The latest version of the Happy Together Tour brought some of the most well-known American pop stars of the 1960s and early ‘70s together for a medley of their biggest hits at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez on Thursday night.
Gary Lewis kicked off the show with a rendition of most of his first seven hits that charted in Billboard’s Top 10 in the early 1960s. His vocals were a little ruff, reflecting his near 67 years of age, but his good-natured personality shined bright during his banter with the audience.
During one anecdote, he told a story of how he had an amusing encounter with a female radio personality during an interview: “I am a big fan,” she said. “I am also a big fan of your father. I love Jerry Lee Lewis.” Many in the amused audience remembered that he was actually the son of comedian Jerry Lewis and responded gleefully.
The singer, who was originally the drummer for Gary Lewis and The Playboys, had his career cut short when he was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1967. By the time he returned, pop music had evolved away from the early Beatles-esque style that he played in.
The awesome video production, which is always part of a Chumash show, was bolstered with vintage footage of all the Happy Together performers in their heyday, which offered a nostalgic link to the past.
Mark Lindsay, best known as the lead singer in the 1960s pop favorite Paul Revere & The Raiders, gave a surprisingly strong showing as the next performer. The now septuagenarian singer had strong vocals and a spirited stage show, including Zulu-inspired kick dancing, nearly touching his forehead with his long, lanky legs.
He began the show in his trademark red coat, so familiar with fans of early music television shows like American Bandstand. He was the first performer of the night to bring the crowd to their feet.
Gary Puckett, also now in his 70s, took the stage next, singing his biggest hit songs form the 1960s that he had with his chart-topping band The Union Gap. In a crooning style reminiscent of Barry Manilow, his set had the most nostalgic effect on the females in the audience who came of age in the ‘60s. Many could be seen swooning and singing along in the audience.
Chuck Negron next brought the music of Three Dog Night to the stage, in the most spirited and emotional set of the night. That band, which featured the harmonies of Negron along with singers Danny Hutton and Cory Wells, was one of the most successful hit-making groups of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Negron, also in his 70s, still has a surprising singing voice considering his tumultuous life. The veteran singer at one point in his life went from being one of the most successful pop stars in the world to a homeless heroin addict living on the streets just a few short years later. He has since transformed himself into a reborn solo singer, with a bluesy style full of emotion and grit.
Negron also has local ties to the area. He moved from his native New York to Santa Maria to play college basketball on scholarship. He met Santa Ynez music producers who helped launch his musical career. He gave them a tearful shout-out during his spirited show Thursday night.
He evoked the biggest crowd reaction of the night with his rendition of some of Three Dog Night’s biggest hits.
The final act of the night featured the singing duo Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of Turtles fame. The Happy Together Tour is actually named after the album and song of the same name, that was one of the Turtles’ crowning achievements. The show features the band that Volman and Kaylan usually tour with, as the backing band for all the performers.
The pair of comedic singers began their set with a hilarious parody of the current disco hit “Gangnam Style,” complete with a disingenuous dance routine. The pair reinvented themselves in the 1970s from their happy-go-lucky Turtles persona in the ‘60s. In the ‘70s, they took on the pseudonyms of Flo & Eddie, when they joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. They released an album recorded with much of the Mothers of Invention band, and the experimental Zappa-style album became the launch pad for their new persona as comedic jazz-like minstrels parodying much of their past musical achievements.
Their show was greeted with warm approval from the appreciative audience.
The show’s finale featured all of the performers onstage together singing a medley of their biggest hits. It was accentuated with the customary opening of the front of the stage to exhilarated fans rushing to reach out to the performers and dancing in nostalgic glee.
It was a great night of music, a blast from the past with performers and audience members ending the evening happy together.
— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.