The Turtles: The Raunchiest Band of the '60s?

Even the most voracious reader or rock-music biographies and autobiographies would be hard-pressed to find a better opening sentence than Howard Kaylan, lead vocalist of The Turtles, has in his new memoir Shell Shocked.

"I was snorting coke on Abraham Lincoln's desk in the White House," it reads. This sets the scene as the band -- hired to play Tricia Nixon's birthday party in 1969 -- finds them using Honest Abe's former crib as a dressing room. And this was after the Secret Service had confiscated a metronome, thinking its tick-tick-ticking was a bomb that the longhairs had smuggled in.

"It was a little bit sensationalistic, yeah, it was pretty much a panic reaction," Kaylan says from his California home at 8 a.m. Texas time, the end of his normal waking day. "Half of me was like 'Put that shit away!' and the other half was 'Yeah, up my nose! So I was conflicted."

And the sex and drugs stories fly throughout Shell Shocked in a way that you might not expect from the guy who sang on a bunch of classic pop hits like "She'd Rather Be With Me," "Elenore," a cover of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe," "You Baby," "She's My Girl," and "You Showed Me."

Oh, and a little ditty called "Happy Together." The Turtles' version became one of the most recognizable anthems of the '60s, despite the tune's having been turned down by both the Vogues and the Grass Roots.

And it also lends its name to a package tour coming to the Stafford Centre this coming Tuesday, June 11. The lineup includes the Turtles (with Kaylan and longtime co-conspirator Mark Volman), ex-Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and Mark Lindsay, the voice of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

When asked when he realized that "Happy Together" transcended just being another hit record, Kaylan is quick to respond: immediately.

"I would say we knew from the first minute that we heard it played back in the studio that it would be the biggest record we ever made and a No. 1 song. And that's pretty arrogant for two teenage mutant ninja Turtles!" Kaylan says of his and Volman's initial reaction. "We had a few hits before, but we knew something was magical about that particular song."

All the more impressive when you realize that the pair were still teenagers at the time and that by the time he was 22, the original Turtles had broken up.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero