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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

'Happy Together Tour' happier than ever in Staten Island

Happy Together Tour 2018 highlights

In an interview prior to the start of this year’s Happy Together Tour—its 10th anniversary since restarting annually a decade ago—Mark Volman of The Turtles, the tour’s permanent headliner whose biggest hit gives the tour its name, recognized that what keeps the heritage 1960s bands going out every year is the continued enthusiasm from promoters and fans for the historic music they made.

So it didn’t really matter that at the quaint St. George Theatre in Staten Island Wednesday night, the first of several New York area 2019 Happy Together Tour stops, Turtles lead singer (and Volman’s musical partner since high school) Howard Kaylan was MIA for the second year due to health issues. Ron Dante, the stellar voice behind hits like The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” and countless jingles, again filled in brilliantly on the Turtles classics that made up their closing set, not to mention the snippet of Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia,” from the days when Volman and Kaylan, as Flo & Eddie, performed with Zappa’s Mothers of Invention after the original Turtles disbanded.

Volman even dusted off the old “Riders in the Storm” Doors shtick that used to delight Turtles fans when they toured on their own, though he did kid that he was embarrassed to tell his pals that he was now relegated to vocally backing Dante on his “Sugar, Sugar” bubblegum rock standard. Adding to the fun was a big hometown reception, not only for Staten Island native Dante, but for the fabulous Happy Together Tour house band, also all from the New York area.

The band’s leader Godfrey Townsend (who’s played with the likes of The Who’s John Entwistle, Cream’s Jack Bruce, Alan Parsons Project and The Yardbirds) and bassist Barry Waller had even stepped out vocally during Three Dog Night powerhouse Chuck Negron’s preceding set, when he needed two capable singers to provide the parts sung by that group’s other lead vocalists Danny Hutton and the late Cory Wells on their 1969 hit cover of Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Comin’.”

Instrumentally, Townshend and Waller, with keyboardist/vocalist Manny Focarazzo and drummer/vocalist Chris Camilleri, baffled in their uncanny ability to replicate the sounds of all of the hits by all six Happy Together Tour Bands to perfection.

Negron, who somehow at age 77 retains his vocal pyrotechnics and precision, poignantly lauded all the original Three Dog Night band members. Earlier, the Classics IV’s Tom Garrett, whom the soft jazz-tinged blue-eyed soul group’s original lead singer Dennis Yost had picked to replace him before his death in 2008, likewise saluted his departed predecessor prior to performing “Traces,” their biggest hit, from 1969.

The Buckinghams, meanwhile, were missing their original lead singer (Dennis Tufano), too, but original guitarist Carl Giammarese, who later worked in a duo with Tufano before taking a reunited Buckinghams’ lead after Tufano left in the 1980s, was more than worthy on timeless hits like “Kind of a Drag” and “Don’t You Care,” alongside original bassist and backup vocalist Nick Fortuna. And while Gary Puckett admitted to suffering a summer cold and gamely struggled to approximate the high notes on “Young Girl,” any criticism here would be petty considering that no one clearly cared, and everyone was merrily singing along anyway.

As for opening act (for the fourth year in a row) The Cowsills, the Happy Together Tour continues to showcase a ‘60s group that is as vibrant as they were way back when Bob Cowsill was in high school, Paul was in junior high, and Susan, as she cheerfully chirped, was in grade school.

“We’re all so excited, we’re jumping out of our wheelchairs and oxygen masks!” Paul presumably joked, and Susan promised, after he recalled having to change her diapers, that she would soon be changing his. But the three surviving siblings (three brothers are gone, and the fourth, John Cowsill, is drummer for the Beach Boys) showed eternal life in radiantly voicing a handful of their immortal hits.

The show ended again with the tour’s great grand finale of Volman and Dante calling each act back to sing a chorus of their biggest hit—The Cowsills’ “Hair,” Classics IV’s “Spooky,” Buckinghams’ “Kind of a Drag,” Puckett’s “Young Girl” and Negron’s “Joy to the World,” with all then joining on The Turtles’ “Happy Together.”

“We all still salute our era and music every night,” Volman had said at the start of the tour, “and people still love the songs.”

And indeed they do, year after year after year.



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