By Lee Zimmerman
The Happy Together Tour that launched in early June will take its troop of classic rockers — The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night fame, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the The Raiders fame, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, The Cowsills and The Spencer Davis Group — from coast to coast over the course of the summer of 2016. To be sure, in nearly every case, these aren’t the original groups. Generally a backing band is present for the entire show to provide musical support for the names involved. However, the artists that are involved boast enough retro recognition to draw the faithful and make Happy Together the ‘60s celebration that it aims to be.
“The Happy Together Tour is the top ‘60s classic rock tour,” Susan Cowsill insists. “Everyone wants to be on it. We certainly did! These bands are our contemporaries and it’s very rewarding sharing a stage with old friends. The people that come to the shows are clearly touched by the music. I can see it on their faces while they relive memories that feel so, so good. It’s 1967, 1968, 1969 all over again, and it fills their hearts — and ours — with the joy, or sorrow of our youth for those 90 minutes. And that is a good thing. The Happy Together Tour is bringing us the music of our youth, played by the actual people from our youth. Now if that doesn’t resonate with you, then you don’t have a pulse!”
“The fans get to see so many great acts sharing the same stage and then relive so many wonderful memories,” Chuck Negron suggests. “The demographic is very widespread. The audiences are grandparents, their children and their children’s children.”
“We’re attracting our peers, the boomers and, a lot of times, their kids … willingly I might add,” Cowsill observes.
As one of the organizers and instigators of the Happy Together tour, Mark Volman (founding member of The Turtles) has his own unique perspective. “It’s great to see the audience singing along,” Volman remarks. “The touring can be very tiring, but every show is different. There’s no doubt about it. Every show has a different crowd, so it really is fun to watch the people in the audience change as the show begins, and they start hearing these familiar songs and then start singing along. For two hours and 45 minutes you just get caught up in it. The involvement is just fantastic. That’s what makes it so fun.”
“I would do this for nothing, Mark Lindsey insists. “In 1966, Mark Volman and I were sitting in the stands at Ascot Stadium where The Turtles and The Raiders were filming Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, and Mark turned to me and said, ‘Lindsey, do you believe they actually pay us for this? It’s 50 years later and they’re still paying us for this. We would probably do it for nothing, but it is nice to get paid.”
Still, for many of these artists the tour not only represents a pay check, something to augment their monthly Social Security payments perhaps, but also a chance to reunite with other artists they worked with back in the day. It’s a homecoming of sorts, a kind of family reunion for an elite group of performers who survived the first flush of fame, the ignominy of changing trends, and all the various temptations that doomed so many of their compatriots.
“It is a reunion,” Volman agrees. “We really care about all these other artists. We’ve known many of them over 50 years”
Apparently the feeling is mutual. “It is nice to see old friends I haven’t seen in years during our travels across the country, and to work with so many great artists,” Negron adds. “Mark Volman was my neighbor in the ‘60s. He lived down the street from me. The Turtles and Three Dog Night worked together often. I was fortunate enough to meet or work with the other acts over the years, and we have a lot of fun together on this tour. The parallels are that I am working with the same acts as I did then. The differences are that I am older, and because of that, I am different. But I love it!”
“There are a few folks on this tour The Cowsills used to play dates with,” Susan Cowsill observes. “Mark Lindsay for one. The Buckinghams, who were on it last year, for another. I’ve known Mr. Lindsay for about 47 years now. We have a very good time together on this tour! We hang out, go do fun stuff like golf, or go to the movies, or just hang around and um, er, you know, hang out. I was only eight years old when I was on tour in the ‘60s, but me and my brothers always played golf and went to the movies when we were kids touring, so, yeah, there are some parallels I guess. I have so much gratitude to the universe and to Mark and Howard for allowing us ‘kids’ to come play in the reindeer games with the rest of the team. The Happy Together tour is a bucket list for my brothers. And since I love those guys more than anything, I’m a happy kid sister!”
“When I was a kid of 13, I had a chance to become a singer in a band, and that’s all I wanted to do,” Lindsey reflects. “At 15, I left home and got a chance to sing with a little group called The Downbeats, which later became Paul Revere & The Raiders. The rest is history. I can’t imagine doing anything else or loving it any more.”
That’s a sentiment shared by all the artists taking part in the tour, which will hit 43 cities before it concludes at the end of August. The event first originated in 1984 under the auspices of Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo and Eddie), using the hit song they recorded with The Turtles to sum up the sentiment and optimism that its banner implied. After three years, the tour took a hiatus but then came back in the form of Hippie Fest in the 2000s before eventually morphing back into the Happy Together brand in 2010. “We changed it from being a ‘70s sounding show with a harder edge and heavy guitars into more of a ‘60s show which featured lots of hits,” Volman explains. “Each show is designed to present only the hits. No one does anything other than their greatest hit songs. We’re not here to promote new product, and we’re not doing deep cuts or album cuts. This show doesn’t belong to any one particular artist. It’s a like a revue where everyone comes out and sticks strictly to their biggest hits. It’s a real variety show, and that variety comes from an era that was one of the peak moments in music history, a time that was very special.”
Even so, for Mark Lindsey, Happy Together represents something more than just the music.
“The ‘60s generation was going to take over,” he says, looking back on it now “We were going to change the world, stop the war and make it all better. We had incredible dreams. The music of our time was all about the anthems. It happened to be a very fertile time in American music, and all the groups on this tour were part of that time. It’s something the fans have never forgotten. So this is an amazing summer. The Monkees have an album on the charts, The Happy Together Tour is on, and so I’m thankful for the fans still supporting us all these years. They’re still out there.”
Lindsey’s right about that. Happy Together ranks among the most popular tours of the summer, attracting an average audience of 1,800 people per night. It’s a nostalgia fest brimming with memories, especially for the artists.
“I first heard Chuck Berry’s ‘No Particular Place To Go’ when I was in the back seat of my car with my high school girlfriend, and whenever I hear it now, it puts me right back there,” Lindsey muses. “So when someone hears a song like ‘One’ or ‘Happy Together’ or any of the hits that are played during the show, it puts them back in another time as well. It rekindles the thoughts and emotions that accompanied those memories.”
“When we created the music we were just happy that it was a success back then,” Negron muses. “For it to still be successful now is quite a gift.”
“Music is eternal and indigenous to the soul,” Cowsill adds, summing matters up succinctly. “We simply cannot live without it. And when you hear some specific music from a particularly poignant time in one’s life, you have a perfect match. There’s a certain comfort that comes with time and with the music, like a soft old robe or a cozy chair. It’s familiar and safe, and what could be better than that?”
Still, Volman is cautionary. Although next year’s tour will be discussed in October, once this jaunt is over, he’s uncertain how much longer Happy Together can continue.
“We just play it by ear,” he concedes. “We’re all getting to the point where he have to think about how much more we can do this. The bus rides can be long. It can be draining. We’re not kids anymore. We’re not 30 years old like we once were. I think once this stops, there won’t be that many more ‘60s shows out there. We’re getting to a point in our lives where a lot of the performers are getting close to their 70s, if they’re not already there. How much longer can you go out on the road and sleep in a bus? You hope you can ride it out, but there are a lot of things you have to consider once you start to put another tour together.”
Happy Together forever? One can only hope…