Books

Turtle Soup: More With One of the Wildest Bands of the '60s

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.'"

REWIND:

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

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."

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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