Slow and Steady with Flo of Flo and Eddie

It's not the kind of complaint you'd expect from the mouth of a 51-year-old:

"I'm a little burned out on college right now," said Mark Volman.

And who can blame him? Six-and-a-half years earning a master's degree and a 3.9 grade point average is hard enough without having to book tours for your legendary rock band on the side.

That's how Volman, a founding member of The Turtles -- and later one-half of the Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention outre offshoot, Flo and Eddie -- worked his way through college, thirty-four years after graduating from Westchester High in Los Angeles with a 1.9 average, and a hit record (The Turtles' "It Ain't Me, Babe."

In May, the frizzy-haired guy Zappa once dubbed "The Phlorescent Leech" (later shortened to the more modest "Flo") will receive his master's degree in screenwriting (on top of a bachelor's in communication) from prestigious Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. What's more, he's been inducted into the rarified ranks of the Jesuit academic honors fraternity, Alpha Sigma Nu.

That's a long way from singing Zappa tunes like "Latex Solar Beef."

"I'm away from town with 'The Turtles, featuring Flo and Eddie' at least 150 days a year," said the ever-upbeat, talkative Volman, sounding exactly like Flo on the old Mothers albums. "While going to school for the past six-and-a- half years, I have continued to do 50-70 concerts a year, as well as manage the band on a day-to-day basis: putting together the touring, the travel. On top of that, I teach two college courses, while sometimes taking as many as 15 to 18 units per semester to finish my degree! You can't really poke around with that, because professors demand that the work be done -- no matter how old you are, or who you are."

Or even if they grew up humming your songs. Volman is, after all, destined for the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame (why haven't The Turtles been inducted yet?) Along with co-Turtle and lifelong friend Howard Kaylan (dubbed "Eddie" by Zappa, for some idiosyncratic reason), Volman sang such infectious, merry '60s pop tunes as "Happy Together," "Elenore," "You Baby," "She'd Rather Be With Me," "You Showed Me," and a host of others still selling well in Rhino Records repackages. All told, there were eight hit Turtles albums between '65 and '70, with songs written by then-unknown Warren Zevon, and The Byrds' Roger McGuinn, among others.

In 1970, Volman and Kaylan shocked Turtles fans by becoming the centerpiece of Zappa's reconfigured Mothers of Invention -- a bawdy, Vaudevillian incarnation of the group still much loved by Zappaphiles. The MOI albums, Live at the Fillmore East, 1970, and Just Another Band From L.A. , are among the more hilarious documents of that era in rock 'n roll history -- as is Zappa's surreal, life-on-the-road film 200 Motels , in which Volman and Kaylan starred.

After the Flo & Eddie version of the MOI split up in 1972, Volman and Kaylan went on to record five well-reviewed albums as a duo (the last, Rock Steady, was in 1981), work as deejays on KROQ in Los Angeles and WXRK in New York, and become among the most coveted back-up singers in the business. Their guest credentials include songs by Bruce Springsteen ("Hungry Heart"), The Psychedelic Furs, Ozzy Osbourne, The Ramones, T. Rex, Hoyt Axton, The Knack, Blondie, Duran Duran, Stephen Stills, Ray Manzarek, Roger McGuinn. In a bit of a stretch from the Zappa days, they have also written music for kiddie cartoon shows including "The Care Bears" and "Strawberry Shortcake." For the past fifteen years or so, they have toured the oldies circuit as "The Turtles, featuring Flo and Eddie."

And yes, you heard right, the guy who once warbled the grammatically challenged words, "I can't see me lovin' nobody but you" in "Happy Together" -- to say nothing of Zappa's "Penis Dimension" -- is now a credentialed, popular lecturer at two bonafide institutions of higher learning: Loyola, where he teaches "The Business of Music," and Los Angeles Valley College, where he presents "Introduction to the Music Bueinss." Not only that, but he's just been offered a year-long post at the University of Indiana at Bloomington.

It's enough to make a self-respecting rock star -- or stuffy academic -- blush.

"I want to help younger musicians avoid some of the stuff that we and so many bands went through," said Volman, reached at his West Los Angeles home. "When The Turtles made records, there was nothing like an entertainment attorney. I mean, I remember our first contract, in 1965. We were literally sitting in a court of law with our parents, because we were only eighteen years old. To sign our contract, we had to have our parents' approval!"

The judge, said Volman, twiddled his fingers atop a contract "at least two feet tall," then looked scornfully at the group's Beatle haircuts and declared, "If your parents are going to allow you to look the way you do, then I'm going to allow you to sign these contracts." Thus began nine years of legal horrors between The Turtles and White Whale Records, which had secured 100 percent of their publishing rights "before we'd written our first song!", among other coups. The contractural problems led to the original band's dissolution in 1970.

"I start my whole conversation in my classes with 'by the end of this class, there will be no reason for you ever to sign a contract without having surveyed the contract with an attorney.' I also tell them that if there's ever a time when they need consulting, they are welcome to call me."

Yes, Volman is on a mission to help young musicians learn from his mistakes. Yet his courses are not merely "look out, kids" monologues about The Turtles, and fellow bands he cited as hard-luck cases: The Leaves, Grass Roots, Family of Man, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Badfinger -- and others who signed away rights while, as Volman put it, "we were floating through a marijuana haze." The man's enthusiasm is matched by his encyclopedic knowledge of the music business, from what he termed the "Dark Ages" of the '60s to the many-headed, multi-media beast it has become in the 90s.

"In the '60s," he said, "we'd go into a rehearsal hall, learn three songs, cut them in the studio, the record company would put them out -- and not pay us! The rock and roll industry today is just that. It's a surviving industry that has made billions and billions of dollars, and it's lucrative in terms of making a living -- what with computers, Internet, film, and everything else. Preparing students for it has actually become an industry for universities now -- from USC to the University of Indiana. They're even teaching courses on international industry operation in relation to music publishing, and administering of copyright. It's amazing."

The Turtle said he returned to school to add academic credibility to his 37 years in music (and, in earning the master's, to learn a little about screenwriting, in the process.) "I just never felt," he confessed, "that I had done anything in terms of giving back, other than the music." His first plan -- to become a lawyer -- was abandoned when he found that practically anyone might qualify for the bar exam by taking mail-order courses. He wanted to knuckle down and really go back to school . Graduation day was a parents' dream; not only did the son get a degree, but he was named class valedictorian, to boot.

"Fortunately, my mom and dad both lived long enough to see me graduate," said Volman. "That was a tremendous, exciting day -- to give the class speech in front of 15,000 parents and students. Having CBS interviewing my dad, and having him say, 'I don't get this!'"

On bad days, Volman didn't "get it," either. He said he still struggles with vagaries of a middle-aged collegiate existence.

"It's been tough. Everyone figures that if you're coming back to school at your age -- I was 45 -- it's for fun ," said the father of two grown daughters, ages 31 and 24, adding, with a chuckle: "You know, during the day, when I walk around campus, I feel as young as everybody else. At night when I come home, I feel twice as old as I really am."

He looks back on those long-age years with the original Turtles with love, despite the legal hassles the broke up the group. Of working with the late Zappa, Volman remarked that although Flo and Eddie had to overcome a bit of a stigma after singing X-rated lyrics for a couple years, being a Mother of Invention was one of his greatest thrills: "Those eighteen months or so together on the road were like years, because we packed so much into them ... Frank Zappa was an absolute original, and his music will still be listened to and studied a hundred years into the future."

What of Volman's future? A PhD, perhaps?

"I'm going to be 52 this year!" he said. "And I'm not sure I want to spend another three or four years getting a PhD. I'm not sure it will make me any more money to pay off what I've already spent on college. I haven't been able to put together any scholarships for myself. They don't really have any old guy scholarships."

In other words, Mark Volman and his master's degree are perfectly ... happy together.

"I feel like I finally hit my stride," he said. "I love touring. I love teaching. People are still discovering The Turtles' music. Some people come to our shows, and say they're inspired by me to go back to school, and that's so gratifying. If I can spend the next third of my life devoting it to the combination of elements that I'm using now, it'll be great."

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