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Howard Kaylan Storms the White House in 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles' - Exclusive Book Excerpt

The adventurous musician recalls a near-miss with Tricky Dick

February 25, 2013 10:00 AM ET
 Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.
Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.
Courtesy Backbeat Books

The Turtles, a 1960s folk rock band, were only around for five years – but during that time, they landed a ton of hits on the charts, including "Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be With Me" and their Top 10 cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe." They also partied like maniacs and had enough wild adventures to fill many books.

Howard Kaylan, the group's frontman (and Eddie from Flo and Eddie) has a new memoir coming out in April – Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa. Here's an exclusive excerpt in which he describes their performance at the White House in 1969 at Tricia Nixon's coming-out party.

 

I was snorting coke on Abraham Lincoln's desk in the White House. Yes, that Abraham Lincoln and that White House. A bunch of hairy peacenik dopers from California though we were, it seems that Tricia Nixon, daughter of Tricky Dick himself, was a fan of the Turtles and had requested our presence. Our first instinct: you've got to be kidding! No way in hell!

Yet here we were, our noses vacuuming lines off the surface of Honest Abe's very own workspace.

We had gone through several managers during the past five years and been on the charts far more often than anyone would ever have guessed, considering that we were the only ones looking out for us, and that White Whale Records wasn't much of a label.

Random Notes: Hottest Rock Pictures

There had been the folk-rock years, and we had been lucky enough to score a few big hits; we were among the earliest children of Bob Dylan, putting our cover version of his tune "It Ain't Me, Babe" into the Top 10.

Then we had become the good-time music boys, influenced by the Lovin' Spoonful and determined not to protest anything. We'd made it to Number One with a song that's still recognized today as one of the classic rock & roll love songs of all time. "Happy Together," indeed.

And, now, finally, we had engineered our own success with "Elenore," our first self-penned Top 10 record, and "You Showed Me," which we had changed from a Beatlesque rocker into a lush ballad.

We were lucky and we knew it.

Of course, now we had the big-time management to prove it.

Gone were the friends of friends—we'd realized that we really weren't in any position to manage ourselves—and hello to the new Superstar Management Team.

We had been courted, successfully, by Ron DeBlasio and Jeff Wald, who were, at the time, top reps for the Campbell-Silver-Cosby Corporation.

That's right—Bill Cosby.

Mister Pudding Pops.

Fat Freaking Albert.

Bill, his own self, was a full partner in the firm that represented him.

And us.

And others.

And his sweaters.

And he was the number one comic in America.

Across the hall was the office of the appropriately named Artie Mogul, who ran the in-house record company, Tetragrammaton, home to Deep Purple and more.

Of course, he had nothing to do with us. Neither did Mr. Cosby, but his name promised to open a lot of doors in Hollywood and that was exactly what we needed.

But what, I asked, could these guys bring to the table for a band that had been around the block and, hypothetically, overstayed their welcome?

We didn't have to wait long.

 ••••

We had heard, through the grapevine, that the Turtles were Tricia's favorite band, and we'd all had a good chuckle over that.

Old Man Nixon was the creepiest Dick of his generation, the least popular president among the under-30 crowd that had ever been, and a killer of our young men and women, as far as we were concerned.

We were deeply anti-war and deeply self-conscious. We weren't Nixonites, that's for sure. We were everything he stood against.

So when the hand-engraved invitations to perform at Tricia's coming out party arrived at the Cosby office, we were none too thrilled. In fact, we flat out refused to play.

They started to freak out.

"What do you mean, you refuse to play?! Who the hell do you think you are?! This isn't a political thing. It's like a goddamned royal proclamation, you idiots! You play the White House because you're an American!"

Blah, blah, blah …

They shamed us into it.

Not only that, but to add insult to injury, management now was requesting that we each go out and buy a classy new suit. Can't play for the president looking like the sewer rats that you really are.

Perfect. There it was, again.

Too bad Johny Barbata wasn't the drummer in the band anymore. He'd have loved the sight of us clumsily trying on the very Brioni suits that he'd been trying to get us to wear for three-and-a-half years.

Now we had each bought one. Talk about fish out of water.

****

Came the big day, May 10, 1969, we flew into Washington, D.C. on the taxpayers' dollar. There, we were met by five separate cars, replete with drivers all flying the American flag, and taken directly to the White House. Once there we discovered that the Secret Service had dossiers on each of us. They kept us in a holding lounge while going through our intimate details individually.

After we had all been cleared, it was time to unload the equipment that we had brought with us all the way from L.A.

But we didn't do the unloading. Instead, the Secret Service guys did. And they didn't know the first thing about large equipment cases. So as they began to unload the trap case from the drum set, the large case that holds the snare drum, percussion goodies and miscellaneous items, they tipped it to one side and, unknowingly, triggered the tiny switch on the electric metronome/tuner that we always carried with us.

"…..tick….tick….tick."

Out came the guns.

"Up against the wall!"

Oh, we went there. Up against that wall it was as they carted off our little black box. We stood there, a rock group inside of enemy territory, the Nixon White House, looking down the crosshairs from the wrong direction. Guys in HAZMAT suits were brought in to deal with our little plastic tuner and their freak-out escalated yet another notch when someone hit the tuning switch and the 440 cycle "A" tone started shrieking from the metronome.

The term "shitting a brick" comes to mind.

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