Flo and Eddie are to the music business like Kevin Bacon is to the movie business. There seems to be six degrees separating the duo from anyone—and everyone—else in the industry.
Flo—AKA Mark Volman—and Eddie—AKA Howard Kaylan–were just a couple of New York-born, SoCal-raised high school friends who made a big splash in the ‘60s as the guiding forces of the Turtles.
When they were very young, they had a host of hummable, hit pop tunes: “Happy Together,” “Elenore,” “I Only Wanna Be with You,” “You Showed Me,” and a cover of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Kaylan and Volman stuck together when the group disbanded, joining Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention for a few albums (and the movie 200 Motels), and billing themselves as the Phlorescent Leach and Eddie. After parting ways with the Mothers, they truncated the name to Flo and Eddie and became background vocal specialists, lending their talents to classic tunes as diverse as T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” They also performed with a diverse stable of artists like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Ray Manzarek, Stephen Stills, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar and the Psychedelic Furs. In their spare time, the guys wrote and performed music for the animated favorites The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. They also supplied the voices, the screenplay and the music for the Bakshi-esque animated film Dirty Duck.
Additionally, Flo and Eddie had successful gigs as disc jockeys in New York and Los Angeles, and put out several albums that offered such novelty gems as “Keep It Warm” and “Nikki Hoi.” With a resume like this, you’d think there would be a great book about Kaylan and Volman’s exploits in the world of rock-and-roll over the last five decades.
“I had begun to write an autobiographical book and started out with my views and carried it forward,” says Kaylan from his home in the state of Washington. “I thought it would turn into a VH1 movie kind of thing, I didn’t want to make just a book of the thing that made such an impression on me.” Well, Kaylan—the bearded one, as opposed to Volman, the cherubic, curly-haired fellow—decided to tell his story in a different medium.
“I never even considered my experiences as a film,” confesses the 62-year-old Kaylan. “But it became a germ inside of the brain of Harold Bronson, who was the head of Rhino Records. Harold went on to a lovely retirement. And yet he was frustrated and wanted to do other things.”
Rhino’s track record in the movies was spotty at best. They had produced the unsuccessful Frankie Lymon biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, featuring Halle Berry and Angela Basset, which Kaylan calls “a really depressing movie.” Then there was the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was originally supposed to be helmed by Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy.) Eventually, Terry Gilliam came aboard with star Johnny Depp, and, according to Kaylan, booted the Rhino contingent off the set. While the film caught on eventually on DVD as a cult item, it failed miserably when first released in theaters.
But Bronson eventually took a chance, backing a short based on Kaylan’s script. The focus was on a story Kaylan once told Bronson about the wild, mid-‘60s night in London when he met guitar hero Jimi Hendrix. “I bought the ‘Final Script’ (computer) program and some books and wrote it just about the night in London,” recalls Kaylan. “We made a little film, and they wanted to take it to Warner and give it a mini-release and get it to film festivals. But then they said they can’t get anything released at 20 minutes, they said they needed another hour, so I had to go back into the ‘Turtle Diaries’ that I’ve kept for years.”
Kaylan’s script turned out to be My Dinner with Jimi, a breezy ride through 1960s rock-and-roll chronicling the rise of the Turtles as America’s answer to the Beatles. Eight days were added to the one-day shooting schedule under the direction of Bill Fishman (Tapeheads). The movie works as a frenzied mini-history of the band, following their U.S. success and their first tour of Europe. Making cameo appearances are the likes of Zappa, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass Elliott, Donovan, the Moody Blues, the Beatles, Graham Nash, photographer Henry Diltz and, of course, Hendrix. Recruited to play supporting parts were John Corbett, George Wendt and Curtis Armstrong.
One of the highlights of My Dinner with Jimi is a scene in which the Turtles land at L.A.’s fabled Canter’s Deli after a gig and run into the likes of Morrison, Elliott and Zappa. But Kaylan admits that the incident never really occurred—it is a composite of a typical post-gig early morning. However, “everything else in the film is exactly as it happened,” according to Kaylan.
“I can close my eyes and view it as a documentary,” says Kaylan, who tours regularly with Volman and other musicians as The Turtles, featuring Flo and Eddie. “If you lived through the 1960s, there’s a link that you feel, maybe it was the 16 mm and hand-held approach we used. If we used things money could have bought it may not have come across as well. Anyone who lived through the era can relive the experience. My 19-year-old daughter gets it.”
The film played in several film festivals and was enthusiastically received. But it took a few years to make it to the American market, because Bronson refused to put it out. “We went to Canada and it opened in Toronto,” says Kaylan. “DVDs were out in foreign countries. You could get it Portuguese or German, but not English.”
Eventually, a DVD deal was struck—years after the film’s completion—and it came out on DVD a few months ago. “This was important to me,” says Kaylan, relieved the film has finally found its way to domestic DVD. “It was like writing a book or doing a solo record to me.”
True to the era’s groovy atmosphere, My Dinner with Jimi is filled with extraneous drug use. “It was my idea not to have any moral consequence of the drug use of the era,” relates Kaylan. “This is not a morality play in any way, shape or form, and that bothered some of the higher-ups (at Warner, who at one time distributed Rhino). Nothing bad happened (at the time), so there’s no morality. They would have liked it to have a neater ending to have it tied up in a bow. But drugs made us hipper, stronger and better, and helped us jump into 200 Motels and get our day in the spotlight in hipness.”
A surprising sequence in My Dinner with Jimi depicts the Turtles meeting with the Beatles. And the film’s portrayal of John Lennon is not all that flattering. In fact, Lennon is painted as a needling jerk, who mocks The Turtles, whose aspiration was to become the American version of The Fab Four.
“Quite frankly, I kind of understand (his behavior),” says Kaylan. “John was at the peak of his power in 1967 and the Beatles ruled the earth as gods. It’s hard to see it if you pictured this man as a god. This is 6 o’clock in the morning and these guys are drunk and high. The fight McCartney had with Jane Asher (depicted in the film) did happen. He was short, but Lennon was lot more venomous. The fact he got on (Turtles guitarist) Jim Tucker’s case. He singled him out for the mod suit and mod haircut, which is absolutely authentic. McCartney kept elbowing him, ‘These men are our friends.’
“I was lucky and fortunate he didn’t come down on my ass or we would have never stayed in the club. Jim Tucker still regrets the incident. When you’re a rock god, things are different. The Beatles were terrific guys. This was just one bizarre night where John was a little too goofy.
“Under similar circumstances, I probably would have done the same thing,” admits Kaylan.
“Years later, Lennon brought it up,” Kaylan says. “I purchased a little pipe in Greenwich Village and I had it with me. We were in a room with guitars and John and Yoko and Frank (Zappa).
“I broke out my hash pipe, and gave it to John who took a hit, then Yoko did, and we all get wasted. Lennon brought it up. I said, ‘You were kind of interesting that night.’ He said, ‘What can I say? I was a d**k!’
“Paul remembers it vividly to this day. He’s got quite a memory.”