By Harvey Kubernik
HARVEY KUBERNIK grills Flo & Eddie’s HOWARD KAYLAN about his time with Zappa.
Shindig!: Even In your Turtles career and as a record collector, you always felt the early Zappa albums were better than Dylan and The Beatles, as far as music, lyrics and social commentary. You attended the Freak Out! recording sessions. Why did Zappa impact you so deeply?
Howard Kaylan: I loved him and the records. He was singing about growing up. I was trying to sing about growing up, too. It wasn’t that far apart. When people say, ‘I don’t understand how you guys ever became guys in the Mothers. How did you ever get to know Zappa in the first place?’ And I say to them, man, like I said in the book, ‘We were all trying to get the same gigs on Sunset Boulevard.’ And largely that’s true. Nobody made distinctions in that canyon of dreams back then as to what type of music you were doing. If you were Lester Chambers and you were living in that canyon Joni Mitchell didn’t question what kind of music you were doing. Nobody did. Everybody was in there for themselves. To make their music shine for a minute while the bright stars were already living there. We didn’t want to change things. We wanted so badly to be a part of it that finding our place was so important.
I’m not sure as Turtles we ever found our place but as Mothers we sort of busted out of our comfort zone a little bit. I think The Turtles were comfortable for us. Because it was just The Crossfires, a high school band, so we could always fall back on our memories and our schoolyard stuff. If guys got pissed off and left they’d had a good run for heaven’s sakes. If they turned into jerks they turned into jerks. If they didn’t get the music part of this then they were not destined to remain. Jim Tucker the bass player leaves and all the drummers we had since Johnny Barbata, you know, were just not destined to play with us.
SD!: Your book (Shell Shocked: My Life With The Turtles, Flo & Eddie, And Frank Zappa, etc, 2013) shows many facets of your recording, creative and stage collaborations, as well as revealing personal insights into life with Frank Zappa. I had no idea he was sort of a father figure to you.
HK: Well, for me, it wasn’t so much we did on stage it was his demeanor off stage that made him paternal to me. On stage he was a bandleader and we were guys for hire. The fact that we got away with improv only meant we were smart enough to know when to get out of a bit in time for the music to come in. That’s what Frank respected. You could go “off book” as long as you got right back. No beats were lost and something was added. If you added something to the routine it was always appreciated and repeated, if you could, on a nightly basis, or made to be part of the folklore in some way. If it was not appreciated, Frank would let you know right on stage in no uncertain terms that this was neither the time nor the place for that kind of thing. And later you would discuss it with him. It wouldn’t be a slap on the hand, parent kind of talk; it would be very familial, more brotherly than paternal. But something that I never had before. Which was an older figure that I respected respecting me back. The only other older figures in my life had been agents and managers who pretty much lied to me.
After the show, when everybody else eschewed talking music particularly, and got together with the abject point of not discussing the show in any way, shape or form, because it would taint the next performance, Frank wasn’t like that. Frank wanted to discuss the show. Not so much the musical part of it. To find out why things worked and why things didn’t. He was very curious. Discussing what worked and why it worked and the social implications of it. So that he could stay on top of the pop music when we were brought into the band anyway, stay on top of the pop music side of things. Because Frank couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. I mean, it didn’t interest him. What interested him was the public’s reaction.
SD!: You told me a story a couple of years ago that had something to do with why ‘Happy Together’ was part of your live repertoire with Zappa and was captured on the Fillmore East: June 1971 LP.
HK: We were trading stories about girls, because that’s what we did. This was a real story that happened to me and it was after some show where I had gone to a bar. I then met a girl and she asked me what I did for a living. “Oh yeah. I recognise you. My God! You’re the guy from the
group. Where are you staying?”
I told her and took her back to the room. Before I could do anything heinous to her she said, “You know, I don’t think I can go all the way with you unless you sing me ‘Happy Together’. I just melt when I hear it.”
Come on, baby, you know, I’m down to like third base here. Come on... And she held out. Sure enough, I sing, “Imagine me and you, I do...” There comes a time when the blue balls win. And it worked. And that night it won. So I told the story to Frank and he cracked up. “That sounds like
something that would happen.” It did happen!
SD!: When Frank was leaving the physical planet and Mark was visiting him, Frank said, “I want you to tell your partner that he was just the best singer that I ever had.”
HK: Yeah... That weighs heavy on me.
This interview here is part of longer interview published in Record Collector News, May 2013..
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net