To play the Hollywood Bowl. For any musician, that has to be a career highlight. The Doors performed in that revered venue in 1968, and Ray Manzarek, in his interview for Qello Concerts, articulated the import of such an occasion.
“Everybody played the Hollywood Bowl,” he said. “Igor Stravinsky conducted at the Hollywood Bowl. Miles Davis played the Hollywood Bowl. Great opera singers, great orchestras, great pop acts played it, but not a lot of rock acts. So to play the Hollywood Bowl was a great honor.”
Almost 50 years since that evening, I had a chance to talk with the two surviving Doors, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore. This was for a documentary being produced about a tribute concert for Manzarek, who died in May, 2013. The show took place at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood on February 12th , which would have been Ray’s 76th birthday.
I brought up the Hollywood Bowl to Robby. “That was a horrible day for me,” he said. “It wasn’t bad at all,” said John.
We’ll start with Krieger, who remembers that, for this special outdoor event, “We decided to be really loud.” The band asked the company that provided its amplifiers to bring in as many as they had on hand, and wound up with a wall of more than 50 amps. They were ready to rock this town.
But, Krieger recalls, “Just before the how, it was ‘Oh, by the way, you can be more than 100 db here’”—because of complaints from residents in the neighborhood.
“I ended up using one amp—and I had to turn it down to like “2”—and when you do that, you have a horrible sound. I should’ve run off and grabbed a twin reverb; it would’ve been fine. So I had this teeny, horrible sound. All night, you can see me running back to the amp and adjusting stuff.
“Other than that, it was great.”
Well, there was one other thing. “Earlier,” Krieger recalled, “we had dinner with Mick Jagger, and he was chatting up Pam” (Pamela Courson, Jim Morrison’s girlfriend). So Jim decided to take acid—too much acid. You can kinda tell; he was so reserved; the acid had made him real self-conscious.” Despite that, “he looks good; everything was fine. Of course, that’s the only night they recorded our show on five cameras. Jim’s on acid and my guitar was horrible.”
In our Qello interview, Manzarek said he wasn’t sure that Morrison had dropped LSD, but drummer Densmore is pretty certain. “Jim took acid and didn’t tell the band,” he said. But there were telltale signs. “We’re playing, and he’s picking at the Astroturf. ‘Hey, I found a moth.’ Great. It’s a miracle he managed to get through everything.”
In my book, The Doors by the Doors, Densmore is not quite so accepting. He recalls noting that something was off about the show; that “Jim’s pauses were too long on some songs.” Robby told him that Morrison had taken acid just before going on.
“GODDAMMIT!” Densmore shouted. “I hurled my drumsticks to the floor. “It’s one thing to take it on your own time, but the Hollywood Bowl?”
Later, I reported, “Mick Jagger was very kind when Melody Maker, the English music magazine, asked him how he liked the Doors. He said, ‘They were nice chaps, but they played a bit too long.’”
Ben Fong-Torres was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone from 1969 to 1981. He was a DJ on KSAN, has published ten books, writes the Radio Waves column in the Chronicle, and created the online station, Moonalice Radio, where his DJ show runs from 9 to 12, day and night.