The Turtles were such a together bunch, when did it all turn sour; why did the group eventually break up? It might be attributed to Dave Krambeck. Back in 1967, the band were still going their merry way when Krambeck, their first road manager, suggested very strongly that The Turtles' manager, Bill Utley (who later went on to manage Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf) was "Screwing them over." In turn, Krambeck with much presumption, told Utley that the group didn't like him and didn't want him to be their manager. At the same time, Krambeck colluded with White Whale, who were more than willing to help get rid of the shrewd Utley in favor of someone (Krambeck) they could manipulate. Krambeck worked an agreement out with Utley, borrowed 550,000 of the Turtles' money from White Whale (unbeknownst to the band members themselves) and made the first installment payment to Bill.
What happens next is too involved and a bit too much of a downer to go into here. Briefly, Krambeck was in way over his head. He sold half his share to a New York management firm (again, unbeknownst to the band) and then disappeared to Mexico with the profit from the Turtles' current tour, and with Jim Pons' wife. Suffice to say, more managers followed, none effective. Utley sued the group for three and a half million dollars for breach of contract. (As he was never fully paid off, according to his contract, the Turtles management reverted back to him.) The New York firm launched another suit.
Here were these guys, barely out of their teens, these smart young men, launched into these troubled times. They wanted to express themselves, to acknowledge and deal with all that they were absorbing, but all White Whale wanted was another "Happy Together." This manifested itself initially when Howard, in a fit of disgust, wrote the mocking "Elenore," that became a huge hit because record buyers responded to the sincerity of his voice rather than really reading into the tongue-in-cheek lyrics. So, the Turtles gave White Whale two of their biggest hits (also "You Showed Me"), but they preferred to express themselves on the rest of the tracks of the Battle of the Bands album (which would have sold a lot better had the Turtles' dress- impersonations of the various groups - i.e. the psychedelically attired "Atomic Enchilada" - been on the outside of the cover instead of the picture of the group in tuxedos.)
Still the Turtles carried on, with millions of dollars in law suits hanging over their heads, and a despicable record company attempting to control their lives. The members had White Whale audited during a six-month period when the Turtles were selling lots of records. White Whale had accounted for $160,000 less than they should have. This complicated matters further. When the group was resting from touring or recording in Los Angeles, it was not uncommon for the members to be giving depositions in lawyers offices a few days a week. Toward the end. White Whale couldn't afford to pay the group the monies it owed them, and the whole weiqht became impossible for these kids from Westchester High to shoulder. Around this time John Barbata left to join fhe newly-formed Crosby, Stills and Nash.
John Seiter, who the Turtles used to hang out with on their frequent stays in Chicago, left Spanky and Our Gang to replace him. While the band gained an extra vocalist in Seiter, his laidback drumming dictated a looser style for the band (as a listen to their live medley of Turtles' hits from the "Miss Teen U.S.A." TV show will attest). The Beatles formed Apple, so the Turtles created "Blimp," a production company that signed Judy Sill and Pons old mates, the Leaves.
A bizarre benefit of the Turtles pop success was their brief embracement by the debutant crowd, the sons and daughters of the Fortune 500, and the accompanying scene. It all started with Tricia Nixon. She invited the Turtles - her favorite band - to perform at a White House party. The boys arrived, and quickly got their metronome stomped on by an overly zealous secret service man who let his frustrations out after discovering that there wasn't a ticking bomb mixed in with the drummer's equipment. It was a weird party. Kids with obvious SDS connections were passing out literature, while Tricia was dashing around with all the genuine charm of a Cinderella. Despite the fact that the tipsy Volman kept falling off the stage and was challenged by Pat Nugent because Mark was trying to pick-up on Lucy Baines Johnson, the Turtles were enough of a hit to be asked to play for the daughter of the president of U.S. Steel, at a coming out party in Burlingame, California. It was there that Howard went momentarily crackers. The Turtles ran through five of the group's biggest hits to almost no response; the socialites prefering to catch up on the latest gossip.
"Is this what I've worked all mv life to have hits and a career for, to knock myself out over this, so these little twerps can carry on about who's going out with who and where'd she get that cute little dress ...." All of the disillusionment, all of the problems with White Whale, the million dollar law suits hanging over their heads wherever they went, whatever they did .... It was festering for a long time, for everybody. Boom! Howard broke loose and started heaving all manner of lounge equipment and umbrellas into the pool. The group tried to cover tor him (could this be part of the "act?"), but it was obvious that Howard's actions had spoken for the whole band. In the traumatic meetings that followed, a more democratic - almost socialistic - period prevailed. The lead vocals and songwriting chores were shared among the members, to the detriment of their next album. The Kinks' Ray Davies was selected by the band to produce Turtle Soup.
Despite some worthwhile songs, the album suffered from the band's newly diffused personality, and yielded no real big hits. White Whale, which survived solely on Turtles hit singles, became even more distraught and demanding. The company wanted to fly Howard and Mark to Memphis to work with producer Chips Moman - who was hot with a string of hits by the Box Tops - to record over pre-recorded backing tracks. They found the idea repulsive, but not quite as revolting as having to record a salacious little ditty called "Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret."
Everyone in the band hated this consummately saccharine, pointless, contemptible pop song. They agreed to record the song solely to avoid an even more deteriorating political situation. The group's hand was forced. The record was released as a single and failed to make the charts. The Turtles were so disgusted over the whole affair, that they refused to finish the LP that they had been recording, Shell Shock, produced by Jerry Yester.
The completed album would probably have been among the Turtles very best. Kaylan and Volman fused to dominate the direction and songwriting, and Yester was an excellent producer. But what became quite clear was that no matter how good an album the Turtles could muster, no matter how innovative, how meaningful, White Whale just didn't care. If they wanted them to record contemptible fare like "Who Would Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret," why bother? The group gave up and the album was never completed. Some tracks were finished, however.
"We Ain't Gonna Party No More" was the group going full circle, back to the protest songs of their first album. Essentially an autobiographical anti-war song, it's determined, angry stance is juxtaposed with ironic, happy voices. The song was also a metaphor for the band's relationship with White Whale, which was a war of another sort: "We aren't gonna take it no more," the war in Vietnam, the war against White Whale.
"Goodbye Surprise," a Bonner-Gordon song, was recorded to be released as a single. AI Nichol's uncharacteristic, very loud guitar was progressive by Turtles standards, and marked a leaning toward a harder Turtles sound that was never fully realized. "There You Sit Lonely," was the first composition Volman ever wrote on the piano. Ill winds were still blowing when the diplomatic middle man, Jim Pons, persuaded Kaylan and Volman to record one last Turtles single, "Lady O." written by Judee Sill. Pons, John Beck (of the Leaves) and Bob Harris (Judee's husband, who was later brought into the Mothers by Howard and Mark) produced the record along with Henry Lewy. Howard sang lead, Mark the backups. Judee played the acoustic guitar, and a string quartet provided the backing. It was a gorgeous record. but White Whale was falling apart and it failed to generate much interest.
Although it was officially the Turtles last single release, White Whale continued to issue records without the group's consent. (The Turtles' version of "Eve of Destruction," culled from their very first album, even charted at 100 for a week in June 1970.) In addition to their problems with White Whale, the Turtles were faced with continuous law suits. image-conscious managers, and astronomical legal bills that drained most of the monies the Turtles ever made. There was oniy one alternative, break up the group. It was the only way to get out from under the whole mess, and appropriate a cleansing.
It was the toughest period Kaylan and Volman ever went through. Mark describes it as having a root canal that lasted five years. Here was this group that they'd lived with and grown up in for nearly ten years - the whole happy Turtles family - totally disintegrating. From having gone to high school with these guys, sleeping over each others houses as kids, drinking beer at 4 A.M. on Chalon Road by UCLA, all of this love, plunging into a morass of distrust, hate, and law suits (with ex-Turtles coming out of the woodwork). Mark and Howard, who'd built up this identity through all these years as the main voices of the Turtles, were enjoined from using their real names on records. The duo were depressed.
Prospects were bleak...
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