Saved by the cowbell: Mark Volman of Sixties rockers the Turtles is now a Christian professor

Saved by the cowbell: Mark Volman of Sixties rockers the Turtles is now a Christian professor April 4, 2013

Backstage at the Bottom Line, NYC, with Howard “Eddie” Kaylan (left) and Mark “Flo” Volman, New Year’s Eve, probably 1990

This Judaism-to-Sixties-rock-to-Christianity-to-academia life path is contagious! I just learned with joy that one of my favorite musicians from the 1960s is now a Christian, active as a youth minister in his local church, and is a professor at a Christian college in Nashville.

Mark Volman was born in 1947 to a Jewish father and Catholic mother. He has said that what he learned of those faiths he learned from his grandparents. His father’s parents brought him to High Holy Day services, while his Catholic grandmother, who cared for him during the school week when he was in junior high, tried to bring him into her Catholic faith. Neither faith stuck, although (as you’ll see in the quotes below) he did gain a moral sense that stayed with him through his ups and downs in the world of rock stardom.

In the 1960s, Volman became famous worldwide with the Turtles. Here he is (in glasses) with them singing background and playing tambourine on the great P.F. Sloan composition “You Baby” in 1965:

Here he is doing everything with a French horn except actually play it, as the Turtles perform their greatest song—and a good candidate for the best pop song ever—the Bonner and Gordon tune “Happy Together”:

And here he is on tambourine, doing what came to be his trademark clowning with the group’s lead singer, Howard Kaylan, as they perform another Bonner-Gordon song, “She’d Rather Be with Me,” on Ed Sullivan—one of the great cowbell hits:

Although Mark and Howard, as Flo and Eddie, enjoyed some years touring with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, the Turtles’ own saga didn’t end well, as the two singers explained in a classic sequence for their 1991 documentary that presages Mark’s professorial skills:

I adored the Turtles when I was a rock historian in the late 1980s through the 1990s, seeing their legendary New Year’s Eve Show at New York City’s Bottom Line whenever I could afford it. But I lost track of them when they took a break in the mid-’90s, and haven’t kept up with music-word doings since my conversion. So it was awesome to learn yesterday that Mark went back to school at the age of 44; got baptized in 1998, two years before me; and is now an assistant professor and coordinator of the Entertainment Industry Studies program at Nashville’s Belmont University. He has a website called Ask Professor Flo, and speaks openly about his Christian faith (he and his wife attend a Presbyterian church). In 2007 he spoke with a reporter about his faith journey:

On how he avoided the fate of friends who overdosed on drugs: “I was in the same bus as a lot of those guys. I think that we came out differently on the other end because of what we had already had put inside us, by our parents or our grandparents. By our moral fiber that is [already] in there. That’s God, right? I mean, whatever you want to call it. Our moral issues, our religious backgrounds … I think [of] everything that my grandparents did; that Jewish/Catholic upbringing in some way brought me to where I’m at today.”

On how he lives his faith today: “Everybody has a different way of saying ‘I’m a Christian,’ and the things you do that make you a Christian. One of the things it says in the Bible – I’m not going to sit here and quote the Bible – but I am gonna say, if you make your commitment to being a Christian, you need to be with Christian people. And you need to be learning the word of God, reading the Bible, and sharing the word of God, talking about it with other Christians, so that it helps you connect. And that’s something that I do on a regular basis. I’ve lead Bible studies. I go to Bible studies.”

On why he felt moved to do youth ministry: “It’s very important. That’s why my wife and I are working with the high school kids at our church every Sunday night, going on mission trips, and rafting trips, and being a part of their day-to-day life so that when they look back and they’re married and have kids – they might not have known who I was – but they’ll go ‘we had this guy there, and he was like, in the Turtles, and yet here he was every Sunday night at youth group, talking in Bible study, talking about the parables of Matthew, Mark … and so forth.'”

Read the entire interview, and join me in thanking the Lord that the Mystical Body now has MORE COWBELL!

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