Monday, May 27, 2019

The Hits of the Happy Together Tour--Three Dog Night

Looking at the set list of the Happy Together Tour, it's easy to see all the titles and immediately know the artists who brought these songs to life on the radio and, if you were lucky enough to see them, in concert. Yet, for so many of the hits of the Happy Together Tour, none of the artists really are responsible for writing any of the songs that they made iconic. It is true, though, that the versions that American teenagers fell in love to hearing on the radio were not the versions recorded by the composers who wrote them. Imagine the joy of having written an amazing hit song, but never being the one to take it to the top of the charts? But when someone else breathes new life into your song, the product can be simply amazing. Sometimes you just have to know when to let go of a song so that someone else can make you a hit songwriter.

Twenty years ago, when Hoyt Axton passed away in 1999 at the age of 61, in an interview for the Los Angeles Times, it was written "Chuck Negron, former member of Three Dog Night, said he was saddened by Axton's death, adding that "thanks to Hoyt's genius, 'Joy' and its memorable opening lyric, 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog . . .' are arguably a part of Americana." Axton toured as Three Dog Night's opening act in 1969 and 1970, the story said. He wrote "Joy to the World" in 1971 and "Never Been to Spain" (Mama Told Me Not to Come) in 1972. Those are two million-sellers that Three Dog Night could thank him for. Back when they were hits, however, the band was not exactly in a thankful mood, as they were somersaulting through their career being impacted by their own poor decision-making skills, plus being led by people who they would come to view differently many years later, upon reflection. Axton's multitalented songwriter's compositions ranged from "Greenback Dollar" for the Kingston Trio as well as Steppenwolf's "The Pusher" in 1968. Hoyt's mother, Mae Axton, co-wrote "Heartbreak Hotel" for Elvis Presley. It ran in the family.

Here's Hoyt singing his composition, "Joy to the World":

Now, listen when Chuck Negron sang it:

Same song, right? But, sometimes, with the right artist, there's a difference between a songwriter creating a beautiful melody with brilliant lyrics that only "interpretation by someone else" brings special qualities of the song to light. Naturally, the version of the song that Three Dog Night put out on singles and their albums was a lot like Hoyt's--full of energy, bouncy fun, and a humorous song.

But Chuck's version from two years ago, though not flawless, reflects the powerful impact of the song on the audience. Every single one of the people gathered there knew the words, the melody, and they sang along with the artist, at his invitation. The audience experience of a Happy Together Tour provides that kind of environment. They're "Your Songs," the ones you grew up to, and it's your almost right, when invited, to join in all the fun.

Another of Chuck's signature tunes is Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming," with some of the most complex and enchanting lyrics that make little to no sense, but we all sing along with them anyway, when we hear the song on the radio, right?

Imagine in your head how you hear the opening "Eli's Coming" and the organ swelling, and after the "you'd better hide your loving heart" warning, the song explodes into sheer energy. Featured on the album "Suitable for Framing," the Three Dog Night version is definitely a power ballad and you remember the voice of Cory Wells on it, as the story goes that Chuck thought it would be a good song for Cory to sing.

And, in concert these days, the way Chuck Negron sings it, unquestionably it's a power ballad. Here's a sample:

And yet, composer Laura Nyro sang it on her album "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession" with such a soft, high voice opening that you might have picked the needle up off the vinyl before hearing it out. Not long into the song, produced in multiple changing rhythms that you're sitting there shaking your head, wondering what you just heard, but then the song wanders into another new syncopation with multiple vocal overlays.

The fact remains that Hoyt Axton and Laura Nyro left behind amazing songs that we enjoy some 50 years after they were contemporary radio hits. Their lives were over too soon, but fortunately we still know them and their work because talented classic rock artists are still very much in demand today to bring these songs to life again, night after night after night.

And so the music plays on...

Rehearsing for The Happy Together Tour 2019

As of this date, there are 53 Happy Together Concert performances for the 2019. First up is State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on Wednesday, May 29th, but before the tour begins, you're looking at six different musical acts, a single backing band to keep up with all their songs, and then introductions of each group plus the evening's finale where everyone is on stage to sing. And you need the show producer who puts all these details together bringing the shows to your hometown. The producers are formally known as Flower Power Concerts, Inc., but that's actually the brainchild of Toby Ludwig and Ron Hausfeld. They're the same fellas who are behind several nationally popular tours, including "Hippiefest," "Rock the Yacht" Tour, "Happy Together" Tour and the soon-to-launch "It Was Fifty Years Ago Today" Tour.

Although many of these artists have been on tour together before in previous tour configurations, the magic just doesn't happen when the band starts playing. It's a matter of getting together early before the tour and rehearsing. That's a part of the touring world the audience doesn't get to see, but it's all made easier as Mark Volman (The Turtles, aka "Flo" of Flo & Eddie) is the consummate showman and ringmaster (with or without the top hat, you never know), who puts everyone at ease with his wild sense of humor.

The Next Phase Sound Studio in Farmingdale, New York was chosen as the tour's rehearsal site for Monday, May 27 and Tuesday, May 28.

They have many studio rooms available for rehearsal, plus they have a huge sound stage that's perfect for rehearsing this giant concert. This year's lineup includes:

The Turtles

Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night)

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap

The Buckinghams

The Classics IV

The Cowsills

Traditionally until 2017, The Turtles were always Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. Three years ago, Howard ran into some medical problems that kept him off the road since then, but Mark always reminds the audience of Howard, noting that he's missed and it's hoped he can rejoin in a future tour. In his stead is Ron Dante, a recording artist and respected music producer whose versatile voice allows him to blend in exactly as whomever he needs to. Specifically, he can sing Howard's notes perfectly and The Turtles' songs still sound authentic.

You may remember Ron as the male voice of "The Archies" song ("Sugar Sugar"), with Toni Wine as female lead, on radio and television. Ron is also the uncredited lead singer of The Cuff Links, whose hit "Tracy" is well known by many as well. So, this is the third year pairing Mark Volman with Ron Dante. Ron will also sing some of his music of The Archies, including "Jingle Jangle" (also recorded with Toni Wine). Then get ready for all the music of The Turtles, as Ron and Mark sing all the hits, including "Elenor," "You Baby," and "It Ain't Me Babe."

Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night, is a veteran of many HTT tours. His unmistakable voice is heard on so many of Three Dog Night's hits yet the audience always has a hard time choosing which of his songs is their specific favorite. One song that's always guaranteed to get the audience singing along has to be "Joy to the World," that great Hoyt Axton tune from a very versatile songwriter. Hoyt also wrote their hit, "Never Been to Spain" as well.

Carl Giammarese, founding member, lead vocalist and guitarist for The Buckinghams and Nick Fortuna, founding member, bass player and vocalist, return in 2019 for the 10th anniversary of the 2010 25th anniversary of the Happy Together Tour. They could have called it the 35th anniversary of the Happy Together Tour (1984-2019), but that might complicate the math. Anyway, it's the anniversary of the anniversary and from "Kind of a Drag" to "Don't You Care," the audience loves to sing "I love you, yes I do, I do" when Carl sings "Susan." Count on hearing "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)."

The Classics IV are represented by lead singer since 2007Tom Garrett, and Paul Weddle on saxophone. Tom sings so many of their one-word massive chart hits, "Spooky," "Stormy," and "Traces." They had plenty of other hits with songs with more than one word, too, sharing songs so many teenagers fell in love to.

Gary Puckett brings his signature hits including "Young Girl," "This Girl is a Woman Now," "Lady Willpower," "Woman Woman," and "Over You," which includes the memorable lyrics: "Why am I losin' sleep over you? Relivin' precious moments we knew? So many days have gone by, Still I'm so lonely, and I, Guess there's just no getting over you, And there's nothin' I can do, Wastin' all of my time, all of my mind over you." The audience will join in on "Guess there's just no getting" without your even asking them to. And Gary graciously loves it when audiences sing.

But for so many of these amazing musical talents on the Happy Together Tour, when they tour separately around the country, they generally have a full band of sidemen with them. For example, Gary Puckett has his "Union Gap" band, The Buckinghams have three very talented sidemen, and The Cowsills actually have more family members who tour with them, including Susan's husband, Russ Broussard, but the configuration for the HTT includes Bob Cowsill, Paul Cowsill and Susan Cowsill, with their amazing familial harmony bringing you right back to "Indian Lakes," "Hair," and "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things" in the blink of an eye.

Now, there's one backing band to keep up with all the music of the Happy Together Tour. They're touring professionals, and two of them are longtime veterans of this tour. Musical contractor, guitarist, and vocalist Godfrey Townsend is the man with a plan. Manny Focarazzo on keyboards and vocals has been part of the tour for a very long time. Joining more recently are Chris Camilleri on drums and Barry Waller on bass.

You can't have a tour without sound mixing, lights, and the monitors comprising the Front of House engineer duties. J. C. Girardier is in charge of the FOH and Josh Lampert handles the monitors. You don't see them often, but they are the MVPs of the show. They put the hidden magic behind making everything sound so good that you can hear all the vocalists, the instruments, plus you don't have to wear earplugs as you would if you were at other concert venues (and you know you've had that happen before!).

Once the groups all arrived in Farmingdale, the rehearsals went very smoothly as the full group had a chance to put the plan into action. After two days of rehearsals, the band traveled 69 miles from Farmingdale, NY to New Brunswick, NJ for the tour opening on Wednesday, May 29th at the historic State Theatre.