The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie haven’t played a full show in New York City in years, and when they do play in the area, it’s usually part of a package that limits them to 30 minutes, tops. So their full show Saturday night at College of Staten Island’s (CSI) Center for the Arts was truly special–and memorable.
The opening was laugh-out-loud funny: After a grandiose orchestral/choral theme–and the band’s entrance–Turtles Mark Volman (Flo) and Howard Kaylan (Eddie) entered wearing truly frightful Lady Gaga fright wigs to the tune of “Bad Romance,” with Kaylan pointing to his crotch while singing a few snippets.
“What have they done to our music, man?” he shouted out. “It never used to sound like that. Real music used to sound like this!” and with that the group went into The Turtles’ No. 3 hit from 1967 “She’d Rather Be With Me,” with Volman throwing in his four-strike cowbell solo at the end.
“Genius!” Kaylan affirmed, and Volman responded with his twin tambourine play on follow-up “You Baby,” The Turtles No. 20 from 1966–one tambourine winding up as a headband.
Kaylan,who remains one of rock ‘n’ roll’s all-time great vocalists, noted the astonishing fact that he and Volman have now been together 50 years since joining forces at Westchester High in Los Angeles in 1962. To celebrate, they dug deep, with their first hit, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the folk-rock Dylan cover that went to No. 8 in 1965, and “Gas Money,” a pre-Jan & Dean song that Jan Berry did with Arnie Ginsburg as Jan & Arnie; Kaylan and Volman covered the song when they were in high school, when they had a surf rock band called The Crossfires.
At CSI, Volman played guitar and Turtles keyboardist Greg Hawkes played sax on “Gas Money”–as The Crossfires were a surf guitar/horn band. And yes, that’s Greg Hawkes, formerly of The Cars. With The Turtles now six years, Hawkes first played with them before The Cars, when he was with Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture, and The Turtles guested on a 1977 Mull comedy special.
But as they noted, The Turtles appeared on tons of TV in the 1960s and ’70s: shows hosted by The Smothers Brothers, Della Reese, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, Leslie Uggams and of course, Ed Sullivan–who even when he was alive, was “dead–stiff as a Staten Island carp dead,” said Kaylan in leading into “She’s My Girl,” the Turtles’ psychedelic hit that they introduced during one of their four Ed Sullivan Show appearances.
Besides Hawkes (who played power ukulele while Volman perfectly aped Cars frontman Ric Ocasek’s vocal on their big hit “Just What I Needed”), the rest of the Turtles’ band was made up of longtimers Don Kisselbach on bass (he previously played with the likes of Alice Cooper and Rick Derringer) and drummer Joe Stefko (Meat Loaf and Ian Hunter), with relative newcomer (six years) Godfrey Townsend (John Entwistle, Alan Parson) on guitar.
The rest of the set mixed more Turtles hits with lesser known but choice Flo & Eddie material, Volman explaining how he and Kaylan had to record and perform under different names during years of litigation in the early ’70s with The Turtles’ record company. So from the Flo & Eddie (short for The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie) period came their poignant original “Keep It Warm,” the hook of which Gucci Mane appropriated for his rap hit “Lemonade,” “I’m In A Dancing Mood” (from their Jamaican reggae album Rock Steady With Flo & Eddie), and classics from their association with Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, including “Road Ladies” and “Magic Fingers.”
Volman also demonstrated his hilarious ability to mimic other singers, especially Jim Morrison on The Doors’ “Riders In The Storm” (“That was really us, man!” Kaylan proclaimed) and Bruce Springsteen, via a ridiculous, hysterical, right-on impression of a Springsteen rap about growing up and his relationship with his father, which led into the 1966 Crispian St. Peters hit “The Pied Piper”–here turned into a Springsteen anthem but with the lyrics of the Car 54 Where Are You? TV sitcom theme tacked on at the end.
Flo & Eddie, of course, sang with everyone from Springsteen (“Hungry Heart”) to John Lennon, T. Rex and The Ramones. But when Volman slipped into a bit of “I Love Paris,” Kaylan used it as explanation for a true travesty: “That’s why we won’t get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” Yes, The Turtles never took themselves seriously enough to be taken seriously.
“We’re going to our most recent Top 10 hit–from 1969!” Kaylan said, and when the laughter subsided, they sang ‘You Showed Me,” then closed with its preceding “Elenore” (both peaked at No. 6) and their one chart-topper, the rock ‘n’ roll evergreen “Happy Together.”
“Sing along like it’s a Justin Bieber concert!” cajoled Kaylan, who with his longtime partner Volman, clearly enjoys the last laugh.
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