The Phlorescent Leech And Eddie, whose real names are Marc Volman and Howard Kaylan, are probably better known under their band name, The Turtles. They're still going strong into the 21st Century, touring with a revitalised Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie. They started in the 1960s and have continued, through trial and tribulation, right up to the present.
So how did it all begin; how did 'two guys from Westchester' become some of the most influential songwriters and performers of the 1960s and '70s; how did they actually get into the Mothers of Invention (MOI)?
It all started in 1956, when the family Kaplan1 moved from New York to Los Angeles and settled in Westchester. Volman's family had always lived on the West Coast, in Redondo Beach, but moved to Westchester in 1948, a year or so after both the boys were born.
Although they attended different schools, they finally met up when they joined the Westchester High A Cappella Choir. At the time, Kaylan and two other members of the choir, Al Nichol and Chuck Portz, had their own band, The Nightriders, along with Don Murray and, eventually, Jim Tucker. Mark Volman originally joined them as a roadie. The year was 1962 and Dick Dale was King of the Surfing Sound, and The Crossfires, as they had been re-named, were initially and primarily an instrumental group, with Nichol being one of the finest exponents of the surf guitar.
Kayman and Volman were playing sax, but, as the band's popularity grew just at the time when The Beatles were having a profound effect upon music in the States, Kaylan took over lead vocals and Volman laid harmonies behind and played tambourine. At this time, they were no longer in school and money was becoming a problem. They were on the verge of disbanding when they were introduced to two men, Ted Feigin and Lee Lasseff, who signed them to White Whale Records. Times were changing and, with those changes, came a new name. One week, they were The Crossfires, the next, they were The Turtles.
Not long after signing to White Whale, The Turtles released their first single, a cover of Bob Dylan's 'It Ain't Me Babe'. It was an almost immediate triumph, hitting the Top Five across America, and making the band a force to be reckoned with. For a band with experience of playing only local bars and college fraternity gigs, their first concert came as a shock: opening for Herman's Hermits at the Rose Bowl in front of about 50,000 people.
The only financially viable way for bands to tour in those days, generally speaking, was in an entourage. The Turtles went on the road with the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars, playing with such luminaries as Tom Jones and Peter and Gordon, more invaders from the UK. The band had developed an energy that well suited the folk/rock, rebellious protest songs of that era and it was unfortunate that they turned down the chance to record 'Eve of Destruction'2. Their next hit, a sugary little ditty entitled 'You Baby', set the tone for what was to follow. White Whale could see real financial success looming, so the rebel image was curbed and the band was tidied up after the release of 'You Baby'. Management wanted a self-penned hit as a follow-up and, only they know why, chose a song called 'Grim Reaper of Love'. An odd, un-Turtles-like composition that had none of the pop sound that had typified 'You Baby'.
The 'Beatles Influence' and Taking Off
'Grim Reaper of Love' had sitar and drug overtones; it has been said that it was probably the first acid-rock single in America, hitting the market several months before the infamous 'Eight Miles High' by The Byrds3. The Beatles, it seemed, were continuously breaking new ground, musically speaking and influencing what was 'hip' in the process. The Turtles seemed to adopt the attitude that 'If The Beatles can do it, then so can we', meaning that if the Fab Four could have a guru, smoke dope and use weird instruments, then so too would they. The Beatles heavily influenced the ongoing development of the band.
'Grim Reaper of Love' was a minor success, but the management were looking for the sort of charting that came with 'You Baby' and 'It Ain't Me Babe'. This was the thinking behind the release of 'Can I Get to Know you Better?' It bombed. At this time, a relatively unknown performer was signed to White Whale, one Warren Zevon, and they covered his song, 'Outside Chance'. To all intents and purposes, this should have been a hit; it's been likened to 'Day Tripper' in style and edginess, with a real pop overtone. It failed to show at all.
Things were rapidly going pear-shaped4; band members Murray and Portz quit and things weren't too good on the song front. Probably the only thing that kept them together at this time was the commitment of Kayman and Volman and the fact that the band had one of the finest live shows around. As with so many bands, they had come from the college circuit, cutting their teeth on live meat, and knew how to please an audience. The satire in Kayman and Volman's songs began to show through and new direction began to form.
Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon were a couple of writers in a New York band called The Magicians. The Turtles had one of their songs in reserve and chose this moment to go to the studio, with a new producer, Joe Wissert, and lay the track down. It was called 'Happy Together' and it was a phenomenal and immediate success. A Number One and the band were on a rollercoaster once again. The ride was capped by two more massive hits, both in the top five, 'Elenore' and 'You Showed Me', both hitting the charts in 1969. And as they became more successful, so they began to exert a stronger influence upon the direction in which their music was heading. All was looking shiny...
The White Whale Fiasco
As has happened so many times in the history of rock music, management and greed played massive parts in the eventual demise of The Turtles. Not greed from the band's point of view, but their road manager and White Whale. It is a complicated and convoluted tale that resulted in The Turtles making lousy records because they had been 'sold', without their knowledge.
Their road manager, Dave Krambrek, started playing games as far back as 1967, suggesting to the band that their manager, Bill Uttley5, was milking the cow that gave the golden juice. At the same time, more or less, Krambrek was whispering in Uttley's ear that the boys were fed up with him and, in the meantime, was working with the White Whale management to oust Uttley for a different, more co-operative manager.
There was suing, counter-suing and lawsuits flying, and most of this had been started without the band's knowledge. Manager followed manager; they couldn't do this, they could only do that. Everywhere they played, they had law-suits and litigation hanging over them. There really only was one way out of it - disbandment.
Mark Volman described the break-up as 'having a root canal that lasted for five years'. Ten years of hard work and friendship was slipping away in a morass of enmity and litigation. It even got to the point where Kaylan and Volman, who had an huge reputation as the 'voices' of The Turtles, were not allowed to use their own names on any records that they made.
The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie
The Turtles finally disappeared in 1970, and as well as not being able to use their real names, Kaylan and Volman had, early on in the history of the Turtles, signed away their rights to that name too. An offer from Frank Zappa found Kaylan, Volman and Jim Pons, last survivor of The Turtles, signing up and becoming Mothers of Invention (MOI). The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie were born.
Later shortened to Flo and Eddie, Kaylan and Volman became an integral part of the MOI circus and live act, having their own spot during shows and providing backing vocals; and their lasting influence on this aspect of Zappa's music can be heard whenever you listen to him. They toured continuously with the MOI, and were present at the notorious Montreux Festival, in Switzerland6, and when Zappa got himself beaten up in London during a concert.
They toured as Flo and Eddie, after they had split from Zappa in 1972, and their backing band during these tours was made up of The Mothers of Invention: Jim Pons, Don Preston, Gary Rowles and Aynsley Dunbar. Strange to tell, they only appeared on four of Zappa's albums:
- Chunga's Revenge
- 200 Motels
- Live at the Fillmore
- Just Another Band From LA
The music kept on coming. Their first 'solo' album, in 1972, was the eponymously titled The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, followed by, in 1973, Flo and Eddie. 1975 saw Illegal, Immoral and Fattening, produced by Bob Ezrin7, but only ever released Stateside, more's the pity. Other albums include:
- Moving Targets - 1976
- Rock Steady with Flo and Eddie - 1981
- The Best of Flo And Eddie - 1987
- The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie - Captured Live! - 19928.
The Flo and Eddie Band toured Europe and America in the mid to late 1970s and, when they finally called it a day, Kayman and Volman turned their attention to broadcasting. This career move proved as lucrative and successful as the music and they developed a nice side-line in voice-overs and music for animated features, such as Strawberry Shortcake and The Care Bears.
It's 1984, and you can't keep a good band down. 'The Happy Together Tour' rolls across the USA and Canada with The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie and three other bands from the 1960s, including Gary Puckett. The format was repeated the following year and included The Buckinghams. In 1989 there was more radio work and the pair were syndicating their show countrywide to more than 50 radio stations. They kept recording, and have been doing session work since the early '70s for the likes of Pink Floyd, T-Rex, John Lennon, Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen, The Ramones, Stephen Stills, The Psychedelic Furs and Duran Duran. They continue to work to the present day. The tours keep touring and Flo and Eddie keep on rocking. The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie; not just another sad old bunch of has-beens, trying to keep their glory years alive, but a band of guys who enjoy doing what they do; if it all came to end for The Turtles tomorrow, the impression is that it really wouldn't matter. They have their friendships and their memories. This is the current line-up:
- Mark Volman is Flo and sings
- Howard Kaylan is Eddie and he sings a bit too
- Tristan Avakian plays guitar - he sings as well
- Don Kisselbach plays bass - and sings
- Benjy King plays keyboards - and he sings as well
- Joe Stefko plays drums - but very loudly
Listen to the music, and find out why the harmonies and strange key changes have earned Flo and Eddie a place in rock history. It doesn't matter what sort of music you listen to and enjoy, they will have, somewhere in their repertoire, something that you will recognise; and it will inevitably bring a smile to your face.