LA aGo-Go : The Music & Club Scene in L.A. part3 • The Doors Emerge
The Doors & The Lizard King ~ 1965
When it comes to this era of The L.A.Club Scene, the Doors undeniably made a bigger mark on that history than any other band, by far. Even as an 8 year-old kid, I knew who they were, early on. They were from L.A, so they got a lot of L.A. Radio time & Press. The Doors were also signifigant as to marking the Emergence of L.A. based record label, Elektra, which later became Elektra-Asylum Records. An L.A. Rock powerhouse, producing records for not only the Doors but gaining considerable prestige on the music scene by being one of the first labels to sign up other leading acts from the new wave of American psychedelic rock of 1966–67. After All, Jim Morrison did write L.A. Woman, and This Story IS all About The L.A. Music Scene in the 60’s.. The Doors should be credited with bringing arguably the Biggest Notoriety to the Burgeoning L.A. Music Scene, especially with regard to the Sunset Strip & Whisky aGo Go. More than any other Band or Musician, The Doors Established L.A. as Rock City on the Map for Good.
Rick & The Ravens, founded in 1961, was the band Ray Manzarek was in before he joined The Doors. The band recorded three singles on Aura Records before splitting up and reforming as The Doors in early October of 1965.
The band used to perform on weekends for college crowds, mostly from UCLA Film School, at a bar on 2nd Street and Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica,California, called the Turkey Joint West, a British pub operated by the Santa Monica Soccer and Social Club, since 1974 known as Ye Olde King’s Head. Their setlist consisted of their own originals, padded with standards such as “I’m Your Doctor, I Know What You Need,” “Louie, Louie,” Smokey Robinson‘s “Money” andWillie Dixon‘s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
During that summer of ’65, Manzarek was living in Venice, 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 of 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 we talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars.”
In an interview conducted by Rainer Moddemann, Manzarek stated the first song Jim Morrison performed with Rick & the Ravens was Richard Berry‘s “Louie Louie.” Morrison was not officially part of the band at that time; Manzarek simply invited his former college colleague on stage, much to everyone’s surprise. Morrison was reportedly not prepared for this — his first public performance — and sang himself hoarse. Morrison and Manzarek had met previously and found each other sharing a lot of musical and artistic interests. Later Manzarek asked Morrison to join the band; Morrison accepted.
Although Rick & the Ravens do not sound at all like the Doors, they did play their small part in the early career of the Doors. On September 2, 1965 the band entered World Pacific Studios and recorded six songs that would eventually become Doors songs; “Moonlight Drive“, “My Eyes Have Seen You”, “Hello, I Love You“, “Go Insane” (the early title of “A Little Game” from the “Celebration of the Lizard” suite, known simply as “Insane” on the acetate), “End of the Night”, and “Summer’s Almost Gone“. The recording session was a relatively quick affair, only lasting three hours in total. Singer Morrison was reportedly delighted to hear his voice on a record for the first time. The demo was released in its entirety on The Doors’ box set in 1997. The tracks on the box setwere mastered from what was originally Jim Morrison’s acetate–now in the possession of Ray Manzarek–which was one of only 5 made.
After the demo was recorded, the band tried to pass it around. Both Jim and Rick Manzarek were disappointed in the response to the demo — additionally both of the Manzareks, along Sullivan, were not impressed by the new Morrison songs — and subsequently the Manzarek brothers, sans Ray, quit the band, stating they felt the band was “going nowhere fast”
At Morrison’s suggestion the band changed its name to The Doors a month after they had recorded the demo, shortly prior to Krieger joining the line-up. The band took their name from the title of a book by Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, which was in turn borrowed from a line of poetry by the 18th century artist and poet William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed , everything would appear to man as it truly is, infinite.”
The 4 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, funky club called the London Fog located between the Hamburger Hamlet and the Galaxy on 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 the time they didn’t have sufficient original material for such a long gig, over half their set consisted of blues and rock ‘n’ roll classics, such asGloria, Little Red Rooster and Who Do You Love? Once again, a faithful core of students from the UCLA film school followed them, but on the strip, a cross section of other listeners joined them.
More than anything else, the London Fog job provided them with 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 present flamboyant manner.
The Doors’ 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 by the London Fog. But on the very last night of their four months at the London Fog, Ronnie Karan, the chic chick who booked talent for the Whisky aGo Go, came in to hear them.
“We were the house band at the London Fog, a pathetic little nightclub just down the street from the Whisky,” Manzarek says today. “The Whisky was mecca for us. That’s where all the big bands played. On our breaks, we’d walk down there and look in the doors and say, ‘We’re the band from down the street,’ and they’d just sort of laugh at us.”
When Ronnie Karan, the booker from the Whisky, finally caught the Doors’ act, she was impressed by Morrison’s primal stage-appeal and offered the group the house-band slot: The Doors would open for the headliners, playing two sets every night. Their very first night at the Whisky, the Doors opened for Them, culminating in both Morrisons (Van and Jim) jamming onstage to “Gloria.” 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 Karan 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 Loco’s. “The Loco’s 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 Gotterdammerung and to experiment daringly. Allegedly, the experiments often took the form of drug trips. “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.
At the time, the Doors had only about fifteen songs. They would throw in some James Brown and Chicago blues covers, but playing two sets a night forced the group to quite literally expand its repertoire, thus shaping the band’s sound. “Repeat and stretch,” says Manzarek. ” ‘Light My Fire’ took off into solos. ‘The End’ became the epic we know now.”
Soon the house band developed a following of its own, and the Whisky became a destination for local counterculture types. Says Manzarek, “There were these guys named Carl and Vito who had a dance troupe of gypsy freaks. They were let in for free, because they were these quintessential hippies, which was great for tourists. God knows if they were even on anything, they were so out of their minds, but they danced like crazy. And they loved ‘The End.’
“There’s a point where Morrison has a section where he can do a little improvisation, and he put his hand out to soften us down,” Manzarek says. “And for the first time, he says, ‘The killer awoke before dawn. He put his boots on.’ And one by one, the dancers all stopped and stared. When he said, ‘Father, I wanna kill you,’ we’d never heard this before, but I thought, ‘I know what’s coming next. Please don’t do it.’ ”
Morrison, of course, did it. When he howled, “Mother, I want to fuck you!” the band, which had been softly accompanying his recitation, kicked into overdrive. As Manzarek recounts, “John [Densmore] whacked on his drums, I pounded on my organ, Robby [Krieger] made his guitar scream like a banshee, and all hell broke loose. The people began dancing madly. Everyone went into a Dionysian frenzy. It was Greek! Oedipus Rex had been exorcised right there on the Sunset Strip.”
The Doors left the stage thinking they’d killed, and they had. They had also offended Tanzini’s sense of propriety. He went backstage, asked Morrison, “How the fuck can you say that about your mother?” and fired the band on the spot. Krieger asked, “Do you want us to play through the weekend, or are we fired tonight?” Tanzini thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, right. You play through Sunday, then you’re fired.”
In the end, things worked out for the Doors. Two days earlier, the band had signed to Elektra Records: The L.A. rock scene would have new standard-bearers to lead the dancing gypsy freaks into the Summer of Love…