Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The Man Who Was A Turtle

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Shell Shocked
My life with the Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.

by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin
Foreword by Penn Jillette
Backbeat Books
ISBN: 978-1-61780-846-3
$24.99

Shell Shocked is an amazing autobiography. Howard Kaylan has had an incredible, almost “Zelig” like career, with almost fifty years in show business in one form or another. From being a teen pop sensation as the lead vocalist for The Turtles, to backing up musicians such as Frank Zappa, Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper, John Lennon, and Bruce Springsteen, to writing comedy, co-hosting a hit radio show, creating music for classic cartoons or writing science fiction, Kaylan has done it all. There’s a lot more to Shell Shocked than the story of the song, “Happy Together.”

Kaylan today, with an old Turtles album

This book chronicles his remarkable journey through life: the ups and downs, five marriages, two kids, legal wrangling that kept him from using his own name and loads of wild rock-and-roll adventures, complete with drugs, sex, gunplay, more sex  and brushes with icons of the music and entertainment world.

There are loads of tales of groupie sex, and a now-repentent Kaylan continually apologizes for being a rat with women.

Shell Shocked takes us from Kaylan’s days as a Turtle to his years as half of Flo and Eddie to his later careers with and without his longtime partner, Mark Volman.

This book cuts loose with rapid-fire non-stop action. It’s almost like listening to Kaylan relate his life story, in great detail, after ingesting too many amphetimines. The details, taken from years of Kaylan’s diaries, are so fascinating that you almost miss out on being star-struck by the famous people he’s known in his life.

With his musical collaborator, Mark Volman, in a photo not included in the book

At one point, Kaylan tells about meeting up with Graham Nash in London, listening to an advance copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.” meeting John, Paul and Ringo in a nightclub (Lennon was a jerk), running into Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and hanging out with Jones and Jimi Hendrix until Kaylan indulges too much and throws up on Hendrix. And that all happened on the same night.

Along the way, Kaylan makes more than a few bad business decisions. He and his bandmates sign a record deal as a group and individuals, and when they wind up suing their record company for cooking the books, he finds himself legally prohibited from recording under his own name for a few years. While this is going on, he turns down a job as the lead vocalist of a new group because they only wanted him and not his musical partner, Mark Volman. Steely Dan would have to go on without him.

The breakneck pace of this book leads to stories of so many collaborators and celebrity encounters that you don’t realize until you’re finished that you’ve just read a book that includes Frank Zappa, Ed Sullivan, Howard Stern, Strawberry Shortcake, Philip K. Dick, Harry Nillson, Bob Marley, John Belushi, David Bowie, The Amazing Randi, Linda Rondstadt and Billy West. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Shell Shocked is a name-dropper’s delight.

The Turtles years are a big part of Shell Shocked, both the 1960s and their 1980s concert revival tours. We get a great portrait of the California rock scene in the 1960s. Also of note is Kaylan’s insight as a member of Frank Zappa and The Mothers. This includes his account of the night that a fan with a flare gun burned down the hotel where The Mothers were playing, an incident immortalized in the Deep Purple song, “Smoke On The Water.”

With Frank Zapp and The Mothers in front of The Royal Albert Hall

Kaylan has had a fantastic life and this book is a spectacular chronicle of it. It’s hard to say how much credit should go to his co-writer, Jeff Tamarkin, a legendary rock journalist in his own right. From beginning to end Shell Shocked reads like Howard Kaylan’s authentic voice, telling his story in an overwhelmingly engaging and entertaining fashion. That’s a good indication that Tamarkin did a perfect job helping bring Kaylan’s unadulterated story to the printed page.

1970s era Howard Kaylan

Shell Shocked is a fun read. it’s upbeat and optimistic, even when dealing with dark moments like Kaylan’s failed marriages, bad business deals, and the deaths of his parents, friends and mentors. This book is simply utterly charming. Highly recommended for fans of 1960s and 70s music, or anyone who enjoys a good life story.

1 Comment

  1. Timothy Brownfield

    Howard Kaylan is a really great guy. I’ve never met him, but I like him one hell of a bunch! 😀

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