a clean-cut, preppie image. The White Whale honchos, with visions of increasing the bank account, had the band record one of its own compositions, so White Whale could reap the extra income from publishing. This can be the only explanation for an odd song like Grim Reaper Of Love as a follow-up to the exuberant pop groove of You, Baby. Suffice to say, the song was selected probably because it was the band's best composition at the time. It was not a success.
Wisely, the group fought back with a now-classic pop outing, written by Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon. Happy Together spent three weeks at number one on the American charts, and proved to be one of the biggest hits of the year. It remains a radio favorite and The Turtles' signature tune.
Bonner-Gordon wrote the next three singles, and each hit the Top 20: the number three hit She'd Rather Be with Me (which eclipsed even Happy Together in terms of international success), You Know What I Mean and She's My Girl. Chip Douglas left to work with the Monkees, and was replaced by Jim Pons (formerly with the Leaves). Jim Tucker left the group as well.
As the 60s drew to a close, the Turtles tested their musical inspirations. You Know What I Mean, ushered in a period of constantly-changing producers and arrangers, but the band's popularity continued to slip through 1967, when the self-produced Sound Asleep failed to break into the Top 40.
White Whale pressured the band to bring in outside production assistance, so the Turtles compromised by going back to Chip Douglas. The result, The Story Of Rock and Roll, was shut out of the Top 40 as well. The career-saving, and Turtles-penned single Elenore, released in September 1968, reached number six - the best placing by a single actually written by the Turtles.
The inevitable concept album, beloved of the times, was released in November 1968. The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands, on which the group attempted to sound like (and even dress up as) 11 distinct bands - one for each song on the LP. It was a relative success, with Elenore to its credit as well as another number six hit, You Showed Me (originally written and recorded by the Byrds).
Drummer John Seiter joined the Turtles after the recording of Battle of the Bands, replacing Johnny Barbata, now working with CSN. After White Whale attempted, Monkees-style, to record the vocals of Kaylan and Volman against a generic studio backing track, the duo rebelled. Inspired by the Kinks' recent Village Green Preservation Society LP, the Turtles recruited Kinks' frontman and songwriter, Ray Davies, to produce their 1969 LP Turtle Soup. The two singles from the album, You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain and Love In the City, again failed to enter the Top 40.
At this point, management and money troubles washed over the band. Hampered by ongoing lawsuits initiated by former managers, and an artistically-crippling relationship with White Whale, the band decided to cut their losses, and broke up.
Before the end of 1970, Kaylan, Volman and Jim Pons had joined Frank Zappa's early-'70s edition of the Mothers Of Invention. Due to restrictions of a prior management contract, Kaylan and Volman appeared in the line-up as the Phlorescent Leech & Eddie.
Disaster struck the Mothers twice during this period. First, the fire at Montreux, Switzerland, chronicled in Deep Purple's song Smoke On The Water, where the concert hall in which The Mothers were performing burned down. Then, Frank Zappa was attacked by the irate boyfriend of a fan during a concert in London.
After Zappa's injury, Mark and Howard continued touring as Flo & Eddie, initially with the musicians from the Mothers' line-up, including Jim Pons, Aynsley Dunbar and Don Preston, with Gary Rowles added on guitar.
After the dissolution of the first Flo & Eddie Band, Mark and Howard turned their creative talents to broadcasting. Howard Kaylan explains: "I began broadcasting in the Summer of '65 at UCLA before the Turtles' career ever took off. Later, in the early eighties, Mark and I did a guest shot on KROQ in L.A. and they liked it so much they gave us our own Sunday night show which was produced by then-program director, Shadoe Stevens. When Shadoe left for a loftier position on KMET, the big alternative station at the time, we went with him. After getting about 30 shows in the can, we formed our own syndication company and edited the shows for distribution all over the U.S. We had about 50 stations going there for awhile, and everybody wanted to do our show...we had Ringo, Keith Moon, Belushi, Nilsson, Kiss, and Queen. This lasted about 3 years.
"Later in the 80's, we brought the same wacky show to WLIR in New York on a Sunday night basis...sometimes we were actually there, but most times we recorded the shows in Los Angeles and sent them the tapes."
Having established a relationship with Murakami Wolf Productions while appearing in Frank Zappa's film 200 Motels, they created the voices and music for the animated feature Dirty Duck. This led to continued work on music for various successful animated children's series, and they went on with their radio endeavors.
During this time, their trademark harmonies appear on recordings by John Lennon, Roger McGuinn, Hoyt Axton, Ray Manzarek, Stephen Stills, Keith Moon, David Cassidy, Alice Cooper, Tonio K., Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, The Knack, Psychedelic Furs, Sammy Hagar, Livingston Taylor, Burton Cummings, Paul Kantner, Duran Duran, The Ramones and others.
Kaylan and Volman continue to make concert appearances as Flo and Eddie in the new millennium. In the fall of 2004, the pair co-produced a new remastered collection of their hits called Happy Together: The Very Best Of The Turtles. The band remains a staple of rock and roll oldies radio, getting over 20,000 plays a year, and playing numerous, well-received concerts.