Howard “Eddie” Kaylan

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Howard "Eddie" Kaylan

Howard “Eddie” Kaylan
© Anthony Scarlati

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If Howard Kaylan had sung only one song, the Turtles’ 1967 #1 smash hit “Happy Together,” his place in rock and roll history would still be secure. But that recording, named in 1999 by BMI as one of the top 50 songs of the 20th century, with over 5 million radio plays, is only the tip of a rather enormous iceberg. For five decades, Howard Kaylan has been a key player at the heart of the rock and roll revolution. In addition to his years with the Turtles—whose other best-selling hits include “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Baby,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “She’s My Girl,” “Elenore” and “You Showed Me”—Kaylan was a core member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and half of the much loved duo Flo and Eddie. Howard’s voice has also appeared on recordings by a vast array of artists including Bruce Springsteen, T. Rex, the Ramones and Alice Cooper.

Kaylan’s years with the Turtles are the stuff of legend: the first rock group to perform at the White House, wild encounters with the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix (on the same night!), countless TV and concert appearances, encounters with rock royalty and a string of hit records that have never lost their popularity. But while most artists would have been elated with the five-year success that the Turtles enjoyed, for Howard Kaylan that run at the top of the charts was only the beginning. His two years with the renowned Zappa were an education and a complete artistic upheaval, marked by highs such as sharing the stage with John Lennon and Yoko Ono and lows like watching the band’s equipment burn to a crisp at the notorious Montreux casino fire that later became the subject of the Deep Purple classic “Smoke On the Water.” Kaylan appeared on four Mothers of Invention albums and in Zappa’s theatrical feature film 200 Motels.

Following their stint with Zappa, Kaylan and fellow Turtles/Mothers vocalist Mark Volman went off on their own, calling themselves at first The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, and then just Flo and Eddie, until reclaiming the Turtles name. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Howard Kaylan’s entry into professional music and he’s still out on the road with Mark singing the hits! Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. (Backbeat Books, April 16, 2013) is Howard Kaylan’s incredible story, a timeless rock and roll tale— intensely colorful, brutally honest, unapologetically intimate and a whole lot of fun!

Shell Shocked is stuffed with juicy anecdotes about some of rock’s biggest stars, but it also digs beneath the surface and places the crazy rock life into context. In his inimitably witty manner, Kaylan exposes the ups and downs of fame and its effects—both positive and negative—on an artist who has seen the top of the charts, seen the downside of the music world, and is still here, decades later, to tell about the view from both angles. One of the most in-demand and well-respected vocalists in popular music, the voice of Howard Kaylan is still instantly recognizable to generations of rock fans nearly 50 years since it first came across on millions of transistor radios and black and white television sets.

Born in New York City in 1947, Howard Kaylan moved to Southern California just in time for the surf music craze of the early ’60s. His first band, the Crossfires, played instrumental music, but the arrival of the Beatles in 1964 encouraged a change of focus, and Howard’s undeniable vocal abilities made him the obvious choice to be the frontman when the Crossfires evolved into the Turtles.

For roughly five years, the latter half of rock’s most volatile and productive decade, the Turtles were among the most successful and beloved American rock bands, with all of the attendant excitement—and volatility—that such a lofty position brought. Everyone who lived through the baby boomer years and loved rock and roll is familiar with the Turtles’ music, and countless others have discovered it in the decades since it was created. The Turtles’ performance at the White House—where they performed in 1969 at the invitation of President Nixon’s daughter—has been the stuff of rock legend for decades. But what really happened that night? Now, in Shell Shocked, the truth is finally out in the wild!

As explosive as the Turtles years were, Howard Kaylan’s experiences in the ’70s with Zappa and, later, Flo and Eddie, were even more riotous. Overnight, Howard’s squeaky-clean image as an AM radio hitmaker was turned inside out, as the Mothers were an unrepentantly experimental group whose music was considered outrageous, even raunchy, the polar opposite of the Turtles’ hits. Howard and Mark were among very few artists able to transition comfortably from the innocent, simple pop-rock era into the more complex, heady “classic rock” scene. The Flo and Eddie years furthered the duo’s popularity and artistic reach as they recorded their own albums and singles, lent their voices to countless other greats and built a reputation as two of the most reliable singer—and willing party animals—in rock!

In the 1980s Howard expanded his influence through the medium of broadcasting, co-hosting a syndicated radio show, and continued to diversify: making a reggae album, working with children’s music, and finally reviving the name and music of the Turtles for a new generation. In more recent years he wrote the screenplay for My Dinner With Jimi, a popular feature-length cult film that chronicles the rise of the Turtles and culminates in a single London evening when Howard met the Beatles, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Graham Nash, Donovan, the Moody Blues and an up-and-coming guitarist named Jimi Hendrix (on whom Howard summarily threw up)!

Howard Kaylan has been at the vortex of rock culture since the heady 1960s and he remains immersed in it today, still touring with the Turtles. Rock bios may be a dime a dozen, but Howard Kaylan’s Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. is truly like no other rock tale ever written!

The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie

The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie