Very few rock performers have remained as vital through the 1960's, 70's, 80's, and 90's as have Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman... and as The Turtles, featuring Flo & Eddie, they continue to maintain a vigorous tour schedule.
Two guys from Westchester. That's how Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (AKA Flo and Eddie) refer to themselves. Two slightly bewildered kids thrust into the fast lane of rock 'n' roll stardom - hits, fame, national tours, hanging out with the Beatles, joining the Mothers of Invention, acting in the "200 Motels" movie, and on and on ... Two guys from Westchester.
Howard Kaylan (changed in 1965 from Kaplan, because that's how he always wrote his name) was born June 22, 1947 in the Bronx, and spent his first eight years in Manhattan before his father took a job with General Electric in Utica, New York. After the family moved there for a year or so, they moved to the Los Angeles area, settling in Westchester. Mark Volman was born April 19, 1947. After a brief period living in Redondo Beach, his family moved nearby to Westchester.
Little did they know it at the time, but both Mark's and Howard's musical direction was forged by a crusty, old Mr. Ferguson who gave clarinet lessons in a drafty cubicle above the Westchester Music Store. Mark went to Orville Wright Jr. High, while Howard went to Airport Jr. High They didn't know each other, but they both pursed their lips around clarinet reeds for Mr. Ferguson, who ran them through the gamut of "Deep Purple" and "Anapola, My Pretty Little Poppy".
The puckers soon gave way to wide grins when their friendship formed in the Westchester High A Cappella Choir, which was conducted by Robert Wood.
Mark was a first tenor, Howard a second tenor. (Wood was so influential that the duo later named a publishing company after him. "Mr. Woods Music.') It was quite a choir, and won all sorts of city competitions. Look at the accompanying photo and you'll see not only Mark and Howard, but Al Nichol and Chuck Portz, all standing right next to each other!
...In 1963, Al Nichol, Howard Kaylan, and Chuck Portz had just changed the name of their novice surf combo from the Nightriders to the Crossfires. Mark Volman knew them from the Westchester High A Cappella Choir and joined the group (initially as a roadie). Also in the band were Don Murray from Inglewood High and Dale Walton.
Dale was later replaced by Tom Stanton, who in turn, was later replaced by Jim Tucker. Ironically, their music was almost exclusively instrumental! Four guys from choir forming an instrumental band? Actually, it wasn't all that surprising. In 1962, the hardest dance music of the time evolved out of Dick Dale's concept of the Surfer Stomp, searing guitar solos over a pounding rhythm section. Nichol was one of the very best of the city's surf guitarists....
The effects of being in a band had their social consequences. Howard expresses it this way: "In B-10 I was socially less than a potato; in A-10 I was like Fabian to those kids." The pair, along with the rest of the band, were thrust into an Animal House-like existence. Here they were, mere lads of 15, their fingers ripping away at their saxes, playing at fraternity parties. The naive duo were exposed to wild bacchanals, strangely devastating drinks like "Red Death," and all manner of mayhem.
To rise to the occasion, and to keep the frat boys happy to insure the band of even more $200-a-night jobs (good money for 1962), the Crossfires adapted their own, original versions of standards like "Money" and "What'd I Say" that were laced with the well chosen obscenities that the UCLA party boys loved so much. An ill-timed rendition of those very same ditties at the Westchester Women's Club effectively banned the Crossfires from Westchester, for good.
They set their sights on the adjacent South Bay area (Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance) and quickly found themselves winners of several Battle of the Bands competitions that resulted in a residency at Reb Foster's (a local DJ) Revelaire Club. The group also had a fan club of sorts, "the Chunky Club," whose members made obscene genital gestures with the help of spoons during band appearances. (For more insight into this period, refer to the Crossfires album, Out of Control)
It was here that demands were made upon them to learn the various hit recordings of stars like the Coasters, Sonny and Cher, the Righteous Brothers and others for whom they would occasionally become the backup band.
In 1964, the Beatles and the whole English Invasion took effect. Mark and Howard put down their saxes, took up the vocals more ardently (Howard did most of the leads, Mark backups and tambourine) and the Crossfires dropped their entire repertoire of surf instrumentals and grew their hair long.
Despite this response, and their following at the Revelaire, frustration set in. The members weren't in high school anymore, two were married, and the band wasn't earning enough money. On the night they were submitting their resignation from the Revelaire and about to break up, they were approached by Ted Feigin and Lee Lasseff who signed them to a brand new, nameless record label, later to be called White Whale.
It was time for a name change as well. The group liked "The Half Dozen," or "Six Pack," but opted for Reb Foster's suggestion, The Turtles (like The Byrds, right?).
It was exactly the same band and the same songs - one week at the Revelaire they were the Crossfires, the next week they were the Turtles. It wasn't long before the release of the Turtles first single, their arrangement of a Bob Dylan song, "It Ain't Me Babe." It was an immediate hit - climbing into the Top Five nationally - quickly establishing the Turtles as a force of their own. Their first concert appearance was before 50,000 kids at the Rose Bowl, opening for Herman's Hermits.
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