In mid-1960 Cliff Fortney hooked up with Rick Kennell and Mike Beck and began performing vocals, flute & harmonica with Zelda. The band had a real thirst for unusual music, especially since Cliff worked part time at a local record store. He and Rick were housemates and they would have their way – purchasing music with the weirdest looking album covers they could find. Much of the time, the music did not disappoint. After all, if the record sucked they could always take it back and exchange it for something else. This strategy worked like a charm and over the course of a few short months, they were turned on to an incredibly rich and diverse stable of amazing music. They discovered and fell in love with relatively obscure bands like Touch, Ekseption, Aorta, The Flock, and even grittier bands like The Litter, Spookytooth, Savage Grace and of course – the prog staples like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and Van Der Graff Generator, who incredibly, were not staples at all yet – remember this is 1969!
Zelda covered a few of these bands – and even wrote some of their own material, which definitely placed them in a special category in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Zelda became very successful on a local level and eventually became regional finalists in Billboard Magazine’s “Search For the New Sound” contest. Although they didn’t reach the brass ring the experience was invaluable and motivational.
Rick and Mike went on to the band Monolith while Cliff went on to sit in frequently with local heavyweights Ethos, who were eventually signed to Capitol, and were opening for what seemed like every hot act that came through town. The bassist and lead singer for Ethos was Dan Owen.
After Happy the Man, Cliff went on to cultivate a rich and diverse musical life. For one, Cliff was seriously considered as a replacement for Peter Gabriel after he left Genesis. I guess the decision of drummer Phil to step out front could never be labeled a bad one, but you always wonder what might have been. Directly after leaving Happy the Man, Cliff studied flute at Madison, worked as an accompanist for the Dance School, made the JMU symphony three years in a row and composed, produced and performed a number of pieces for plays and dance concerts. He moved to New York and worked with Alvin Ally, NYU and the YWCA as a classroom accompanist. He eventually graduated from James Madison in 1984 with a degree in psychology.
In 1993 Cliff moved to Indianapolis to hook up with Mike Beck’s band “Dogtalk”. They recorded two CD’s with Cliff who was featured on vocals, flute, penny whistle, harmonica, keyboards and percussion. Dog Talk was voted the best band in Indy by NUVO four years in a row. In 2002 French TV got in touch with Cliff and did a surprising remake of “Partly the State” – a song written by Cliff and released by Happy the Man on the “Beginnings” CD. The CD was well received by prog fans and critics alike.
Cliff’s studio seems to gather dust these days as his passion is playing his Yamaha acoustic piano. However, he is learning to play the bagpipes and taking a stab at the Yamaha WX7 wind synthesizer.