Howard Kaylan in New York City

Here's an interview from sometime ago with the very funny and very talented Mr. Howard Kaylan of The Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Mothers Of Invention fame. We decided that while Master Zhihui is on a John and Yoko's, "Sometime In New York City" kick, that it would be a good time to share this with you. You should also read, "Oh Yoko!" and "John Lennon & Yoko Ono's Sometime In New York City: Established 1984?!"
The following interview contains subject matter that may be inappropriate for some readers. Please use discretion.

Pasta ala Dylan

Master Zhìhuì: We’re talking to Mr. Howard Kaylan of The Turtles and The Mothers Of Invention about New York City. Mr. Howard Kaylan —
Howard Kaylan: New York. I’ve had some strange experiences. Let me harken back for ya.
This was actually incredible to me — the year was 1966 and a couple of strange things had happened on that trip. The Turtles had come in for the first time to play at this nightclub called The Phone Booth where the house band for the previous year and a half had been The Young Rascals.
They had a national success with “Good Lovin’” and they were off. To fill in for them they had brought in this West Coast band, namely us, who had been the house band in Los Angeles at a club called The Revelaire for many years before our career took off.
We had three hit records at the time and we were working on our third hit record and that’s what brought us into New York. We had “It Ain’t Me Babe,” its follow up, “Let Me Be”, and we were working on a record called “You Baby” and trying to break that across the country. So they put us on a television show called “Hullabaloo”, and it was a very prestigious rock and roll show for the time and they had dancers there. But the “Hullabaloo” dancers weren’t so much dancers as they were props.
In our case being Turtles, what they decided to do was to shoot our number, “You Baby,” through a fish tank so they would have goldfish and seahorses and all that crap floating by — flotsam and jetsam. Then us on the other side of the glass posed with these models in wetsuits standing perfectly still so they would look like fish tank ornaments as far as the audience was concerned.
Well one of these girls was just incredibly cute and it wound up that she took me on a tour of New York, showed me the sites and then in fact, did even a worse thing to me — introduced me to her roommate. Her roommate was also a dancer, a legitimate dancer, a ballet dancer… and that’s all I needed. A long-haired, slender ballet dancer on my twentieth year on the planet in New York City with the cherry blossoms in bloom and I was just a goner! So obviously I wound up with this woman — that’s not the horror — the horror came much later, but that was a prelude to the horror that came.
This very same trip in, at The Phone Booth, we had of course had our biggest success with the Bob Dylan song, “It Ain’t Me Babe” and huzza buzza buzz, the rumor came back: “Dylan’s in the crowd, Dylan’s in the crowd.” We couldn’t have been more thrilled. One minor flaw is that Dylan came on the last night of what was our entire week’s engagement and my voice was terrible — I was experiencing road laryngitis, for lack of a better word. Screaming our lungs out — we were doing very psychedelic music at the time. At any rate, we finished our program and we ended with “It Ain’t Me Babe,” our biggest hit of that time.
After the show, we were led by our press agent past Bob Dylan’s table as if he were the Queen and we were some sort of reception line. Bob was eating pasta. Bob was also very, very, very, very high. As we passed him by to shake his hand Bob had his head almost in his plate. We filed by in procession, I was the last one to go by him and I said “Thank you very much, you’re music has meant a great deal to us” and he lifted his head and said, “I’ll tell ya something, that last song was really killer. That was really killer. Now I don’t know, but if I were you, that’s the one I’d think about recording. Who the hell wrote that anyway?” Then he passed out. Right into his pasta. Face first.
I never knew if he was kidding. Years and years and years later, when I saw him backstage at a Bruce Springsteen show, I asked if he had been kidding and he just laughed. So I’ll never be quite sure.

There’s Something About an Aqua Velva Man

Howard Kaylan: I can remember almost being busted in New York, smoking pot in hotel rooms back in the sixties and being so ignorant as not even putting a towel down by the door. The only defense we had against the New York gendarme was to burn Aqua Velva in ashtrays, which we did, and it never worked — the ashtrays would crack and we would normally get a call. At least a call if not a visit.
Master Zhìhuì: Well that’s going to boost sales for Aqua Velva when this comes out.
Howard Kaylan: Do they still make that crap?
Master Zhìhuì: I think so.
Howard Kaylan: Boy, I don’t know. That was pretty foul even then.

Penelope and the Sea

Howard Kaylan: Other notable New York stories include for instance times with Frank (Zappa). You know, cut to the chase here, we did some of our most infamous New York work with Frank — the Fillmore East album being particularly notable. Every night that we played at the Fillmore, we had a different guest star with us. We did three nights that particular run that the album was recorded in, in 1971. The first night was Joni Mitchell, the second night was Grace Slick and the third night was John and Yoko.
Joni, who Mark [Volman] and I had known in our formative days in the late sixties, was there and was just thrilled that this artist [Frank] would take her seriously. She considered herself a country bumpkin, or that’s the way she came off. So we introduced her to Frank and she talked about what she wanted to do on stage that night. We never really rehearsed with her or anything. The band just sort of learned this little bed track and she came out on stage — we didn’t know what she was going to do or say — and as it turned out, she decided that she just wanted to recite a poem. And the poem in her beautiful innocent little voice began: “Penelope wants to fuck the sea. She wants to lie in the sand and have her labia caressed.” I mean it was just — what? What? — and the audience just went dead silent. Frank and the band stopped playing and everybody just listened to these words coming out of this innocent little woman’s mouth. It was really bizarre that of all the things she chose to do, it wasn’t to experiment musically, jazz-wise, it was to get out there and say things. She even told Frank, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I could have never gotten away with this in my show. I just wanted to see how an audience would react.”

High Time In New York City

Howard Kaylan: The second night Grace Slick came out, it was kind of a normal thing. I think she did some blues with us. Then the third night was rather well documented, with the exception of the fact that the mysterious evening with John and Yoko was preceded by an even more mysterious afternoon.
That afternoon, Mark and myself went up to Frank’s hotel suite at the Mayflower and we were there to meet with John and Yoko and talk about what we were gonna do that evening in performance. I had just come from Greenwich Village where I had been “pipe” shopping.
I arrived at Frank’s room, and even though Frank understood that at the time Mark and myself both “indulged,” shall we say, Frank was never a big pot fan. He was never an advocate of weed. In fact when we first joined the group, he was dead set against it. We had to prove to him that we could be in a state that he considered to be euphoric and yet could still perform the songs as tightly and cleanly as he wanted. Once we passed that test, he was like, “Well okay you guys, I’ve met my match.” By the end of our ten years with The Mothers, Frank was indeed smoking with us. So that was our minor triumph. But this particular afternoon John and Yoko came over, there was some buddage in the room and John specifically asked for it even before the rehearsal got underway. “Does anybody have anything? I’m dying here. Then Mark or me — I forget which one — said, “Yeah, we got something, anything to smoke it with?” “Yeah, this pipe.” This incredible new pipe, which was this flat rock like you would skip across the water — one of those painted, Indian, sort of a clay thing… and the first hit went to the man and the second hit went to the lady.
Then as Frank watched, the thing got passed around the room, but there wasn’t an awful lot he could say about it. In fact he said nothing about it. The afternoon proceeded wonderfully, everyone knew what we were gonna do, everybody was high as hell and I still have that pipe. That pipe is a wonderful hunk of my past that I’m never getting rid of. There’s no eBay price that could be put on it.
Talking about horror stories, there were some nights in New York City that I could remember being so high that I did not know what I was doing. I can remember being so high — this one particular occasion at The Bottom Line, I got it into my head that I was lip syncing because that’s how stoned I was. There were one or two places where I would blank out totally on the lyric, knowing it was no big deal since I was just lip syncing — all I would have to do is be quiet and listen to what the lead singer was saying — of course he didn’t say anything and I stood there like a jerk, but our audiences there were very, very forgiving. It’s an incredibly forgiving city for me. We even played Carnegie Hall with the Mothers. Talk about horror, those faces of the union guys as they watched the entire band and audience do a conga line to “The Mud Shark” through that place.
Master Zhìhuì: There were some funny lyrics to those songs. In “Latex Solar Beef,” isn’t the line, “Talk about your hemorrhoids baby”?
Howard Kaylan: Yes it is. The line that precedes it is “Acetylene Nirvana... Hemorrhoids” and I take credit for that line. The stupidest things you can say, as long as the alliteration was correct. The deal was make Frank laugh — The Mothers were not ever about making the audience laugh — if they laughed it was a great by-product. People don’t often understand that a lot of Frank’s genius, in my opinion, was his capacity to take the work or words of other people and funnel it back at them. For instance he would always tape record our conversations and our rehearsals and when he heard something good, even if we just said it in a conversation about him, he would turn it into a piece of music or a song or dialogue that we would have to then learn perfectly to go with the music.
It didn’t always go down so smoothly when he did that exact thing for Jeff Simmons on the set of 200 Motels. Jeff, the bass player, received that script like three days before we were going to start shooting that movie and he refused to say those words — even though they were his very own words that Frank had recorded him saying in New York, in London, in Los Angeles, at rehearsals. They were things like, “Shit I’m way too hip for this comedy music, man — I should be playing the blues, that’s where it is. Blues, extended blues.” Those were the lines that you hear in 200 Motels — uttered by a character other than Jeff who walked off the picture three days before the movie was made.
But Frank’s whole thing was being able to spot the original things that were being said by the band and recycle it. Hence there was a lot of anger often within the ranks of The Mothers Of Invention because everything would always come out as written and published by Frank Zappa. Whether or not it was.
In our later days with the Mothers by the time we reached Eddie Are You Kidding? and things like that, Frank knew enough to split the credit. So I at least get checks for that stuff. But before that time, no one got paid, no one got paid. And that’s what part of 200 Motels was about; he’s listening, he’s stealing, he’s taking everything and we never get paid. Frank thought that was immensely funny to have the band members who actually said those things say them again on camera.

A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono

Howard Kaylan: When John Lennon came to the hotel to rehearse for the Fillmore session, we went through that little blues thing of his “Well… Baby Please Don’t Go,” and we went through one or two other things as well. Some of it we did, some of it we didn’t do.
We went through the piece that was later to be known as “Scumbag” which I freaked over, too, cause there were real vocals on that thing — real lyrics and as a writer I was a little annoyed — but it really wasn’t anyone’s fault. The album actually came out twice.
Zappa released a treatment of that and so did Lennon. Lennon shoved his on a record called, Sometime In New York City as the second disc. And what he did with it was he took the white, penciled Cal Schenkel text from the Fillmore album and Yoko just annotated it to her liking in red magic marker. So when it came to my description for instance, she scratched out the word ‘lead’ and just left vocals. When it came time to list instrumental songs that John really didn’t know, John made up titles. He had the unmitigated gall to call one of Frank’s classic songs — “King Kong” I believe, one of his all-time biggest instrumentals — Lennon didn’t know what it was, called it “Jamrag” then said that he wrote it!
So there was a huge stink following that performance. That performance by the way, I have seen as recently as a month or so ago on tape, and not that I remembered it, but seeing it now in hindsight, I think one of my proudest moments of my show business life took place that evening — as I was indeed the one to put Yoko Ono in the bag and to cinch it up tight. There she stayed for the remainder of the show, screeching into her microphone in her bag. But boy, there’s a still that I’m going to have blown up and put on my wall.

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