Rock and roll is aging nicely—even gracefully, some might say.
Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and Moody Blues are still touring after a half-century in the business, along with various incarnations of other late-‘60s groups (Yes, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, etc.).
Since its 1985 inception, the annual Happy Together Tour has gathered some of the best ‘60s and ‘70s groups onto one bargain concert bill, transporting Buckeye Card audiences back to their teen years while introducing younger listeners to the classic songs their parents and grandparents cuddled up to in high school gymnasiums and soda shops.
The premiere revival rolled through Cleveland Wednesday for a three-hour throwback at Cain Park starring The Turtles, Chuck Negron, Gary Puckett, Mark Lindsay, and Gary Lewis.
This summer’s outing finds the famous sexa-and septuagenarians road-tripping through over 50 cities in nine weeks. Previous tours featured The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, and The Association.
Most of the evening’s material predates this writer, but it was amazing how many selections triggered a tidal wave of nostalgia from our having grown up hearing them on radio. It’s a fair bet sponsor Magic “Oldies” 105.7 FM spins a dozen of these ditties every day—and even my daughter, 14, recognized a few numbers that still get regular airplay on television or in movies.
Therein lay the power of ‘60s pop. Sure, a lot of it is saccharine-sweet and idealistic. Many of the lyrics are fanciful, their messages marinated in the optimism of the era of flower power and the Age of Aquarius. Heck, even the ballads and breakup songs are tailor-made for dancing and humming along. Like misunderstood monsters from drive-in B-movies, the songs never truly die. They keep coming back, their singers a enjoying cyclical resurgence in popularity as the melodies waft across generational gaps, their clever chord progressions, infectious hooks, and charismatic vocals transcending time.
Between them, the acts boast over 60 Top 40 hits (30 in the Top Ten) and six #1 singles. They dusted off the crème of the crop for Wednesday’s showcase.
The black-clad Happy Together Band 2013 features guitarist Godfrey Townsend (John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Alan Parsons), bassist John Montagna (Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz), drummer Steve Murphy (Sting, Celine Dion), and keyboardist Manny Focarazo. But a couple of the featured artists jammed, too: Lewis strummed a Gibson and Volman noodled on a Strat during their respective sets.
The Turtles’ Mark “Flo” Volman said it was important to assemble a single band capable of backing all the acts to eliminate the need for set transitions. They couldn’t have chosen better players; Townsend and company faithfully recreated all the hits just like they sound on record, using a combination of Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster guitars, Canopus drums, a Yamaha Motif 8 keyboard, and Korg Triton and Roland XP-80 synthesizers. Each musician had a chance to shine, but otherwise seemed content hanging back and laying the grooves for the iconoclastic vocalists.
Gary Lewis—of Gary Lewis & The Playboys—took opening slot with eight chestnuts from 1965-66, including “Sure Gonna Miss Her, “Save Your Heart for Me,” “Green Grass,” and the chart-topper “This Diamond Ring.”
Lewis said he wrote “Everybody Loves a Clown” for his comedian father, Jerry Lewis, but ended up liking the tune so much that he “kept” it and gave his dad a birthday card instead. He also recalled chatting with a 20-year old reporter who said she enjoyed his music, and his dad’s, too—like the song “Great Balls of Fire.”
Everyone over 20 knows “Great Ball of Fire” was Jerry LEE Lewis, but Gary said he took the compliment in stride.
Lewis was The Playboys’ drummer during the band’s heyday but eventually became the front man so he could play guitar and sing onstage without being obscured from view by cymbals and toms. He relished the freedom of movement on this occasion, alternately delivering his verses at a microphone front-and-center and retreating to jam with the band on extended musical passages.
Mark Lindsay—the mastermind behind Paul Revere & The Raiders—took the stage in a glittering red frock reminiscent of the revolutionary garb his band sported at the height of their fame. He delighted with “Where the Action Is,” “Steppin’ Out,” “Hungry,” and “Good Thing,” retreating to Murphy’s drum riser during Townsend and Montagna’s solo spots. Lindsay traded the flamboyant jacket for a more modest gray blazer to croon his #10 solo hit “Arizona” and got a majority of Evans Ampitheater to field the chorus on 1971’s “Indian Reservation (Lament of the Cherokee People).”
Gary Puckett (of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap) followed with a mini-set of orchestral ballads that catered to his rich, husky voice, like the Jerry Fuller-penned “Lady Willpower” and “Cheer You.” The Gary Usher classic “Don’t Give in to Him,” and Jim Glaser-written “Woman, Woman” were other standouts. Puckett didn’t need to sing the refrain of his 1968 smash “Young Girl” because the two thousand boomers in attendance took over for him, repeating “young girl, get out of my mind, my love for you is way out of line” on cue.
Former Three Dog Night front man Chuck Negron took the spotlight after a brief intermission. Striking the perfect balance of coolness and comedy, Negron thrilled with roots-rock staples “Shambala,” “Celebrate,” and “Mama Told Me Not to Come.”
“You can’t see it, but there’s a deep orchestra pit right here,” Negron commented on his Evans environs. “I’m going to dub it the AARP Pit…and take a step back so I don’t fall in!”
Negron said he was astounded by the ability of Lewis, Lindsay, and Puckett to recall the exact months and years their biggest hits dropped.
“I can’t remember anything from the sixties!” he joked.
The humble, mustachioed third of Three Dog Night thanked his ex-band mates (Danny Hutton and Cory Wells) for their time together and struck a spiritual tone for “Eli’s Coming.” Negron’s rendition of Harry Nilsson gem “One” was nothing short of sensational, his pipes hitting all the high notes with practiced ease and the crowd helping out with the “One is the loneliest number” response and “It’s just no good anymore since you went away” breakdowns. The “song about a bullfrog (Jeremiah)” finally brought the sedentary audience to its feet—but a sudden downpour during “Joy to the World” sent many spectators on the lawn scurrying for the cover of the Colonnade.
The rain didn’t last, so there was little attrition between Negron’s set and headliners Flo & Eddie (of The Turtles). Bounding onstage to the sound of Psy dance track “Gangnam Style,” Westchester, California cutups Mark “Flo” Volman and Howard “Eddie” Kaylan strutted, posed, and performed the Korean rapper’s signature cowboy / lasso dance, effectively bridging the decades between music’s then and now.
The singing partners have parodied and / or paid tribute to other modern artists like Lady Gaga on prior tours, answering ex-employer Frank Zappa’s query “Does Humor Belong in Music?” in the affirmative. Volman and Kaylan enjoyed a string of successive hits with The Turtles in the late ‘60s before joining Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, adopting nicknames for their subsequent solo work. The duo appeared in the cult film “200 Motels” and issued several well-regarded albums in the ‘70s, then crafted music for children’s animated TV shows in the ‘80s.
Flo and Eddie are also renowned for their lofty background vocals: They appear on work by such diverse stars John Lennon, Blondie, Duran Duran, The Ramones, and Alice Cooper. Remember the heavenly harmonies on Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart?” That’s Flo and Eddie, who saluted The Boss with a piano-tinkling teaser snippet of “Thunder Road.”
“I still have no idea what that song is about,” said the shaggy-haired Volman, who juggled tambourines before strapping on a guitar.
The dynamic duo delivered faithful versions of “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Baby,” and a cover of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” The Byrds may have written the quasi-psychedelic “You Showed Me” in 1964, but it was The Turtles who made a splash with the song in ’69. Flo and Eddie cooed through the song anew, with support from Godfrey, Murphy, and Montagna, before surprising the Cain Park contingent with their vocal take on Zappa’s quirky instrumental “Peaches in Regalia.”
“We used to do all kinds of drugs,” acknowledged Kaylan, wearing granny glasses and a mango-colored shirt.
“Pot, acid, mushrooms…now it’s Lipitor and Cialis.”
Kaylan, 65, recently published his memoirs, “Shell Shocked,” with Backbeat Books (available through his website below).
“Elenore” segued into The Turtles’ ’67 smash (and tour theme) “Happy Together,” achieving Beach Boys harmonies on the bah-dah-bomp-a-dah midsection as fans grooved in the aisles. Flo and Eddie invited Lewis, Lindsay, Puckett, and Negron back for an all-star encore that distilled everyone’s memorable songs into a single, cleverly-arranged medley.