Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles

One of the most self-deprecating books I’ve ever read. Howard Kaylan goes through his career with the Turtles who never really took themselves too seriously. They wanted to be the American Beatles…just like every other band at the time but did it with a sense of humor. They were a singles band that had quite a number of top 40 hits. According to Howard, they lucked into most of it. They only wrote a couple of their hits.

Their hits included “Happy Together” #1, “It Aint Me Babe” # 8, “She’d Rather Be With Me” #3, Eleanor #6, “You Showed Me” #6 and many more.

After the Turtles broke up, he and Mark Volman went by the name “Flo and Eddie,” for legal reasons and made a career of unusual rock-comedy albums and developed a following. They immediately began playing with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and was there when Frank was pushed off the stage at the Rainbow. They were also in the Zappa movie 200 Motels.

After Zappa, they worked as a duo and released a lot of albums for many different labels.  They were more known for their live performances and they were a good opening act. Howard and Mark were columnists, radio hosts, session backup singers, talk show hosts, actors, composers, and anything else to make ends meet. They did the background vocals on Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen.

Howard and Mark wrote the Strawberry Shortcake theme and they wrote music for the Care Bears.

Another rock autobiography…big surprise! But unlike some of the others…Howard wasn’t rich and could not live off of royalties or constant touring like many of the other rock stars that have spilled it all recently.  After the breakup, The Turtles could not even tour as the Turtles until later on because of their label. They were broke many times but opportunities would pop up like being radio hosts and would help them make it to the next big thing.

Now they tour on the Happy Together tour with other artists and have been doing it since the eighties off and on.

They ended up owning their name and the master recordings from the 1960s because the label went broke and they were smart enough to get the rights… Howard and Mark were the first to sue rap artists for sampling their material without paying for it. They won and now everyone has to pay to sample anything from another artist. The Turtles were the first big artists with a catalog to sign with Rhino Record and helped the label to take off.

It may be the funniest of all the recent biographies. He ran into a lot of famous people and even made a movie out of meeting the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix in 1967 at the Speakeasy in London called “My Dinner With Jimi.”

It is a funny book with a lot of laughs but you have to scratch your head while reading about Howard making the same mistakes over and over. For Howard, it was drugs, women, marriage, drugs, a girlfriend, divorce, marriage and more drugs…maybe it’s not that much different from the richer stars after all.

I was never a big Turtle fan. I have an account with Audible and this was recommended. Overall I did enjoy it.

Below is an excerpt from the book about meeting The Beatles in 1967 and John Lennon being vicious toward Turtle rhythm guitar player Jim Tucker… Today Jim Tucker denies this ever happened. He said that John didn’t even say a word to any of them so who knows?

Paul said, “I really enjoyed your record.” And then, to me, “Great voice, man. Nice set of pipes.” I was bursting.
Then Lennon. “Yeah, that’s a lovely bit of Flower Power in the middle there with those ba-ba-bas.” And then all three of them sang the ba-ba-bas. And we were all beside ourselves with swollen pride.
“So, where did you learn to sing?” Paul asked me.
“High school choir, I guess. Then we formed the band and started playing local clubs, you know, a little bit of R&B stuff—”
“What kind of R&B stuff.”
“Oh, you know, ‘Money,’ ‘What’d I Say,’ ‘Justine’…”
“‘Justine’ by Don and Dewey? I love that song.”
And then Paul began to sing the Crossfires’ trademark soul song. I joined in on the answers and the chorus. Ringo played spoons on the tabletop while the customers watched and Lennon looked on as if bored to death. When we were done, there was a smattering of applause and Paul said, “That was great. I’d love to do that with my band some day. You sing great.”
“Oh my God, thank you,” I gushed.
“Still, it is a bit sappy on your record there when you sing ‘invest a dime’ with that cry in your voice. A bit light in the loafers, if you ask me.”

“What?” Yeah, I became defensive all right. “We’re just trying to be the American version of you!”
“Touché” said McCartney.
“Well, that’s not bloody likely, is it?” Lennon piped in. His eyes skipped from Turtle to Turtle, checking us out for the first time. “And what do you call that guy over there?” John pointed at Tucko, who was cowering in his wrinkled brown suit, thrilled just to be noticed.
“That’s Jim Tucker, our rhythm guitar player “
“Bad suit, son. And an even worse haircut. Did you tell your barber to give you a Beatle cut? It’s awful, man. You give rhythm players a bad name.”
Tucko, oblivious, stumbled for words. “You’re like a god to me, man. You guys changed my life.”
Much to his credit, Pons tried, in vain, to turn the conversation around. “We just heard Sergeant Pepper and I’ve got to thank you on behalf of the entire world for the greatest album of all time!”
Paul graciously nodded thanks and toasted us with his beverage. But John was not to be denied.
“Tucko, is it? I could have a lot of fun with that name. Let’s see… Tucko Tucko, bo bucko, banana fanna fo fucko…”
Tucker winced and Lennon saw the weakness and went in for the kill.
“There was a boy named Tucko, a very stupid fellow—”
Finally, Jim realized that he was the butt of Lennon’s abuse and could hold back no longer.
“What is your problem, man? You’re supposed to be the Beatles! I fuckin’ loved you guys and you turn out to be assholes.”
Lennon feigned shock and recoiled at the words.
“Tsk, tsk … such language. What would your mum say?”
“She’d say you were a dick, that’s what! Man, was I wrong. You’re a total shit! I’m sorry I ever met you!”
Lennon shook his head slowly, savoring every syllable. “You never did, son. You never did.”
And with that, Jim Tucker walked away from the table, up the stairs, and into a cab. And, following the few British shows we had lined up, Jim flew home and never played music again. The Turtles would continue on as a five-piece band from that time forward. The other guys followed Jim upstairs, and our goodbyes were a lot sadder than our hellos had been.



Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

21 thoughts on “Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles”

    1. Jim Tucker denies it but it really sounds other people’s stories of John at times.
      It’s a funny book and like most musicians, Howard would not get the husband, father, and role model award but most of them at that time would not…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With McCartney apologizing… btw… very off topic but The Drive By Truckers were not anything like I was expecting… I listened the Buford Pusser song and I liked it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Glad you liked it- I listened to their The Dirty South album this morning…. yes I can see Paul apologizing!……. Looks like Clayton is getting back on track– and your Dodgers in first this morning.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. They need to upgrade that bullpen… but I’m happy! They showed a lot by coming back from 10 games under 500 at the start…. Kershaw hopefully will avoid injury the rest of the way.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. For all the injuries they have had so far- to be where they are right now- they look to be in good shape if they can stay healthy. I see Buehler came back and pitched well last night…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I thought the Kemp trade was a salary dump by both teams. I don’t like him at all – for fantasy league reasons I had him right after his big years–when he did little. Never again will he appear on any of my teams!!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. He got what he wanted so now he is a Dodger again and happy… I don’t think we would lost weight and played like this if he would have played for the Braves… and that is sad… how about Max Muncy…. the FO has a knack for finding these guys

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This book looks like a good read. I love My Dinner With Jimi. That Lennon story is awful. He’s been said to have a ‘cutting sense of humor’, but this was more like practicing cruelness for sport, on sensing he was talking to a genuinely nice guy. It is hard to reconcile that meanness with the Lennon lyrics that yearn for peace and togetherness. It is tragic unfinished business that Lennon isn’t here today, to explain himself and apologize (or refuse to apologize), if given the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if losing his mother, uncle, and his father not being around was the cause but yes if he saw weakness he seem to exploit it… Jim Tucker today denies it but of course he would. I’ve read where John did mellow out as he got older… Poor Paul would have to clean up after he would do something like that.


      1. Lennon wasn’t a teenager. He was a grown man who knew how to be courteous to people. He may have been drunk and/or weary of being recognized and adored. Not to mention, he knew who these guys were, and that they were darn talented at his craft. It’s hard to know everything that was going on with Jim Tucker on that tour too. It’s his business to tell or not. It’s too bad he and Lennon were robbed of the chance to ever have even a private conversation about it now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh I agree with you…
        and being Paul would not be a thankful job going around cleaning up messes.
        It would not surprise me in the least that it was true. Howard did mention in the book after John played with Frank Zappa that he apologized about the incident but that didn’t help Jim Tucker.

        I’ve never seen the movie… I’ve got to see it.
        The book is very entertaining and honest. Being a husband and father I sometimes cringe at things but it was a different time and lifestyle…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ve added the book to my reading list. Thanks again for the recommendation. I’ve loved The Turtles since I was little, but I’ve never seen the duo’s touring act, even though they were here in town just a few years ago. Darn day job.

        The movie is just plain fun watching. The Lennon exchange is in there, but it doesn’t bring the mood down too badly. And there’s somewhat of a reconciliation moment near the end, which hopefully doesn’t give too much away.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I did see the Turtles in 1985 and they were a lot of fun. I didn’t realize the hits they had until I read this.
        Thank you that movie will be on my list.

        Liked by 1 person

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