1996 – Don Murray (Turtles) dies…

 Don Murray of the Turtles

1996 – Don Murray (Turtles) dies this day in rock history!

Murray became popular playing high school dances as “Don Murray & The Crossfires”.

A year later the Crossfires became the Turtles, they had troubles playing at most SoCal venues like the Whiskey A Go Go, Troubadores,etc because all members of the band were under 21.

Don married his high school sweetheart Kathy Knuntz as the band hit the big time, they soon had a daughter, Jenny.

The band opened for larger “British Invasion” bands at first, like Hermins Hermitts, Peter & Gordon,etc before finally getting into “around the country[USA]touring that summer.

Murray once said of Peter & Gordon, “they thought London was the bloodly capital of the world”.

While in NYC, they starred at the Phone Booth, met Dylan, whose song “Ain’t Me Babe” was their first big hit.

Murray was always cheered loudest by the fans and a few of the members, mainly Kaylen and Volman thought “Don thinks this is still his high school band”, a meeting in NYC in their hotel room, Murray was fired.

“You Baby” came out just about that time and the Turtles went from a cool band to a pop band overnight. Their stupid contracts kept them playing corny songs written for bubble gum’rs and the band, though turning out several more popular tunes, hated what they were doing and the writing was on the wall.

Murray grew up in Inglewood, California and started playing drums at the age of 15. He was a founding member of “The Crossfires”, which eventually became The Turtles. He left the band in 1967, at least partly because of their heaving touring schedule.

He was admitted to a hospital in January 1996 for ulcer surgery, and died two months later from post-operative complications.

Murray’s daughter, Jennifer, attended Lampson Jr. High School in Garden Grove, CA from 1979-81 (comedian Steve Martin also attended Lampson Jr High, many years earlier). Jennifer was an attractive young lady with much chutzpa and musical talent. She had a beautiful singing voice and participated in the school choir.
The Turtles were an American pop, psychedelic and folk rock band, defined by a good-natured, joyously melancholic and occasionally cheeky sound. A precursor to the bubblegum pop of the late 1960s and a foil to the more self-consciously hip and “serious” acts of the era, the Turtles produced at least a dozen memorable, radio-friendly chart singles but remain best known for 1967’s “Happy Together”.

At the start of 1967 a heavy touring schedule combined with a lack of recent chart success convinced drummer Don Murray and then bassist Chuck Portz to quit the group. They were replaced by Joel Larson and then John Barbata on drums, and by Chip Douglas on bass. It occurred to the band that for eight months they had been performing a certain song on stage that, while moderately popular with the fans, had yet to be recorded. The first of several key Turtles singles co-written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, “Happy Together” seemed almost a parody of itself, and had already been rejected by countless performers. “Happy Together,” both their biggest hit and their signature song, signaled a turning point for the Turtles and for Chip Douglas, who provided the arrangement. With its incessant and infectious guitar riff, addictive chorus and backing vocals, simple drum and organ parts, and even an oboe playing along during the second chorus, “Happy Together” is perhaps the quintessential example of fresh, feel-good 1960s American pop despite its somewhat ironical tone and the fact that its verses are in a minor key. The single replaced the the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1967. Their only number one, it remained at the top for three weeks. An album of the same name followed and peaked at number 25.

Impressed by Chip Douglas’s studio arrangements, Monkee Michael Nesmith approached him after a Turtles show at the Whisky a Go Go and invited him to become the Monkees’ new producer, as that band wanted to break out of their “manufactured” studio mold. Douglas accepted, left the Turtles and was replaced by bassist/singer Jim Pons. 1967 proved to be the Turtles’ most successful year in the charts. “She’d Rather Be With Me” reached number 3 on the US charts in late spring and actually out-charted “Happy Together” overseas. Two successive top-15 gems followed: the singularly lush and pretty ballad “You Know What I Mean” and the playfully psychedelic and gleefully adolescent “She’s My Girl”. Both 45s signaled a certain shift in the band’s style. Golden Hits was released later that year, charting in the top 10. (The album covers for Golden Hits and its follow up Golden Hits Vol 2 were designed by Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean fame and his company, Kittyhawk Graphics.)

1968 started without a bang. The first two singles, “Sound Asleep” and “The Story of Rock and Roll”, stalled somewhere in the middle of the top 100. The band’s fortunes changed when now hugely successful Monkees producer Chip Douglas returned to work with them in the studio. Late in 1968 the Turtles released a concept album called The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, in which the group pretended to be eleven different bands (with names like ‘The Bigg Brothers’, ‘Nature’s Children’, ‘The US Teens featuring Raoul’, and ‘The Fabulous Dawgs’), each with a song in a different genre. The album yielded two distinctive singles: “Elenore” and “You Showed Me” (both peaking at number six). The blissful-sounding “Elenore” is likely the only Top Ten single to contain the words et cetera in its lyrics, and allegedly was the band’s tongue-in-cheek response to White Whale’s demands for more songs like “Happy Together”. (Howard Kaylan confirmed this account in a live interview on XM Radio’s 60s channel on March 3, 2007.) The breathy-trippy 1969 hit “You Showed Me” was written by Byrds members Gene Clark and Roger (then Jim) McGuinn in 1964. Television appearances in 1968 include a February 26 visit to The Mike Douglas Show, to which they returned in April 1969.

Kaylan and Volman resisted White Whale’s efforts to turn the Turtles into something more like an assembly-line-style pop act — the label apparently encouraged Kaylan and Volman to fire the rest of the band, tour with hired musicians, and make records by adding their vocals to backing tracks recorded by Memphis session players. Such pressure did convince the band to record a single called “Who Would Ever Think That I Would Ever Marry Margaret” (which they totally disowned after its release). But the duo’s adherence to their own vision ultimately resulted in the 1969 release Turtle Soup, a critically well-received LP produced by Ray Davies of The Kinks. Inspired by the revered 1968 concept album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, this was Davies’s only ever production work for another band. Kaylan and Volman insisted the whole band share in the writing and singing. Notable tracks include the ethereal and introspective “Somewhere Friday Nite” and the rather failed single “Love in the City”. In spite of Turtle Soup’s positive reception from the music press, its commercial success was marginal and the band soon began disintegrating.

The Turtles wound down their career with a B-sides and rarities album, Wooden Head (1969), and a second compilation album, More Golden Hits (1970). With the demise of The Turtles, White Whale Records was left with few, if any, commercially viable bands, and ceased operation.

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