Mark 'Flo' Volman was part of the Mothers – with his partner from The Turtles, Howard 'Eddie' Kaylan – from June 1970 to December 1971. Together they can be heard singing on the albums Chunga's Revenge (1970), Fillmore East—June 1971 (1971), 200 Motels (1971), Just Another Band From L.A. (1972), Playground Psychotics (1992), Carnegie Hall (2011), Road Tapes, Venue #3 (2016), The Mothers 1970 (2020), The Mothers 1971 (2022) and three volumes of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series.
They also starred in the film of 200 Motels, for which they are credited with providing 'Special Material'.
While they remained friendly with Frank and were special guests at some later shows, it wasn't until 1987 that they planned to tour together again. In the event, this didn't pan out. But in his final year, Zappa released the audio documentary Playground Psychotics, which collects together in-concert and off stage recordings from a period he clearly relished.
For many teenagers in early 1970s, their first encounter with Zappa came around the brief but incredibly eventful Flo & Eddie era, with the Fillmore East—June 1971 album in particular holding a special place in their hearts.
In 2005, I contacted both Volman and Kaylan about their planned participation in Dweezil’s first Zappa Plays Zappa tour. They were both very discrete and said they’d be happy to subject themselves to some questioning should the tour come off.
Of course, it didn’t – at least, not with them involved. So the following year, when my dear friend Billy ‘ANT-BEE’ James and his Glass Onyon PR company started doing some promotional work for Volman and his Ask Professor Flo website, the idea of an interview was revived.
Since then, the pair have performed one concert with Dweezil and ZPZ – at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock NY in 2011. In 2016, when asked by Downbeat magazine if there was anyone they still hoped to tour with, Volman said, “We’ve had some discussions with Dweezil in the past and one of the things we felt would be fun to do would be a tour with him where we sing the music of the era that we were with Frank… I feel somewhere along the way we can maybe find a way to do a worldwide tour before it’s too late.”
That same year, Kaylan told me “Mark went through radiation and chemo and is now cancer free." When I asked if he would now be interested in taking part in an interview for my Frank Talk book, his reply was, "Sorry. I don't talk about the Zappas anymore."
Kaylan has though published his own insightful book – Shell Shocked: My Life With The Turtles, Flo And Eddie and Frank Zappa, Etc. (2013) – and provided some very helpful input to my Zappa The Hard Way book about the abortive 1987 rehearsals.
But that is Eddie.
This was Flo.
Why did you go back to the ‘mainstream’ after the Mothers – the Care Bears, etcetera?
We went back to what came naturally. It was a challenge to get back to the mainstream, as you call it. We went back to making Flo & Eddie music and The Care Bears paid a lot of bills. We loved it.
In an interview a few years ago, you said you didn’t know what had become of Martin Lickert after 200 Motels. Do you now know that he became a Barrister and racehorse owner, but sadly passed away earlier this year?
No. I'm sorry to hear that.
Any particular fond memories of Martin?
Not really. I never met him before we started working on 200 Motels and he really fell out of my life four weeks later when the movie ended. He was in the right place at the right time. Jeff Simmons quit and we needed someone to step in and Martin fit the bill.
I still can’t believe how much material he learned in that short amount of time. He even played the bass on stage.
Frank overdubbed himself playing bass when we got back to Los Angeles.
Did you remain friends with Frank up until his death?
Yes I did. He and I always were friends.
Was there any animosity after the accident and the end of that particular Mothers of Invention?
Not for me. We all just moved on to new things. It ended very abruptly but we had no time to sit around and wonder what to do. We just moved on.
At the Zappa Forum, you recently commented that Frank should have said more in The Real Frank Zappa Book about touring with the Vaudeville line-up. Aside from the Montreux Casino fire and the Rainbow Theatre, what’s to tell?
Not interested in dishing dirt about that era. It was great fun and incredibly rewarding, working within the Mothers. Great musicians and great music.
What do you think of the Playground Psychotics?
That is one of my favourite projects we did in that particular group. I think if you look at it as a sociology case study of alcohol and drug induced humans in an environment that emphasises rape and pillaging, you can enjoy it.
It really captured the group as we were on tour. I do think that we got so used to Frank having a tape recorder running all the time that we actually not only performed for those moments but enjoyed it as well.
Many of the routines people might have enjoyed during the Mothers/Flo & Eddie years were created just the way that tape sounds; the groupies, Magdalena and many of the others.
Do you know the nature of Frank’s negative run-ins with Aynsley Dunbar?
I didn’t know they ever had any negative run-ins. That is news to me.
Oh. It may have been Howard who mentioned that. Did you ever speak with Jeff Simmons after he quit? Frank obviously did!
Just saw him this past Summer. He looks great and still is one of the funniest people I have ever known. He hasn't ever changed as far as I can see and we spoke at length about the great time we all had.
What was working with Marc Bolan like?
Marc was a great guy. He was always someone to have a good time with.
We loved Marc and making those records with him and Tony were some of the best records we ever sang on. He had a vision and I was happy to be able to help him pull it off. I think he will grow better with age.
I wish I had received all of the Gold and Silver records we sang on. It would have filled up a room; Electric Warrior, The Slider, Bang A Gong, Jeepster, Hot Love, New York City, Metal Guru and all the others... great stuff, all written with the same three chords.
Bruce was hard to get to know. Bruce was another one of those artists who had a vision and an image he wanted to convey.
I always thought Bruce was one of the smartest people I ever sang with. He was bigger than life and he was very generous with us the way he handled us with him in the studio and on tour.
We did about eighteen live shows with the E Street Band and we always felt like one of the group. Jon was a great partner for Bruce and he was also very respectful of Flo & Eddie.
I think Steve was the really talented member of that whole project we worked on with them and he really brought the sound of Bruce and The Turtles together.
I love the record. It may be one of The Turtles best singles!
The 1987 Broadway The Hard Way rehearsals – what exactly happened?
It was really sad for me. It was all about money. Frank wanted us to get paid very close to nothing.
He had brought together all of these great musicians and when the concept of money came up he had a figure in his head which was a figure from 1972.
So we wanted 1987 money; Frank was paying 1972 money. It was an easy decision to make.
We left the project and never looked back.[i]
Tell me about Zappa Plays Zappa!
What about it? I did not see it.
But Flo & Eddie were advertised as special guests and tickets were sold for concerts that were either postponed or cancelled.
We had a deal between us and the management company. When they cancelled the first tour of Europe, they came back about six months later and forgot we had worked out a deal. They offered us another deal.
I feel like the management company represented themselves poorly and we did not want to be involved with them. I also felt that when Ahmet chose to not go along with the group and the tour, the music we would have liked to have been around to sing was not going to be a part of the final choices.
It happened just that way in my eyes.
I was glad it worked for Dweezil. I think he is a great guitar player and what I heard was nothing but positive things about the tour... okay, maybe a couple of negative things, but mostly good things. I hope we can do something with Dweezil someday, doing the music we did with his dad.
What’s so special about your relationship with Howard? Very few partnerships last as long in the music business. Is it because you’re not brothers?
I have never really stopped and tried to guess why we would be able to stand each other. I think we are both respectful of each other’s opinions when it comes to our business. He allows me to hang myself and then rescues me and I think I do the same thing for him.
We never really have fought over decisions for the group. If either one of us really did not want to do something, the other person just always backed down.
We have really experienced so much together. I like hanging out with Howard when we are on the road We both like vinyl records, good wine, skirt steak and looking at beautiful woman.
Howard recently made a solo album and film. Do you have any similar plans?
No plans but, well… I don’t know. I’ll never say never. I have written or co-written about twenty-five new songs and I do sing around town here in Nashville with great friends and great musicians like Bill Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd), Steve Allen (20/20), Garry Tallent (E Street Band), Steve Eby, drummer Craig Krampf, Chuck Mead (BR549) and many others.
We have a group of us in Nashville that I have been singing with this past year called The Long Players. We play entire albums of groups from beginning to end and great singers from town come out and sing. Walter Egan, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mark Hudson and so many more I’m leaving out. After paying for the wine, we donate the money to charities and it is really fun.
In the past we have done Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, The Kinks, The Cars and many others. I am new to the group but they seem to like me being involved.
I also do some singing for a project created by the Vanderbilt Universities First Amendment Centre. The show features songs from the last four or five decades that have been banned from the radio. Again, the players are just outstanding and the singing of Don Henry, Jonell Mosser and all of the others is incredible. I love being in a city that revolves around music so much. Everyone is very encouraging and even though I am not ready yet to do any original music, I also have no idea what I would sound like, so…
I guess that is one of the reasons I wouldn’t say no as a firm answer, but I also know it would be strictly a personal thing.
Whatever happened to Jim Pons?[ii]
Jim has had such a blessed life. After the Flo & Eddie records – he did the first two Flo & Eddie records with us after Frank was pushed off the stage at the Rainbow. He then had a chance to leave music and take a job with the New York Jets football team as the head of the film department.
He retired after twenty-five years with a nice NFL pension and he drove a limousine for a while. He retired from that and he and his wife Pat, who was in paediatrics, began working towards a dream they had which was creating a centre in Long Island dedicated to parents with children who have autism.
Jim and Pat were two parents who needed the help and so a centre was started called The David Centre. It was named after their son David and it became a successful endeavour.
After wearing himself out with that, they retired to Florida where he now works part-time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and plays in a bluegrass band called Deep Creek Blue Grass Band.
Jim and Pat and the boys were just here at our house for a three day visit on their way to North Carolina for some bluegrass shows.
I love Jim and Pat and they bring a lot of love in to our house when they are here.
What are the chances of The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie touring the UK?
We are still playing and have done some shows about five years ago in Germany. We are not the standard oldies show. We have our own band so we don’t play in front of guys in black outfits who work in the studios for a living.
We don’t just sing our hits – we do some Turtles, some Flo & Eddie music and we have recently added some of the music we sang with Frank – and our show is expensive to bring overseas.
It would be fun, but nobody ever calls us.
Interview conducted on Saturday 28th October 2006. The complete interview with Mark can be found in Andrew's book Frank Talk: The Inside Stories Of Zappa's Other People (Wymer UK, 2017).
[i] Regarding the brief rehearsals with Flo & Eddie, Ed Mann told the author, "I think the most fun they had was on the first day – remembering old routines a capella over the mic with Frank. That was cool to behold. They were just cracking each other up, and it was always so great to see Frank laugh like that."
[ii] Former bass guitarist and singer for The Leaves, The Turtles and The Mothers. Pons has now published his memoirs, Hard Core Love: Sex, Football, And Rock And Roll In The Kingdom Of God (Waterfront Digital Press, 2017), which give a behind the scenes glimpse of his years with Zappa.