The audition for a lead singer continued on Saturday night, July 19, 2014 at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix for the Happy Together Tour band (or whatever name they prefer to call themselves). Guitarist Godfrey Townsend, keyboard player Manny Pocarazzo, bass player John Montagna and drummer Steve Murphy, who have played together since their days with the Alan Parsons Project Live and now for five consecutive summers as the Happy Together Tour band, backed six legendary singers in the hopes that one might stand out. The problem is, several did.
Admittedly, it was not the enormous talent of Townsend, Pocarazzo, Montagna and Murphy that promoters used to draw in the crowd. It was singers Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Mitch Ryder of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night and Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) of the Turtles that people came to see.
Also, admittedly, The Happy Together Tour is the brainchild of Volman and Kaylan who thirty years ago, got the idea of combining several popular 1960’s artists and placing them together for one concert experience. Although there was some gap between tours, this year’s Happy Together Tour marks the fifth consecutive year the musical revue has hit the road and will, by tours end, have appeared in 56 cities.
Over the last five years, the only constant members of the tour have been Flo and Eddie and the backing band. Using one set of musicians to back the artists insures that there are no gaps between performances. Saturday night, each artist played a twenty five to thirty minute set with the voice of legendary DJ, Shadoe Stevens, introducing each singer with a brief biography of their work.
First out of the chute was Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis and the Playboys fame. The son of comedian/entertainer, Jerry Lewis and not, as Lewis told in an amusing story, the son of rockabilly piano player Jerry Lee Lewis, Lewis started out with “Count Me In,” one of the eight songs, seven of which were Billboard Magazine’s top ten hits, that he performed.
Although the crowd was subdued for Lewis’ performance, as they were for most of the night, that didn’t stop Lewis from giving it his all. Strumming rhythm guitar, Lewis playfully interacted with the band, whose harmonies with Lewis enhanced each number. As Lewis pointed out, songs such as, “This Diamond Ring,” “Everybody Loves a Clown,” and “She Just My Style.” helped explain why Lewis beat out Sinatra and Elvis as Cashbox Magazine’s male vocalist of the year in 1965.
If Gary Lewis was the squeaky clean singer your parents would actually let you listen to, then Mitch Ryder was the dangerous artist they would not. Sporting a hat and dark glasses as he took the stage, Ryder’s gruff voice, coupled with Pocarazzo’s organ sound, made the opening number, “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” distinctively Ryder.
Following with “Jenny Take a Ride!” and concluding “Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly,” Ryder’s five song set should have had people on their feet, clapping along. Through no fault of Ryder, only a few people in the crowd let go. But Ryder’s stage demeanor did not disappoint. His songs, coupled with his in between song banter, affirmed why Ryder was considered one of the mid 1960’s outlaws.
Grand Funk Railroad’s former lead guitarist and singer, Mark Farner, was next up. The energetic Farner did his best to coax some response out of the audience who warmly greeted him as he opened with “The Loco-Motion,” Grand Funk’s number one song from 1974.
Farner’s ability as a guitarist was then on display as he allowed drummer Steve Murphy to take over lead vocals for another Grand Funk number one song, “We’re An American Band.” As a solo artist, Farner embraced the band concept, not only allowing Murphy to sing, but firing off a nice guitar duet with band guitarist Godfrey Townsend. A rock concert had finally broken out.
But it took Farner’s version of “Some Kind of Wonderful,” to finally get the audience to sing along and stand before he closed with the Grand Funk classic “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home). The song proved that Farner has not lost his strong vocal ability.
After an intermission, Chuck Negron, formerly of the group Three Dog Night took the stage. In an instant he went from quietly asking “how ya doing,” to strongly hitting the opening notes to “Shambala.”
From there it was a cavalcade of Three Dog Night hits. “Celebrate,” “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” which takes on a new flavor given Negron’s triumph over the demons the song talks about, “Eli’s Coming,” and “One,” showcased Negron’s flawless vocals. And although the audience still hadn’t jumped to their feet to clap and dance along, there were more than a few who were silently mouthing the lyrics.
But THE song of 1971 changed all that. With the familiar opening notes of “Joy To The World” emanating from Pocarazzo’s keyboards, the audience sang out “Jeremiah was a bull frog,” and never stopped. Negron had finally animated the crowd.
It was fitting that a concert that had begun with the son of Jerry Lewis ended with pop rock’s version of Martin and Lewis, The Turtles’ Flo and Eddie, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. With the energy level now up a notch or two, Volman entered the arena dancing “Gangam Style” while Kaylan preferred to stroll onstage holding a wine glass. After Volman had successfully thrown a drumstick to the ground and caught the rebound, the duo broke into the 1967 Turtle’s hit “She’d Rather Be With Me.”
Known for their sense of humor almost as much as for their musical ability, Flo and Eddie kept the audience entertained with both. Volman bounced tambourines off his arm as Kaylan did the lead vocals to “You Baby.” Kaylan warned the audience that despite the band’s playing a familiar song’s beginning, that “you don’t know what we’re going to sing.” He was right, Volman then rattled off portions of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” “Back Door Man,” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.”
A concert billed as the Happy Together Tour must have a reason. Kaylan and Volman coaxed the entire audience out their seats for “two minutes and forty eight seconds,” for The Turtle’s 1967 hit that gave name to the tour, “Happy Together.” The audience loudly sang and clapped along and why not? Despite what seems to be overplay of the song, it’s actually a great song.
Despite Volman’s pointing out that guitarist Townsend had been fired from every job he has ever had and that there was no guarantee that he’d be in the band next week, the Happy Together Band held one final audition for their lead singer.
For an encore, each performer was brought back on stage to do one verse from the most popular song of what they had previously sung. The result was a stage full of six legendary singers and four gifted musicians. Given the audience’s rousing standing ovation for each performer, it appears that the audition process will need to continue for another 20 dates.
Gary Lewis: Count Me In | Sure Gonna Miss Her | Green Grass | Save Your Heart For Me | Everybody Loves A Clown | My Heart’s Symphony | This Diamond Ring | She’s Just My Style
Mitch Ryder: Little Latin Lupe Lu| Jenny Take A Ride! | Sock It To Me Baby! | Too Many Fish In The Sea | Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly
Mark Farner: The Loco-Motion | We’re An American Band | Bad Time | Some Kind of Wonderful | I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)
Chuck Negron: Shambala | Celebrate | Mama Told Me Not To Come | Eli’s Coming | One | Joy To the World
Flo and Eddie (The Turtles): She’d Rather Be With Me | You Baby | It Ain’t Me Babe | You Showed Me| Peaches En Regalia | Elenore | Happy Together
Encore: Portions of This Diamond Ring | Devil With A Blue Dress On | The Loco-Motion | Joy To The World | Happy Together