Despite much adversity, Mark Volman has had a very happy life. A founding member of the 1960s band The Turtles, he and his high school friends signed with a record label at 18 years old and it changed their lives. “It was a whole new world for us, and a chance for us to get out of Westchester, California, travel and play our music,” he says.
Since then, his life has been filled with adventure. He’s played with other great musical icons like John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Frank Zappa. One of the band’s most iconic songs, and the one most people can’t help singing along with, is "Happy Together."
For the past nine years, Mark and a group of other renowned singers and bands from the 1960s, including Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night), The Association, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders) and The Cowsills, have been touring together. The Happy Together 2023 tour kicked off in May in Florida, and when it’s finished, the musicians will have played 40 shows, including one at the Ryman Auditorium last August.
“These are all groups I grew up with and I just love all of their songs and their music,” says Mark. “The tour is just really fun, and at the end of the night, we do a finale. It's a memorable time for each of us, a spiritual thing. These are the people I will be with until the end of my life.”
To keep things fresh, the tour changes somewhat every year. “Bringing Little Anthony onto our tour this year has really given us a whole new kind of life,” he says. “He's not only a genuinely sweet man, but he participates in some of the goofiest things on the road.”
The tour draws many original fans, but the audience is comprised of people of all ages. “We see so many 16 to 21-year-olds who want to play and hear the music of The Turtles, the Beatles, Grand Funk Railroad and all the artists that are in our show,” says Mark. “Our songs cover the generational scope. We’re like a museum on tour. There’s a lot of love that takes place and it’s what Woodstock tried to do in terms of bringing relationships together.” There are now plans in the works for a Happy Together album.
While being on tour is never easy, Mark was faced with some extra challenges. In 2015, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had to go through grueling treatments in order to beat it. Then in 2020, he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, a condition that can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood.
“It's harder than I thought, but I have the greatest people around me,” he says. “Members of my band trail around to make sure I'm okay. I can’t thank them enough or my family. My kids call me every night when I’m on the road to make sure I'm OK. There's a lot going on in my brain, but I have a fun life. I'm really blessed and I can't let it get to me. I just have to keep working through it. We're already talking about next year's tour.”
Many people also remember Mark as Flo (short for Phlorescent Leech). With lifelong comic foil Howard Kaylan, Mark was Flo to his Eddie and the duo has been compared to a rock-era Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Along with his musical success, Mark is also very accomplished in the world of academia. At the age of 44, he began his pursuit of degrees that would allow him to become an assistant professor and chair of the Entertainment Industry Studies program in the Mike Curb School for Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University.
“Professors brought me in to talk about The Turtles and I was already doing other things at universities to fill my life with teaching others how to utilize their musical talent," he says. "It’s not going to go anywhere if they don’t make it happen, and they need to step into the business of being an artist. Learning all of those elements was a challenge for me.”
He adds, “I wanted to be able to help young singers, songwriters, publishers, and those in management with all of the things I was swamped with as an artist. After six years, I finally graduated with a bachelor's and master’s, doing everything that the school demanded I go through in order to teach. I even sang in the choir.”
For 12 years, he greatly enjoyed teaching and misses it. “But I can't do everything,” says Volman. “Now I want to do more creatively. I want to write and I have some ideas for film and television.”
Speaking of writing, Mark’s book, Happy Forever: My Musical Adventures With The Turtles, Frank Zappa, T. Rex, Flo & Eddie, and More, was published in June. Although it’s labeled as an autobiography, his life is mostly told through memories, anecdotes and reflections of over 100 of his friends, peers and family members. This impressive list includes members of the Doors, the E Street Band, The Monkees, and other major players in the world of radio, animation and academia. Underneath some of these reflections are responses, often humorous, by Volman. The book also includes never-before-seen photos, and forewords by Alice Cooper and Chris Hillman.
“I was so surprised that so many people wanted to be involved in the book, and there were times I almost didn't recognize the character they were writing about," says Volman. "He sounded like a really nice guy and I wanted to meet him. I felt like Sally Field at times, ‘They liked me! They really liked me!’ It was an interesting way to conceptualize the different ways that artists look at each other."
"Honestly, it took me 13 years to be able to put the final note on this book. At the end of each year, we came to a point where John Cody [who compiled the book with Mark] and I were going to review what we've created that year, but we weren't sure how to stop or when it was going to stop, so every year we just kept adding to it.”
This book has inspired him to work on another one. “It was just a magnificent experience for me and now I’m working to put together a book called Tales From the Road, which is stories about being on tour. "I’m finding a new way to create and I’m happy to see it unfold. I’ve got all these big plans. I've written some movies and there are kids’ shows I'd like to be a part of. I’m just going to take it one day at a time and see what God's plan is for me.”
When not creating, on tour, or writing books, Mark’s happy to hang out at his home in Franklin. “I really love the area. I love the city,” he says. “I love the people who are coming here. Happy together and happy forever is how it should be.”