Back when me and my friends were "hip", we didn't think a lot about The Turtles. Their songs were pleasant enough, but when it came time to buy an album (because you know, 45's were for like teenyboppers) we went with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Doors, The Mothers of Invention, Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, etc. Years have passed and I realize that I only liked some of those groups/artists because it was the "hip" thing to do. After watching My Dinner With Jimi, I now have more appreciation for The Turtles, although I still think that they are a better "singles band" rather than an "album band".
I knew nothing about this movie, but ran across the title one day while scrolling through Netflix. The description "Howard Kaylan found fame as the lead singer of the 1960s band The Turtles, as depicted in this autobiographical screenplay. We meet Kaylan (Justin Henry) and his bandmates just as they triumph with their single "Happy Together." The band then heads off to England, where their friend Graham Nash (Steven Soldevilla) introduces them to The Beatles and Kaylan later dines with Jimi Hendrix (Royale Watkins) -- an event that changes his life." intrigued the hell out of me. I not only put it on my rental list, but moved it straight to the top. My Dinner With Jimi did not disappoint, it was everything and more that I thought it would be.
My Dinner With Jimi begins with The Turtles at a magazine promo shoot. John Corbett is the photographer in an almost non-recognizable role. We get introduced to each of The Turtles as they get their photos taken. The magazine writer who is at the shoot to do the accompanying story tells them: "Hope your looks don't hold you back." This goes with some of the commentary on the dvd when Howard Kaylan says he could always buy nice clothes, but it he good never buy "thin".
The Turtles are experiencing their biggest hit single "Happy Together" (which knocked The Beatles "Penny Lane" out of the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100). They're playing the Whiskey A-Go-Go and The Doors are their opening act. There's a great scene after the concert when The Turtles go to Canter's Deli. At the deli we find Frank Zappa and Mama Cass Elliot sitting at a table together, plus Jim Morrison is drunk and walking on tables and being a general goofball. I was also delighted to see the late Wendie Jo Sperber, my favorite actress from from I Wanna Hold Your Hand, in the role of Louella the waitress.
One section of My Dinner With Jimi concerns how Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman are about to get drafted and they get advice on how to flunk their physicals. The advice mainly has them taking massive amounts of drugs plus not sleeping or bathing before they go and being as uncooperative as possible at the draft board. The draft board sequence in My Dinner With Jimi ranks right up there with Arlo Guthrie's in Alice's Restaurant.
When The Turtles get to England they hook up with their friend Graham Nash, who also has Donovan hanging out at his house. Everyone gets stoned and they listen to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", which won't be released until the next day. After listening to the album Graham takes them to The Speakeasy Club so they can meet The Beatles, who they idolize. Look for the real Howard Kaylan in a cameo as the greeter/doorman at the club.
Inside the club The Turtles find Paul McCartney under the table taking photos, Ringo Starr being his usual laid back self, and George Harrison seeming to be a little embarrassed by the antics of Paul and the sharp tongue of John Lennon. Lennon is drunk and full of insults for The Turtles. Jim "Tucko" Tucker is really crushed by The Beatles and flees the club followed by the other Turtles. There is some conflicting information about Tucker in the movie and what is on the commentary. What truth I can glean is that he definitely did leave the Turtles and didn't play music again. Whether it was due to his disappointment in meeting his heroes or the fact that he couldn't take touring is unclear.
Howard remains behind and before he can reenter the club, he's approached by someone wanting his autograph. He's shocked to find out that it's Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. In tow with Brian is Jimi Hendrix and the three go back into the club for a meal, but Brian gets sidetracked by some girls and Howard winds up alone with Jimi. I'll let you watch the movie yourself to see how this dinner goes, but will tell you that it starts great, but ends badly.
Since the title is My Dinner With Jimi, it's appropriate that one of the strongest performances in the movie comes from Royale Watkins portrayal of Jimi Hendrix. He really captures that cool laid back vibe that Hendrix always seemed to emit. Although Royale has made a handful of movies and TV shows, he's best known as a stand up comic.
The commentary made a big deal out of how they tried to make everything look as close to possible to how it looked in real life, including the club The Speakeasy. They even used Howard's old house in one scene. While I will agree that everything had the right look of the late 60s, I'm puzzled about the bad wigs and especially about the sideburns used on Justin Henry who plays Howard. In the recreation of The Turtles appearance on The Smothers Brothers Show, the sideburns can actually be seen coming loose. This is the only minor quibble I have with My Dinner With Jimi. Overall, I found the movie very enjoyable and would highly recommend it to anyone.
If you would like to see the trailer: My Dinner With Jimi.
Below is a video of The Turtles in 1967 on The Smothers Brothers Show