Howard Kaylan: A Turtle Comes Out Of His Shell

—And Gives The Final Word On Six Legendary Rock ‘N Roll Myths!

Words and Photos By Anne M. Raso

Howard Kaylan's autobiography Shell Shocked ($24.95 from Backbeat Books and available discounted on was already reviewed here on by website honcho Jeb Wright and he appears to love it as much as I do. HK's signing at the Morrison Hotel Gallery broke records, and the Turtles' vocalist/author/radio DJ/funnyman even showed up to old pal Graham Nash's photo exhibit launch two days earlier, much to the glee of party-goers.

If you have not picked up Shell Shocked yet, you are in for the best rock and roll tales of your life. The Turtles howler wrote the book “to tell everyone that I love how much I love them and everyone I hate how much I hate them.” But it’s especially a recounting of his life for his 15-year-old grandson, who recently started driving and Kaylan’s a bit freaked out about it. He says, “I wanted to leave him more than just money.”

Kaylan (born Kaplan but who changed his name because he thought Kaylan sounded cooler) started out being raised in Brooklyn, then his family settled in LA after a brief stint in Utica, NY. On the trip from Utica to LA, the Kaplans stopped in Vegas and young Howard got to see the popular lounge act Louis Prima with then-wife Keely Smith. It wasn't rock 'n' roll, but it was mind-altering the preteen. Once in LA, Kaylan stole 45s from the local record store, pulling off the labels and writing his name on the remaining paper. He was a bright kid who was skipped a grade when he got to LA and was valedictorian of Westchester (CA) High Class. When he dropped out of UCLA in 1965, his folks freaked out but he promised them he would have a hit record within six months--and HK made good on that promise. He even treated his folks to a new Chevy and Hawaiian vacation.

Despite a string of hits with The Turtles from 1965 to 1970, his fortunes went up and down, he got addicted to Placidyl (first given to him by a doctor who worked for The Ed Sullivan Show) and other drugs, got married five times (with breakups due mainly to his rampant infidelity and alcohol/drug abuse). He and longtime partner Mark Volman (aka Flo) were no loner allowed to use the name The Turtles in 1970 after a dispute with their label White Whale Records, and so they wound up in Frank Zappa's newfangled version of the Mothers, not only bringing in beautiful harmonies but a comic element as well.

Kaylan's conservative parents were not pleased with his sometimes raunchy Eddie persona but were more concerned about his illegal substance intake and failure as a family man. But out of all rock and roll excess comes unbelievable tales. Kaylan recaps numerous orgies, funny moments with Frank Zappa in the studio and on the road, the burning down of the Casino at Montreux (where the band only salvaged a cowbell), recording with and being close friends with Marc Bolan, being a KROQ deejay on the air after Howard Stern, and more. 

I sat down with Howard, aka Eddie, to discuss his absorbing book over blueberry crepes at a quaint Euro style coffee house and bar in the lobby of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tribeca recently. The more we talked about his book, the more I realized that he would be the perfect person to set the record straight on six big pop myths, including how Jimi Hendrix, Bobby Fuller and Brian Jones died, Charles Manson's mingling with the 60s LA rock scene honchos and Dick Clark’s early payola days and solid reputation helping new groups in the 50s through 90s. He knew all these folks, and some very intimately.

Howard has inside info and pulls no punches so in my opinion, he is the "final word" on these people who changed the world and mold popular culture. The only thing I would ever question him about is his view of Lou Reed—whom he refers to in his book as hilarious, LOL! (I don’t think too many people would agree with that!)

MYTH #1: Charles Manson’s murderous rage was over not being able to get a record deal and many LA music scene people had bad dealings with him.

Howard:  I went to high school with Squeaky Fromme. (Laughs.) She went to Westchester High and signed my yearbook. She was Squeaky back then before she was Squeaky to the world. She was cool. She was a really nice girl in high school.

I know that Manson was a real hypnotic presence to be around. He was a fairly well known musician in Hollywood when this murder stuff took place—not just because of (his friendship with) Dennis Wilson but because he had shopped his music around to pretty much everybody. They had all passed on it but it was close (to getting him a record deal). Some of his stuff was actually pretty good. You listen to his album that never came out because no one would dare to release it and it is not bad. I have heard a lot worse records come out. I think he got a bad shake but I do not think that is what ruined his mind. I think he was a natural born killer and a psycho from the get-go but you would never know that (at the time he was looking for a record label)—there are so many weirder people walking the streets of Hollywood now or on these streets (in New York). You would never look twice at a guy like Chuck Manson until he did something that made the scales tip and he certainly did that.

I ran into him once or twice but it was just with Dennis (Wilson). He was just a Hollywood guy. I never took him for being the leader of a cult or anything.

MYTH #2: Jimi Hendrix was murdered—possibly drowned in wine on orders of his former CIA operative manager, Mike Jeffreys.

Howard: He was not murdered! OH PULEEEZE! (Kaylan says it was an accidental drug overdose.) Keep going. You are going to ask me about the Brian Jones story soon! (Smiles.) 

MYTH #3: Brian Jones drowned because of an asthma attack in his pool---possibly after being pushed in by construction workers working at his home. Also, he had been let go by The Stones for being unreliable and unpredictable.

Howard: I think Brian was murdered. I am not certain if it was those construction people that had been named on and off (in books and articles) and I am not sure if they were construction people at all but I know that Brian was messed with and he had it coming. He got himself into a lot of trouble and people that knew him knew he was in trouble. It was not just the drugs he was taking; he was involved in some shady dealings and people were out to teach him a lesson.   

The Stones let him go because he wanted to take the Stones in a different direction. He wanted to go into folk music. I mean, he was a very strange guy. He didn’t really into the blues perception that Mick and Keith had about the band at all. Even though he was one of the band’s founding fathers and certainly the most experimental of all those guys, they didn’t care. They didn’t want to experiment with sitars and all that crap. When they tried it on Satanic Majesties, they just got ripped (by the press). They just got torn a new one from every critic out there and they realized that that was not the way people wanted to perceive the Stones. They were the anti-Beatles. They needed to be straight R&B and Brian was not. He was an experimenter. He wanted to take the Stones in new directions--plus there was all that weirdness with Anita Pallenberg. Plus, there was all the shady stuff that he was doing on the side outside the Stones that they got wind of through mutual friends and checked out and found to be true.

So (as for his death), he was dealt with by a bunch of really bad people that had sucked him into a scheme he couldn’t get out of.

MYTH #4: Bobby Fuller was murdered because he was fooling around with a mob-connected club owner’s girlfriend…even though the coroner’s reports said it was a suicide via inhalation of gasoline.

Howard: Bobby was a bad boy. That is all I will say. Even when I knew him, he was a bad boy. He didn’t think anything of being blatant with anyone else’s wife or girlfriend in their presence. I wouldn’t doubt that anything that happened to him happened for a reason. When you ask his brother Randy or anyone else in his band, they are really hush about it. If this was a natural situation or something he brought upon himself, I think they would be quicker to talk about it. So I was always suspicious about that particular death and I do not believe that it was a natural occurrence. And isn’t it strange that evidence (like the gas can) was destroyed.

MYTH #5: Dick Clark took payola at one point (although he was never caught) while other rock personalities like Alan Freed went to jail. Still, many bands of the 50s and 60s loved him.

Howard: I loved him. He was always so supportive of us. He loved our band so much. We did so many shows with him; I think we did 28 Where The Action Is shows—we’d film all over California and because we were based out of LA, anytime he needed us, we were there within a day…the same afternoon (he needed us) in some cases! He’d take (the tour) bus with us sometimes. He loved us and he loved our kids. He was a wonderful man.

Of course he was involved with payola early on in his career. In the Cameo-Parkway days when he was doing American Bandstand out of Philadelphia and all those Chancellor and Cameo-Parkway acts like Chubby Checker were getting play on his show, of course he was getting payola. It was okay to get payola then. He had the biggest (music) show in the country and he was almost beyond reproach. He stopped—as far as I know, he stopped when the show moved to California. But he was one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met in my life. There are some rock and roll naysayers who wish him ill will or try to tarnish his memory by saying what a crook and a creep he was—be he wasn’t. He was one of the fairest men I have ever known. If you did him a solid, he would remember you for the rest of his life, and he would owe you and he would keep paying you back. I think he was one of the best people we have ever had in this business. 

MYTH #6: Jim Morrison died of a heroin overdose as opposed to having a heart attack in the bath as listed on his French death certificate.

Howard: That was heroin; that was nothing but heroin. He was an abuser. He didn’t know when to stop. It was fun for him and the more “out of it” he got, the more fun he had and he just got trapped. He couldn’t get out. It would have been sadder had not everyone having seen it coming but when he moved to Europe, it was kind of the beginning of the end and the band guys wrote him off. I mean, they were prepared before his death to replace him. You can’t, of course, replace somebody that charismatic but they never figured that out. Those clowns are still out on the road trying to replace him with lead singers of all different races and religions and stuff…trying to find the guy to be the next Jim. They will never find a guy—and if they do, that guy would have to be crazy to work with those three because they are out of their minds. They are totally gone. 

You can’t be the other three guys in the Doors without being ruined at this point in your life because you are forgotten. The only person who is going to be remembered as a Door is Jim Morrison. Ray, John and Robby they do not care about—and to these guys, it is the most frustrating thing in the world, because as far as they were concerned, they were the first band to write everything as a group. They shared all of those royalties or else they wouldn’t be around today. They make as much money as the Morrison Estate does for those incredible records. So, they are well off enough to just sit down and shut up and I kind of wish they would because (playing together today with new singers) is kind of a disservice to their name. They can’t replace the irreplaceable voice, let alone the person behind the irreplaceable voice. It is like the constant battle Brian May faces every year when he throws another Queen out there with Paul Rodgers or Ryan Lambert. It doesn’t matter who’s singing—it’s not Freddie! That’s not Queen. I have seen so many tributes to Queen that I can’t stand it anymore. No one can go as high or sing as low as he did—he was incredible. There are singers who come close but they don’t sound like Freddie. I thought it was the biggest travesty in the world when Paul Rodgers was doing it. He has got a brilliant voice but he can’t sing that material. He is not meant to sing that stuff. So they do not know what they are doing and they are abusing their place in the rock pantheon and it pisses me off. 

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