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…
L.A. in the 60’s and All That Happened back then Obviously has Power Now like it did Then. Immediate Feedback from those who Remember it..I was just a Little Kid. Listening to the Music. Checking Out The Cars. The Movies. The People. The Girls. All The Crazy Events in the News. JFK. Space-The Astronauts, The Surf Scene. Drag Racing. It was a Powerful Time. It all came out in The Music. My Swinging 60’s Single Dad had a Triumph TR-3 sports car identical to the one above…he was probably in the Lighthouse grooving on the Jazz when this picture was taken for all I know…or maybe he was over in the Valley at Shelley’s Manne Hole, owned by Shelley Manne, of course. My Dad once punched out Jazz pianist Les McCann in one of these clubs, after McCann made a pass at my Mother from onstage. Decked him in the middle of the guy’s gig. My Dad was a Pretty Cool Cat .
Wish I had that Hemi Plymouth 2-Tone Station Wagon parked out front. The Ultimate SUV. Super Cool.Worth about $250. bucks back then. I Saw 50’s & Early 60’s Black Chevys jacked up with Flames down the sides, pinstriped to the max & Corvettes on Used Car lots for like $650.-700 bucks. Brand-New Hobie & Jacobs 8’6″surfboards were around $100. and gas was .23 cents a Gallon to run all those V-8’s. I wanted a Roth Rat Fink shirt so bad but my Dad wouldn’t let me buy one. My Dad had been in England in WWII in the AAF for 4 years fighting the Germans. Big Daddy & all the Chopper guys used to wear these plastic German Nazi helmets around & my Old Man didn’t think that was too cool at all. Can’t say that I blame him. So no Rat Fink shirt for me. They cost $1.50 in the mail-order Big Daddy ads in all the magazines. My allowance was .50 cents a week. I used to draw his style hot rods with the giant Slicks in back and Monster Freaks inside with a giant Blown Chevy Rat Motor in front belching flames & smoke out the back. So Cool..& I never stopped straight through school, college & straight into a Design career pura vida~for Better or Worse. Now I can make my own Roth shirts from digital scans and heat-press ’em on shirts myself. I just made ’em for all the kids around here for Christmas. They dug ’em just like Big Daddy would have wanted. In my 20′ I met him one time when he worked at Knott’s Berry Farm in the Sign Shop. My buddy’s Dad was his boss. Ohmigod. Big Daddy. He pinstriped out the entire old school Knott’s sign shop, top to bottom, inside& out. Wonder if it’s still there, it should be a California State Cultural Landmark. That guy was & is still one of my Heroes. He was a lot Cooler than Tiger Woods or some NFL Football Geek, that’s for Damn Sure. A Cool Role Model. I was in awe of meeting him.
At the same time my Dad was going to the Lighthouse in Hermosa, Grooving to Chet Baker & Bud Shank West Coast Style, My Big Sister was very likely in the photo below at the same time..on the same night…She must be out there..looks just like Her Crew.
Meanwhile I was the Little Kid at home, shredding the Neighborhood on my Sting Ray, Skateboarding & Playing Baseball, Checking out the Mercury Astronauts and the X-15. But I Caught Up Later.
Go to the beach, Hermosa had the Lighthouse, a world-renowned Jazz Club.There were a lot of Music Sub- Cultures, reflecting on the California Culture..Jazz, Folk.Country/Western. All sub-cults of L.A. Go to the Valley and although the Postwar 50’s had brought housing tract subdivisions, many parts of the Valley still had a distinct rural Country Western Cowboy Vibe. It’s still like that if you look for it. These here folks went to The Palomino on Lankershim Blvd.
A venue that later in our story we will witness the Crossover of Country into Rock. California Rock, they called it.
In the 1940’s & 50’s L.A. had an emerging Jazz Scene that came to be known a West Coast, or ‘Cool Jazz’. The roots of Be-Bop, & West Coast Jazz derive from Swing Music, Country Swing, Country/Western, Black R& B, Blues, JumpN’Jive. The earliest Jazz L.A.Clubs were centered on Central Avenue in L.A., running into what is now Inglewood & Compton… the precursors of Rock.
Back Then Central Avenue was the center of the L.A. Music ‘Hood, Now instead of Bands playing Jazz from the doorways at night, we’ve got the 47 Hoovers & Crips Shootin’ it Up down there. But That is Another Story. Big-name Musicians from all over the U.S. played on Central Avenue. Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington. Be-Bop Greats Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, and a guy named Louis Jordan, whose Jump N’Jive sound I associate most with The L.A. Central Avenue ‘sound’ These predominantly Black musicians infused Big-Time Jazz on the West Coast…
By the Way, All those punk-ass White kids you see wearing their little Faux Fedoras they got at The Mall & thinking they’re rocking it ?..well, The Brothers were rocking that Look Big Time on Central 60 years ago…
West Coast white players like Alto Saxophonist Art Pepper, Baritone great Gerry Mulligan and Trumpet player/Singer Chet Baker emerged from this predominantly Black Music Scene and it all blended into West Coast Cool Jazz ~
This was an altogether entirely Different Scene as to The Rock Scene that was happening at Gazzari’s, The Whiskey a Go Go, The Cheetah, Pandora’s Box, The Prison of Socrates, The Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, The Rendezvous Ballroom on the Newport Peninsula, although the True Hipsters, then as today, were moving around & checking out all of these Sub- Scenes…
Los Angeles, with Specialty Records (Little Richard) and Imperial Records (Fats Domino) based in L.A., and records like Chris Kennner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances” making their way on that pipeline to places like East L.A., where Cannnibal & the Headhunters would make it a huge hit :
This Transition from a Black-infused roots music base, filtered through a largely L.A White interpretation, with some exceptions al Latino Estilo East L.A Locales, Set The Stage for The Sunset Blvd. Rock & Psychedelic L.A. 60’s…
The Real Rock Music Scene was Really Happening at the Whisky a Go Go & Gazzari’s on the Sunset Strip. A lot of Other Bands & Musicians were in On the Act, but Winds of Change were in the Air, and L.A was About to Experience Something that Would Change The Face of Rock Forever..