The Turtles Biography

Having begun their career playing in college-based surf instrumental groups, the Nightriders and the Crossfires, this Westchester, Los Angeles-based sextet abruptly switched to beat music during 1964 in imitation of the Beatles. The line-up comprised Howard Kaylan (Howard Kaplan, 22 June 1947, the Bronx, New York, USA; vocals, saxophone) and Mark Volman (b. 19 April 1947, Los Angeles, California, USA; vocals, saxophone), backed by Al Nichol (b. 31 March 1945, North Carolina, USA; piano, guitar), Jim Tucker (b. 17 October 1946, Los Angeles, California, USA; guitar), Chuck Portz (b. 28 March 1945, Santa Monica, California, USA; bass) and Don Murray (b. 8 November 1945, Los Angeles, California, USA, d. 22 March 1996; drums). By the summer of l965 they found themselves caught up in the folk rock boom and, impressed by the success of local rivals the Byrds, elected to call themselves the Tyrtles. That idea was soon dropped, but as the Turtles they slavishly followed the Byrds blueprint, covering a Bob Dylan song, ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ to considerable effect (the song reached US number 8 in autumn 1965).

After rejecting ‘Eve Of Destruction’ as a possible follow-up, they used the services of its composer, the new ‘king of protest’ P.F. Sloan. His pen provided two further US hits, ‘Let Me Be’ (number 29, October 1965) and ‘You Baby’ (number 20, February 1966) before their commercial appeal wilted. The psychedelic boom of 1967 saw a change in the band’s image and coincided with line-up fluctuations resulting in the induction of drummer John Barbata and successive bass players Chip Douglas and Jim Pons (ex-Leaves). The exuberant ‘Happy Together’ revitalized their chart fortunes, hitting the number 1 spot in the US in February 1967, and providing the band with their first UK hit when it reached number 12 in March. The song has now achieved classic status and is a perennial turntable hit. The follow-up ‘She’d Rather Be With Me’ (US number 3/UK number 4) was another zestful singalong establishing the Turtles, now minus Tucker, as expert pop craftsmen.

The mid-tempo ‘You Know What I Mean’ (US number 12) and ‘Elenore’ (US number 6/UK number 7) were also impressive, with the usual sprinkling of affectionate parody that worked against the odds. The Turtles hardly looked like pop stars but sang delightfully anachronistic teen ballads and ended their hit career by returning to their folk rock roots, courtesy of ‘You Showed Me’ (US number 6, January 1969), first recorded by the Byrds in 1964. With a final touch of irony their record company issued the once rejected ‘Eve Of Destruction’ as one of their final singles. After the band dissolved, Kaylan and Volman (with Pons) joined Frank Zappa and his Mothers Of Invention and later emerged as Flo And Eddie, recording solo albums and offering their services as producers and backing singers to a number of prominent artists. Volman and Kaylan later revived the band, as the Turtles... Featuring Flo And Eddie, for touring purposes. Don Murray died following complications during surgery in 1996.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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