HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014

(August 9, 2014; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles, MO)

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When I first saw that the 2014 version of the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR was coming to our neck of the woods, I was unsure of what to expect but… I did know that I wanted to be there. After all, I grew up with the music of Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad and Chuck Negron and Three Dog Night; I always liked Mitch Ryder (with or without his Detroit Wheels); and, of course, I liked the Turtles but, I loved Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s post-Turtles work as members of the Mothers of Invention and as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie. For the record, I was never a huge fan of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, but, hey… four outta five ain’t bad, huh?

Bassist John Montagna; Drummer Steve Murphy and guitarist Godfrey Townsend (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Bassist John Montagna; Drummer Steve Murphy and guitarist Godfrey Townsend (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

One thing I was expecting was full band participation, as the ads listed the acts as “Gary Lewis and the Playboys,” “Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels,” and the “Turtles with Flo and Eddie.” Plus, Mark Farner has been playing with the same band for quite a few years. However, there were no Playboys, no Detroit Wheels, no Turtles and no Mark Farner Band; I ran into John Montagna out front of the venue and he told me that he was playing bass in the “house band,” a group that I later learned have been playing together for several years, as backing band for everyone from Alan Parsons Live Project to Joey Molland and, yes, the Turtles. Upon entering the venue, two things were evident (if you were paying attention): First, this was a decidedly AARP-heavy crowd (now, don’t get yer granny-panties in a bunch… though I have no affiliation with the organization, I do qualify for membership) and, second, not only would there be no Playboys, their leader, Gary Lewis, would also be a no-show (apparently, he’d already missed several dates due to illness). Though I’m sure that there were a lot of people disappointed that Lewis wasn’t playing, I was more than okay with that.

Mitch Ryder (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Mitch Ryder (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

A recording of Shadoe Stevens kept us informed, like a NASA countdown, of the number of minutes left before the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014 would kick off: Ten minutes… three minutes later, the five minute mark was reached… two minutes later, we were told that we had two minutes left… five seconds later, we hit the one minute mark and the start of the show, in quick succession, as Stevens introduced Mitch Ryder. The band played a brief intro for Mitch, who ripped through a set that included “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jenny Take a Ride” and, what is probably his biggest hit, “Devil With a Blue Dress On” coupled with Richard Penniman’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” like he was a kid. Which was cool, ’cause he looked more like Mick Mars on a bender. Ryder’s voice sounded strong and it was evident that he was having a blast on stage, recounting tales of youthful conquest and commenting that when the single “Sock It To Me, Baby” was released in 1967, he wasn’t allowed to sing the lyrics as written; with a sly smile, he delivered the unedited, “dirty” version which, he opined, after three-and-a-half decades of rap, I figure you can handle the original version tonight.” Even though Mitch was on stage for less than 30 minutes, we were certainly off to a rip-roaring start!

Mark Farner (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Mark Farner (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As Mitch walked off stage, the recorded voice of Shadoe Stevens (I coulda sworn that guy was dead!) introduced one of my all-time favorites, Mark Farner, the driving force behind Grand Funk Railroad for more than 30 years. The band, already a well-oiled rock and roll machine, seemed to tighten things up even more during Mark’s set. Kicking off with “The Loco-Motion,” it was obvious that the guitar-playing part of Grand Funk was ready to have some fun. After a joke about age and keeping hydrated, Farner introduced the band’s biggest chart success: Don Brewer’s “We’re an American Band.” He took the high road and, sensibly, also introduced “the world’s best singing drummer,” Steve Murphy, who – if you closed your eyes – sounded enough like Brewer to cause flashbacks. Murphy also handled the second vocal parts on “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “I’m Your Captain,” which Farner dedicated to all of the military personnel currently defending (as well as those who served and died to preserve) the freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy each day. If you didn’t know, Mark is a huge supporter of our military and does great work for various veterans organizations. For an old Grand Funk fan, this was the highlight of the night.

Chuck Negron (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chuck Negron (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After Mark’s set, there was a short (about ten minutes) break, as many in attendance had to head to the water receptacles to take their evening meds. Before getting back to the actual show, I’d like to tell you about a guy I met before the doors opened. His name is Ralph. He served our country as a Marine in the early 1970s and he is a huge Three Dog Night fan. He knew the other bands’ music, but he was here to see THE voice of Three Dog Night, Chuck Negron. I kinda kept an eye on Ralph during the show, to see if he was having a good time. Boys and girls, the smile on that man’s face when Negron walked on stage made my day! Chuck was having a good time, too. When he finished set opener “Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” he joked about messing up the words: “I forgot the last verse. I did the second verse twice.” After “Celebrate,” he noted that he had no problem remembering the title of the tune; after repeating it about sixty times, it all came back to him. Other pitch perfect hits included “Shambala,” “One,” and “Joy To the World.” I don’t think Ralph missed a single word as he sang along.

The Turtles' Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Turtles’ Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) took the stage, it was obvious that their set was going to be something completely different. As the pair spent a few minutes berating each other, I think a lot of people were starting to wonder just what was happening. Eventually, the guys kicked into “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and there was dancing in the aisles (so to speak). One of the Turtles’ big hits, Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” elicited a great response before one of the guys told the crowd that the next song was the one that made him a billionaire. That song, “You Showed Me,” snaked its way through a series of tunes by the Doors, including “Riders On the Storm” and “Light My Fire.” The band introductions (before “You Showed Me”) turned into another comedy bit, as Howard introduced guitarist Godfrey Townsend as the group’s musical director. Mark asked Townsend to step forward… but not too far out… back a half-step… now a bit to the left… okay, that’s good… now, get back to your spot. Okay… so that’s why the guy leading the band looked so familiar: I met Godfrey about 13 years ago, when he was a member of the John Entwistle Band. At least I can finally stop racking my brain about that!

The Turtles: Mark Volman; Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Turtles: Mark Volman; Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

By this time, I was back in my seat with my friend, Bill, who – like me – is a huge Frank Zappa fan. I kept bugging him with, “So, do you think they’ll do ‘Bwana Dik?’ How ’bout ‘Call Any Vegetable?’ Or, maybe, they’ll do ‘What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are.’” After a fantastic version of “Elenore,” someone on stage yelled “Zappa” and the band broke into a cool take of “Peaches en Regalia.” I was grinnin’ like a buffoon! The set ended – as it should – with the Turtles’ signature tune (and the song that supplied the name of this tour), “Happy Together.” Kaylan thanked the crowd and said that it had been a great night… so great, in fact, that we should start the whole thing over. With that, Mitch Ryder came back for a short reprise of “Devil With the Blue Dress On.” Mark Farner reprised “The Loco-Motion,” Chuck Negron did “Joy To the World” and the ensemble finished with a sing-along version of “Happy Together.” A great night of classic rock and roll and pop. Plus, we were out the door and on our way home at ten sharp… some of us need our sleep, ya know.


NECESSITY IS (THE EARLY YEARS OF FRANK ZAPPA AND THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION)

(Billy James; 223 pages; SAF Publishing; 2001, Revised 2005) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS

NECESSITY IS COVER

Pieced together from various interviews with early band-mates conducted and compiled by the author, NECESSITY IS delves into the psyche of one of the true musical geniuses of the past half-century (maybe the only one, in fact): Frank Vincent Zappa. Mister James (a musician himself, who has worked with many of the Mothers quoted) is obviously a fan, and that’s alright. Really, unless an author wishes simply to vilify another person (or organization), why would he write about someone he wasn’t a fan of? It’s obvious, as well, that most of the gentlemen interviewed were/are fans of Frank and remained in contact with him until his death in 1993. That doesn’t mean that every quote or remembrance is pleasant. As is the case with many struggling bands (especially one with a dominant figure like Zappa), disagreements – and downright vicious fights – arose. The early Mothers (1964-1971) was a revolving door of jazz, rock, and avant-garde musicians, all struggling to be heard over (through?) the mayhem orchestrated by composer/arranger/guitarist Zappa.

The Mothers of Invention

The Mothers of Invention

Zappa was known as a task-master and this book confirms that estimation. Many of the quotes from original drummer Jimmy Carl Black, keyboardist/electronics genius Don Preston, multi-instrumentalist Bunk Gardner, and others relay (sometimes humorously) the love/hate relationship between the band and Zappa. Indeed, as Frank’s dominance and creative genius materialized, the original core group – the band who recorded the first album, FREAK OUT (1966) – of drummer Jimmy Carl Black, bassist Roy Estrada, vocalist Ray Collins, and guitarist Elliot Ingber were either forced to take a back seat to more “advanced” musicians (those who could read music, like Gardner, Preston and Ian Underwood) or asked to leave the group. In the case of Ingber, the first to be ousted from the band, a predilection for drugs was his downfall (highlighting Zappa’s strong anti-drug stance and no nonsense approach to his leadership role, Ray Collins remembers, “…He maybe smoked a little bit too much.” in regards to Ingber’s “drug abuse” and subsequent dismissal from the band). Ingber famously became a member of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, as Winged Eel Fingerling. Ray Collins seemed to wander in and out of the group, as he and Zappa butted heads or he would become disillusioned by the direction Frank was taking the band. Another problem, apparently, was money. Zappa had the group on a rigorous rehearsal schedule – several hours a day, seven days a week, holidays included – for which there was no pay. Frank and manager Herb Cohen had a habit of funneling money from paying gigs back into the organization, promising an eventual big payday for the band.

All of this information, including background and history on the individual Mothers, comes in the first chapter of the book. Rather than rewrite the book here and now, I’ll leave you to imagine, from the above capsule, the breadth and scope of NECESSITY IS as Billy James takes you through the late ’60s, the infighting and insanity of the original group, the later versions of the band with Aynsley Dunbar, Mark Vohlman and Howard Kaylan, the frightening and life-changing on-stage attack by a fan in London that crushed Zappa’s larynx and left him in a cast for a year, and, inevitably to the dissolution of the Mothers in 1971. James also goes into extensive detail regarding the lives of the principal figures after “Motherhood.” Late in the book, there is an extensive section quoting an interview with Zappa that supplies his side of the Mothers’ story, which does soften and enlighten the reader’s previous views of the dictatorial band leader. As is true in any disagreement between two (or several) people, you can probably temper both sides a bit, meet somewhere in the middle and come up with your own ideas about what really happened.

Mother Frank

Mother Frank

Mister James, while not an absolute master wordsmith, has produced a highly enjoyable and easily read book, covering the early history of one of the most infamous and influential bands of the rock era. With an extensive “Where Are They Now?” section, an exhaustive discography of everyone who was a part of the Mothers (including design artist Cal Schenkel) during the period covered in the book, a tour history through 1972, and a well-documented list of source materials, James has given us a history of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that should be read (and owned) by every music lover on the planet. (DT)