Bill: I was going to ask you if you had seen it because film does circulate.
Howard: You know, I'm not here to make artistic judgments, man. You know, I'm just here to be part of history. You know, I can explain why I did it but I can't explain why you feel the way you do about it.
Bill: Continuing on to personalities. The film's portrayal of Jim Morrison I thought was the most humanizing one I had ever seen or read. Most accounts of him paint him as a preening, pretentious megalomaniac sort of guy. Yet in your film he comes off as almost loveable.
Howard: He was loveable! He was totally loveable! But Jim Morrison as onstage with the Doors, especially during the post-L.A. Woman years was not at all the same guy who I knew in 1965 and 1966.
And in fact I knew a bunch of those guys even before that. As a surf group in the early sixties we had performed as the Crossfires at South Bay in Los Angeles at this place called the Revelaire Club; we were the house band there. And one of the groups that used to cycle through all of the time--another surf band--was called Rick and the Ravens. These guys used to show up, and the leader of the band was a Christ-like figure with a long beard and long hair, white robes. And it was all mysterious music and stuff, and the keyboard player was Ray Manzarek. And I knew these guys for years and years.
Jim Morrison was always one of the happiest, most ridiculous, friendliest guys I've ever known.
--Howard Kaylan And with Jim, he was always one of the happiest, most ridiculous, friendliest guys I've ever known. And he always had a bottle with him, which probably helped. He was never mean. He was never standoffish. He was very funny. He was always funny. He was a pleasure to be around. And even in the later days with the band, when everybody was talking about him as the Dark Prince and all that crap...he was not! He was fine. He would get into his poetry and when he got into his personal relationships I know it was very, very dark. But he was not coming from a dark place. He was a really cool guy! A great guy.
Bill: Well, that's nice to hear because it does serve as an antidote to the popular perception of him.
Howard: You know, that's why I wanted to do this almost as much as anything else. All of us were in that same boat together. I don't think any one of us was any ruder than anybody else. And therefore we take it across the "pond" and we see that there's a rudeness to those characters...I think there was. I mean I think there inherently was this idea that we invented the current rock n' roll, meaning the Brits, and that the Americans had come over to steal it back. Which was ludicrous, but you know I think we felt that way too. We felt like we were on their turf. You know, it wasn't like that good 'ol American rock n' roll was being recycled by the British people and we were there it to witness it. We looked at the British Invasion as it was as big of an event as ever happened in musical history, and I still believe that to be the case.
Bill: Hendrix is the one character in the film who...well, prior to your film, he sort of exists more as a mythical figure, and this is the first time I've ever seen anything that made me really think of him as just a regular human being. He came off in the film as really laid-back, and certainly self-assured but not full of himself. To me, anyway, you seem to have drawn a character who was just starting to make it big, obviously, right on the eve of taking off. Yet the viewer of the film knows that in almost the next frame that Hendrix is going to be Jimi Hendrix, the big thing. I almost projected onto his character the foreknowledge that he was gonna really make it big, if that makes any sense.
Howard: Yeah, it does make sense. You know, you could kind of feel it. I mean I didn't know his music. I had never heard his record. And yet sitting down in the presence of that guy he threw off such incredible charisma. And he talked so intelligently about the music he was making as if he had a plan, as if he knew this music was different and why it was different, and that he had to make music that sounded like war. Because America, particularly, was obsessed with war. And so his reaction to America's reaction to the war was to put it right back into their faces ballistically. He wanted to make his music sound like machine gun attacks and overhead bomb strafings, and all of this stuff he was feeling. And remember--though I didn't know it beforehand--he had been in the Army.
Bill: He was a paratrooper.
Howard: He had lived through all of this stuff. It wasn't like he had to try to picture what it would've been like to be in combat. He had been there. So he was taking this back and shoving it in the faces of Middle America and was saying, "You don't know what it was like. This is what it was like. And those sounds took people right there to the battlefield.
There was an urgency to Hendrix's guitar playing and to his writing that has never been duplicated because nobody went through those experiences. And nobody filtered all of those musical experiences through the years that he had playing on the chitlin' circuit with Little Richard...and backing up Ike Turner and doing all of the things that he had to do to get to that place where he was considered to be not only a personality and a brilliant sortta over-the-top performer but a state of the art musician. He was always the player's player.
Bill: I clearly heard in the film and then I got confirmation about this when I listened to the commentary that some of the songs were remixed for the film, like leaving out the horn parts in "She'd Rather Be With Me." Was that the one?
Howard: That is the one, sir. That was not my idea. I mean, I have to give the credit to Harold Bronson who thought, "Let's not use the original [mix] here. They're playing at the Speakeasy Club in London." We sounded exactly like we sounded on the record with the addition of those horns with "She'd Rather Be With Me" kind of a razzmatazz honky-tonk song, so he yanked all of that out. And we yanked down the piano parts that made it sort of honky-tonk too and turned it more to what we sounded like in person for the last shot of the movie.
And I think it works. It keeps you "in the minute", and it makes you remember that those horns and all of those orchestra parts that the Turtles wound up working with later in their career that all of that stuff was thrown on after the fact.
When we went in we always went in as a band. There were no sessions players who ever played on a Turtles record. We were not the Monkees or the Byrds or the Beach Boys. We played our own stuff. We were the only L.A. band as far as I know who played their own stuff. I will still take that to the grave with great satisfaction, and we did it, and I'm really proud of the fact that we never fell back on session people or in Lee Sklar or Hal Blaine--that whole team, the Wrecking Crew--those same guys. You know, I'm still in contact with those people and I love them forever but they never played on a Turtles song.
Bill: And it's part of what gave you a different sound, too. This morning I was listening to the three songs that you did on the BBC's Saturday Club. During the same trip, I guess. I know that the BBC stuff was always 2-track or something. You could do the instruments live and then you could go back and overdub the vocals, but that was it. So this is, to my knowledge, the only actual recorded evidence of what the Turtles actually sounded like live back in the day.
Howard: You know, I don't think people know--that even after all of this time has passed, and even though we are trying to immortalize ourselves after the fact--not a lot of people realize what a great band that Turtles band was.
Listen to a drummer like Johnny Barbata. He was emulated by nearly everybody out there who is playing music today. One of the great rock drummers of all time, certainly. And we brought Jim Pons with us into the Mothers Of Invention because he was just that good, and he stayed with us for...maybe...20 years, and he is known as "our guy." This band was incredibly tight. We knew what we had and we really loved to perform.
I still think that still shows up in our current shows. I think that when you see a Turtles show in the year 2009 or 2010 you're gonna see the exact same love of the music. If people like it and if we weren't fans first and performers second we wouldn't be here.
Bill: I saw you back in the 90s. And about 7 or 8 years ago you played at Harrah's Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina (which is only about an hour from here), and I missed that. Since then you haven't been in the area, 'cause I've been checking.
Howard: Ah, we're the victims of circumstance! What can I tell ya? The economy is certainly changing things.
Howard: A lot of cities that last year at this time would've been throwing free festivals and appreciations for their townspeople and stuff are realizing that they can't do that. If they really want to take the parking meter money that keeps the city alive, in their charity work and their maintenance of roads and schools and stuff they really have to stop being generous with their free festivals and a lot of the community appreciation stuff.
It's making it very very difficult not just for bands like us...that's the selfish way to look at it....but it's making it very, very difficult for America as a whole to get entertained. The idea is...being road guys we're supposed to come to you. You're supposed to stay in your town and we'll be there to visit you. We're a traveling circus with a road show. When the road show stops...when they tell you that they can't afford to bring in any more money this year, that "we're not going to have Community Appreciation Day", or you know, "we're cutting back to save the school $10,000" or whatever it is...it hurts all of us. It's not that it hurts musicians. We're not special. We're just part of this incredible time in history when we all really really gotta tighten our belts.
So we're trying to bring as much music we can to as many people as we can, over the summer particularly, and hopefully we will get to perform nearby, and that's all I can say. I would like to be there as often as I could.
Bill: My Dinner With Jimi made its debut here at the Asheville Film Festival. Between then and now, what kind of efforts were made to get theatrical distribution for the film, and what, if anything, did you learn about the marketability of films like this and the way the film industry works overall?
Howard: Hahahaha! You're a tricky one! What I learned...well, first of all Asheville was very very good to me. My Dinner With Jimi actually won the best full-length feature award, so I have a lot of love for your town. But it just goes to show you that between that time in 2003 and this release six years later, it was one of the most frustrating periods in my life. Because the film just sat on a shelf.
It did very very well in 2003. It won a lot of awards and it played all over the world, at Woodstock and in Havana, Cuba and in London and in the places you wouldn't expect this little movie to work. It worked quite well. So I was very very happy...I would've been very very happy just to see the movie released to home video at that time, however at that point Harold Bronson, the producer of the film (I invoke his name yet again!) was laboring, I believe, under the misconception that "Well, I paid X amount of dollars to make this little movie, and unless somebody wants to reimburse me for X amount of dollars to release that little movie, I'm not going to."
So it sat on a shelf for many many years. I was constantly in communication with Harold and his partner Richard Foos, both of whom had been bought off by Warner Brothers in the subsequent years since the movie was made. I now have nothing to do with Rhino. They each made $16,000,000 from that deal and are just sortta sitting on it. Richard begins another company called Shout!Factory, which is very successful doing the same kind of catalog and the same thing Rhino always did and specializing in TV and motion picture releases. And Harold kinda just sorta kicked back and enjoyed his money and his free time with his family until last year.
Last year I took a trip to Canada and I bumped into some yuppie up there who owned a distribution company who had seen My Dinner With Jimi at a film festival and asked me how he could acquire the rights. And I put him in touch with Harold Bronson. We made a deal for a Canadian theatrical release. I went up to Toronto and to Winnipeg to open the film there. That was last year. The film did pretty well and subsequently got released in Canada as a DVD.
Before it came out, I got Harold Bronson to go into the studio with me and record a commentary track, thereby giving Harold another little incentive to shepherd things through to a US release. Then finally when the Canadian DVD came out and Harold realized that there was money to be made out of it and the only one who wasn't making it was him, that's all of a sudden when an American release was planned. And it's coming out on Microwerks, which is an imprint of Shout!Factory. So Richard Foos' involvement is still ongoing. Howard and Richard still retain the Rhino logo for film use. And it's a Rhino movie. There it is for all to see.
But boy, it was an incredibly frustrating bunch of years. I am so grateful this movie is out and anybody can see I actually did something in the 21st century.
Bill: In the film it's made clear--and it's reinforced in the commentary--that you never did find out how you got back from the Speakeasy to your hotel room.
Howard: I have no idea.
Bill: But the commentary also mentioned that at least some of your band mates stuck around even though you weren't aware that they were there. So have you not gotten the rest of the story from those guys, not even from Mark Volman?
Howard: You know, all of their memories are even hazier than mine, which goes to show you what level we were talking about as far as alcohol consumption on that evening. But I understand that a couple of those guys did stick around and got at least involved in hanging out with Graham again and some of the other Hollies who were there that night.
There was an incredible jam session which I missed that apparently took place that evening. I have no recollection, but I'm sure I was out of the club by that time. But Clapton was up on stage, and Hendrix had been up there. God knows, it must have been spectacular. I don't know if any of those guys could have walked to the stage. But I have no recollection of getting back there at all. I took in quite a few shows. Jim Tucker flew home.
The band changed on me from that point on...it was never a six-piece band again. It would remain a 5-piece organization until its breakup. And we continued to have adventures and we continued to have hit records. But I think we were never quite as innocent again as we were that night. It was a kind of loss of virginity, I think. I "lost my cherry" to that trip.
And it was crucial to me that...it has always stayed with me, as the White House performance did, as several of these seminal evenings in my career have. And I hope that I get a chance to write them all down. Because you just don't know in this crazy world. Michael Jackson and Sky Saxon and Ed McMahon and all of these people just passed this last week; it has been sort of devastating.
So you know, you hope you can pass your legacy along at least to your kids, and you hope that you're leaving something behind that will outlive this little puny body that we've been given, you know. If you can do that...if you can leave any lasting imprint...it's not exactly like walking on the moon, but it's a contribution.
Howard: And it's the best any of us can do.
Bill: Well, this isn't so much a question and it will probably seem a little strange, but...you know the whole "six degrees of separation" concept? Well, my family is originally from the Bronx, and back in the 1950s and 60s my grandmother worked at a department store called Alexander's, and she worked with Bertie Feigin, who was Teddy Feigin's mom.
Howard: [groans] Awww...
Bill: The White Whale Records guy.
Howard: It's a really, really small world. Well, Mr. Feigin and Lee Lassiff certainly got our career off to a start. I would certainly like to find him now and put him into a locked room with a cougar. But you know, bygones being bygones and everything leading up to this moment in my life, good or bad, I have to say that he wasn't all bad.
Bill: I have some Turtles collector's recordings, unofficial stuff...
Howard: I really want to hear that 1967 Saturday Club performance. That's the one I really wanna hear.
Bill: It's amazing. It's clipped at the very beginning and at the end, but the recording quality is definitely release quality. It's amazing. And the hairs just stood up on the back of my neck when I first heard it, because you know, as I said...people nowadays don't think of the '60s Turtles as a powerful live band. I mean, they think of the songs more than the band, if you know what I mean.
Howard: Absolutely. You know, we were a group that sold singles. We weren't really an album-selling group. And by the time albums got to be big, the changeover from AM radio to FM radio was happening. And we were caught right in between. I truly believe that had we stayed the Turtles after 1970 and not joined Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that we would not have a career today.
Howard: Yes, I think with that change from AM to FM, going into a very hip audience who would remember us allowed us to sing on all of those background sessions. It allowed us into the world of Bruce Springsteen and Blondie and the Ramones and all of those people who were viewed as being much, much hipper than the Turtles ever were. And you know, getting to sing on hits like "Love My Way" with the Psychedelic Furs and stuff like that, and T. Rex's "Bang A Gong" and records that are iconic, and "Hungry Heart" for that matter...all that adds a certain hip element to the Turtles that wasn't there before.
And those people are the ones who come to our shows, not just to see us from the '60s, but to hear that stuff, to hear the stories behind them, to hear the medley of the Zappa years, and to kind of relive 60s, 70s, and even 80s history. Because you know by the time we were off in the 80s doing reggae music and writing Strawberry Shortcake and G.I. Joe for television. Things had really changed, you know, we were getting to be quite corporate. We were beginning to understand how to survive in the music business, not just how to be in a rock band. And I think that just carried us along. Here I am, I just celebrated my 62nd birthday. And I am about to leave on a 5 week tour of America. So we're doing something right, and the fact that it's still being appreciated and the fact that I'm still enjoying it means that it's working.
“Frank Zappa turned into an incredibly gigantic father figure.”
Bill: You know what I love? "We're all Gumby". I love it. Sounds like "I Am the Walrus." I've got a recording of you on Dr. Demento, presenting that song.
Howard: Hal Willner, the guy who does all of the music for Saturday Night Live put that record together. It's a very very hip record to be a part of, and I think that our song, that Beatles-style song on that record, is probably one of the strongest things...I know it's a real oddity. But you know, I think I'm gonna try to get that so we can set it up online for a download at least. 'Cause people should hear that if they want to. Because for 99 cents, what the heck?
Bill: It's a bargain at twice the price!
Howard: If you want to know anything about the music of the Turtles, or Flo and Eddie, or me, or any of those offshoots, we're all over the place. Everything that we've ever done from the Crossfires to Dust Bunnies is on iTunes and is available on Amazon and anywhere you look. So you know, we try to make sure that anybody who remembers us, remembers us correctly.
Bill: I just realized in researching...I didn't realize that you had put out a solo album recently.
Howard: Yes, sir, that's a great one. I'm not pressing those records anymore, but they're out there, and as I say the mp3's are out there as well. So yeah, give it a listen. Because you know the songs that I recorded on the Dust Bunnies album are songs that the Turtles never had a chance to record. Or that Flo and Eddie would ever go into a studio to make. These were songs that I have loved for, in some cases, thirty, forty years. And I've always wanted to put out an album of them, you know, B sides, album cuts, pop music songs that I always thought would work as rock n' roll.
And I went to the studio in Billy Bob Thornton's house in Beverly Hills and recorded the album over a two week period. It's just me for the most part, and my keyboard player, and we got a band in from New York City to layer it and put instruments on it, and I think it sounds really, really good. Dust Bunnies is sort of in the tradition of a Turtles album. I don't think it will disappoint.
Bill: One more left-field question if you don't mind. You know, how our memories can play tricks on us and...I saw "The Turtles Featuring Flo and Eddie" at an outdoor concert about 18, 19 years ago. And I have a recollection of that show that no one who was there can or will corroborate. Did you ever do an onstage medley where you did a bunch of songs and all you did were your backing vocal parts from "Hungry Heart," "Bang A Gong," "Love My Way" and so forth? Did that happen or did I dream that?
Howard: That happened. You were not on acid. You did not dream it. We actually used to do that. We did a medley of our background hits. Nobody sang the lead. It was just the "oohs" and "ahhs" and the "oohs" and "ahs" in "Hungry Hearts" and yes. We may do it again. I think it's that kind of perennial thing that once in awhile we sneak through in our shows.
We've got a new album coming in August called New York Times. It's a two-record set that we compiled over 15 years of live performances at New York City's Bottom Line. Mark and I used to go into Manhattan every year around the holidays and do shows in Manhattan and in Greenwich Village between Christmas and New Year's. We would tape every single one of those shows. These two albums are the 15 years' worth of music that comes from those shows that are not hits. There are no "Happy Togethers" on that record. There are no Turtles songs whatsoever. These were the bits that were written by Jerry Lewis, and John Carpenter, and Woody Allen and the comics that we love and the musicians that we emulate. They're silly, wacky, bizarre Mothers off Invention-type songs that distinguish the Flo and Eddie years from the Turtles years, and it not only sounds amazing but it's quite hilarious.
We were originally going to just release it to our fans. It was just going to come out as a fan album, available on our website. But our attorneys and our management people thought that it was a better record than we had imagined and that it would do quite well, especially on an international level. So we decided to make the thing available. And we did it in a very unusual way. We put the records together. We made a disc. All the photos and credits and memories and all the 15 years' worth of what we went through to make these recordings is on-line only. You have to go to the website. You have to go to a link, and then you can pretty much follow it along song-by-song with every one of those 15 years of radical, mad recordings.
Bill: Now, is "Marmendy Mill" on there?
Howard:In fact, it is.
Bill: Oh, my God!
Howard:The only other...we put two actual songs on, and one was a Graham Gouldman song from the film Animalympics, you know the guy from 10cc and that stuff...
Bill: Yeah, I know about Graham Gouldman. Mockingbirds, wrote the Yardbirds' "For Your Love," et cetera...
Howard: He wrote a song called "We're Gonna Make It To the Top," which is an incredible song that closed our show one year, and the other was "Marmendy Mill", my autobiographical song from the second Flo and Eddie album. Live and in person it sounds so good that we had to include it.
It's a very difficult piece to perform. But we didn't overdub anything. We just left it the way it was, live in person at the club, and it's a beautiful performance. The band is so incredible that we put it on the record, but I think that for any Flo and Eddie fans that know what we did after the Turtles, this is a better way to get a glimpse of the Flo and Eddie years than any of the stand-alone studio records that we put out.
Bill: I just thought of one other thing. I also have a number of live Flo and Eddie shows, I guess from the 70s, when you were opening for Alice Cooper. If you don't have some of those I can throw some of those into the package too.
Howard: I'd love that, sir. Nothing would please me more. That's great. As I say, they only exist in my memories. They may be around. You may find them on YouTube or on MySpace or some such thing, but I'm not the kind of guy who sits around Googling myself. So unless somebody sends me this stuff, I never get a chance to hear it. So I really do appreciate it.
Bill: Well, I will. And just this morning I got the [bootleg] Mothers at the Fillmore West, November 6, 1970. Not the one that was released officially (Fillmore East). It's a soundboard...you do "Daddy Daddy Daddy" and all that great stuff from the 200 Motels film. So like I said, I've been a fan since I was a little kid.
Howard: Well, I appreciate that. Hopefully your kids will get to be fans too. I'd like to keep everybody.
Bill: I'm working on 'em.
Howard: Good deal, man! There's nothing like teaching your kids about the music that you love; it's the only way we have of perpetuating anything decent.
My Dinner With Jimi, the true and hilarious story of the Turtles' Howard Kaylan's meeting with rock royalty -- was released on DVD June 23.