Turtle Soup: More With One of the Wildest Bands of the '60s
Now here's a spooky cocktail party: Vincent Price, Alice Cooper, Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan
Today, when the 65-year-old Howard Kaylan looks back on the '60s, it's still hard to imagine the kind of commercial and chart success he had with the Turtles, and how by age 22, it was all over.
"They say that wisdom comes with age, and at that time, I had absolutely none of it!" he laughs. "I mean, I was a kid out of high school going into this thing. But if the Turtles had had that success later, then the book [Kaylan's autobiography Shell Shocked] would have been even crazier. But that that time, we didn't see much past the day after tomorrow."
And though he describes his band as sort of a "low-budget Byrds" in terms of funds, studios, and players they were able to get, he does miss the kind of potpourri quality of radio at the time that would cut across the board in terms of music.
"Back then, you could hear Sam the Sham and the Sir Douglas Quintet on a station, and the next records would be Otis Redding and the Bobby Fuller Four, and then the Supremes, the Turtles, and the Byrds," he says.
"Today you pick your radio stations before you even know what to listen to. If you're a hip hop kid, you won't hear the new Avril Lavigne record. Though maybe that's a good thing. The only song that can cut across [genres] is a novelty song, like that moron who does 'Gangnam Style.'"
After the Turtles broke up in, Kaylan and co-vocalist Mark Volman stuck together as a pair, their next adventure the unlikely move for a former pop duo of becoming members of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention for tours and record (including the famous Montreux gig commemorated in Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water").
"Frank brought the discipline into our lives that adulthood didn't really have for us. The Turtles were not that smart a band," Kaylan offers. In the book, he also reveals the notoriously anti-drinking and anti-drug Zappa would occasionally sneak some tokes with him.
He also has much to say -- off the record -- about how Zappa's widow Gail has treated the band's catalogue (and payments to its players) over the years. It is not complimentary.
It was during this time that the duo also took on their alter ego names, Flo & Eddie (shortened from The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie) when pending Turtles litigation wouldn't allow them to use their own names. They would later record many albums under those monikers.
Kaylan and Volman then became something of background singers for hire, appearing on records by T. Rex, Roger McGuinn, Stephen Stills, Alice Cooper, Blondie, the Ramones, and even the Psychedelic Furs on "Love My Way."
But their most recognizable turn is providing the "ah-ha-ha" backing chorus on Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart." It's no coincidence that the Boss and producer/manager Jon Landau wanted the song to be a Top 40 hit, and the backing vocals went a long way to helping that happen.
"They all wanted a little frosting on the cake, so to speak," Kaylan observes. "And that's what we did. Our voices put that extra layer on."
Still, while they've known each other since high school and spent all of their professional lives together, Kaylan says the secret to their continuing union is... keeping apart. Coincidentally, a call comes into Kaylan's phone during the interview.
"Oh, it's Mark Volman!" he says. When Rocks Off offers to get back with Kaylan at a later time, he says, "Nah, I'll call him back later.
"The secret to our professional success is that we're not socially close these days," Kaylan explains. "We spend so much time together on the road, we keep a distance off it. Even our clocks are different. I keep vampire hours, and he's a music teacher at a school."
So after gigs on this summer's "Happy Together" package tour, Kaylan says he expects Volman will drive while listening to the Sinatra channel on Sirius/XM radio while he himself taps out ideas for songs and writings on an iPad, the Foo Fighters in his earbuds.
"What I love about these tours is that we're bringing you the actual voices that sang on the actual hit songs, no offense to other lineups of these groups touring. I know they have to make a living," Kaylan says. He adds that the current show whips out 40 hits "all ones you recognize" in two and a half hours, with no more than a three-minute break between acts.
"And I'm working on next year's lineup, there are a lot of bands that need to be out there playing and people need to see," he sums up. "I'd love to get the Cowsills ("Hair," "The Rain, the Park & Other Things"). They were phenomenal."
The Turtles and the other acts of the "Happy Together 2013" tour play the Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Rd. in Stafford. Doors open at 8 p.m.
Shell Shocked: My Life with The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa etc. by Howard Kaylan and Jeff Tamarkin. Hal Leonard Books, 304 pp., $24.99.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.