Interview: The ‘Happy Together’ tour kicks off in Clearwater, and ex- Archie Ron Dante is living the dream

Mr. 'Sugar Sugar' sings leads for The Turtles at Ruth Eckerd Hall next Wednesday.

click to enlarge Ron Dante - Dave Kapp
Dave Kapp
Ron Dante
If you’ve never heard “Sugar, Sugar” by fictional bubblegum pop outfit The Archies, you probably live under a rock.

But Ron Dante—who provided lead vocals for most tracks from the “band” featured on the 17-episode “Archie Show” in the late ‘60s—almost had a different path to walk.

He auditioned for The Monkees in 1965 as a longtime employee and friend of Don Kirshner—who supervised the band for a good chunk of its made-for-TV era—and while west coast producers went with Davy Jones instead, Dante admitted that the late Manchester Cowboy was the perfect choice.

“Davy made the group really popular, him and Micky Dolenz,” he told Creative Loafing Tampa during a recent phone call.
Event Details

Happy Together Tour: The Turtles w/Little Anthony/more

Wed., May 31, 5 p.m.

Ruth Eckerd Hall 1111 McMullen Booth Rd., Clearwater Clearwater

A common misconception was that Davy, Peter, Mike, and Micky were total hacks and not real musicians, but staunch fans know damn well that the boys fought tooth and nail to make and release their own content, on their own terms. They won that fight against Kirshner in 1967—leading to the creation of their Headquarters album—but Dante admitted that if he had actually been a Monkee, he would not have fought for the band’s independence.

Not that he hates the direction the band went in, but he had full faith in his executive friend’s ways.

“Donny [Kirshner] knew what he was doing musically for that group. Nobody in the group had really done anything like what he had done, in terms of choosing hit songs, hit producers, and stuff,” he explained. “Even Davy Jones kinda leaned towards Donny’s ideas of how it should go. I probably would not have rebelled.”

But while he never did get to Monkee around, Dante would still maintain a major presence on late-‘60s television. He sang on jingles for Pepsi Cola and Almond Joy—just to name a couple—and after doing “The Archie Show” with Toni Wine, he sang in the titular group for all 16 episodes of “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan” in 1972.
Another major break—on another side of the music business—came when he met Barry Manilow in the early 1970s at an audition for a jingle written by the future Mr. “Copacabana.” They became quick friends, and as a result, Dante ended up co-producing Manilow’s first seven studio albums, including the critically-acclaimed Even Now album, which he describes as their magnum opus as a duo. “On that one, everything came together so smoothly. Great songs, we had the production team down, the studio, the musicians, the arrangers, and I oversaw everything,” Dante explained.

And while he loves being behind the mic, Dante admitted that he feels more at home behind the console. He likes having that larger role in studio usage, musicians, and even selling a record once it’s complete. Although a lot of the time, he took on double duty. “A lot of the background [vocals] are just Barry Manilow and myself doubling our voice. Even on ‘I Write The Songs,’ it sounds like a choir. It's really just Barry Manilow and I multi-tracking our voices 30 times to give that great sound behind him,” he recalled.

Dante hasn’t worked with Manilow for over 40 years, but remains very true to his generation. While not heavily invested in Archie culture these days, he appreciates—without obsession—“Riverdale,” which runs its final season on the CW this summer. He wishes he could have produced for Barbra Streisand, but now, Dante is co-fronting The Turtles.

Following a plethora of health issues in 2018, founding member Howard Kaylan had to step away from the band seemingly forever, and after a year or so opening the tour with his solo set, Mark Volman—the other surviving Turtle still in the band—personally asked Dante to fill in for his buddy. “I jumped at that because I knew I’d get to sing ‘Happy Together’ every night,” he said.
While he misses doing his solo set—a 25-minute retrospective with jingles, and a few selections from The Archies and his other band, the Cuff Links—Dante is also pleased that Mark Volman won’t let Archie Andrews die. Ever since the two joined forces, “Sugar Sugar” has been a part of The Turtles’ set, and this year, further proving Dante as a non-TV-exclusive, Volman is totally cool with throwing “Tracy”—a Cuff Links hit from 1969—into the setlist.

The two headline the kickoff to the annual Happy Together tour at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Wednesday, May 31, which also features sets from Little Anthony, The Vogues, The Classics IV, The Cowsills, and Clearwater resident Gary Puckett, with the Union Gap.

Tickets to the Happy Together tour at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Wednesday, May 31 are still available and start at $40.

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About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.
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