“I’d like to clean you guys up a bit and mold you. I believe I could make you as big as The Turtles.” (L.A. disc jockey Reb Foster, to Frank Zappa early in his career.)
Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were the heartbeat of a band that in 1968 released an album that I think was their CV for alignment with Frank Zappa and the Mothers.
The Turtles, known to most at the time for the single hit, “Happy Together,” released a concept album. On The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, the group pretended to be 11 different bands, with many different genres of songs. The album yields my favorite Turtles hit, “Elenore,” credited to “Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al.” The album as a whole, as a project, as a concept, reminds me so much of “Cruising with Ruben & the Jets” that I would think it nearly impossible to discount the influence—except, perhaps, for the fact that they were released in the same year.
The album is available for listening on YouTube, and I think it is worth a listen for even the most casual Zappa fan, as it telegraphs these musicians to be the flexible, talented, and funny guys who would later play with the reconstituted Mothers.
Kaylan and Volman were embroiled in lawsuits with their record label from 1966 to 1974, lawsuits so consequential that these guys couldn’t even use their own names. Thus, “The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie” were born (named for a couple of Turtles roadies who had previously coined the names).
I suspect that these guys were Mr. Zappa’s very favorite voices, right up until the reign of one Ike Willis. It’s why there was so much live material in that era: Because he had the voices. Why not showcase what they can do in an arena? That is all speculation, of course. But their voices, what Volman calls the “Incredi-Voice,” may be why you like a number of songs. T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way.” Or, perhaps most obviously, with David Cassidy on “Darlin’.” These two, perhaps the most venerable hams of the Zappa pantheon, have made a career of providing background vocals.
From the Miles:
Mark and Howard had known Zappa for years — the Turtles had appeared on the same bill with the Mothers at the Trip and the Whiskey and they saw the Mothers play the Garrick on several occasions and visited Frank at the Charles Street apartment in New York. Jim Pons, bass player with the Turtles (also shortly to joining the Mothers) was a friend of Gail’s from her pre-Zappa days on the strip. Not only that, but Kaylan was Herb Cohen’s cousin…
Zappa saw them backstage at a Zubin Mehta concert and hired them on the spot.
Along with being some darned prolific background vocalists, I think it’s interesting to note that it’s because of Kaylan and Volman that hip-hop artists have to clear samples with the original artists. Sadly, they did so by suing one of my favorite hip-hop artists ever, De La Soul, who had sampled from “You Showed Me”
to create “Transmitting Live from Mars.”
A recent interview:
And, a little something from the Gary Shandling show thing:
Sorry, if you’re Gary Shandling, that’s a boner moment right there.
Finally, here’s a timely blog entry I’ve just found: Musical Appreciation ► Flo and Eddie and Mark and Howard.