The Doors and Trafalgar Releasing have announced the upcoming release of The Doors: Break on Thru - A Celebration of Ray Manzarek, coming to cinemas worldwide for a one-night-only event on Feb. 12. The film will bring fans together in theaters to celebrate the extraordinary legacy of the late Ray Manzarek, co-founder and keyboardist of The Doors, on what would have been his birthday.
This critically acclaimed, all-star hybrid concert-documentary was filmed at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, CA and brought surviving members from The Doors, Robby Krieger and John Densmore, on stage for the first time in 15 years to celebrate the birthday of Manzarek alongside captivating performances from Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins and Rami Jaffee, Stone Temple Pilots’ Robert DeLeo, Paul McCartney’s Brian Ray, X’s Exene and John Doe, Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes and more.
ROBBY KRIEGER (THE DOORS) * JOHN DENSMORE (THE DOORS) *
TAYLOR HAWKINS (FOO FIGHTERS) * RAMI JAFFEE (FOO FIGHTERS) *
ROBERT DELEO (STONE TEMPLE PILOTS) * STEPHEN PERKINS (JANE’S ADDICTION) *
JOHN DOE (X) * EXENE CERVENKA (X) * WARREN HAYNES (GOV’T MULE)
BRIAN RAY (PAUL MCCARTNEY BAND) * EMILY ARMSTRONG (DEAD SARA)* NASRI (MAGIC) * ANDREW WATT * WAYLON KRIEGER * JIM MANCZAREK *
PHIL CHEN * NATHAN WILMARTH * PABLO MANZAREK * BEN FONG-TORRES
With a setlist of Doors classics and compelling behind the scenes interviews and footage, this film celebrates the longevity of The Doors, bringing multiple generations together to celebrate this iconic band. Proceeds from the LA concert were donated to Stand Up for Cancer as selected by Ray Manzarek.
Participating theaters and tickets can be found at TheDoorsFilm.com.
John Densmore, drummer of The Doors, shared: "It was such an honor to play with these world-class musicians in a tribute to our magical keyboard player."
Kymberli Frueh, SVP Programming & Content Acquisitions at Trafalgar Releasing has said on the news: “Break On Thru is a true celebration of Doors co-founder Ray Manzarek and includes a whole host of musicians inspired by him including Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters and Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots. Trafalgar Releasing is pleased to present the first-ever global fan cinema gathering sanctioned by The Doors to celebrate Manzarek’s incredible legacy.”
2019 has been strong for music releases from Trafalgar Releasing in cinema.
Coming up next is GORILLAZ: REJECT FALSE ICONS. Recent successes have included Depeche Mode: SPIRITS in the Forest directed by Anton Corbijn, Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour, Metallica and San Francisco Symphony: S&M², which became the biggest ever rock music event in cinemas globally, BRING THE SOUL: THE MOVIE, which became the single largest event cinema release globally, Grateful Dead’s 9th Annual Meet-Up at the Movies, Tribeca documentary Between Me and My Mind about Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, Roger Waters Us + Them, Slayer: The Repentless Killogy, Rush Cinema Strangiato 2019 and The Cure: Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park London.
The London based outfit has previously released films including Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams, The Music Center presents Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration, Khalid Free Spirit, One More Time with Feeling, among others.
The Doors: Break on Thru - A Celebration of Ray Manzarek will be screened in cinemas around the world on Feb. 12. Tickets are on sale now at thedoorsfilm.com, where fans can find the most up-to-date information regarding participating theaters.
Evergreen, a student movie produced by Ray Manzarek, and Five Situations, a film for which fellow UCLA classmate Jim Morrison did sound, are now in the process of being restored from the Ray Manzarek & Jim Morrison Preservation Project.
Funding is in process, which will allow the UCLA Film and Television Archive to clean the films and transfer them from fragile 16-mm prints to high-resolution digital cinema packages. Once this has been done, the films are scheduled to be screened in Westwood, CA at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum at UCLA, along with a collection of other student films made by notable alumni, as part of the UCLA’s upcoming year-long 100th-anniversary celebrations.
“Ray would have been pleased and flattered of course,” said Dorothy Fujikawa in a 2019 UCLA media statement.
Fujikawa, who was married to Manzarek from 1967 until his death in 2013, had a leading role in Evergreen.
I saw The Doors perform at the Forum in Inglewood, CA in 1968, and first met Ray Manzarek in 1974 at Mercury Records on Hollywood Boulevard.
I interviewed Ray a dozen times over forty years and produced a handful of recording sessions with him.
I’m one of the fortunate eight people listed in the dedication in his autobiography, Light My Fire. Ray was also interviewed in my 2004 book This Is Rebel Music.
During 1996, I co-produced and curated a Rock Literature music series at the MET Theatre in Hollywood and all three surviving Doors performed one evening.
Manzarek also penned the introduction to my 2009 coffee table book, Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon. He graciously joined me for two book signing events in Oakland and San Francisco.
In 2011, Ray, Doors’ engineer-producer, Bruce Botnick, Elliot Lefko of the AEG/Golden Voice company and I were the featured panel discussion in the second annual Pollstar Live! Conference, The Doors—An L.A. Legacy, held at the Marriot at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.
My 2014 book Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, carries a dedication to Ray.
Raymond Daniel Manzarek (born Raymond Daniel Manczarek) was born Feb. 12, 1939, in Chicago, IL. Ray resided with his family on the Southside of Chicago and graduated from DePaul University with a B.A. in Economics.
"I was trained classically and I think it opened up a lot of avenues for the rock element to enter. Rock & roll to me is just like jazz. It’s an improvisational medium. I left classical music because it didn’t allow me to improvise. I didn’t feel that I wanted to subjugate myself to another man’s thoughts. I loved the technical training though, and there’s nothing like it. I love the act of making my fingers move over the organ and piano," Manzarek stressed to me in a 1974 interview in the now-defunct Melody Maker.
In the early 1960s, the Manzarek clan relocated to the South Bay community of Redondo Beach in Southern California. Ray also fronted a band, Rick and The Ravens, and was exposed to '50s and ’60s jazz records, as well as the sounds emanating from the seminal World Pacific Records label. It was in Westwood, CA, at the UCLA School of Film in 1964-1965 where Manzarek first encountered James Douglas Morrison and then earned an M.A. degree in Cinematography.
In 1965, Ray fronted Rick and The Ravens, and that same year joined up again with Morrison on the beach in Venice. The singer's poetry was a perfect fit for the classically trained keyboardist's musical ideas, and eventually they decided to form a band, taking the group’s name from Aldous Huxley’s infamous psychedelic memoir, The Doors of Perception. They soon teamed with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger formerly in the band Psychedelic Rangers.
The Doors actively toured and recorded together until 1971.
Producer Paul A. Rothchild and engineer-producer Bruce Botnick for Elektra Records created seismic studio albums and oversaw live recordings that issued that changed the course of popular music.
Ray Manzarek directed three long-form films on the Doors. The Doors: Live At the Hollywood Bowl; The Doors: Dance On Fire; and The Doors: The Soft Parade.
Manzarek produced and performed on five albums by the L.A. band X, including Los Angeles.
He continued to record, produce albums and write. Manzarek authored The Poet in Exile, as well as his autobiography, Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors, and most recently penned a second novel, Snake Moon (Night Shade Books), which is a Civil War-era ghost story. He released a new CD, Atonal Head (PBM Records), his endeavor into electronica, which he describes as "jazz-based with computer additives," done in collaboration with Polish expatriate jazz musician Bal. There’s also a rendition of "Riders on the Storm," with guest vocal by Jim Morrison.
As we approach his February birthday celebration, I’ve curated this interview below culled from a series of dialogues we had from 1974-2013.
Q: Talk to me about your early encounters with Jim Morrison and especially his singing voice. I walked with you on Venice Beach last decade and you pointed at the sand and said, ‘This is where Jim sang to me in a Chet Baker-like voice. His voice had a softness to it.’ Morrison got louder and better as a singer during the entire Doors recording process.
A: When I first heard Jim sing in Venice I thought he had it. There was no doubt that he would not have any problems ‘cause the microphone is no problem. Pitch is the problem with a singer. Can you sing in the same key on pitch? And I worked with a lot of singers who can’t do that. Finding the notes. But Morrison had a good sense of pitch. So, if it was in the key of G, he would sing ‘Moonlight Drive’ in the key of G. And he would be there right on pitch. That was the important thing. The rest of it was all acquired expertise in your practice of your instrument.
“Interestingly, on ‘Moonlight Drive’ is that it’s a really a seminal, or a signpost song. It’s the first song Jim Morrison sang to me on the beach. It had been after we graduated UCLA and I ran into him on the beach. ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘I’ve been writing songs.’ ‘Sing me a song.’ ‘I’m shy.’ ‘You’re not shy. Stop it. There’s nobody here. Just you and me. I’m not judging your voice. I just want to hear the song. Besides, you used to sing with Rick and The Ravens at the Turkey Joint West and did ‘Louie Louie’ until you could not talk."
Q: How was Morrison on stage even then? I know later he went straight into a garage rehearsal room with you and the boys. Was he a natural even in jams at the Turkey Joint West venue?
A: No. (laughs). It took a while and later to work it out on stage at The London Fog and Whisky A Go-Go. But by God, he sure did scream a lot and sure had a willing injection of energy into rock & roll.
Q: Let’s discuss the epic debut LP The Doors. It was done at Sunset Sound with producer Paul A. Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick.
A: Sunset Sound was a very hip recording studio on Sunset Blvd. The Beach Boys had been there. Herb Alpert, Love. It was owned by a trumpet player, (Salvador) Tutti Camarata and he had the Camarata Strings, I believe.
"It was an excellent recording studio, four tracks. Rothchild and Botnick. Never had met Bruce before. Paul was the producer.
“Rothchild and Botnick are Door number 5 and Door number 6. There’s four Doors in the band and two Doors in the control room. So, they were always there, always twisting the knobs and really on top of it. A couple of high IQ very intelligent guys. We couldn’t have done it without them.
“Paul Rothchild was the guy who had produced The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and also Love, along with Botnick. The two of them did those albums together. So, Robby was a big fan of the Butterfield Blues Band and he was very excited that Paul Rothchild was gonna produce for us. I didn’t know either one of them and not familiar with their work outside of Love. I had heard Paul Butterfield and thought it was good. Chicago blues by Chicago white boys. Being a Chicago white boy myself I could identify with Chicago white boys playing the blues. So it was a great combination of six guys. That first album was basically the four Doors and the two other Doors in the control room making the sound. We made the music. They made the sound. And they did an absolutely brilliant job. And it was a real joy and a great learning experience.
“I had been in a fabulous recording studio before at World Pacific on 3rd Street in LA with Rick and The Ravens for Dick Bock. And that’s where we cut The Doors’ demo, along with some Rick and The Ravens songs.
“Rothchild and Botnick were two alchemists with sound. We were the alchemical music makers but they were alchemists with sound-adding a bit of this, a bit of that. Some reverb. Some high end. Let’s hit it at 20k or 10k. Let’s dial in a bit of bass in there. They were making this evil witches brew concoction as we went along. And the sound just got better and better.
Q: And on this album, and subsequent sessions you were joined by a studio bassist who essentially followed and copied your bass lines done on the Fender Rhodes.
A: I was the bass player of The Doors. When it came to recording I played a Fender Rhodes keyboard bass. The instrument was great in person because it had a deep rich sound and moved a lot of air. But in the recording studio, it lacked a pluck. It did not have the attack that a bass guitar would have-especially if you played a bass guitar with a pick. You had plenty of attack. So, on some of the songs, we brought in an actual bass player, one of the Los Angeles cats, Larry Knechtel. Who played the same bass line that I played on ‘Light My Fire,’ who doubled my bass line. They could then get rid of my bass part and use the nice sound that Larry Knechtel could get. The click and the bottom.
Q: And, in the sound mix the keyboard was treated equally. Not a second thought overdub or hidden below in the collaboration.
A: Well it had to be. We were the Modern Jazz Quartet!
Q: You had schlepped some of these songs in demo form in 1966, and had played the material all over the clubs locally before you put them down on tape for the debut album. I would imagine you didn’t labor over whole first L.P. in the studio.
A: I had been in the World Pacific studio before, but Jim had never been in a vocal booth. He had some hesitations because he was a rookie.
“Well the whole thing took ten days. Boom. We’re done. We’re out of here. ‘Light My Fire’ was two takes. ‘The End’ was two takes.
Q: You then start Strange Days L.P.
A: Album two is recorded on an eight-track. The first album was four-track. We now had four more tracks. That meant everything that we could do on the first album We would still have four more tracks leftover for overdubs. For experimentation. So we experimented in and out of the universe. I actually played one of the songs backwards. The song was played to me backwards and I had each bar written out with the chord change that went along with it and I started reading the music on the lower right-hand side and read right to left across the bottom line. And then jumped to the next line, when I got to the end of the previous line, jumped to the next line up on the right-hand side, reading everything backwards, bottom to top, getting closer and closer, finally to the top line and hoping that I end when the song begins. ‘Cause it’s all going along and it’s backwards. I’m following (John) Densmore’s beat on the bass drum not knowing what’s going to happen. And sure enough, I get to the last measure here are four more beats! I stopped and the music stopped. It was a miracle. And everyone went, ‘You did it Ray!’ And I went to the guys and said to them in the control room. And I said, ‘Please, whatever you do, help me here, never let me do his ever again.’ And they collectively said, ‘That’s a deal, Ray."
Q: You saw the studio becoming a laboratory.
A: Exactly. It was a place where we could really experiment. We could put on our lab tech coats rather than coming in with our ‘Mod’ outfits. It’s almost as if we put on our glasses. I felt like I was in a 1932 German Science Fiction movie, ‘Woman In The Moon,’ something along that line. Some Fritz Lang. It was like ‘Metropolis’ and we were wearing those glasses that you wear so you don’t get sparks in your eyes and we had lab coats on. And we were preparing this strange concoction called ‘Strange Days.’
Q: You had already had some of the songs for it like ‘Moonlight Drive’ from 1965, ’66, and now in 1967, it’s coming to fruition in the studio. Plus, Jim Morrison’s voice really went further and deeper on the “Strange Days” expedition.
A: Well, the man had his chops as they say. Jim got his chops together. He had a thick bull neck resembling a large engorged male organ. (laughs). And by then, he could sing, man. That throat had opened up and that man was singing.
Q: There’s the Morrison scenic lyric “under television skies” in “My Eyes Have Seen You” that chronicles a pre-cable TV world he witnessed. On Strange Days the Doors employ Doug Lubahn as studio bassist on the album.
A: Yes. And Doug and I worked very closely together and I showed him what I wanted on the bass parts. And he would play it and improvise on what I had shown him and expand upon it. He was not playing exactly what I told him to play. He was adding his own little touch to it that made it extra exciting for all of us to be there. He was just a great stoner, hippie, good guy.
Q: He played with a band Clear Light.
A: They were originally called The Brain Train. Great name and they change it to Clear Light. ‘Why?’ I asked Doug, ‘Why did you change your (band) name? ‘I don’t know, Ray. It wasn’t up to me.’
Q: On Strange Days your organ work offers a tiny tip of the hat to Herbie Hancock and his composition “Watermelon Man” just on the end hang lyric conclusion of “When The Music’s Over.”
A: Oh absolutely. That’s Herbie Hancock, man. I’m borrowing a little bit of Herbie’s piano line. My keyboard line is a variation of his piano line on ‘Watermelon Man.’
Q: As you are hearing Jim’s lyrics to “When The Music’s Over,” late 1967, this is a timeline pre-Earth Day that began in 1970. Those lyrics are detailing ecological concerns and environmental chaos. Psychological territory away from ‘The End’ song. You and the band are the new soundtrack to global warning and the continual destruction of our planet.
A: I knew Jim was a great poet. There’s no doubt about that. See that’s why we put the band together in the first place. It was going to be poetry together with rock ‘n’ roll. Not like poetry and jazz. Or like it, it was poetry and jazz from the ‘50s, except we were doing poetry and rock ‘n’ roll. And our version of rock ‘n’ roll was whatever you could bring to the table. Robby bring your Flamenco guitar, Robby bring that bottleneck guitar, bring that sitar tuning. John bring your marching drums and your snares and your four on the floor. Ray bring your classical training and your blues training and your jazz training. Jim bring your Southern gothic poetry, your Arthur Rimbaud poetry. It all works in rock ‘n’ roll. So Jim was a magnificent poet. I loved his poetry. The fact that he was doing ecological poetry. ‘What have they done to the earth?’
Q: Again, like in the entire Doors’ studio journey, Rothchild and Botnick are taking the whole trip into a new sonic world.
A: Absolutely. We knew each other. We were friends. We would hang out together. We would get high together and go to each other’s houses and hang out.
Q: You know, as a kid, I would see some of The Doors in Los Angeles eating at Norm’s restaurant on La Cienega right next to the Elektra Studios. It was near our Fairfax High School. Even then I sort of knew you guys were recording and didn’t bother you at a table or the counter. My Aquarius mother said something like, ‘Let them eat. They’re on the clock.’ I didn’t quite know then what she meant. At the time she was working for The Monkees and the Columbia Pictures movie studio.
A: Absolutely. It was work. We didn’t fool around.
“I was not able to duck out of Sunset Sound, or TT&G or later at Electra to see bands or local jazz at Shelley’s Manne-Hole. No! We were working. We’re recording. The clock is ticking. This is your job. Your job starts at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon and goes to 11:00 at night, 12 or one o’clock in the morning. You go home. You got to bed. You get up the next day. Maybe at 11:00 a.m. have a leisurely breakfast, take care of a couple of things and go back to the recording studio. Because guess what, Harvey. The recording studio is the only place you wanted to be. I didn’t want to see anybody. I didn’t want to go to a film or a jazz club. I wanted to make records. Right then and right there. With Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Paul Rothchild, Bruce Botnick and Doug Lubahn. Great bass player."
Q: Why do Jim Morrison’s lyrics work so well in recordings and the printed page?
A: Well, you know, Harvey, because lyrics are poetry. The words were well edited. Jim was good that way when it came to songs. When you are doing this written poetry you can really stretch out and you can really expand. And, no one so far has done an ‘Ezra Pound’ on Jim Morrison. With his poetry, he’d throw this out, take this line, or two lines, but when it comes to music you gotta be very choosy because you only have a short period of time. Songs in a way, outside of like ‘The End,’ and ‘When The Music’s Over,’ are sorta like haikus. The fit has to be very tight.
“I saw Jim’s words before he started writing songs. So, when you see his words on the page that’s poetry. I always thought of Jim as a good poet. But when he started writing songs, then everything became verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Really tight, and it was a whole other ball game. He put his words into an entirely different context. A musical context. A hit single in a three-minute context. I thought ‘Moonlight Drive’ was brilliant.
Q: The Waiting For The Sun album. Some songs already existed in raw form but a lot of new material was written for this endeavor.
A: You know it’s time to do a record when you have 10 or 12 songs together. When it hits a dozen times to enter the recording studio. I mean, we worked on those songs. I mean, when we would get together in the rehearsal studio they were polished. They were changed. They were adapted. Somebody, invariably Robby or Jim who would come up with the original idea. But boy, the four of us would get together, change and modify and polish the songs.
Q: “Hello, I Love You” from Waiting For The Sun had been around for a while.
A: Yes. It was a song Jim wrote on the beach when we used to live down in Venice. Dorothy would go off to work and Jim and I would go off to the beach around the rings on the sand at Muscle Beach and work out around the bars, rings and swings and get ourselves into physical shape. He was gorgeous. Man, he was perfect. He was a guy who had opened the doors of perception and made a blend of the American Indian and the American Cowboy. He was the white Anglo Saxon Protestant. The WASP who had taken on the mantle of the American Indian. He now was no longer a fighter of Indians. He was a lover of American Indians. Like John F. Kennedy, that guy would have been a great President. Pre-alcohol, would have been a great President. The alcohol, unfortunately, destroyed Jim Morrison.
Q: Once again, some warnings about the environment are inherent in the lyrics. ‘Not To Touch The Earth.”
A: Sure. Yes. Ecology was very, very big. We were all trying to save the planet. The sun was the energy. The supreme energy.
“The establishment, as we called it, the squares, as they were called in the Fifties, the establishment as they were called in the Sixties, were trying to stop drug use, the smoking of marijuana and trying to stop any kind of organic fertilizer. The word organic to them meant hippie, radical potheads and people who wanted to leave behind the organized religions and start some new tribal religion based on American Indian folklore. That’s indeed what we were. We called ourselves the new tribe."
Q: You served in the military before the Doors started. The band’s “Unknown Soldier” must have been partially informed or reinforced by your stint.
A: Everyone had to do military service. This was a time just before Vietnam. I was lucky. Everybody had a military obligation. You had to do your time in the service. So I did my time. Besides Thailand, I went to New York City and then I went to Okinawa, fell in with a bunch of jazz musicians, smoked a little grass there. I thought it was fabulous. Then I went to Thailand and where I had my real first Thai stick experience. Courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Q: On Waiting For The Sun The Doors question government on “The Unknown Soldier” and “Five To One.”
A: That was a time when we started questioning the government. Everyone was questioning the government. That was all based on the war in Vietnam. And why are we in Vietnam? Why are we fighting these people? And the theory was, very much like in Iraq, it was the domino theory. If Vietnam falls then all of Southeast Asia is going to fall to the Communists and then they will be into the Philippines and then all the way to Australia will go Communists. The Communists scare is the same scare that is the same scare that we know with the Islamic scare.
Q: Why does “Celebration of The Lizard” from “Waiting For The Sun” still resonate? Shaman and poet/singer Morrison’s lyrics are prophetic.
A: We were working in the future space. The Doors on their third album were in the future. And many things have come to pass that Jim Morrison wrote about.
Q: It seems as if The Doors and technical people were allowed to create and flourish without record label monitoring or corporate interference. Did Elektra Records owner Jac Holzman come to the sessions?
A: Once in a while. Sure. He was a real cheerleader if anything.
Q: We are then lead into The Soft Parade. Was there a pre-production meeting where everyone voted to include the use of strings and horns on the album?
A: We had made three albums with the same formation and at some point or another when you make albums you want to do an album with expanded sound. So you want to have some horns and strings. My God, everybody did it. And we were gonna do it too. I want some strings. I want some jazz arrangements. I want some classical arrangements. And everyone said yes. Great idea. And a record label that said it was fine. What was great about the record label was that Jac Holzman said, ‘Boys, do whatever You want. Just don’t use the seven illegal words.’ George Carlin’s seven forbidden words. Other than that, anything goes. Whatever you want to do. And Paul Rothchild encouraged it.
Q: You are using the new Elektra Studios as well.
A: We have left Sunset Sound. The first two there and the Third at TT& G. on Sunset and Highland in Hollywood. We then went into Elektra’s new place. Fabulous. It was all wooden. Brand new state of the art facility. We thought it was great and would be able to play there for free. I mean, after wall, it was really the studio that The Doors built. ‘Jac, this is gonna be great’ when he showed it to us. And we get to record here for free.’ Jac said, ‘Free? No. You don’t get to record here for free. But, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. For you guys a ten percent discount.’ (laughs). But it was a great recording studio and they had a great funky organ in there. Gnarly organ.
Q: George Harrison dropped by one of your Soft Parade sessions. He was visiting the Elektra studios. He mentioned all the musicians at your date reminded him of The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers because of the orchestra booked.
A: Yes. A Beatle in the room. A very charming guy. Very low key. And I’m surprised John Densmore didn’t become good friends with him.
Q: And, once again, the Morrison vocals are potent, distinctive and his voice more confident than ever.
A: He’s no longer a blues singer. He’s added Frank Sinatra crooning to his voice and did an absolutely brilliant job. Terrific. Girls loved it. ‘Touch Me’ a number one song.
Q: You also had individual writing credits for the first time on the album sleeve.
A: That’s a great story. Because of ‘Touch Me.’ The song was initially called ‘Hit Me,’ and Jim is gonna say hit me. It’s ‘Hit Me’ like in poker. And Jim said, ‘No It’s not like poker. It’s like someone is gonna walk up to me and are gonna hit me. You gotta change the line.’ ‘To what?’ ‘Touch Me.’ Beautiful. And along with that ballad part he sings in ‘Tell All The People’ the line with ‘Get your guns…Follow me down.’
“Morrison, a military boy said, ‘I am not going to say that.’ And Robby replied, ‘that’s the way I wrote it and you can’t change it.’ Robby was going to stand up to Jim at that point. And Jim said, ‘I am not going to do it.’
“And Robby said, ‘well that’s the song.’ And Jim said, ‘We’re gonna have to say that you wrote this song.’ And Robby said, ‘OK. Fine with me.’ And that lasted for one or two more albums.
Guitarist Robby Krieger was another kind of songwriter. He penned a lot of the popular radio hits and chart singles. “Love Me Two Times,” “Spanish Caravan,” the lyrics to “Tell All The People,” “Touch Me,” “Runnin’ Blue,” “Love Her Madly,” and co-wrote “Peace Frog” and “Light My Fire” with Morrison.
"Robby was a different sort of lyric writer. You know, Robby might be the secret weapon of the Doors, we get this great guitar player who plays bottleneck, and all of a sudden he comes in and plays ‘Light My Fire,’ the first song he ever co-wrote with Jim. And then Robby wrote ‘Love Me, Two Times,’ ‘Love Her Madly.’ ‘Touch Me.’ Lots of Doors’ hit singles. Another guy with a high IQ."
Q: On The Soft Parade you had Harvey Brooks as well as Doug Lubahn on bass, saxophonist Curtis Amy and George Bohanan the trombonist.
A: Wasn’t that great. Curtis Amy, who was married to Merry Clayton. Curtis was a big nationally known jazz horn player who lived in Los Angeles. He takes he solo on ‘Touch Me.’ It might have been the first time a real jazz saxophone solo went to number one on pop charts. And, we brought the strings and horn players to some shows and TV appearances. It was a great deal of fun for me to bring them on stage.
“It didn’t work for a lot of the critics and teenagers. ‘We’re not coming to see you guys expand.’ We want to see ‘Light My Fire.’ Four Doors. The sexy lead singer. You play the songs. No horns. No strings. No jazz soloing.’ Well, you’re gonna get it anyway. Like, at the Forum show you get Jerry Lee Lewis, Lonnie Mack, Sweetwater and a Chinese Pipa player, too.
Q: And by ‘The Soft Parade Jim Morrison started to indulge and really drink.
A: Jimbo came out. They call it the demon rum. There’s a demon in the bottle. And there’s a demon in that white powder, too. A demon on the blade. You know what those things do? They open the trap door of the subconscious and allow some creature to come out. And the alcohol for Jim, a genetic pre-disposition famial pre-disposition to alcohol, something came out, man. “Some kind of combination. He went from being the poet to a shooter. Shooter Morrison. I was flabbergasted.
“We started experimenting in the studio. I wouldn’t allow anything to get out of the recording studio without my approval. If I didn’t think it was right it did not go on a record. Nothing happened without my OK. We did some composite vocals. You do what you have to do. If Jim sings one line great. Fine. Then let’s get the next line. Let’s get the words, man. Whatever it takes to get the best possible performance. While you can see that Jim Morrison is undergoing a transformation. Right before our very eyes. And I hoped that this transformation was short-lived. But it wasn’t.
"This can’t last. This is not Jim.’"
Q: The Doors then arrive at Morrison Hotel. Why this direction?
A: Well, we had done our horns and strings experimentation. We had had a great time. I had a great time. Critically it was our least acclaimed album. However, it has stood the test of time and there are many great songs on there. So, you know what? We’ve done that experimentation. Let’s go back to the blues. Let’s get dark and funky. Let’s go downtown for the album cover. We went to the Hard Rock Café on skid row with (photographer) Henry Diltz. And we went to a flophouse called The Morrison Hotel. Rooms A sign read $2.50 and up. It was definitely supposed to be a funky album and you can see that on the inside photo and the front and back cover. Album covers were always important. We were involved heavily in that process. You could never just turn it over to the record company. Everything that The Doors turned out had to be stamped by The Doors. We approve of this.
“My God, Strange Days, what an album cover. We told the art director from Elektra Records, Bill Harvey, ‘Make something ‘Fellini-esque.’ And he did that on his own. That’s all we told him. We saw the photos and said, ‘Bill this is fabulous. You’ve outdone yourself.’ And Bill said, before he died, ‘That’s the best album cover I ever did.’
Q: And, there’s a song called ‘Waiting For The Sun’ on Morrison Hotel.
A: We loved the title. But the song had not come together earlier. We finally got it and a beautiful piece of music. It needed to cook more. Sometimes Doors’ songs came out of the collective conscious whole. ‘Bam. That’s it.’ Others needed to cook and they needed be worked on. And ‘Waiting For The Sun’ was one of those songs with a great title and the song took a while to jell.
Q: It’s a hard mean album. Morrison’s voice lends itself to this specific material.
A: It was a barrelhouse album and barrelhouse singing. He’s smoking cigarettes. ‘Jesus Christ, Jim. Do you have to smoke cigarettes and drink booze?’ He didn’t say it but it was like, ‘This is what a bluesman does.’ Oh fuck. That’s right. You’re an old bluesman. He says that in one of his lines. ‘I’ve been singing the blues since the world began.’ And Rick and The Ravens was a surf and blues band from the South Bay. ‘Roadhouse Blues.’
Q: How could Jim Morrison with his Dionysian demeanor write and suggest instruction or guidance lyrically in that song, “Keep your eyes on the road your hands upon the wheel,” when most of the time he certainly didn’t operate or drive a car like this himself?
A: Well that was the better Angel. That’s Jim Morrison. Not Jimbo. Jimbo was the guy who took Jim to Paris and said, “let’s go and die in Paris.’ We’re going to have a death in Paris. Like Thomas Mann’s novella Death In Paris. That was Jimbo. .
Q: In addition, the album brings us as into the water and film noir aspect of Los Angeles. Water is a principal theme explored. “Ship of Fools.” The “River of Sadness” cited in “Peace Frog,” and the salvation of the ocean and the destination charted in “Land Ho!”
A: Water, ships. It clicks big time. The water images and that beach down in Venice. And that ocean side. ‘Moonlight Drive’ again. And the water always entered into Morrison’s life. And where does his life expire? In the water in the bathtub in Paris. From the amniotic fluid of his birth to the bathtub in Paris. His final expiration.
Q: Lonnie Mack plays bass on a couple of tracks on Morrison Hotel. He had an instrumental hit with a version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis.”
A: He was great, man. ‘Roadhouse Blues.’ Lonnie Mack. He was either recording in the next studio, or working around us, or came down, I can’t remember why he appears. Paul Rothchild said, “Hey. This is Lonnie Mack. He introduced him to Robby. ‘Hey, you wanna play some bass?’ ‘I’d love too, guys.’ Simple as that. That was a great deal of fun. The album was definitely blues, ‘Raymond Chandler.’ Downtown Los Angeles. Dalton Trumbo. ‘John Fante.’ ‘City of Night’ John Rechy.
Q: Then there is the tune “Peace Frog.” In 1995 you told me for Goldmine magazine, “Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago” is obviously about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It was written after the young people rioted against the war, in Vietnam.”
A: Those are great lines. Morrison goes further to say, ‘Blood is the rose of mysterious union/blood will be born in the birth of a nation.’ So it’s the idea that blood is the cleansing property, and from blood will come the healing and the enlightenment of the nation. America is what Jim is singing about. ‘Birth of a Nation.’ Another cinematic reference.
Q: In that interview you mentioned you had a class at the UCLA School of Film with director Josef Von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Marocco, Shanghai Express) who applauded your student film Evergreen. “Very good Manzarek. Very good.” You cited his praise as one of the greatest moments of your life, adding that Sternberg’s influence was inherent in the way he paced his movies and the psychological weight of his films informed the way you and Jim together wedded a cinema and music mixture.
A: He’s the guy who really kind of gave a real sense of darkness to The Doors, not that we wouldn’t have been there anyway. But having Von Sternberg seeing the deep psychology of his movies, and the pace at which he paced his films, really influenced Doors’ songs and Doors’ music. The film school is always there. Our song structure was based on the cinema. Loud. Soft. Gentle. Violent. A Doors’ song is again, aural, and aural cinema. We always tried to make pictures in your mind. Your mind ear. You hear pictures with the music itself.
Q: During 2007 we talked again about Doors’ catalog utilized in movies and soundtracks. The film school influence is obvious again, especially on ‘L’America’ on Morrison Hotel.
A: It was written for the director Michaelangelo Antonioni for his film Zabriskie Point.
And we played it for him at the rehearsal studio and backed him up against the wall with the volume. We played it the way we normally play and too loud for this elderly Italian gentleman. I could see him pressed up against the door trying to get out of the place. We finish the song, he slides the door open and steps outside and it was almost like he was saying, ‘Goodbye boys. Goodbye Hollywood.’ And then he goes with Pink Floyd. It was all too much for him. He just couldn’t do it.
Q: Just before the album L.A. Woman formally began, producer Paul Rothchild leaves the project.
A: Yes. He did a great service to us. We played the songs in the studio so Paul could hear what the songs were. First at the rehearsal studio and then over to Elektra. I think we went back to Sunset Sound, too. We were bored. He was bored. We played badly. And Paul said, ‘you know what guys? There’s nothing here I can do. I’m done. You’re are gonna have to do it yourselves.’ And he walked out the door. We looked at each other and said, ‘Shit. Bummer.’ And Bruce (Botnick) said, ‘Hey, I’ll do it! I’ll be the producer.’ John (Densmore) said, ‘We’ll co-produce with you.’ Bruce said, ‘That’s a deal. Let’s all do it together.’ And then Jim said, ‘Can we record at our rehearsal studio?’ And we all said, ‘Hey, we play great at our rehearsal studio. Let’s do it. Can it be done?’ And Bruce said, ‘Of course I can do it there. I’ll set the board up and a studio upstairs. You guys record downstairs. That’s where we make the album and it will be virtually live. ‘Yea!’ And we got excited like that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland ‘Let’s put on a show!’
“The only thing with Bruce that was really different than working with Paul was that we didn’t do as many takes. We knew when we had it. The thing about Rothchild ‘he was a slave driver.’ That’s not really true. We did do a lot of takes on ‘Unknown Soldier’ and that drove Robby crazy.
Q: And, Jerry Scheff plays bass on L.A. Woman.
A: Botnick brings in a guy who is going to be playing with Elvis Presley. ‘I got Elvis Presley's bass player.’ ‘Shit, man.’ He came in. A very cool guy who is playing with Elvis Presley.
Q: And, you and Jim just earlier had watched the Elvis Presley 1968 Comeback Special on television. I wrote the liner notes in 2008 for the CD reissue. Elvis is wearing leather on that program. And I believe Jim had his leather pants made on Sunset Blvd. in 1967, ’68.
A: Yes. We watched it. Elvis puts on his Morrison outfit. (laughs). He had seen Morrison. He knew what he was doing. Imitating Jim.
Q: L.A. Woman is a logical step from “Morrison Hotel.”
A: I think it’s the same Doors but a continual growth, continual evolution of The Doors. Continual revolution of The Doors.
Q: The title track L.A. Woman embodies movement, freedom, lust and dust.
A: L.A. Woman is just a fast L.A. kick-ass freeway driving song in the key of A with barely any chord changes at all. And it just goes. It’s like Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg heading from L.A. up to Bakersfield on the 5 Freeway. Let’s go, man.
Q: The haunting “Riders On The Storm.” In 1995 you ran down the song to me commenting on that highway and freeway chase depicted. “The storm is an unresolved psyche. We are moving into the Jungian collective unconscious. And those motivations in the collective unconscious are the same in 1976, 1968, 1969 as they are in 1994, 1995. There are needs that we all have on the human planet, and we must satisfy those needs and come to grips with the darkness and the interior of the human psyche.”
A: It’s the final classic, man. Interestingly, Robby and Jim come in and were working on ‘Riders On The Storm.’ And then they start to play it and it sounded like ‘An old cowpoke riding out one dark and misty day.’ It was like ‘Ghost Riders in The Sky.’ No. We don’t do anything like ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ as much as I like it by Vaughn Monroe. And Jim likes it. What’s next? A version of Frankie Laine’s ‘Mule Train?’ Doors don’t do that. Let’s make this hip. The idea is good. We’re going to go out on the desert. ‘There’s a killer on the road.’ This has got to be dark, strange and moody. Let me see what I can do here. It was like ‘Light My Fire.’ It just came to me. I got it. The bass line.
It became this dark, moody Sunset Strip 1948 jazz joint.
Q: And, only Morrison could inject a Hollywood movie studio system reference in the lyric ‘an actor out on loan.’
A: Yeah. How ‘bout that, man.
Q: Every Doors concert was unique. Some specific songs in the set but lots of improv and no set order done every night.
A: The concerts were an extension of the audio document. It was not yin and yang. One was an extension of the other. There were improvisations in the recording studio but within their soloing sections. And quite frankly, I never knew what I was going to play. I knew the chord changes. I didn’t know how I was going to structure my A minor 7th chord. That would vary from take to take. It would always be an A minor 7th and in the groove. So there was improvisation in the studio but here was major improvisation live. Because that’s the whole point of live. You have the record as your foundation and then you build upon that in the live performance.
Harvey Kubernik is the author of 15 books. His literary music anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection Vol. 1, was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other World Cottage Industries in February 2018. It’s been nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.
During November 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz.
In 2019, The National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. have asked Harvey Kubernik to pen an essay on the landmark The Band album, now celebrating a 50th anniversary edition in 2019.
Harvey Kubernik is currently researching and writing a mult-voice narrative book on Jimi Hendrix for Sterling/Barnes and Noble scheduled for publication last quarter of 2020.
Harvey Kubernik’s 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown appears in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. Brackett is a Professor of Musicology in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada.
Harvey joined a distinguished lineup which includes LeRoi Jones, Johnny Otis, Ellen Willis, Nat Hentoff, Jerry Wexler, Jim Delehant, Ralph J. Gleason, Greil Marcus, and Cameron Crowe.
Kubernik’s 1996 interview with poet/author Allen Ginsberg was published in Conversations With Allen Ginsberg, edited by David Stephen Calonne for the University Press of Mississippi in their 2019 Literary Conversations Series.
Harvey is featured in the 2014 book by Jeff Burger on Leonard Cohen Interviews and Encounters for Chicago Review Press. During 2015 the University Press of Mississippi published a Harvey Kubernik interview with D.A. Pennebaker in their book series, Conversations with Filmmakers, edited by Dr. Keith Beattie.
This century Kubernik wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.
During 2019 Kubernik is serving as a Consultant on a new 2-part documentary on the musical legacy of Laurel Canyon. Alison Ellwood is directing the documentary who helmed the authorized History of the Eagles. Broadcast date is first quarter 2020 on EPIX Television.
Feature photo by Henry Diltz