Many moons ago I found the courage to go public with my Strawberry Shortcake & Friends record collection and knick-knack fetish. Once I was out, flocks of secret Strawberry fans came out of their own closets to share rare specks of information about the series. I was thrilled to learn that Flo & Eddie (AKA Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, late of the Turtles) were responsible for my favorite Strawberry Shortcake albums.
It was an honor to get the chance to speak with Mark Volman about his experiences producing the Strawberry Shortcake & Friends records between 1980-83, and how he and Howard got involved in writing music for children.
*Scram*: Hello Mr. Volman. Thanks for talking with me! Just a few questions for you, if you don’t mind? Who started Kid Stuff Records? How did you and Howard get involved with them to make music for Strawberry Shortcake & Friends records? And where are the Kid Stuff record people now?
Mark Volman: The animators for the Frank Zappa film 200 Motels that we were involved with were doing the animation for the television shows The World of Strawberry Shortcake and Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City. They asked us to audition for the job of creating the soundtrack music via the company creating the Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, which was American Greetings. A production company out of Florida called Those Characters From Cleveland was producing records on the Kid Stuff Records label at the time. We pitched them our ideas and they bought them. We have no idea what is up with the label now. You know, you should make a good CD copy of all of those Strawberry Shortcake vinyl records you have, because who knows where the master tapes are?! We don’t own any of that stuff.
Scram: Your Strawberry Shortcake records are far superior to the other Strawberry Shortcake record productions. I want to know… why?
MV: Howard and I took on the Strawberry Shortcake & Friends job because our career has never been about inroads or about just one project, but about a series of various accomplishments. We wanted to go deeper than with just “ Happy Together,” and that’s why we used our real names on the credits of each Strawberry Shortcake record we made. Back then, children’s records weren’t really a respected medium and companies weren’t used to paying people for producing something slick for kids. We wanted to do something different with children’s records and provide positive messages. At the same time, we didn’t try to save money in our TV Show soundtrack recordings. We brought in the original voice of Strawberry Shortcake from the TV show and tried to keep all the other actors, and we charged Kid Stuff a lot of money to do that. Strawberry Shortcake was so popular in 1980-81 that a huge balloon of her led the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And they used our song on the float, the Strawberry Shortcake theme song from the TV show that goes “Who sleeps all night in a cake made of strawberry?” all the way down 5th Avenue! Making those records wasn’t easy; it was a challenge. We were confined by what the TV Shows had to give us. However, it opened up other opportunities. We sold five or six million copies of those Strawberry Shortcake records, and at a time when children’s music wasn’t fashionable! We wanted to try to make songs that kids would recognize, rhythms that would be familiar to kids even listening to them for the first time. We wanted to make songs that also just plain stood alone as good songs, regardless of if they were for kids or not—songs that a Turtles fan would love, yet always dealing with the age group we were creating for. Oh, and everyone has got to understand that nothing would have gotten accomplished on those Strawberry Shortcake records without John Hoier. He was our partner that owned Sun Swept Studios in Studio City, CA. That was the studio where we made all of our Strawberry Shortcake records. Everything was written, played, and sung by John, Howard and myself on those records.
Scram: I’m interested in your involvement with the cartoon TV show Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City. Did you guys write the soundtrack and the script for that?
MV: We had nothing to do with the scripts. They were all pre-written and we wrote songs to accompany the story. Howard acted as the voice of the Purple Pie Man on the records, but not on the TV show. We all acted as the Care Bears characters on the Care Bears records we produced, too.
Scram: Do you remember a particularly favorite song from any of the Strawberry Shortcake recordings? I really love the heavy Pink Floyd-ish “Big Apple City” song when Strawberry Shortcake is flying on the butterfly from Strawberryland to the city for the first time!
MV: All of the songs and records were fun to do, but I would have to say that “I Was Born To Disco” on Let’s Dance With Strawberry Shortcake is one of my favorites. Howard sang on that as the Purple Pie Man. That was a fun novelty disco record to do.
Scram: I thought the theremin you all used as the sound effect for the butterfly on The World Of Strawberry Shortcake soundtrack record was very innovative and cool! Was there a Strawberryland character that you took a shine to? The Southern belle Lemon Meringue? The little cat friend, Custard?
MV: Lemon Meringue, now, she was a cutie. But I really appreciated Strawberry Shortcake’s leadership skills. She is a real Pollyanna who sees the best through the worst of things. She’s like John Lennon. Strawberry Shortcake saw goodness in the Purple Pie Man. She’s a religious figure who understands the importance of Love Thy Neighbor. You either love that kind of person, or you hate them. Like John Denver. It’s all about positivity. Strawberryland couldn’t have existed without her. She was the center of the universe, a very enduring person to write music for. The Purple Pie Man was a real cad. Not bad, just unloved. He was misunderstood and raised badly. Strawberry Shortcake and The Purple Pie Man are the Yin/ Yang of their universe. Strawberry Shortcake music is very Rubber Soul for kids.
Scram: Okay, so what is your favorite flavor anyway? If you lived in Strawberryland, what flavor would you be? How about Howard?
MV: Anything having to do with lemons, that would be me. I’m “lemon flavored.” Howard is the Purple Pie Man. That’s who he is. The flavor of Purple Pie Man. You should know that we also made about four or five 7-inch G.I. Joe records for Kid Stuff. On those we wrote the story and script and came up with the characters. Deep war stories. The Sergeant Pepper of the genre out of all those Kid Stuff records was the G.I. Joe 7-inches. They were all full feature story-type records, not song based. John, Howard and I played all the characters.
Scram: Oh, man, I’m gonna comb the thrifts for GI Joe stuff now! Thanks for the tip. And thanks for your time. Good-bye!
MV: You can call me anytime. Bye!