The Authentic Experience
Since they’ve always been my favorite band, I thought I’d do a story for Autograph relating to all my meetings with the various band members.
I had been a Doors fan from an early age. When I was 4-years-old, my dad left my mom. She was pregnant with my little sister, and it was a strange time. We ended up on welfare, since my mom didn’t work and dad never paid child support (until my mom got smart and started dating, then married, our mail man). I never saw my old man again, but one day my older brother discovered a few boxes he left in the garage. One of them had a bunch of albums (for the younger folks reading…this doesn’t mean photo albums, but discs of vinyl that contained music). My mom had given us her old, crappy Lloyds stereo, we were eager to have no records to play on it. When you’re 4-years-old, this makes you feel like you’re so much older. I remembered playing records that were blue, yellow, and orange, and said Fischer-Price on them. This wasn’t a toy stereo, but the real deal – with speakers on each side of our room.
We quickly found out we hated musicals. The Jesus Christ Superstar and West Side Story records only got one listen. We didn’t like the large collection of folk records he had. Peter, Paul, & Mary and John Denver never got a second listen.
We did rock out to the Stones, Steppenwolf, and Beatles albums. Yet it was the Doors records I kept going back to. Some songs were like carnivals (Unhappy Girl, Light My Fire, Whiskey Bar), others were bluesy (Back Door Man, End of the Night, Love Me Two Times), and some just scared the crap out of me (I’m thinking of the part in The End when Morrison talks about killing his family, and raping his mother).
My mom and stepdad found it odd that I’d save my money and buy the other records I didn’t have. The Doors had six albums while Jim was alive, and another two after he died (those were out of print and a lot harder to find). This isn’t counting the various “Best of’s” and live records.
When the book No One Here Gets Out Alive came out, I was reading it as a 12-year-old. I was even more freaked out by the craziness that was Jimbo. It didn’t make me like the songs any less, though.
As a kid, I got the usual autographs kids get – from the local sports teams. That meant a lot of Padres, Chargers and Clippers players (anybody remember when the Clippers were still in San Diego?).
The first Door I got an autograph from was Ray Manzarek. I was 16-years-old and thrilled he was coming to San Diego to perform. It was with beat poet Michael McClure. I called the venue for tickets, only to find out it was “21 and up.” That wasn’t about to stop me from hanging out at the club to meet him.
I had been dating a girl the entire school year, and wasn’t embarrassed telling her I was going to get an autograph. I was surprised she wanted to go along with me. Perhaps the fact that half my wardrobe consisted of Doors T-shirts, she knew there was no stopping me. I thought our night would be wasted standing outside a club, but to my surprise, within 30 minutes of us getting there, Ray and his wife Dorothy pulled up in a white rental car. I started shaking as he walked out. He was taller than I thought he’d be. He smiled and I asked for his autograph. I thought he’d see I was a real fan by the fact that I had the two Doors albums without Morrison, as well as the few solo albums he did. He signed them, and asked if I was going to the show. I told him I was too young to get in. He replied, “Bummer, man.” I asked how his son Pablo was doing. He said “Great, man. Thanks for asking. He’s already six feet tall.” I asked if he played basketball (as I did). He told me he ran track. I then said “Oh s***!” He asked what was wrong, and I said “I wanted to bring this Doors poster I had for you to autograph.” He then kind of snapped as he said “Don’t you think you had enough items?” It was a good point.
Tammie and I ended up driving to Carrows and eating dinner (that’s how I rolled as a 16-year-old on a Friday night). I couldn’t stop smiling. I had met a member of The Doors. I never thought that would happen. I was so excited, I even used the pay phone in front of the restaurant to call my mom and share the exciting news (for those younger people reading this: there was a time when we didn’t have cell phones, but telephones were all around the city at various locations. You’d put change into them and make your phone call. They were also used as a place for super heroes to change outfits. But I digress).
A year later, Doors guitarist Robby Kreiger was coming to town. It was a different venue, and one that you also had to be 21 or older to get in. I stood out in the front with those same albums, except there were two Kreiger solo albums instead of Manzarek ones. I saw him pull up in a white van (the vehicle most common for the classic rockers). I waved, and he waved back with a smile. He signed my records, and I didn’t say a word to him. I’m not sure why. He wasn’t very talkative, and I was nervous. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of famous people, but when it’s your favorite band and you don’t want to say the wrong thing, you sometimes just clam up.
Leaving the venue, a cop pulled me over for “being drunk.” I told him I wasn’t, and he said “I saw you leave the bar, and your car was swerving all over.” I laughed as I said “Sorry. That’s because I was looking at these records that were just autographed and I took my eyes off the road.”
He looked at them and said “Didn’t The Doors die in a plane crash or something? I didn’t know they were still around.”
I told him he was thinking of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He then saw the towels on the passenger seat and asked if I lived out of my car. The Padres had a towel giveaway the night before, and my girlfriend left hers in my car. The officer gave me a signature I didn’t ask for. His name on the bottom of a fix-it ticket for a blown headlight (which ended up costing me $500 after sending the fix-it ticket in, but the court never receiving it).
The next time Kreiger came to town, I brought the other Doors albums, and we had a longer conversation. I told him I liked the song The Mosquito (which he sang vocals on). He laughed and said “My dad asked the other night why I don’t perform that song!” His son Waylon was performing with him, and it was a great show.
The fourth time I saw him perform, I was working at a radio station. When you work as a DJ, you get perks others don’t get. I found my autograph collection got a helluva lot bigger. That was often from musicians coming into the studio, or being backstage at shows. I was backstage for Kreiger, and had just bought a Fender Stratocaster for him to autograph. He held it, played a few chords and said “I have one just like this. The same exact color.”
He signed his name, and wrote “Doors” underneath it. Sure, the signature was upside down (since he was still holding it in the position you’d play it). But I love the item. I’ve gotten a few guitars signed over the years, but found it’s really not worth the effort. Yes, the items look great on your walls, but aside from carrying them around the venue, or fearing your car will be broken into and the axe stolen – musicians always think you’re going to sell them on eBay. Just seeing somebody standing there with a guitar turns them off (same with a drumhead or the pickguard of a guitar).
I didn’t think I’d ever meet Doors drummer John Densmore. He never seemed to tour. Then, two things happened around the same time. My little sister was in college, and he donated a large amount of money to a charity she was involved in (he has always been very charitable with his time and money). She said “I will kill you if you tell anybody I did this, but I know you love The Doors. I have his home address, if you want it.”
Since CDs were relatively new at the time, I decided to send a few CD sleeves to him, with SASEs. I got them back a month later signed. Around that time, he wrote an autobiography called Riders on the Storm. He did a book signing in L.A. and I drove up north for it.
Somehow I missed a turn and was far away from my destination (for the young people reading this: we didn’t have Garmens, GPS or anything like that. We had a Thomas-Brothers map and 7-11s we could stop and ask directions in).
I pulled over to a bus stop and asked the most normal looking person there -- a heavy Latino in a suit, who had an untucked shirt. I showed him the address, and as he looked at it, his eyes lit up. He said, “Sir, you’re not going to believe this. I am going right over there. It’s by LAX. I had a car, but my wife let her brother use it, and it got stolen. If you give me a ride there, you’re saving me this slow bus trip. I can get you right there.”
As we got into my car, I just hoped he wasn’t a mass murderer. Within two minutes, I wanted to murder him. I smelled the worst smell imaginable. I rolled down the window, and he said “Do you smell that?” I told him I did, and he said “I think you stepped in dog poo.”
We pulled over, and he was right. My shoe was smothered in it. And it was all over the gas and brake pedals. He got his hankie and I found some napkins in the glove compartment, and I tried my best to wipe it all off of.
We laughed as we got close to our destination. He thanked me, and I thanked him, while also apologizing for the smell.
I had driven 30 minutes farther up the freeway, and with all the LA traffic, I got into the book store with 10 minutes left at the book signing. There were only two people left in line. John Densmore saw my shirt as I ran in all sweaty. He said “I like it.” (it was the same photo he had for the cover of his book).
He signed all my records, and my book. It was a little awkward, as I had purchased the book a few weeks earlier, from a different book store. They weren’t happy about it, but he was. He wrote in my book “To Josh, the biggest Doors fan I’ve met. Thanks for driving up.”
Perhaps it helped that I told him I loved the song Piano Bird, the only tune I saw on any record that he got a writing credit for. And it is a great ballad.
I would meet Densmore a few other times. Once was to interview him, when he was playing a show with his band Tribal Jazz (check them out, they’re great). I brought all the other Doors records I needed him to sign, although it wasn’t until later that I noticed he had already signed one. It now has two signatures on it (it was hard to notice in the dark part of the record). During the interview, he asked me to speak quieter, as my loud voice was bothering him (he has tinnitus).
I had gotten him to sign things at another book signing in LA with a poet he worked with. He’s always very friendly, and that time I had a drum stick which he signed. I was thrilled to have both a stick and guitar signed, from my favorite band. I thought about getting a piano key for Ray Manzarek to sign, but never did.
I met Manzarek and Kreiger again when The Doors had an anniversary party in LA at Barney’s Beanery about 8 years ago. It was strange, because I got there really early, and went to a restaurant a few blocks away. As I was enjoying a sandwich and reading the LA Times, a guy walked up to me and pointed at my LA Woman T-shirt. His finger was on my chest as he said “That guy there is my favorite.” His finger was on Ray Manzarek and I looked up, seeing it was Manzarek doing the pointing. His wife kind of rolled her eyes. I told him it was great to see him and asked him to sign my Doors box set. He asked my name, personalized it, and wrote “The Doors.”
The party was great. Robby Kreiger was there, and so were a few other big names. I remember having a nice chat with Corey Feldman, who told me he was a huge fan. There were a handful of autograph collectors and dealers out front with their albums, and if memory serves, most of them got stiffed that night. Inside they were signing up a storm, though.
When Manzarek wrote his autobiography, I got him at a signing in LA. We were also lucky enough to have him play on piano for about 30 minutes, and do a Q&A.
When he signed one of my Doors albums, he said “You got all of us on there, huh?” I said “Yeah, well…everybody but Jim.” As soon as I said that, I thought about how stupid that must’ve sounded.
I saw his wife Dorothy sitting by herself. I’m sure nobody knew who she was. I went over to talk to her, and found she was rather quiet. I asked her what her favorite Doors song was. She said she didn’t have one. Somebody asked her to sign his album, and she did, after first asking “Why do you want me to sign this?” I figured…why not. I think I thought it would be rude for me not to ask her, since he just did. I had her sign my Waiting for the Sun record. Maybe I’ll have Robby Kreiger’s wife sign it, too. It’ll be the band wives signed record (both those guys have been married to the same women since the 60s; drummer John Densmore has been married three times).
There was another time I could’ve had a really interesting meeting with Ray Manzarek, but it didn’t pan out. I was hired to write a radio special called Legends A to Z. I was paid $250 to write the show, which Westwood One would sell to various radio stations across the country. Ray Manzarek was asked to narrate it. He was paid $2,500. It made me I would’ve stuck with those piano lessons my mom got me. Your certainly paid a lot less when your fingers are on a typewriter as a writer.
The company that hired me knew I was a Doors nut, and asked if I wanted to go to Manzarek’s house. He had a studio there, and that’s where they were going to record it. I was thrilled, but something came up on my schedule and I couldn’t make it.
They told me he shared some good stories about The Doors movie that had just come out (he hated it). He said “When I was in the theatre, these young women were in front of me and turned around. They recognized me and asked for my autograph. I told them after the movie. Well, the movie was so bad, they didn’t even stay around ‘til the end, or to get my autograph.”
He also hated the part of the show I wrote about Led Zeppelin, throwing my copy down and saying “Who wrote this crap?” He walked out of the studio, and didn’t return for about 15 minutes. When he did, the guys thought they would get on his good side by saying “The guy that wrote that…his favorite band is The Doors.”
They said he didn’t look like he bought it, but he continued on. I don’t know why I never got a copy of that radio show, because I love thinking that I finally had something in common with Jim Morrison. We both wrote words that Ray Manzarek worked on.
I saw Manzarek and Kreiger perform with those later incarnations of The Doors. They were initially called The Doors of the 21st Century, until Densmore sued them. They changed their singers a few times, as well as the bands name.
When The Doors coffee table book came out, I again drove up to LA for that event (when it’s your favorite band, driving almost 3 hours is an easy decision). The books were $50 and signed by all three members. Of course, the lawsuits with Densmore made it so that they weren’t in the same room. Densmore signed at one area of the Sunset Strip, the other two Doors at a different area – the Whiskey A-Go-Go – where the band got their start. And one bookstore (Book Soup) they were selling copies already signed by them. I bought three.
I also got the book signed by other people involved in it. Ben-Fong Torres, the Rolling Stone writer who did a forward; Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction, who also did an intro and performed with Densmore that night. I had gotten Henry Rollins autograph before (he’s a great signer, and tells great stories when you meet him in person; he even signed once in pouring rain). Yet when I had my book at one show, he was off the stage quickly and I never found him afterwards.
The last time I saw Kreiger and Manzarek perform, it would be the last time I talked to Ray Manzarek. It was at the House of Blues in San Diego. Kreiger got out of a town car, and two girls rushed over to him. He made small talk, as he grabbed his gear out of the trunk. He saw the Doors shirt I was wearing, the albums in my hand, and smiled. I asked for his autograph and he said “Sure, but we gotta do it fast. I need to get in there.” He signed, and I thanked him. My friend was with me and got a signature as well.
An hour later, I saw Ray Manzarek walking up from the hotel nearby that most of the artists stay at. He had this big guy that was security with him. That guy was wearing black gloves and immediately said “Back off, guys! He ain’t doing the autographs.”
I was wearing The Doors shirt, the Morrison beads, and said “Oh come on, Raymond Daniel Manzarek.” He laughed when I said that. I used the deep voice, in a way he said that on one of The Doors videos. He looked at the security guy and said “I’ll sign for this guy. He’s a fan.”
I knew he had gotten a bit tougher with his autograph, so I just had two items. He signed them both, personalizing. I had noticed years ago, he had shortened his signature to where you really just see the “M” and a line, with the last letter “k.” I think the only times I had gotten the full last name was that first time I met him as a teenager.
I asked Manzarek if his brother was pissed he wasn’t in The Doors. For those that don’t know, his brother Rick was in a band with Ray called Rick and the Ravens. When The Doors formed, Rick was part of that initially. He left the group, and must’ve felt the way Pete Best did before The Beatles broke big. And, just as I’m waiting for his answer on how his brother felt, he said “Ask him yourself.”
He pointed to the security guy with him. That was Rick. I got all excited, and asked a few questions. He seemed happy to answer them, and they went into the venue.
I didn’t go to the show that night, as I had already seen them perform live a few times.
Obviously, the question my friends ask that know I collect autographs, is if I’ve ever gotten Morrison’s signature. I assume they mean purchased, as he died in Paris when I was 2-years-old in San Diego.
I have two stories to share on that. The first one involves me buying a signed Doors 8 x 10 publicity photo for $950. I had purchased items from this dealer before, and was usually happy with them. Two things bothered me about this photo. The first, is that Morrison’s signature was perfect. It was easily the nicest signature I’ve seen of his, and I had seen hundreds (mostly forgeries, which are fairly easy to do of Morrison). The marker looked like it faded a bit, but you could read the signature clearly and in that Morrison style with the “JMorrison.” I was also bothered by the fact that the rest of The Doors looked like their more recent signatures. Manzarek didn’t have his full name spelled out, John Densmore didn’t do his full last name, just the “D” with that long line. Kreiger was as messy as it always has been. It made me wonder if perhaps – the picture was signed by the other three in recent years, and then a forged Morrison was added. That way, if anybody checked authenticity, the other three would be proven to be authentic. It’s the ultimate paranoia you can have, but when buying autographs, we’ve all been burned. That’s what makes us so suspicious.
The other thing that bothered me was the story behind how this dealer acquired it. He told me he got it from the drummer of the Damn Yankees. There was a bit more to that story, about that guy coming into his shop with another drummer and selling multiple items to him.
Well, as luck would have it, I work in the media. I was able to contact that drummer (Michael Cartellone). He’s been with Lynyrd Skynyrd for awhile now, and used to be Ted Nugents drummer before the Yanks. I ended up interviewing him for Autograph Magazine (find the story, it’s a great read…although I’m a bit biased saying that). He told me he collects autographs of baseball players and Houdini. The story he told about how he got signed stuff from pitcher Randy Johnson is the best story ever. Again, find the interview. He told me he had never owned a signed picture of The Doors and if he did, he would’ve never sold it.
I have to give this autograph dealer credit. He didn’t argue about giving me a refund. Since I had spent over $100 having a custom matt and frame made (which has this 60s, marble looking style), he reimbursed me for that as well. He said maybe it was another drummer, but I didn’t care. He told me a story, I was able to research it, and it didn’t pan out. That’s all I needed to know to not feel comfortable with the item. He said he’d have no problem selling it in the future, and I don’t doubt him. I still wonder if it was real or not.
I bought a signed Morrison Hotel album years ago, and it was a few thousand dollars. I also got everyone else on that album to sign it over the years. That includes John Sebastian (of Lovin’ Spoonful, who played harp on Roadhouse Blues), and the other studio musicians, the cover photographer (Henry Diltz). And since The Doors are my favorite band, that’s obviously my favorite piece. Sure, the signed Sgt. Pepper is nice, and I love the signed Exile on Main Street (Rolling Stones), the signed Elvis album with a shirt he wore in the same movie. It’s The Doors album that will always be my favorite.
Buying autographs of our favorite musicians is something we have to do when they’re our favorite groups or they’re no longer around…but nothing beats meeting your idols. The day I met my first member of The Doors – Raymond Daniel Manzarek – I’ll never forget. The girlfriend with me only lasted another year, but the memory of us standing in the cold, in a parking lot, and the entire conversation we had afterwards I’ll never forget. Manzarek was great to fans, and he gave us some of the best songs in rock ‘n roll history. It’s the only time I heard the news of a famous person dying that got me to cry.
I like to think now he ran unexpectedly into Morrison, on a beach up in heaven, and are singing Moonlight Drive, under the moonlight, yet again.