RECORD COLLECTOR NEWS
SERVING RECORD COLLECTORS WORLDWIDE AND BEYOND



Books

May 8, 2013

Shell Shocked

TheTurtles

Howard Kaylan Of The Turtles, Flo and Eddie and The Mothers of Invention, Shares Memories Of A Storied Life In Rock Music In His New Autobiography

By Harvey Kubernik

I

n his just published memoir, Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. (Backbeat Books), written with music journalist and author Jeff Tamarkin, Howard Kaylan, one of rock’s best-ever singers, now based in Seattle, Washington, writes the joyous story of his nearly five decades in the rock ‘n’ roll circus. With a book cover designed by Cal Schenkel, who was responsible for the art and design of many of Zappa’s album covers, Kaylan’s memoir Shell Shocked is truly a candid and absorbing non-cautionary tale and rock ‘n’ toll saga as descriptive and telling as his vocal audio fingerprints over our vinyl collection and CD racks.

Howard Kaylan, formerly Kaplan, born in June 1947 in New York City, moved with his family at age ten to Southern California, first stop Panorama City, then Culver City and finally Westchester, just in time for the surf music frenzy of the early ’60s.

His first band, while attending Westchester High School was the Crossfires, who played instrumental music, but the physical and commercial arrival of the Beatles in 1964 encouraged a change of focus and band goals. Howard’s undeniable vocal abilities made him the obvious choice to be the front man when the Crossfires evolved into the Turtles.

“The best part about life is the shit you don’t see coming.” —Howard Kaylan

Kaylan penned and sang the Turtles cinematic “Somewhere Friday Night,” but he is destined to be remembered for singing the Turtles’ 1967 #1 smash hit “Happy Together.” In 1999, that recording was named by BMI as one of the top 50 songs of the 20th century, garnering over 5 million radio plays. Other poptastic Kaylan vocals can be heard on best-selling hits by the Turtles, including “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “You Baby,” “Let Me Be,“ “You Showed Me,” “She’s My Girl,” “Elenore” and “She’d Rather Be With Me.”

Another treat for the ears is Kaylan’s lead assignment on the Harry Nilsson-written “The Story of Rock and Roll.”

“Howard Kaylan has a cry in his voice like Gene Pitney,” suggests Chip Douglas, former Turtles bassist and Monkees’ record producer.

After the Turtles disbanded in the very early seventies and Kaylan, along with band principal, Mark Volman, became core members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, performing and recording under the names Flo and Eddie. They appeared on four Mothers of Invention albums and in Zappa’s theatrical feature film 200 Motels.

As background vocalists, Howard and Mark are heard on a slew of recordings by Alice Cooper, T-Rex, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, Blondie, Duran Duran, the Psychedelic Furs and 90 other studio dates.

Following their tenure with Zappa, Kaylan and vocalist Mark Volman went off on their own, billing themselves at first the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, and then just Flo and Eddie, until reclaiming the Turtles name over 20 years ago.

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Howard Kaylan’s entry into professional music and he’s still out on the road with Mark singing their hits to an adoring multi-generational throng of fans and record geeks.

This June Kaylan and Volman continue to celebrate the music of the sixties with their “Happy Together” tour that runs through October. The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Chuck Negron, formerly of Three Dog Night, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Mark Lindsay, former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders and Gary Lewis & the Playboys will be doing 50 scheduled dates in the U.S. and Canada.

Fillmore East '68 Marquee

Fillmore East marquee, New York, NY.

HOWARD KAYLAN INTERVIEW

In April 2013, Southern California music historian and author Harvey Kubernik conducted a two-hour phone interview with his longtime friend Howard Kaylan in Seattle, Washington.

Kubernik first saw the Turtles perform in 1967, and subsequently interviewed Kaylan and partner Mark Volman in 1977.

In 1962 Kubernik first encountered nearby Westchester resident Kaylan in Culver City, California inside the long forgotten Airport Village fast food eatery in the 19-cent tacos line.

“And I’ll have a burger and a slice. $.38! That’s highway robbery!” recalled Kaylan in March of 2013. “This is why Volman and I were fat kids — damned Airport Village. I got fat in Westchester and then got skinny in Hollywood.”

Q: How did your autobiography come together?
A: It was pretty quickly when it finally came together. I actually had four chapters of the book that I had written about a year and a half ago when I thought the title was going to be, How Not To Be Me. And it was a how to, or how to not book for parents whose kids were obsessed with the music business and who kept telling them, as I did to my parents, “I don’t want to do anything else. This is all I want to do.”

I actually had four chapters of the book that I had written about a year and a half ago when I thought the title was going to be, “How Not To Be Me.”

“So this was a primer for them to notice these traits in their kids and to either work around it or to help their kids follow their dreams. At the end of every chapter there was a paragraph or two about what they should do about the situation. And then another paragraph or two of what I did at this point, my situation and how to better my life. I had four chapters. I re-read it and there was something wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew, as in the case of recording and touring, I work way better under pressure. When I’ve got somebody yelling at me and I’ve got a deadline with a check in my hand that I’ve already cashed, magical things happen after an advance. I can think clearer. My fingers work better. I’m a much better typist after an advance. So all of a sudden that loomed large. I didn’t have anybody to do that.

Shell Shocked cover“I spoke to (writer/author) Jeff Tamarkin about an update of what I was doing now. That had bizarre and long lasting implications. He asked me also about the so-called book and if I intended to finish it. And I told him I was having some difficulty to finish it and needed someone to kick my ass with it. ‘Hey. You’re one of those guys, Jeff. You can do that with me. You can help me put this book together and help me stay on course. And call me every day when I didn’t send in pages and ride my ass until this thing was done.’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’

“And Jeff loves west coast music. He wrote a book about Jefferson Airplane. Very few east coast people have a west coast thing going. Jeff came along at the right time and the right place and agreed. I sent him the four chapters. “We’ve got a book here if you take away all of this parental stuff.” His agent brought it to a publisher. That was wonderful because I didn’t have to have an agent.

Q: You’ve kept diaries I know going back to the late sixties. Did they help?
A: Yes, but not at this point. I knew what I wanted to say and the main points of the book were already outlined. There were nine pages of just bullet points. Like ‘White House.’ So when he got those pages along with the first four incomplete chapters, he started going through and asking me questions before I started writing. ‘The White House?’ Getting high doing cocaine off Abraham Lincoln’s desk in the White House (when the Turtles performed in 1969 at the request of President Nixon’s daughter Tricia). ‘What? Tell me that story.’ I told him and he said, “this is the chapter we need to get the deal.’

“It was either going to be that chapter or one of the Zappa chapters. And he thought this had more universal appeal and then he said, ‘All you have to give me is the greatest opening line since Moby Dick. OK. So I came up with a preposterous opening line about snorting coke on Abe’s desk that has been quoted already quite frequently. It was true. Well I thought it was going to be incendiary. Because, I mean, look what I was saying and look where I was doing it. This was kind of an anti-American act if you think about it. No. Time heals all wounds or something. And nobody so far has ever given me any static about that, or said, “what were you thinking of?’

“There was not going to be any white washing in this book. I couldn’t do it. After the parental text was removed in the How Not To Be Me book concept, And I was gonna save all the juicy stuff until later. But later, I’m gonna be 66 in June, this is later. So all of that parental stuff all went out the window and I realized the book I intended to write at the age of 50 and the book I intended to write at the age 70 were one and the same and I better get my shit together.

“I didn’t need to refer back to my diaries until later when I got to the eighties. The specifics of the eighties. What cartoon Mark and I were working on, what were we doing at Herb Cohen’s office when we were working on ‘Miss Universe.’ It was an unsettling time of children’s music and alternative vocations and writing for The Los Angeles Free Press. And it was a lot of craziness that didn’t particularly fall on to a day of reckoning.

“This was my last shot to set the record straight on this planet and to get things off my chest. If there are repercussions, let them come.

Q: Were you always a good writer? Years ago your music columns with Mark were always insightful and funny. In the mid-sixties you had a full ride scholarship to UCLA. From reading your book it appears writing came easy.
A: Yes it did. But I was always scared to write a book because I thought that I would be watering down my path a little bit. I thought it was sort of a pompous thing to do as a rocker. I just wanted to see if I had it in me to write prose and not just rhyme. I didn’t want to write songs or a movie. This was my book and what I had to get off my chest. It’s written in a style that makes it easy to read. I just wanted it to be conversational. I just wanted it to feel like I was in the room talking to you and not like you are reading what I was trying to say. I didn’t even want to speak the thing into a tape recorder. Because I thought because I didn’t have a real audience in front of me it was going to be strained and stupid. If I typed it myself by the time the thoughts reached my fingers I would have self-edited to the point that nothing would make the page that I was not happy with. There really wasn’t a lot that we threw out in this book. I think at the most, Jeff took out maybe 10 or 15 pages of just ephemera. ‘And then I went over to Brian Wilson’s house. Then to Danny Hutton’s place. And then we did. Then we got high. A lot of that shit. Living in (Laurel) Canyon going over to (Warren) Zevon’s taking acid,’ doing that stuff that after a while got repetitious to the point in the latter sixties I was doing it. And especially in the eighties staying up all night writing terrible songs doing stupid hard work for a kid’s show.

I just wanted to see if I had it in me to write prose and not just rhyme. This was my book and what I had to get off my chest.

Q: What was it like examining yourself over 65 years, especially since 1965 after you had a hit record around your student life at UCLA? You were a DJ then on the campus station KBRU. I don’t think you have changed much. That’s why there is such clarity and subject specific memory in your book.
A: There’s nothing to change. I wasn’t unhappy with that kid. I don’t hold grudges or focus on the getting fucked thing. Why? Because it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. I mean, let’s not be crazy about this. If I were a scholar, a soldier or anybody who mattered on this globe it might, you know, play differently. But this is music we are talking about. This is making people smile and entertaining them. And whatever bumps you have to go over to get over that hump they seem kind of insignificant when your big picture is entertainment. The people who fall by the wayside were not meant to be there. There is a reason why the great country singers have been around for fifty years.

“I mean, when you’re good, you’re good. When you’re acknowledged you are acknowledged. If audiences keep coming back to see you for fifty years, and the same promoters are booking you for fifty years and the same record companies keep signing you for fifty years, you’re OK. You’re doing something right. You are not outside the circle at all. The way I first perceived it.

“I perceived it as the Turtles being victims and out of the ‘Ahmet Ertegun’ circle and therefore, always having a beef with our lives and the business that made us popular. I don’t have that beef. I think it’s fantastic with every day that goes by. And something cool that happens. Like a rave review book review this morning. I’m reinvigorated. I’m pat on the back. I’m being shown that, ‘You did good, son. This is the right thing to do.’ And I don’t know if that’s my father’s hand on my shoulder or Frank (Zappa), or whose. I’ve always sort of felt it and always felt I was being guided toward the truth. It wasn’t you know, I didn’t need to teach people how to do what I do. I couldn’t even tell you how to do what I do. I don’t want to be a teacher. I barely want to be an example. All I want to do is tell my story so that other people don’t fuck up everyone.

JEFF TAMARKIN
“I want to stress that I was not the ‘co-writer’ of this book. Howard Kaylan wrote this book. My job was to help him out via copy editing, doing minor rewrites as needed, fact-checking, suggesting some things to include, etc.

I treated the project the same way I would anything else that my name goes on, but this was not a ghostwritten book by any means. Not even close. The language, the stories, the organization, the pacing, it’s all Howard’s doing.

“The anal obsessive behind-the-scenes stuff (‘Are you sure you played Dubuque on May 15 because it says May 16 on this Zappa site?’), that’s me.
“The idea to get Penn Jillette and Cal Schenkel? Howard. Chapter titles and index: me. Etc. Howard’s book, my microsurgery. I’m so proud of this and so thrilled we made it happen and can’t wait to see the response when people get their hands on it!”

Q: Your book also tells us about the Turtles first visit to England. Pretty memorable.
A: In my book I talk about the Turtles first trip to England. We met the Beatles. Graham Nash took us to The Speakeasy Club. Lennon and McCartney sang ‘Happy Together’ at the table. Before that Lennon went under the table taking Polaroid pictures up the skirts of his female companions, while Paul lent a hand with a disposable lighter as Jane Asher, his girlfriend, rushed out in disgust.

“I met Jimi Hendrix. He got me so high on grass in a club that I puked on his suit. But he did come to see our show that the Turtles did The Speakeasy. I left the club and wanted to go back home. ‘I gotta get out of this country. I gotta go back home where somebody is waiting for me and they know who I am.’ Brian Jones then asked me for an autograph and I signed it. I didn’t really look up when I did it. I almost did one of those double takes where you look behind you to see who he is really talking to. ‘Cause I didn’t think it was me. He was so sincere I was very shocked. I didn’t realize he was a fan of west coast pop music. Or that he cared at all about harmony stuff, let alone that he was a collector of it. And really big into the Mamas and the Papas and the Association. Anybody on the west coast singing harmonies he knew their stuff backward and forward. I know you told me he loved Jewell Atkens, ‘The Birds and the Bees’ that was done at Gold Star. He was the only guy in the (Rolling) Stones besides Andrew Loog Oldham, who was into west coast music.

“Andrew I love. I love Andrew Loog Oldham. His books are phenomenal. His liner notes on the Stones albums I loved from the get go even more than I loved the records. And I knew there was something deeper in the man that heard a different Stones that I was hearing. Truly. I was hearing the pop stuff. He was hearing the deep cuts and loving them. I guess you have to be in his position. When we were on his label, briefly in the sixties we had no contact with him. He was and still is supporting the music. I think he’s brilliant. I think there isn’t a person on the planet that wouldn’t agree, including the guys in the Stones. Their growth had nothing to do with him. I really believe they would have gone off and persuaded their passion with whomever. The Glimmer Twins were always gonna be those two guys. You can’t control rushing water. And those guys were a force of nature.

Q: Your life with Frank Zappa is featured in the book. Cal Schenkel did your book’s front cover design and has done Zappa album covers.
At a recent L.A. discussion about your career at the Grammy Museum you addressed Zappa and the suppression of his music to a potential wider audience. You really don’t hear his music in TV shows or movie soundtracks that I am aware of. I know a couple of dozen of his albums have just been reissued. Let us talk Zappa.
A: Frank is now not part of guitar player sixties music history. And if you can’t talk to a kid and get Zappa as an answer to ‘Who was the greatest rock guitar player of all time ever,’ they will say Carlos Santana or Jimmy Page. They will never tell you Frank Zappa.

Q: Even in your Turtles career and as a record collector, you always felt the early Zappa albums were better than Dylan and the Beatles, as far as music, lyrics and social commentary. You attended the Freak Out! recording sessions. Why did Zappa impact you so deeply? And then you are in a band with him. In the book you really present some intimate looks at him on stage, in the studio and life on the road.
A: I loved him and the records. He was singing about growing up. I was trying to sing about growing up, too. It wasn’t that far apart. When people say ‘I don’t understand how you guys ever became guys in the Mothers. How did you ever get to know Zappa in the first place?’ And I say to them, man, like I said in the book, ‘We were all trying to get the same gigs on Sunset Boulevard.’ And largely that’s true. Nobody made distinctions in that canyon of dreams back then as to what type of music you were doing. If you were Lester Chambers and you were living in that canyon Joni Mitchell didn’t question what kind of music you were doing. Nobody did. Everybody was in there for themselves. To make their music shine for a minute while the bright stars were already living there. We didn’t want to change things. We wanted so badly to be a part of it that finding our place was so important. I’m not sure as Turtles we ever found our place but as Mothers we sort of busted out of our comfort zone a little bit. I think the Turtles were comfortable for us. Because it was just the Cross Fires, a high school band, so we could always fall back on our memories and our schoolyard stuff, and no if even guys got pissed off and left they had a good run for heaven’s sakes. If they turned into jerks they turned into jerks. If they didn’t get the music part of this then they were not destined to remain. Jim Tucker the bass player leaves and all the drummers we had since Johnny Barbata, you know, were not just destined to play with us.

Q: In your Flo & Eddie stint with Zappa you also sang “Happy Together” and it’s recorded for the Fillmore East-June 1971 LP. The book really shows many facets of your recording, creative, stage collaborations and revealing personal insights into life with Frank Zappa. Plus, I had no idea he was sort of a father figure to you.
A: Well for me, it wasn’t so much we did on stage it was his demeanor off stage that made him paternal to me. On stage he was a bandleader and we were guys for hire. The fact that we got away with improve only meant we were smart enough to know when to get out of a bit in time for the music to come in. That’s what Frank respected. You could go off book as long as you got right back. No beats were lost and something was added. If you added something to the routine it was always appreciated and repeated if you could on a nightly basis or made to be part of the folklore in some way. If it was not appreciated, Frank would let you know right on stage in no uncertain terms that this was not the time or the place for that kind of thing. And later you would discuss it with him. It wouldn’t be a slap on the hand parent kind of talk. It would be very familial, more brotherly than paternal. But something that I never had before. Which was an older figure that I respected respecting me back. The only other older figures in my life had been agents and managers who pretty much lied to me.

“After the show, when everybody else eschewed talking music particularly, and got together with the abject point of not discussing the show in any way, shape or form, because it would taint the next performance, Frank wasn’t like that. Frank wanted to discuss the show. Not so much the musical part of it. To find out why things worked and why things didn’t. He was very curious. Discussing what worked and why it worked and the social implications of it. So that he could stay on top of the pop music when we were brought into the band anyway, stay on top of the pop music side of things. Because Frank couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. I mean, it didn’t interest him. What interested him was the public’s reaction.

“It would be like One Direction now. You take it in as an anthropologist and re-cycle it. But you really don’t want to listen to it. You just want to understand why it’s a phenomena. So that’s what Frank was. He was very much Margaret Mead of his generation.

Q: When Frank was leaving the physical planet and Mark was visiting him, Frank said, “I want you to tell your partner that he was just the best singer that I ever had.’
A: Yeah… That weighs heavy on me.

Q: How was the process of looking and selecting photos for this book. I seem to recall you always had a vast archive of images. Explain to me the decisions of inclusion.
A: I loved looking for photos. We started out with 6,000 pictures that were mine and not taken by anybody else. And paired it down from there. We did use some of Henry Diltz’s pictures because it was necessary you see me in context for a minute. But otherwise I used pictures that I had taken. I went looking for things like photos from our tour bus. I have two shots in there of Frank on the bus in Europe with women since I talk about it in my book.

GARY PIG GOLD

“Howard Kaylan is one of pop ‘n’ roll’s great untapped minds,” exclaims Turtlehead-since-childhood Gary Pig Gold. “Sure, we know and all love all his classic Happy hits. And righteously so. But then, did we know HK sang behind no less than those Ramones, was produced by Raymond Douglas Davies, had Dinner with Jimi, had dinner at the White House, rode Stephen King’s Bullet, got Down with the Dirty Duck, brought Strawberry Shortcakes to Big Apple City, helped host the best FM since Radio Free Oz …and somehow still found time to sing The MudShark? And all this from a man who could have so easily rested upon his ample laurels right after he became Chief Kamanawanalea.”

Q: There is a 1973 photo of Flo & Eddie along with Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Mark Volman and yourself along with KROQ-FM DJ Rodney Bingenheimer when that station was located in Pasadena. Sometime during 1974 you and Mark also did a Norman Seef-shot photo session inside Rodney’s English Disco in Hollywood.
A: Of course I went to Rodney’s club. Are you shitting me? I loved the music he played. I loved Mud, the Sweet and I loved everything he was bringing over. I owe a lot to Rodney. I owe a lot of my tastes to Rodney. Exposing me to glitter music. It made me understand why Adam Lambert is so popular and such a star and so deserving of his position now. I think I would have dismissed him.

“I got to meet Suzi Quatro because of Rodney. It was a record release party he had for her. And because I got to meet Suzi Quatro I went over to Germany like four of five years ago, ‘cause her husband/promoter brought us over there to play a big concert at the arena where (Adolph) Hitler made a speech in Germany. I stood where Hitler stood on the goddamn stage Harvey, I was shaking. I couldn’t fuckin’ believe where I was. It started with Rodney.

Q: Marijuana is a thread in the book. You live in Seattle, Washington, where marijuana is legal. You first were exposed to grass in Memphis, Tennessee when you and the Turtles were on a Dick Clark Caravan tour with other acts during 1965. Weed has played a part in your life for close to a half a century?
A: I believe that everybody has to make a choice to their preferred vices. I was always a guy, at least in my early days, was quite the womanizer. Although no one realized it, you know. I liked to stay under the radar there. I was not your typical looking good guy, who wasn’t a ‘Gloria Stavers’ (16 Magazine) good-looking guy. That was always such a plus for me. It was the reason I got into the business in the first place. The reason I could stay in the business was pot.

Q: Why?
A: Because it made a lot of intolerable situations not only tolerable but memorable. I can only say when you wake up and you see two semis on either side of you and your car is headed down the middle like you are threading the needle in some video game, you better laugh. Because there is nothing else you can do. While all these other catastrophes had been happening to me business-wise, personally, over the last fifty years, the one constant I’ve had to fall back on was, ‘Oh well. I’ll just roll one and think about it.’ Because that’s like me counting to ten or taking a deep breathe or stepping back from the situation, and not being so caught up in the zeitgeist of why everybody else is screaming and yelling, “What’s wrong? Why is everything wrong all the time?” It doesn’t have to be wrong all the time. You can get through it with the attitude that everything is right all the time too. It’s just different. Every day has got to be a little different anyway. Doesn’t it?

Frank ZappaQ: Your book also details an entry of smoking a joint with Frank Zappa, John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the time you all played one night at the Fillmore East.
A: Yes sir. I still have the pipe.

Q: In the Turtles you vetted a lot of material presented to you. Did you have one motive as a vocalist, which made you select tunes to record?
A: The only agenda I had as a singer, in the early days, to be as much “Colin Blunstone” oriented as I possibly could. That was my mission. It was to emulate that guy with his soft and loud minor major series of hits with the Zombies. Other than that, the only thing I was looking for, and it gave me much pleasure, or more pleasure, to find a song that the Vogues passed on. Or that Gary Lewis passed on. Or that everybody and their brother passed on. And then turn it into something they could all listen to. ‘Son of a bitch. What did he hear that I didn’t hear?’ For that, maybe it takes A&R ears, I’ve been wrong as often as I’ve been correct. Often times I’ve come out of a studio thinking the record that we made wasn’t going to be a big hit record.

“An example is ‘Hungry Heart.’ We sang on the Springsteen record and it sounded like one of those songs to me just that just sounded to me like it wasn’t going to work. Earlier, in the Turtles, ‘She’d Rather Be With Me.’ I knew ‘Happy Together’ was going to be a big hit. We honed and developed it over months on the road. Wonderful fate. It was a luxury and it’s appreciated. I’ve never had the luxury to take something on the road for eight months and work it, re-work it and just fine-tune it. And certainly when we came back from an early tour was the demo of ‘She’d Rather Be With Me.’ I was really disappointed. There were no other choices in a stack of acetates with that one on the top. The only record we ever received was the new Bonner and Gordon, ‘She’d Rather Be With Me’ song, and we were now the new Koppleman and Rubin (music publishers). And you better be careful what you wish for. We wanted to be the new Lovin’ Spoonful and have everything written for us and just sort of presented to us on a silver platter, so we could be those good time guys from the west coast, like the Spoons had been for the east coast. Fortunately, we got Bonner and Gordon, it could have been a lot worse. And, of course, ‘She’d Rather Be With Me’ could have stiffed and proven me right, But I just thought after the magic that was in the grooves of that ‘Happy Together’ single, ‘She’d Rather Be With Me’ was a vaudeville razzmatazz. I did not know ‘Happy Together’ would be a huge hit or an anthem. If I heard that record streaming down the pike today I would not recognize it as a hit. I would not.

 

Seventy Two Vote Spots

Frank Zappa - Just Another Band From LA - cover artQ: Your life and recording world of Flo and Eddie are also written about in Shell Shocked. I really like the two albums you did in the early seventies and the combination of covers and original tunes really worked. I always saw Flo & Eddie as a performance art duo that had two of the best vocal blends around. But that time period of the early to mid-seventies seems to be hidden in pop music or pop culture documentation. You toured all over with Alice Cooper.
A: Those records are still brought up to me by fans. It was an era that I think was largely overlooked by history. But I can’t ignore it. Because it was a good fifteen years of my life. The post-Zappa years where we were trying to make a name for the duo as a club act or as an entity onto themselves. It was difficult because we didn’t know what we were as a club act. The first Warner Bros. album was canyon music. The second Warner Bros. album was Bob Ezrin’s take on the pop music sensibilities that we have discussed before like the Small Faces and doing “Afterglow” that we knew we needed to record. “Days,” a Ray Davies song. We were still trying to find music that would work for us that we didn’t write ourselves. We still had such respect for other writers and authors and composers. I still do. But the minute I hear something good my first temptation is to not write something like it, which probably most creative people would do. My first inclination is: How come nobody has heard this?

Q: The book also covers your background roles as singers on many recording sessions. You have sung lead and also in the support position. Steely Dan, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ramones, Todd Rundgren, T-Rex, Alice Cooper, Blondie, the Psychedelic Furs, and Duran Duran.
A: If Todd is gonna book us he knows what it’s gonna cost. We haven’t really raised our rates. We don’t do this for the money. There’s no money in background singing. But what there is incredible camaraderie that is already existing in the session that you are walking into that you sort of get to pick up on. You sort of go through the room, check out the energy, break it down, see who the power is, you see who is making the decisions behind the board. And then you go in and try and make those people happy. You can’t please everybody in the band you are working with all the time. But you don’t need too. If you have Joey Ramone saying, ‘That’s what I want to hear.’

“In many cases as a background singer is to assuage the power of your lead performer a little bit by spreading it out. So that you are sharing a bit of the guilt. And when you take that on as a little bit of a sin-eater for the main artist then he doesn’t mind you commenting on the song. Then all of a sudden you can make you subtle suggestions about. ‘Here’s what I would do if it was my record…’ And not be taken the wrong way. ‘Cause I don’t want to produce these guys. I just want to go in and do what they want me to do.

“But we’ve sung background on over a 100 records. And there’s a reason. We keep getting hired. Then it works. If some of these people, especially not the A-list people, not the B-list guys are willing to give us a shot and hear what we have to input then usually the stuff that we come out of the studio with is certainly more appealing to my ear anyway. If it doesn’t work I can’t make an Andy Taylor record work. I wish I had that power. That was a really great record. It should have worked. But being it certainly didn’t take away from it. If anything it added to the T-Rexness of it that he was trying to do.

Q: Your music with the Turtles began on 45-rpm and has gone to LP, cassettes, CDs and now the digital domain. Any feelings about the delivery mode of your catalog?
A: I’ve come to love the sound of digital download. Only because it means a pay check to me that was never there before. Hard copies are difficult to judge. We weren’t a big CD selling group. We were always a singles band more than an album band. So to realize we’re making more money from satellite radio and digital downloads than we have made the past twenty-five years of trying to sell hard copies, of even our greatest hits is a wonderful thing. We’re making five times the money now that we were just years ago. Sample requests. Absolutely, man. Dreams come true time for that stuff.

“Harvey. The best part about life is the shit you don’t see coming.

Q: This summer and into fall you embark on another Happy Together tour that begins June 8th at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and then 50 cities across the U.S. and Canada through October.

You told me in the past you don’t sound check before these shows, allowing for some element of improv to the booking. I once said something to you before a gig one night in Universal City and it ended up being a short part of your stage narrative.
A: I’m lazy, man. I figure, look, if we don’t know the song now, 50 years after the fact, it’s unlikely we’re gonna learn it at sound check. So despite the fact that everybody and their brother wants to get their early to the show, to make sure everything is absolutely perfect, I figure four acts are going on before I am, the microphones have already been checked, the audience has already been sitting in their seats for the last two hours before we go on stage. It has to already sound fantastic. I am just one guy with one microphone. I don’t require anything but testing 1-2-3. If you can hear me, it works. If you can’t hear me, it doesn’t work. That’s all there’s to it. Turn me on. Turn me up. Show me where the stage is. And lead me to the crowd. I don’t wanna look at the auditorium. I don’t want to see the inside of the fuckin’ Corn Palace. I don’t care where I am. It doesn’t matter to me if it is the Whisky A Go Go or the goddamn Rose Bowl. You get out there and do 28 minutes and you have as much fun with it as you possibly can. And for me, that means, don’t rehearse, don’t overthink, and go out there and do what you’ve done for the last fifty years. Making sure the audience is happy and entertained by the time you leave. And if you’re having fun, they’ll have fun.

Otherwise, they’re gonna be uptight the entire time, just like the rest of the band is, and you’re gonna stand around playing those hit songs in your flannel California shirts like the fuckin’ Eagles.

Q: It’s one thing with people having bought your records originally, or getting them on reissue over the decades or listening for free on an oldies radio station or satellite radio. It’s another when people are shelling out money, let alone taking their entire family to the show.
A: Absolutely right. There’s a quality factor here and a longevity factor that comes into play. I think if we had just done the exact same show for the last 47 years nobody would come to see us. But the fact of the matter is, besides changing up the ‘Happy Together’concert every year to make sure there are different acts and different attractions, like a travelling circus, are lack of rehearsal and our casualness regarding the program itself, means that no two shows that we do will ever be the same. So, we are changing things as they go on in progress. The influence of Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Spike Jones and Soupy Sales continues.

“Back in the day we used to come out with KISS capes and masks on. We did the song ‘Maniac” at the start of our show. Where Mark would pour water all over him on a stool and sit in a strobe light. It just depends on the era. Two years ago we did Lady Gaga on stage and everybody went, ‘Oh my God! They can’t be doing this at an oldies show. This is ridiculous it’s a social comment.’ No it isn’t. If we don’t give them that little taste of insanity at the start of the show we might as well be Gary Lewis.

”After the ‘Happy Together’ tour I want to finish the album I’m producing with Jeff Simmons. I’d also like to write another book.

“There’s a Yiddish literary angel disguised as an agent lurking somewhere in Hollywood.”

howardkaylan.com

Los Angeles native Harvey Kubernik has been an active music journalist for 40 years and the author of five books, including “This Is Rebel Music” (2002) and “Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and On Your Screen” (2004). To follow the ongoing activities of Howard Kaylan, please visit howardkayliin.com and turtles.com






2 Comments


  1. I’ve already read Howard’s book – a fascinating read for anyone who even has in the slightest interest in 1960s & 1970s rock’n’roll. Howard is very honest and blatant about nearly every topic of his life, and me being into T.Rex was an obvious choice of purchase. The book from start to finish is an amazing ride into the most crazy world of Flo & Eddie, and a publication that you won’t want to put down until you’ve reached the back pages!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *