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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

From Frank Zappa to The Archies? Must be The Turtles' 'Happy Together Tour'!

2018 Happy Together Tour finale

Now the truth can be told: No one really knew what to expect when the annual TurtlesHappy Together Tour featuring Flo & Eddie announced that lead singer Howard Kaylan (Eddie) would be unable to tour this summer due to health issues—but they had every reason to be confident: Ron Dante, who served the tour so well last year, had signed up to take over for Kaylan--with Kaylan’s blessing, it should be added. After all, Kaylan is one of pop-rock’s greatest voices.

Then again, Ron Dante is no slouch. Besides singing the lead on The Archies’ 1969 bubblegum landmark “Sugar, Sugar,” he sang lead on The Cuff Links’ big hit that same year, “Tracy.” But Dante’s vocal versatility also enabled him to serve among New York’s top jingles singers back in the Archies’ era, and not only is he able to suitably approximate Kaylan’s tone and phrasing, he also works equally well opposite Volman’s comedic tendencies, present early on during The Turtles’ closing set at Friday night’s tour stop at the Ford Amphitheater in Coney Island.

“I see a lot of friendly faces,” observed Volman, looking out into the vast covered seating area. “I also see a lot of drug dealers I owe money to!” Joking aside, Volman has added The Turtles’ 1968 hit “You Showed Me” to their Happy Together Tour repertoire for the first time ever. He even threw in, as a lead-in to their 1968 hit “Elenore,” a bit of Frank Zappa’s instrumental fave “Peaches En Regalia,” a nod to his Flo & Eddie years with Kaylan (Volman was Flo), when they were prohibited to use The Turtles’ name and recorded and performed, with Zappa and as themselves, as Flo & Eddie.

Besides singing these and other Turtles classics (including “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Baby” and of course, the tour’s namesake monster hit “Happy Together”), Dante did “Sugar, Sugar.” But his presence also allowed Volman to take more of a central role instead of act as customary comic foil/backup singer for Kaylan: He even brought back his timber-perfect “Riders In the Storm” imitation of Jim Morrison bit, and sang a few other leads as well.

Once again, The Cowsills—made up of Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill--opened the show as only they can, singing their beloved hits “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair” so well that if you didn’t look at the calendar you’d swear they were on the radio now instead of some 50 years later. Mark Lindsay likewise recaptured the wonder of his Paul Revere & the Radiers hits including “Good Thing,” “Hungry,” “Indian Reservation” and “Kicks” (after donning a vintage Raiders Revolutionary War coat) as well as his big solo hit “Arizona.”

The Association (originals Jim Yester and Jules Alexander with longtimer Del Ramos) ended the first half with more huge hits (“Windy,” “Never My Love,” “Cherish”) that were just as radio-ready as they were back in the day. But Yester did go back in time by acknowledging that their first hit, “Along Comes Mary” (1966), was banned by half the stations in the country because of the lyrics associated with the title with “Mary,” it was said, being a reference to marijuana, though “if you have to ask,” said Yester, “you’re never gonna know.”

The second half essentially picked up where the first left off, with Gary Puckett showing off his undiminished vocal chops on his Union Gap hits like “Young Girl,” “Over You” and opener “Lady Willpower”—which had everyone in the audience singing along from the get-go. Like Lindsay, Puckett also put on a Civil War-era coat like the ones he wore in the Union Gap. And like both Puckett and Lindsay, Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron showed no signs of vocal wear when he belted out hits like “One,” “Celebrate,” “Joy to the World” and especially “Eli’s Comin’,” the Laura Nyro song that became a big Three Dog Night hit in 1969 and was a vocal tour de force for Negron at Coney Island.

Negron was followed by The Turtles, and when they were through, they started the whole show over again with the traditional Happy Together Tour finale of each act returning to the stage and singing a snippet of their biggest hit together with the others, ending with “Happy Together.” Joining in the fun from the wings were Volman’s students from Nashville’s Belmont University Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business (where Volman is assistant professor and chair and is known as Professor Flo), who come out every year during the first leg of the tour to learn all the ropes of the touring business, and travel in their own tour bus.

That the kids were grooving joyously showed that these hits from half a century ago transcend generations. In fact, three of the girls are now sporting tiny Turtles tattoos.

“We’re all really blessed to be able to still be out here doing this,” marveled Dante in the dressing room after the show.



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