Howard Kaylan, a.k.a. Eddie of Flo & Eddie, has been in the rock and roll game for just about 50 years now. Considering some of the amazing backstage tales in his new autobiography Shell Shocked: My Life with The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc...he is doing very indeed. In fact, he even remembers most of what happened during those crazy days. With his legendary sense of humor still intact, Kaylan and co-writer Jeff Tamarkin have come up with one hell of a rock memoir.
Despite all of the great music Kaylan has made over the years, his signature song will always be "Happy Together." He was just 20 years old when The Turtles hit number one with that song, in 1967. It is a true classic, and has even been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although Kaylan doubts that The Turtles themselves will ever be inducted.
The Turtles had a number of other hits as well, including the great "Elenore," which was written by Kaylan. As he recounts in the book, the song was written as something of a flip of the bird to their record label, who had been pressuring the band for a hit. He inverted part of the chord structure to "Happy Together," wrote some quick lyrics, and voila. Rather than laughing along with him though, the rest of the group liked what they heard, and another hit was born.
The Turtles were classic victims of the business though. A combination of bad management, shady deals, and a group of young men with stars in their eyes spelled disaster. It would take years to sort things out in court. The final all-new Turtles album was Turtle Soup, released in 1969. By 1970 the band were finished, and Kaylan felt like he was all washed up, at the ripe old age of 23.
Kaylan and Mark Volman decided to stick together after The Turtles, but had no idea what they would be doing next. As luck would have it, they received a call from a friend and neighbor by the name of Frank Zappa. Kaylan looked up to Zappa as a father figure, and was overjoyed to be working with him. Due to the ongoing Turtles litigation, Kaylan and Volman were not allowed to record under their own names. Thus the Flo & Eddie moniker was born. "Flo" was actually shortened from the original Plorescent Leech, a goofy nickname that Zappa loved.
My favorite chapters in the book chronicle the Zappa years. While Frank was famously anti-drug, Kaylan recounts a couple of episodes when the head Mother actually toked up. He only took a hit or two, but for Kaylan, those times were a pretty big deal.
A great fly on the wall story in the book concerns John Lennon. Most Lennon fans that I know consider Some Time in New York City to be his worst album. It does contain a historic encounter between Lennon and Zappa though. The Mothers of Invention were playing the Fillmore East in 1971, and Lennon was invited to join them for the encore. He and Yoko Ono went to Zappa's room the afternoon of the show to figure out what they would play that night. Kaylan happened to be there at the time, and Lennon asked if anyone had any dope. Kaylan pulled out some hash and a clay pipe, which they smoked up. He still has that pipe, and calls it one of his most treasured possessions.
The capper to this afternoon found Lennon and Zappa working out a jam, which would later be titled "Scumbag." While they were putting it together, Ono decided to join in with some of her trademark squeals. For possibly the first and only time, Lennon shushed her. "Yoko wailed a few times, and Lennon actually told her to keep it down," says Kaylan. It seems that even John Lennon had his limits with her caterwauling.
There are plenty of other great backstage stories like this, and they make for some fine reading. The book is also a marvelous insider's account of how the music business changed over the years, as Kaylan was right there for most of it.
When he and Volman eventually won the rights to The Turtles' name and catalog, their greatest hits collection was released by the nascent Rhino Records. Flo & Eddie later went into radio, and pioneered those multi-act summer "oldies" tours that have proven to be so popular over the years.
Life on the road did take its toll in terms of marriage and family life though. Today Kaylan is happily married to his fifth wife. As it turns out, he now lives in Bellevue, WA, just a few miles over the bridge from my home in Seattle. Who knows, maybe I'll run in to him at the local record store one of these days.
Until then, there is Shell Shocked, definitely the finest rock bio I have read this year. The forward was written by Penn Jillette. Then there is the book's cover, done by Cal Schenkel. Schenkel's artwork is as distinctive as the music of Frank Zappa was. In fact, Schenkel was practically Zappa's house artist for a time. Check out the cover art to Cruising with Ruben & the Jets or Just Another Band from L.A. and you will see what I mean.
All in all, Shell Shocked is a great book. As a matter of fact, I think it is the best rock bio since Keith Richards' Life, if that helps at all.