THE DOORS’ STORY
By Digby Diehl
(This article was originally printed as “Love and the Demonic Psyche” by Digby Diehl, Eye magazine, April 1968. One of the best articles on the early years of The Doors. The song “The End” got them fired from the Whiskey A Go Go and marked the “end” of this early period for The Doors. But, as Digby Diehl notes in his article below, “No matter. By that time, The Doors were headed for the San Francisco ballrooms and a national tour.”)
In the pristine warmth of a sandy beach and a sunny day, The Doors were conceived. Their “parent group” was a band called Rick and the Ravens which featured Ray Daniels (“the bearded blues shouter”), and they played at a bar on Second Street and Broadway in Santa Monica, improbably called The Turkey Joint West. In the spring of 1965, Rick and the Ravens had a nucleus of the three Manzarek brothers: Ray singing, Rick on piano, and Jim on guitar. They had moved to Redondo Beach, the blues band was formed for weekend gigs. A college crowd, often from the UCLA film school, frequented the bar to hear Ray belt out material like “Money,” “Louie, Louie,” “Hootchie-Coochie Man,” and “I’m Your Doctor, I Know What You Need” in simulated Chicago style. “I would switch from film-school grubby to a blue jacket with velvet collar and a frilly shirt to be the bearded blues shouter,” recalls Manzarek. “Immediately afterward, I would put my sweatshirt and corduroy jacket back on and return to being a film student.”
Manzarek never liked his piano lessons back home in Chicago, until he learned to play boogie-woogie at the age of twelve. He studied Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky at the Chicago Conservatory, “but I didn’t really enjoy playing other people’s stuff. I dug blues.” He hung around the clubs on Chicago’s South Side to hear the great blues singers like Muddy Waters, not yet discovered by the white world. “I used to listen to Negro disk jockeys—Al Benson and Big Bill Hill—at home, and developed a stride-piano style.” Majoring in economics as an undergraduate at DePaul University, he went to UCLA to become a lawyer. “I actually did go to law school out here for about two weeks. I couldn’t believe all the nonsense. I figured those guys must be kidding and went into the cinema department.” There, Manzarek completed three short films: Evergreen, Induction, and a design film, Who and Where I Live—all autobiographical segments considered very promising work by the faculty. Last December (1967) he married his longtime girlfriend, Dorothy Fujikawa, a lovely Oriental native of L.A.
During that summer of ’65, Manzarek was living in Venice, an early cradle of hippiedom on the oceanfront south of Santa Monica. By accident, he ran into Jim Morrison. “I had been friendly with Jim at UCLA, and we had talked about rock ‘n’ roll even then. After we graduated, he said he was going to New York. Then, two months later, in July, I met him on the beach in Venice. He said he had been writing some songs, so we sat on the beach and I asked him to sing some of them. He did, and the first thing he tried was ‘Moonlight Drive.’ When he sang those first lines—‘Let’s swim to the moon/ Let’s climb through the tide/ Penetrate the evening/ That the city sleeps to hide’—I said: ‘That’s it.’ I’d never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before. We talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars.”
One of the first meditation centers of the Maharishi, in which UCLA students were particularly involved, was opening at this time, and Ray Manzarek met John Densmore, a drummer, in his meditation class. Densmore, who had played jazz drums almost exclusively until a short stint with a group called the Psychedelic Rangers, joined The Doors.
* * *
In September of 1965, six Morrison originals including “Moonlight Drive,” “Summer’s Almost Gone,” “End of the Night,” and “Break on Through,” were recorded on a demonstration transcription at World-Pacific Jazz studios on the Aura label. This recording session (the only copies of which are owned by World-Pacific, John Densmore, and Billy James) was Morrison’s first appearance at a microphone, and the instrumentalists included Jim and Rick Manzarek on guitars, Ray Manzarek on piano, Densmore on drums, and an unidentified girl bass player. Shortly after the recording session, Jim, Rick, and the mysterious girl bass player decided they didn’t like Morrison’s songs. They split for Redondo Beach, and are still presumably playing “Louie, Louie.”
Robbie Krieger, who got to know Densmore and Manzarek at the Maharishi’s Third Street Meditation Center, arrived with some hard-driving bottleneck guitar, and the unit was complete.
The Doors continued to audition several bass players, but were never able to find a satisfactory musician. One day, Manzarek saw a Fender piano bass and the problem was solved. He now plays the bass keyboard with his left hand and the organ with his foot and right hand. The quartet rehearsed for four or five months and played at a few private parties, including one given by Krieger’s parents.
After practicing daily in a friend’s house behind the Santa Monica Greyhound Bus Depot, The Doors made a humorously premature debut on the stage of UCLA’s Royce Hall, providing “live sound track” to a screening of Manzarek’s design film, Who and Where I Live. Krieger played guitar, Manzarek played flute, and Densmore, Morrison, and sundry girlfriends pounded on drums, rattles, claves, and tambourines.
A small, now defunct club called the London Fog, located between the Hamburger Hamlet and the Galaxy on the Sunset Strip, was the first real club date for The Doors. They played for five dollars apiece on weeknights, double on weekends, seven nights a week, four sets per night. Because at that time they didn’t have sufficient original material for such a long job, over half their repertory consisted of blues and rock ‘n’ roll classics, such as “Gloria,” “Red Rooster,” and “Who Do You Love?” Once again, a faithful core of fans from the UCLA film school followed them, but on the Strip a cross-section of other listeners joined. More than anything else, the London Fog job provided the opportunity to play together steadily, experiment with their songs, and to develop as a working group. Jim Morrison in particular changed, progressing from a reserved stage style to his presently flamboyant manner. Their music was ardently defended by a growing segment of the Strip population; but it also just plain scared a lot of people. Eventually, they were fired. No one in the group can quite recall the reason why.
* * *
It may seem hard to believe, but at this juncture The Doors could easily have sunk into small-time oblivion (they were turned down after four auditions at Bido Lito’s and had played at the Brave New World in Hollywood for only a few nights), or disbanded, or at least could have starved a while longer waiting for discovery. But on the very last night at their four months at the London Fog, Ronnie Haran, the chic chick who books talent for the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, came in to hear them. “I knew that Jim Morrison had star quality the minute he started singing,” says Miss Haran. “They needed more polish, but the sound was there. Unfortunately, none of them had telephones (Morrison was then sleeping on the beach) and all they could give me was a number where John ‘sometimes’ could be reached. It took a month to contact them again, but I finally booked them into the Whiskey.” Miss Haran also helped The Doors join the musicians’ union, get new clothes, and organize the business side of their lives. Her tenacious insistence upon using them as more or less the Whiskey house-band, despite management objections, was the important break The Doors needed.
They played second billing to everybody, including groups such as Love, Them, the Turtles, the Seeds, and the number one band in Mexico, the Locos. (“The Locos were a real low point in our careers,” recalls Manzarek. “They were terrible, the kids hated them, and we were caught in the cross fire.”) Exposed to a wide-ranging audience—hardened groupies to Iowa tourists—The Doors began to intensify their musical Götterdämmerung and to experiment daringly. Allegedly, the experiments often took the form of drug trips, and weekly tales of The Doors’ freaked-out adventures flew: “Morrison was so stoned last night he fell off the stage again”; “Ray sniffed an amyl nitrate cap and played so long he had to be dragged away from the organ”; “They all arrived stoned and started improvising at random—I don’t know what it was, but it was great!” According to one friend of the group, Morrison was so consistently high on acid during this period that he could eat sugar cubes like candy without visible effect. But, inexplicably, the music kept getting better.
In the most important rock club in Los Angeles, The Doors began to enjoy a celebrity audience from the recording industry and the attentions of several record companies. One evening, Miss Haran brought Jac Holzman, president of Elektra Records, to hear the group. Holzman was unimpressed. However, he was more enthusiastic on a second visit. Urged on by Billy James, at that time Elektra’s West Coast man, they signed The Doors in late 1966. The arrangement was, and still is, amiable on both sides, for The Doors, according to Manzarek, have been permitted freedom to work in the studio and Elektra has a top group that has enhanced its financial picture greatly. In January, 1967, their first album came out with a cut called “Light My Fire.”
Before then, however, The Doors and the Whiskey had had a parting of the ways, mostly caused by “The End.” “It started as a simple ‘goodbye song’—just the first verse and a chorus,” says Morrison. “As we did it each night, we discovered a peculiar feeling: a long, flowing, easy beat; that strange guitar tuning that sounds vaguely Eastern or American Indian. It was a form that everyone brought something to. Our last night at the Whiskey, I invented that climactic part about ‘Father, I want to kill you . . . .’ That’s what the song had been leading up to.” According to Manzarek, Morrison had missed the first set of the evening and the second set went without incident. “The place was packed for the third set. Saturday night at the Whiskey with all the tourists and everything else. Jim sang ‘The End’ and the place was mesmerized by it. Then he did the ‘Killer awoke before dawn’ sequence. Everything just sort of stopped. It was really weird. When we finished, no one applauded or even talked. Mario (the manager) just said, ‘Those guys are nuts—get them out of here,’ and we were fired.”
No matter. By that time, The Doors were headed for the San Francisco ballrooms and a national tour.