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Friday, December 7, 2012

Me and Flo and Eddie and Mark and Howard ► A Musical Appreciation

"I’d like to clean you boys up a bit and mold you.
I believe I could make you as big as The Turtles"
~~~~~Noted L.A. disc jockey
A mere 3 days ago I wrote about Frank Zappa, one of my musical heroes. Today I want to tell the story of how I met Flo & Eddie. 

I'm telling this story because I am sure Howard Kaylan left this chapter out of his forthcoming book, "Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc." That's why it has been left to me to tell the unabridged story. Get comfortable, kiddies.


Three days ago, when writing about the Zappa LP Freak Out, I said: 
Not to brag, but I was there from the beginning. I discovered Frank Zappa some time in 1966 when I first set eyes on the cover of Freak Out at my local Kresge's record department. As one descended on the escalator into the basement, a gap opened in the wall revealing Kresge's 2-rack record department. The farther one descended, more of the record department was revealed in the expanding triangle of the record department. As teens we'd crane our heads into that crack to see what was new each week.

One day in 1966 my eyes spied what was the ugliest record cover I had ever seen. I had to own it.

Inside the gatefold cover of Freak Out was a quote -- almost a throw-away line inside a cover jam-packed with words and collages -- from a "Noted L.A. disc jockey" who said about The Mothers of Invention, "I’d like to clean you boys up a bit and mold you. I believe I could make you as big as The Turtles".

Clearly Frank Zappa had other ideas about that. In less than 5 years, Zappa would co-opt The Turtles and hire Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan -- the former-lead singers of The Turtles -- as vocalists for the Mothers.

Unfortunately, Mark and Howard had signed the worst record contract in all of show biz, or so it seemed. Not only were they prevented by White Whale Records from using the name of their former-group, which no longer existed, they were also prevented from using their real names. That's why, and how, Mark and Howard became The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, which was shortened to Flo & Eddie. That name appealed to me because it's a pun: A river can flow and eddy.

Flo & Eddie appeared for the first time on a Zappa LP with Chunga's Revenge.

I want to take you all the way back to the mid-to-late '70s, before the earth had cooled, or warmed, or the climate had changed, or something.

I no longer lived in Detroit. I now lived in Toronto and worked at the best record store in the city, Round Records on Bloor Street. I was still a Zappa fan, as the Mothers seemed to get uglier and uglier. I naturally followed the Zappa arc of LPs that started with Chunga's Revenge and ended with the movie 200 Motels, all which featured Flo & Eddie on lead vocals. The entire theme of the Flo and Eddie Mothers' Years is that "touring can make you crazy" and who would know that better than those two guys who had a hit single on the charts -- WITH A BULLET!

Who knows how long Flo & Eddie might have stayed with Zappa had it not been for that disastrous 1971 European tour? After the episode that spawned the song "Smoke on the Water," the band was stuck in Europe with several more concerts on the tour and all their equipment destroyed by fire. Frank took a vote and the band wanted to continue the tour, even if it meant on borrowed, inferior, equipment. At the very next gig, at the Rainbow, a deranged fan pulled Frank Zappa offstage into the orchestra pit. He sustained terrible injuries, which ended the tour and Flo & Eddie's participation with Frank Zappa.

However, Flo & Eddie started to release records on their own, which were just as terrific as The Turtles or Mothers records. I started following Flo & Eddie and had several of their records, which is why, when Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan walked into Round Records, I turned to the rest of the staff and said, "They're all mine!"

Round Records was the last real alternative record store (remember those black things?) in Toronto. How Flo & Eddie had heard about us I don't know, but when they walked in the door I recognized them immediately. I already knew the broad outline of their entire career up to that point.

So, I just acted cool behind the counter and gave Flo & Eddie about 15 or 20 minutes to browse. I watched them collect more and more records under their arms. The waiting was killing me! When they finally had about 15 or 20 LPs under their arms, I approached and asked if I could help them.

[Approximating and paraphrasing the conversation.]

"We'd like to take these records," says Mark.

"Okay, I'll ring them up."

"No, you don't understand.  We'd like to take these records."

Wait!!! What???

They explain how they've been hired to give record reviews on a new Cee Bee Cee tee vee show, "90 Minutes Live," with Peter Gzowski and just want to borrow the records for a day.

Peter Gzowski: A face for radio.
I have to explain this show for 'Merkins. When CBC decided to launch a program to go up against Johnny Carson (really!) they chose Canada's most respected RADIO broadcaster, Peter Gzowski. Peter's radio show was a wonder. Altho' broadcast across the nation, Gzowski had the warmth and empathy of a man sitting at your kitchen table, talking with the luminaries of the day. His show was a National Conversation, an institution. This Country in the Morning and, later, Morningside were a very big part of the fabric of Canadian society. Nothing like it exists in the U.S. of A.

When Cee Bee Cee tee vee turned to Gzowski to host 90 Minutes Live it turned, as the old joke goes, to someone who truly had a face for radio.  Not that he was ugly or anything, but no matter how much CBC cleaned Gzowski up for the camera, he still came across looking somewhat like a rumpled bed.  90 Minutes Live might have been a great show, if you closed your eyes.

Gzowski eventually went back to radio.

To recap: Flo & Eddie have this gig at The Cee Bee Cee and they want to borrow the records overnight. For some stupid reason I said I had to check with my boss, who was at lunch at the time. However, I guaranteed them that I'd have the records at the studio on Yonge Street by showtime.

My boss thought I was an idiot for not turning over $100.00 of records to Flo & Eddie on nobody's say-so. No matter because, at the appointed time, I showed up at the CBC studio with a stack of records under my arm. My name was on a guest list. I handed over the LPs and I was shown a place just off-camera to watch the show.

I wish I could remember the records being reviewed. Some of the LPs were highly praised and some were trashed. I cringed as I watched those records that didn't get the Flo & Eddie Seal of Approval™ get flung across the studio. YIKES! I have to try and sell those tomorrow! I do remember them as being very funny and not letting Peter get a word in edgewise.

At the end of the segment the albums were collected and handed back to me and none's the wiser.

The show only lasted 2 years, but it became routine for me to take a stack of records to the Cee Bee Cee to get thrown around by Flo & Eddie. And that, kiddies, is how I met Flo & Eddie.