The Popdose Interview: Howard Kaylan
On a cool night back in May, I ran into Howard Kaylan at the opening of Graham Nash’s photography exhibition at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City. We chatted for a few moments after I explained that I was slated to interview him, and he shared the history of his friendship with Graham, stemming from the Laurel Canyon days in the 1960s.
Our conversation was politely interrupted by a tall gentleman who tapped Howard on the shoulder. He’d seen Howard giving a taped interview earlier for a documentary by Henry Diltz and wanted to ask him a question. But it wasn’t anything to do with Howard’s long-lived career as a Turtle, or any of their monstrous hits (five in the top ten between 1965-69), nor was it regarding the time that Howard puked all over Jimi Hendrix, as detailed in his autobiopic, My Dinner With Jimi, nor did he ask any one of the plethora of FAQ from Howard’s time with the Mothers of Invention, including the age-old, “Is it true that Frank Zappa never took drugs?”
Instead, the man leaned down and asked, “Are you famous?”
To which Howard deadpanned, “No.”
It’s an interesting answer for a man who happened to be in New York to promote the release of his highly-anticipated autobiography Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc., which chronicles all of those points I mentioned above, and so much more. Howard Kaylan will never have to fudge to fill a gap in his resume; he’s simply done it all. And he’s still doing it all: he’s currently on the road with the Happy Together tour for the rest of the summer, stopping all over the United States. Beyond that, he has a vision of the future and a checklist of goals to accomplish, including writing more books.
I spoke to Howard a few days later, after he’d returned to his home in Seattle post-a whirlwind book tour.
Have you recovered from your New York trip?
I needed to do a 12-hour sleep marathon to do it, but it proved okay. That’s what happens to me — I store up sleep hours. If you’re doing a summer tour for instance, and getting four hours or five hours of sleep a night, there’s one point in your week where you’ve gotta kind of say, “Okay, this is it. I’m not answering the phone, I’m not going with anyone sightseeing tonight, or any of this crap. I’m going to close my eyes and sleep. Let the maids just keep knocking like crazy on the door, I’m not answering,” and just catch up. If you’re on the road like we are for three months at a time, if you can get a good sleep once a week that’s enough to carry you through, but if you can’t, then strange things start happening to the human body, oh, around the age of 65.
Is that right?
Trust me. You just don’t want to get up after awhile. You’re like, “They can do it without me.” Thoughts cross your mind about how you’re going to get out of it. And then you think to yourself, “What do I really wanna get out of it for?” I’m only really onstage this entire tour for 28 minutes. Not that bad. I’m onstage for the same amount of time as Gary Puckett for heaven’s sake, and if he can slog his way through those songs, certainly I can do it.
The Happy Together tour lineup is great this year.
Yeah, it really is. It’s cool. We’ve got a lot more dates this year than we had in the previous seven years of doing this tour across America. Remember, we’re old. The hardest part is the travel. They don’t pay us for the shows; we do the shows for nothing because we’re so full of angst by the time we get there, but it’s the eight hours in a bus that does it to you. We know that it’s a very harrowing experience on our timid old bodies, but it’s great.
You’ve got to give the public a lot of credit — they know what they want to see. We sort of put a list in front of them at the end of every summer and go, “Okay, who do they want to see this year? Who haven’t they seen onstage in 20 years that would just blow their minds?” That’s why you put together a show and go, “Where is Gary Lewis? What’s he doing? I don’t know. Let’s find him! It’s been so long.”
Then you realize all those hits that he had, “Count Me In,” “Green Grass,” and “Everybody Loves a Clown,” and stuff that isn’t “This Diamond Ring,” which was so huge — you just think “oh my God, this guy is going to be a giant draw.” There are people so curious about what he looks and sounds like. In the midst of his father’s reputation and the telethons and all that crap, Gary maintains a place in rock history all by himself. His story of going to Vietnam, his father not saving him when he could have called the White House and just said, “My kid doesn’t wanna go,” and it would have been fine. Jerry didn’t want that. He wanted his son to be out there in the trenches, and he got exactly what he wanted. Gary’s story has always been a little bit sad to me and it made his music a little melancholy. I’ve always somehow identified with him.
Mark Lindsay brings in another audience all together. He is still a teen idol. I can’t believe that guy. He’s 130 pounds, doesn’t have one ounce of fat on him, and he does these incredibly rigid pilates exercises.
It shows onstage. I remember seeing the Happy Together tour a few years back and watching him high-kick.
That’s right! He does “Kicks” and he does the Paul Revere steps. It’s just amazing. He can kick way over his head like a ballet dancer or something. He never let his chops go away — he sounds just like he ever did. He’s terrific, I really love him.
Then you’ve got, my God, Chuck Negron. This guy’s got the best voice I’ve ever heard in my life; he always did.
When the Happy Together tour revived in 1984, we went out on the road and did many, many cities with Three Dog Night. We played one show in Jones Beach, New York at this beautiful, big, outdoor auditorium right on the ocean and along with us on the bill were Three Dog Night among other acts and they were fighting offstage. This is when all three guys [Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton, and Cory Wells] were in the band. During the show, Danny went out by himself onstage, and Cory went out by himself, and then Chuck went out by himself and sang. Then, they’d all come out at the end and sing a bunch of hits together and it was a magnificent show.
Only this particular show, they were fighting backstage and Chuck never went back on at the end. Ever, ever, ever. So, it was Cory and Danny for the entire rest of the night. It was a classic rock ‘n’ roll “I’ve had it story.” Chuck flew home and Three Dog Night continued as Two Dog Night. Chuck decided he was gonna take a real break from rock ‘n’ roll and he didn’t sing for a long time. I guess he got himself into some trouble, but he came out the other side swingin’ a bat and he sounds unbelievable. I’m thrilled to have him on the road as well.
And then, Gary Puckett is a mainstay. I think if we did one of these tours and didn’t have him on it, the audience would be really, really mad. He adds that balladeer quality to the show and it lifts it to another level. He’s very patriotic, and he does things onstage that I would be, quite frankly, embarrassed to do. He finds that heart and soul in the audience members that I can’t take the time to look for. I’m too busy trying to do a show to really look into their hearts and figure out where they went wrong or who’s fighting or what kind of condition their minds are in. I would never slip in a song that wasn’t heartfelt to me, so I applaud him for doing those things that he does, like his Vietnam salutes and his songs that go out to the veterans. For me, it would throw our set down so improbably that I don’t think I could recover. I don’t think we could get back in the groove of the hits and having a good time that late in the show if we stopped and thanked everybody who had fought.
Right. But the Turtles offer something else — there are the hits, but there’s also a comedy element to your set, which is really great.
Well, thank you. We’ve cultivated it for an awful lot of years. Basically, we’re funny guys. We get up onstage and we can’t help being a bit goony about it. I can’t take it seriously. It’s been 50 years since we had our first hit record, for heaven’s sakes. You can’t really walk out onto your 20,000th stage and pretend like it’s brand new. You’ve gotta come with a little bit of snark.
We’re way too old to play innocent. We wouldn’t get away with the stuff that Peter Noone gets away with onstage, for instance. I can’t look cute from the 10th row like Peter can. It’s true that the closer you get, the more you’re looking at a portrait of Dorian Gray, but nobody gets that close. This is rock ‘n’ roll. So, from the 10th row, he looks like he’s 15 years old, singing those songs, and putting his finger into his cheek and doing those little cutesy dances. Well, I can’t do that! That would be absurd and stupid. I look older than your granddad, and yet I have the temerity to stand up there and sing, “pride and joy, etcetera” and, “your folks hate me,” when in actual fact, if this woman had folks at all, they’d be dead and buried by now.
I know what I’m singing is a hit record for hit record’s sake. I’m not trying to connect to the 12-year-old girls in the audience, believe me. That is not my intention. But, it is a great thing to see the 12-year-old girls in the audience singing along with “Happy Together” and their parents who are 30 and their parents who are 50 and maybe their parents who are 70 singing along with this song that everybody grew up learning together. And that makes me very, very proud because that’s my song. They can say anything they want about me, or the band, or try to take away popularity in 2013, or not buy my book, or refuse to buy “Happy Together” again but they can’t pull me out of history. They can’t change the fact that “Happy Together” was one of the top 50 songs of the 20th century, and they can’t erase my name. That’s all I ever wanted on this planet, was to walk a little heavy and to leave some footprints. I am not Buzz Aldrin here. I can only do what I can do.
Since we’re rock ‘n roll musicians, we don’t have a pension plan. We check out with the toys we’ve got at the end of our run, period. So, I’d better put on happy face and realize that a lot of my high school friends retired at the age of 50 and I’m still out here sluggin’ along because there is no retirement in show business. There just isn’t. Unless you’re just so damn wealthy you can afford to take a few years off to get your shit together. I can’t do that, and I wouldn’t do that anyway. Taking a few years off never helps anybody get their shit together; it only distances you more from your audience and your bandmates, so that’s a dumb thing to do. I’ve just been around way too long to accept that sort of an end to my career. That’s not what I’m going to go out like, at all. I’m going to do this rock ‘n’ roll tour thing, three months out of every year, until I can’t do it anymore.
I’m going to give myself a few years on [tour] and then it’s going to morph into something else, and that’s the show I’ve been doing to directly promote this book. I did it at the Grammy museum, at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and several other museums and it’s really, really been great. It’s an audio-visual show; I get to sing, I get to show clips from the career, I get to answer questions. It’s really a fun evening “with” instead of just, bam bam bam, here are the hits and we’re out of here.
I recently saw Ronnie Spector do something similar here in New York where she told stories and sang and showed footage of her career.
It’s what’s going to happen. All of us are going to be doing it soon. It’s the wave of the future. Let the kids have the auditoriums and the big crowds, and let’s scale our acts down a little bit and take it back to you know, Jerry Lewis-country. That’s exactly what Jerry Lewis did for the last five or six years, that’s what I saw Bob Newhart do not three years ago when he came through Seattle. He told his famous jokes, he showed clips of himself on The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson, and he talked and answering questions about it. There’s a huge difference between telling people you were on Ed Sullivan and showing them you were on Ed Sullivan.
I think everybody is going to do this very, very soon, and I’m just waiting until our rock ‘n’ roll lives are kind of done. I’m not worried about other people doing this before me because I think my life has been so damned unique that it’s going to take quite a book of somebody else’s memories to equal my time as a Crossfire, a Turtle, a Mother, a Flo and Eddie member, with my experiences with Bruce, [Marc] Bolan, Blondie, the Ramones and all of that. There they are. I’ve got the pictures. You wanna talk about it? Let’s listen to what it sounds like. There are all these advantages to having a life well-lived in this business.
But, I do believe that that is the wave of the future. So, anybody with any kind of a past, get your slides together!
I think about that sometimes, what the next shift might be for “legacy acts,” although I hate that term.
We’re all theatrical acts. If you’re on a stage right now and you’re just some sort of a clone, wearing a flannel shirt, facing straight ahead, playing your hit records, leaving the stage without talking to, oh, I don’t know, the members of your own band, collecting a million-dollar check and taking a limo home until the next gig — I would say that’s a gyp. The people in the audience who are paying $350 to see that recreation of their music would be better off paying $10 to download their greatest hits, putting on some headphones and saying, “They were great once.” You can guess who I’m talking about, I don’t like to name names, but for heaven’s sakes, when you’re charging $350 a ticket, you just want more. I think most of the people in my position who have been doing rock shows for as long as I have feel the same way. You gotta get some bang for your buck. These clowns from the ‘80s and ‘90s can’t clomp out there on stage and pretend they don’t give a shit and get paid enormous amounts of money to just do nothing. It gives live concerts a bad name, it really does.
People are sick and tired and they think, “Man, if I plunk down $350 and that’s what I got, what happens if I only plunk down $60 to see the Happy Together tour. What am I gonna get?” Well, you’re gonna get a lot of people who care a lot more, because everybody in this show is invested in not only making the audience go, “Holy crap,” but also in preserving their own careers and have done successfully for over 50 years.
Anybody that promoters ask back for 50 years is doing something very, very right in entertaining an audience. You don’t get asked back if you left a bitter taste in their mouth or if you’re hard to work with or if you’re prima donnas or any of that crap. We are doing something right. We’re giving the audience exactly what they paid for. And they come away from a Happy Together concert seeing two-and-a-half hours of solid hit records sung by the actual people who made them famous, not the bass guitar player, not the original drummer, but the real, actual guys. So, when you come out to a concert and you’re seeing 40 hits, and you’ve got the possibility to meet these people and buy their records, or in my case, a signed book, who’s to say? But, I think it’s a good thing.
I think we’re almost public service. We take along an entire busload of students from Belmont University, where my partner, Mark [Volman], is a professor. We had over a dozen kids with us who were interns for their entire slice of the summer, and they earn college credits for their work. Each of them live the life of a roadie; they have their own bus and drive all night long to the next gig. It’s a great, great thing for them and it’s a great, great thing for us. At the end of the summer, everybody’s happy and they come out of it either finding out that they love getting into show business or think twice about it.
Having students around probably adds to the great vibe among the artists on the Happy Together tour. A genuine, excited vibe.
Yeah, we’re friends! I’ve known these guys since the ‘60s. You don’t grow out of friendship with Gary Lewis or Chuck Negron or Mark Lindsay or Gary Puckett — you don’t. That type of camaraderie doesn’t come along in every medium. You wouldn’t find a bunch of plumbers in their ‘60s that would get together for three months for any reason.
I’m proud of us all. We’ve all done it. We’ve done it separately, but it brings us together. At the end of this show, when we do the finale, everybody comes out on stage together and the flashbulbs are going off like it’s a Lady Gaga concert, I can’t believe it. And we tell the audience, and it’s quite true: you’ve never seen this happen on a stage before with these particular bands, and you will never see it happen again, so get your cameras out because this is history. We deliver. It’s a show. I’ve got a really good summer ahead of me and I’m going to be writing a book while I’m doing it.
What kind of book?
I’m working on a fiction noir book now, but I’m also contemplating getting my shit together to write a biography of a show business friend of mine, who I didn’t get to spend very much time with in his life, but I really miss him — Soupy Sales. I really have to do this. This is a book that’s been yelling at me to write for many, many years, even before Soupy passed. I want to make sure that people realize how wonderful this guy was and what he went through. It’s good for me, and it’s good for him. I’ve only got one autobiography in me, but I think I can put the same sort of sense of humor in Soupy’s book, too.
It’s interesting how you seem to always have been one for keeping a record, starting with your diaries in the ‘60s, to My Dinner with Jimi, to Shell Shocked.
You know, I never thought about myself as somebody who wanted to set the record straight, but I guess in a lot of ways, it’s true. Nobody’s really told the truth about the ‘60s; everybody glosses over it and turns it into a fucking VH1 movie. I did not want my life to be that because it isn’t that, and neither was Soupy’s and neither was anybody’s that I know. Nobody’s life is that plain and simple that you can turn it into a three-act play and at the end, everybody’s holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” It doesn’t happen that way. It didn’t happen that way for the Beach Boys, or the Cowsills, or anyone else they’ve done a biography movie on, and it’s not real life. I want to tell the story of the real way things happen, whether they happen to me in my generation or in Soupy’s generation. I want to set the record straight for everybody that I’ve ever known so that they can move on and have the same feeling I did that their life was totally worthwhile and they won’t be forgotten.
I hope it didn’t disappoint because I told everything. I didn’t hold anything back. All of my ex-wives, all of my ex-managers, everybody knows [everything]; they were put on the carpet because of this. I, so far, haven’t gotten any legal recourse from any of my actions, so I’m assuming that it’s kind of better to let those allegations dissipate in the wind, rather than addressing them.
What has the reaction been from family and friends?
A lot of them have more respect for me now than they did before, and some of them are holding their distance a little bit. A lot of the ex-wives and the girlfriends have been a little suspicious; they don’t want to end up in a second book or anything like that. But, I’ve had a lot of positive comments as well. I thought my first wife would really be on my case because in her particular instance, I was cheating on her from day one, and I finally left her and gave up everything for the freedom that another girl gave me. I thought I would really, really hear it from this woman, but through our daughter, she tells me that she thought she was held in very high regard considering. I don’t even know what to make of that because she wasn’t, but if that’s her attitude, then I’m glad. The only kind of a reason I can give for that acceptance of my words is that I did tag all of my mistakes with the line, “I was an enormous asshole.” To leave someone else holding the bag would be to put the blame on the wrong individual; she had nothing to do with it. She was living her life the way she knew how to do it, and I was the one who came into her scene and said I can’t do this anymore.
And yet, Pamela Miller [now Des Barres], writes me and says, “Listen pal, for all that I went through with you, I’d better be getting my book free!” We had a real thing and it lasted a real long time. I do gloss over it in my book, but when she wrote her book, I had to take out an entire chapter and beg, “Please, let’s not do this. Can we just say we did this and this and kind of wrap it up?” She did do me the honor of letting me go through my chapter before I’m With The Band came out, so I was able to nip it in the bud. In her case, she didn’t get that. I submitted it to the publisher, hoping that Pamela would be okay with it, and she is okay with it. She’s a great, great chick. It shows in her actions and what she does and thinks. so I wasn’t really really worried about it, but it did open up a lot of emotions. You have to kind of own your actions at every stage, no matter how old you are, no matter how much of a kid you are, how immature, you’ve gotta own it.
Was writing the book cathartic?
Oh, yeah. It was very cathartic, but instead of making me feel like I had gotten it all off my chest, I felt like I had opened more doors than I had closed. All of the closed doors that I had creaked open long enough to look inside, see what I’d done and quickly slam again and move on weren’t slamming. I saw skeletons behind every one of those doors and to not address them would not have been to move on in my life. It would have been to just create the same old gerbil wheel that I’ve been on anyway. I ignore the past and I keep going. Well, that’s great for a career, but it means death if you’re trying to create a relationship, or any kind of a string of lasting relationships. I had to step back from myself and see how much of a dick I’d been in my life. I had to go into a twice-a-week therapy, where I will go right after I finish talking to you. I have to do it. You can’t open that many doors and be that much of a dick in your life and just close the doors and keep moving. Anybody who writes a book and says, “Oh, it didn’t affect me at all,” is lying.
I think ultimately it is a healthy process. It’s a very costly process when you figure in what you’ve done in your last 65 years on the planet and try to make amends for it, at least mentally. But, if you don’t do that, then I think you’re kind of screwed. You can’t see your dark side and call it to attention of all these other people and then sort of say, “I’m a better person now,” and move on, because you’re not.
How long did it take to write?
The better part of a year. I would finish my chapter and send it to my co-author [Jeff Tamarkin] and he would read the chapter and the next day he’d send me back a list of questions, and he would fill in the holes for me that I missed. He’d also bust me on things like, I’d say we left on a Thursday night for a Friday show, and he’d say, “No, you didn’t because I have the flyer. The show was on Saturday, so that means you left on Friday night.” Then I’d have to go back into my books and go, “Son of a bitch, you’re right!” He was so good at fact-checking. He is a documentarian. The voice and words are mine, but the dates and the places I had to run by him to make sure I hadn’t screwed anything up. I wanted every fact in this book to be absolutely perfect. I didn’t want anybody to come back from a Zappa website and say, “You spent an extra week in Switzerland and then you went on.” And I’d say, “No, I didn’t. I know what hotel I stayed in and what I had for dinner. Don’t tell me.”
And you know there’d be some asshole who’d say that.
Of course. They’re all over the place. They think they know. “Well, I wasn’t there, but I think I read somewhere that this is what you did.” Shut the fuck up. You don’t know me and you don’t know my story. You never met those people and you’re not an authority. They weren’t on the road with Frank, they didn’t see what he did, they didn’t live through what I lived through. They don’t have any idea what that man was like once he got 8,000 miles away from his house on Mulholland Drive. They don’t know. I do! It’s ridiculous to me.
Some of the books place Mark and me in a room with Frank trying to put a band together in the late ‘60s when we were still under contract to White Whale Records and making records as the Turtles, when we were still years and years away from even thinking that we would need to join the Mothers of Invention to have a life in show business. They are so wrong. They are so out of context that it’s like reading Johny Barbata’s autobiography, where not one thing in there is factual.
I’m not here to blow the whistle on anybody, but I’m here to say that my book has the facts. You can read their books too, I recommend that you do; if you’re a completest, you’ve already gotten them. But my book has the real dates and the real stories. I’ve got nothing to gain by lying to any of these guys, and I’m still around to sign your books if you send them to me.
There’s a quote from the book where you basically black and white it, and say, “If you were around at that time and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities, you’re a fool.” Is that a retrospective feeling for you, or did it feel like rock history while you were living it?
It didn’t feel like rock history, but it certainly felt like it was the time to take advantage of your status in the rock community. Rock people on the road were treated like some kind of perverse royalty. If you didn’t take advantage of the situation in the era of free love, you were a choir boy or by choice you made up your mind not to participate in the greatest event that probably ever happened to culture on this planet, which was total pre-HIV sexual and drug freedom. It hasn’t happened since, and it will never happen again. It was only around for those 25 or so years and it was awesome. Only your grandparents can tell you about it now, kids, or you can learn from others, but it was unbelievable.
To have passed that up, to have not participated in it because you were in a long-term relationship — I’m not sure that I buy it. I’m not sure that I believe you. I know for a fact that 99.9999% of the so-called “committed people” in a relationship during those years strayed almost on a nightly basis. There wasn’t any monogamy in those days. If you were on the road, you were screwing anything that came into your bunks. 200 Motels was all about groupies, what that life was like, and the road and how it makes you crazy It still does, and I’m proud to be still crazy after all these years.
Another story I loved in the book was the night you almost met George Harrison, but met some cops instead…
It was sad, man. They kept us overnight. They had no charge, but they were just trying to keep the streets clear from rock ‘n’ roll hoodlums and had it not been for David Marks in the back seat yelling, “Piggie, piggie! Oink, oink, oink!,” my night would have been golden. I’ve never felt that bad. I’ve never felt as futile in existence as I did in the back of a police car driving past Harrison’s front door on Blue Jay Way, looking inside and seeing George. He kind of half-waved, and I couldn’t wave back because I was in handcuffs. I spent the night in jail, and we were released early the next morning on our own recognizance because it was illegal search and seizure. There wasn’t anything in my car, it was just harassment for harassment’s sake and every longhair in 1966 got the same treatment in Laurel Canyon, that’s just what happened. I chalk it up to a rock experience, and I never met George. That, I’m sad about. He was inserted into My Dinner With Jimi for dramatic effect, but in real life, he was not there. That’s one of the big regrets of my life, that I never met George.
I was going to ask if you had any regrets, but that might cover it.
That’s right up there. Never working with Roy Orbison, too. I think I would have to put that up there in the same category. You know, a Wilbury I never got to meet.
But, we were lucky enough to be around so many showbiz legends. We grew up in a funny time in Hollywood. At one point in the ‘80s, we had our offices right down the hall from George Burns’ office. He would come into work every day, at 97, 98 years old, in a suit and a tie. He’d work on whatever, or he would sign his autographs, or write his memoirs, and then about 3 hours later, go back home, but we knew George fucking Burns.
We got to be good friends with a lot of these people, like Mary Tyler Moore. We performed at her AFI benefit in Hollywood met some of the most amazing people in the world — Ed Asner, Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Phyllis Diller and these people Mary had worked with her whole life — you name it, they were there in the audience, from Dick Van Dyke on down. It was just unbelievable. Mary had requested our presence, so it was a very cool thing. We were her favorite group; still are, as far as I know. We perform whenever she wants us to. She’s one of those very special people you don’t ever want to lose touch with.
And speaking of entertainment-related relationship, the one constant relationship for you is with Mark Volman. What keeps you vibing together as partners after all these years?
Probably our lack of proximity to each other. I think it’s necessary. I don’t think you can have a social relationship with a business partner. We had to spend a great deal of time together to prove to each other that we could actually physically separate and be cool, because we were really sort of attached at the hip for the better part of 40 years. Living in LA together, singing on everybody’s records together, even flying into New York and doing radio together and relocating for that very purpose. These are things you do as a team. The reason I didn’t sign with Steely Dan back in 1970 was because they had only asked if I would sing lead. Way back before then in 1964, when we found each other in high school, we knew we were a duo. We knew that each of us was bringing to the table something that the other one didn’t have. That’s how partnerships exist, so I don’t want to get too close to this guy on a social level.
We’re 65 years old now. Mark’s married, he teaches school in Nashville. I am married, I live an idyllic life in Seattle. I don’t want to live his life, he doesn’t want to live my life. Three months a year we get together and we live each other’s. It’s really healthy. I think you get to bring something new to the relationship if you’ve learned something outside of it. We spend plenty of time together every fucking summer. We’re in that car together every night. I know more secrets about that boy than you want me to know, and vice versa.
We lead totally different lives now. I could not teach school. I could not be a Methodist minister. I could not be the guy that Mark Volman has turned himself into. And he could not be me. I don’t think he could sit still these days and try to write a book, or make an album or a movie. I don’t think that’s what he wants to do. I think he’s a lot more comfortable educating kids and trying to get them to on their correct career or religious paths and I think it’s a really worthwhile place to be. We complement each other onstage as well as off. We’ve known each other for over 50 years. There’s no reason we need to be next-door neighbors.
And your partnership is probably made sweeter because you both, as the Turtles, still own the rights to your music.
That’s all we really need to share. And the checks.
It’s kind of ironic because the Turtles were constantly tied up in legal issues with management, but yet you’re one of the few, few acts of the era that still owns the rights to its hits.
I think we’re the only act of the era. And, in fact, go even later than that to the ‘70s and ‘80s and see if you can find more acts that own their music and I don’t think you will. We’re very blessed. We had to fight in court for many years for that name; it cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars we had to borrow. I’m not pleased with that, but we paid it back as soon as we could and have been the Turtles since 1984.
It’s been a very, very nice feeling for the last 20 years that every time our stuff is played, the check goes directly to us and we don’t have to go through a bunch of screwheads hiding behind mahogany someplace counting matrix numbers like they were selling shoes and pretending to be interested in the music, because they’re not. It gets to the point after awhile where it’s like, “Who cares, let them have their little trip, let them do what they want, it’s fine.” They will pay karmically for what they’ve done, and I can’t worry about it. Like I said before, move on. Those doors have closed. Examine them, see what you did right, see what you did wrong and you move on.
Do you ever wonder what might have happened if your life and career hadn’t turned out like they did?
I ask that almost every day. You can’t go through life not considering the road less taken. But, I don’t think that my life would have altered that much, especially in the early days because I knew exactly what I wanted. I set my goals there and I wasn’t going to take anything else and I wasn’t going to compromise. You know what you want to do in this life. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. The only way to disappoint somebody is to disappoint yourself, and the only way that happens is if you compromise your goals. That’s just stupid. Don’t listen to anybody. You know what you want to do in life, just do it.
I think I got the best out of the deal just by following my heart. And I would recommend that anybody faced with a similar quandary does the same thing: follow your fuckin’ heart, for God’s sake.
(Photos and images courtesy Hal Leonard.)