The Doors: An L.A. Story

When keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger and frontman Jim Morrison came together to form The Doors in 1965, it was a moment in time that struck such a chord in the Universe that it still reverberates today.

And the history of The Doors is more than just about the L.A. scene as the panel title suggests. It’s also the story of the music industry and its controversies, triumphs and tragedies.

Moderator Elliott Lefko of Goldenvoice started off recounting how he first heard about the now-legendary band.

“I’m originally from Canada …. on one of my first visits to Los Angeles, I asked Henry Rollins, the singer for Black Flag and poet, ‘Henry, where do I go in L.A.?’ Henry says, ‘You’ve got to do it like Jim Morrison! You’ve got to stay at the La Cienega Motel. You’ve got to eat at Barney’s Beanery and you’ve go to eat breakfast at Duke’s.’ And I did it,” Lefko explained.

Lefko then asked Manzarek how he first met Morrison.

“Jim Morrison and I went to the UCLA film school. We were students in the motion picture division. He came from Florida, I came from Chicago,” Manzarek said. “We smoked pot together, we talked philosophy together, we had a class with Josef von Sternberg. who was a director of Marlene Dietrich movies.”

“We graduated in 1965 – Jim got his Bachelor’s degree, I got my Master’s degree – and we were hopefully going to do something together. But Jim said he was going to New York City. I thought, ‘Well, that’s it. I’ll never see Jim again.’”

But Manzarek’s disappointment was short lived when he ran into Morrison at Venice Beach a month after graduation. At the time, Manzarek was playing in his brother’s surf band, Rick and The Ravens, and Morrison used to join the band on “Louie, Louie.”

“The was Jim’s start of being a public entertainer and he absolutely loved it, Even then, he was good at it,” Manzarek said. “He hadn’t become Jim Morrison, Rock God. He was still on the soft side. But he became this Dionysian, handsome guy.”

Harvey Kubernik, author of “Canyon Of Dreams,” which documents the musical legacy of Laurel Canyon where The Doors’ “Love Street” comes from, said he first heard The Doors on L.A. radio station KBLA when he was a teenager.

“I started high school, heard The Doors and it kind of spoke to us.” Kubernik said. “I saw The Doors perform in 1968. I seem to recall I bought the tickets at a head shop in Westwood called Head Quarters.”

“So The Doors were kind of ‘our band’ and I interviewed Ray for Melody Maker Music in 1974 and [later] worked with him on his autobiography.”

Bruce Botnick was just a young engineer when he went into the studio with The Doors for the first time.

“Jac Holzman owned a company called Elektra Records and he was looking to broaden his horizons,” Botnick said. “The first act he ever signed was a group called Love [of “My Little Red Book” fame]. Involved in that whole thing was a gentleman named Herb Cohen, who was the manager and had a record company with Frank Zappa.

“So I did these two albums – Love’s first album followed by Tim Buckley – and then I got a phone call from Jac saying, ‘We’ve got a band that we signed that we really like’ and Paul Rothchild was going to produce it.

“Well, The Doors came in … totally prepared. Nothing was constructed in the studio. It was just a matter of getting the performance, getting it right and being able to recognize it when we found it. The album only took five days.”

Lefko turned the discussion to Manzarek, asking what it was like to be thrown out of clubs. “A club,” the keyboardist corrected Lefko, “not plural” and then explained.

“Jim said, ‘Mother, I want to fuck you’ on stage at the Whisky A Go Go [in 1966]. The owners of the club are Italian,” Manzarek explained. “Good, Catholic gentlemen associated with, perhaps, the underworld heard the singer on stage saying, ‘Father, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to fuck you.’ [mimicking owner] “What did he just say?! I’m going to KILL that guy!’ It was the first time that had ever happened.”

The back story is that Morrison had missed the first set and club owner Phil Tanzini angrily told them Morrison had better be there for the next set. The band found their frontman in his room at the La Cienega Motel, in just his underwear and boots, and he had “ingested too much LSD.”

It was during the second set, with a packed house, that Morrison decides he wants to sing “The End” after two songs, and proceeded to add the previously unheard Oedipal lyrics in the moment. The band tried to play louder to drown out the lyrics but to no avail as Morrison was screaming.

“We come out of this insane trance, finish the song, play one or two more, get off the stage and go into the dressing room,” the keyboardist said. “And right behind us is Phil ‘The Maniac’ Tanzini [who proceeds to shout] ‘What the fuck is the matter with you?! You fucking assholes! You’re the filthiest, dirtiest band I’ve ever heard!’”

After a lot more cursing, Manzarek said Tanzini fired The Doors as house band until Krieger spoke up.

“Robby, precious Robby, on top of things at all times, says, ‘Phil, this is Thursday. Do you want us to play Friday and Saturday or are we fired?’

“‘Oh, right, wait a minute,’ the club owner said. ‘You play Friday and Saturday, THEN you’re fired.’”

Kubernik said the news about “The End” spread like wildfire through area high schools via word-of-mouth and school newspapers.

“People were lining up to see the band. There were four people in my English class that wanted to do term papers on ‘The End,’” he said. “And all of a sudden, every radio station and the new FM stations immediately started playing ‘The End’ on top of ‘Light My Fire.’

Kubernik turned to Manzarek. “What a buzz you started that day! The only thing that [generated] that much excitement was when Koufax pitched a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium.”

Manzarek quipped that it was “serendipitous” the band had signed with Elektra the week before.

During the Q & A, the panel was asked what they think the main factor behind The Doors’ longevity is.

“The Doors were never part of corporate rock,” Botnick said. “They were all singer-songwriters and it was very personal stuff, very intellectual, smart and witty.

“Obviously there’s some connection in not only the music, but in the words that are very deep and transcended generations and still does.”

“What makes the kids today like The Doors?” Manzarek asked. “Truth, reality, tapping into the psychic subconscious that all human beings share. We’re all seeking love, seeking pleasure, seeking enlightenment.

“We were probing the unconsciousness and we did it musically. The songs were all good, the craftsmanship was good technically, and we were all operating from a deeper and higher state of consciousness at the same time due to the ingestion of LSD.

“It just opened the doors of perception.”


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