Like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and bluesman Robert Johnson, Jim Morrison — the singer-poet for The Doors — was only 27 years old when he died. And, like the others, Morrison continues to be an important, iconic figure in rock-and-roll to this day.
Morrison’s legacy was celebrated at a concert Saturday night at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club by Ray Manzarek, the co-founder (with Morrison) and keyboard player for The Doors.
However, rather than being a Doors-only affair, the concert also provided a forum for Manzarek to honor his various musical influences. Manzarek was accompanied by Roy Rogers, a former sideman of John Lee Hooker who Manzarek described as “one of the best slide blues guitar players in the world.”
The show opened with a piece in the boogie woogie style, which Manzarek revealed was “one of the things that really got him started” playing piano. This was followed by a mellifluous piece dedicated to Manzarek’s “No. 1 influence” — pianist Bill Evans, who had a brief but impactful association with Miles Davis.
Next up — after guitarist Rogers pointed out that Manzarek is a “Chicago boy, all the way” who in his formative years hung out in blues clubs on that city’s South Side — was a piece Manzarek dubbed “Schizophrenic Blues.” This played on the evening’s ongoing joke about which one of the performers was Ray and which one was Roy, and featured lyrics such as “Sometimes I’m Ray / Sometimes I’m Roy” and “I don’t know who I am / Maybe in Santa Barbara / We’ll find out who I am.”
This was followed by the mesmerizing “Will O’ The Wisp” from the ballet El Amor Brujo, a piece that was included on Davis’ album Sketches of Spain.
In a break from the music, Manzarek opened up the floor for a question-and-answer period. Asked about his greatest memory with Morrison, he said, “Walking on the beach in Venice, Calif., discussing man, the nature of what it means to be a human being, to God. Man, God and existence.” After a pause, he said, “And playing Madison Square Garden, to 20,000 crazed New Yorkers.” Continuing with this other memory, he recalled that the audience’s flashbulbs at the beginning of that show made him feel he was “out in outerspace, and the universe was going nova.”
Asked about the new Doors documentary When You’re Strange, Manzarek mistakenly said it had just played at the Santa Monica Film Festival. Catching that he meant the Santa Barbara festival, he quipped: “It’s all those saints, you know those women — Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Santa Bernadino, you know, a bunch of holy babes.” He noted that the documentary’s soon-to-be-released soundtrack includes Johnny Depp reading Morrison’s poetry.
Asked about his favorite song, Manzarek said it’s like trying to answer “What’s you’re favorite child?” He did say that his favorite to play live is “Light My Fire.” Morrison’s favorite song was the Oedipal ode “The End.”
This segued into the first Doors song of the evening, a rousing version of “Love Me Two Times” sung by Manzarek. Afterward, he said the song represented the blues side of The Doors, and the next — a piano-only version of “Crystal Ship” — represented their other side. To appreciative applause, Manzarek said, “Thank you from Jim Morrison.”
This was followed by Rogers’ “Patron Saint of Pain,” featuring an amazing, frenetic slide guitar solo, then a piece from Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, which was hypnotic despite the unwelcome rumble of conversation coming from the audience.
At Rogers’ encouragement, Manzarek then told the classic story about The Doors playing their No. 1 song “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show. One of the assistant producers came backstage and informed the band that it couldn’t say the word “higher” on national television because of its drug connotations. Morrison asked, “What are we supposed to do?” The assistant producer said, “Well, you’re the poet, make something up.” As things got tense, Manzarek volunteered that he would take care of it.
After the assistant producer left, the rest of the band asked Manzarek what he was thinking, but he pointed out he had lied to them just like the establishment regularly lied to everybody. The band knew they were safe from censorship during the live broadcast since Doors producer Paul Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick were in charge in the control room for their song.
During the performance, Morrison sang “higher” with special enthusiasm, making Sullivan quite upset. When the assistant producer whined to the band that they didn’t follow his instructions, and that they’d never play on The Ed Sullivan Show again, Morrison said, “Hey, man, so what? We just did The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The concert closed with a trippy instrumental version of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” which was briefly reprised with Manzarek whispering the title as the encore.
Morrison might be gone, but his spirit certainly lives on.
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.