From the Vault: “A Chat With The Doors…” [2008 Interview with Ray Manzarek & Robby Krieger]
Exclusive: A Chat With The Doors And A Stroll to Barney’s Beanery on Jim Morrison’s 65th Birthday
Originally Published Dec 10, 2008 @ 10:38
December 8, 2008 would have been Jim Morrison’s 65th birthday, had he lived. To celebrate, KLOS threw a massive party at Barney’s Beanery, one of Jim’s favorite bars in West Hollywood. Prior to this party I found myself sitting at the dining table of the Doors’ suite in the Pali House hotel down the block. Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek – aka THE DOORS – were sitting on the other side of said table. So what do they make of this birthday party? What might they have given Jim for his birthday? What would they be doing on this night, were he still alive? What do they think of Barney’s Beanery: The Franchise? And who’ll be the first to bring up Obama? Read on.
Ok, guys. What can you tell me about the Beanery between 1967 and 1970?
Robby: It didn’t change much between those years, you know, it was kind of a sawdust-on-the-floor type of place. They had pool tables, right?
Robby: Pool tables, you go in there and shoot pool, hang out, and generally waste time.
Ray: “A place where a man can go to waste time.”
I don’t think that’s changed.
Ray: I mean that place has been the same since the ’30s. It was a writer’s bar, kind of a writer’s intellectual bar, great assortment of whiskey behind the bar, great assortment of beer, beer on tap, lots of beer. Ed Kienholz, in the early ’60s, did a construction of Barney’s Beanery; it was fabulous. It was just a great place to hang out and very conducive to talk! It was a place where a man could go and have a drink and talk to another guy. And then the girls started coming too, which was kinda cool. Women started to come in. But before that, I don’t know.
Robby: Did they have a jukebox?
Ray: I don’t know if music entered the equation over there.
Robby: I think they did, but it wasn’t like Fred C. Dobbs or something like that. (Fred C. Dobbs = long-gone Sunset Strip coffeehouse)
Ray: It was a great place, man, it’s always been a great place, and they have a great bowl of chili. Really good bar food.
Any favorite memories of the place or favorite conversations?
Ray: Favorite conversations. Well, I discussed Freidrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil with Jim, you know, we talked about the philosophy behind Nietzsche’s existentialism and transcendence. And American politics were always discussed. How to get out of Vietnam alive, “No one here gets out alive” – how do you get out of there and maintain your sanity, how to shut it down. Interestingly it wasn’t a lot different back then than three months ago, four months ago, before Obama becomes president and we know we’re getting out of Iraq. It was, you know, “Are we ever getting out of Iraq?” “Are we ever getting out of Vietnam?” Wait a minute! I’ve been through this, man. It was 40 years ago, and we’re still doing the same stuff, so that’s the irony of it.
Did you ever think you might not get out of the Beanery alive?
(Robby laughs.) Ray: (Laughs) No no, it was always cool at the Beanery. Something might happen out on the street but if you just kept walking or didn’t pay attention to it, it was fine.
Have you been to any of the Franchised Beaneries?
There’s one on the Third Street Promenade, there’s one up in Pasadena…
Robby: How many are there?
Almost half a dozen by now. The plan is to take it nationwide.
Ray: I wouldn’t be surprised. Why not? The Fillmores are nationwide now too, Fillmore all over the place. Played in the Fillmore in New York.
Robby: Hard Rock Cafe…
Ray: Fillmores everywhere, Hard Rocks everywhere. And now Barney’s Beanery! And that’s good. It’s a good place to quaff a few and to really discuss philosophy. And I think that’s important, I think we need more philosophical discussions by contemporary American young people. Us guys, we did it already. I’m just waiting for the young people to catch up to us so that we can all sit around and talk on the same level. And I know you guys can! I know you can, just waiting for it to happen. For God’s sake, stop texting.
We’ll try. Gotta get people away from their devices! (puts blackberry in pocket)
Ray: Open the doors of perception! That’s what we tried to do, we’d sit around and talk with the doors of perception open. When you open those doors of perception, all kinds of things come in! All kinds of things go in and out.
Myself, I’m online a lot. I find it’s important to just…unplug.
Ray: Exactly. Do they take LSD today?
Oh yeah. Well…the kids these days, it’s more “E” in the clubs.
Ray: Yeah, well, it’s been that for the last decade-and-a-half. Any acid? Acid heads?
(Are these guys looking to score?) I don’t know if it’s any more or less en vogue than it was in the 60s…maybe a little less?
Ray: Boy, you don’t hear about it. You certainly don’t hear about it as much as you did back in the 60s. It doesn’t enter the public equation in any way, shape or form.
Robby: Probably people are embarrassed to admit that they have taken it, maybe it’s too old-fashioned…
Well, I certainly still have my copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass next to the couch.
Ray: There you go! (both laugh heartily – yes! I made the Doors laugh)
Jim’s 65th birthday would have been today. If he were with us, what would you get him for his birthday?
Robby: Probably a bottle of Wild Turkey.
Ray: I would get him…There was an art exhibit up in Oakland called Birth of the Cool. It was about Southern California, and the ’40s and the ’50s, the architectural style, and the furniture style and the cool jazz. And I think that’s what I would get him, a book called Birth of the Cool. Because we came out…I came out in ’60, he came out in ’62, ’63 and we came out into that kind of cool California…jazz, bikini girls, hot rods, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Shorty Rogers and Shelly Mann and that whole…Robby grew up with this stuff for God’s sake, he was always here. And it was just like, the jazz was cool, man. It was not New York City hard bop, it was California contrapuntal…it was Bach…it was like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan going, “da-doo ba do do do, ba do do do” and weaving around each other – and Robby and I have always tried to do that on stage, tried to incorporate some of that – and then Densmore would add that whole Latino, that Southern California Latino feel, so it’s really Southern Californian. I grew up in Chicago, and Jim came out of Florida, so I would get him Birth of the Cool.
So he’s got Wild Turkey and Birth of the Cool.
Ray: He’d be fine, man.
Did Jim ever give either of you a birthday present that you remember?
Ray: Never gave me nothin’! (laughs)
Robby: (laughs) Not that I remember. He wasn’t a present kind of a guy…
Ray: Well you know we were all in our 20s, I don’t think anybody was…
Presence was the present maybe.
Ray: It wasn’t the phase of present giving…those aren’t milestones, just another day has gone by. You’re high, and music…
Robby: I remember we gave YOU a present on your birthday!
Robby: It was the organ. Remember? The-
RM: Oh, the big B3! No, the C3! The C3! Yes! How could I forget that damn thing!
Robby: It was beautiful. And it was huge, it was like this giant…You know what a B3 looks like?
This was a C3, it was, like, even bigger and it had a big case to it, a wooden thing…’cause we always wanted Ray to get a Hammond sound on some stuff, you know. And he says, “What the hell am I going to do with this? It’s too big to go in my house!” So we stuck it in the studio. And we used it on…
Ray: Oh, “Changeling”…
Robby: Yeah, and we used it on “The Soft Parade”.
Ray: Yeah! Great sound.
So that’s the birthday organ on “Soft Parade”?
Ray: Yes. They did, they got me a C3 Church. C3 for “church”. Other than that, you know, birthdays didn’t mean anything, but they were cool, man.
Good excuse to have a drink if nothing else.
Ray: But now it does [mean something]! You know, birthdays now are a time of looking back. You go, “Oh, wow. Jim would be 65. What might have happened? What was his life? What did he do? How many books of poetry did he write, how many films was he involved with, how many more Doors records would have happened?” When you’re looking ahead, birthdays are not important. When you’re looking back, birthdays are important, because you’re evaluating what you’ve done to bring you to this point of 65 years on planet earth.
Looking at it with that perspective: If he were here, what do you think might have happened, and what do you think would have been going on tonight?
Robby: Well…we might just be all going over to Barney’s. (All laugh.) “Jim! It’s your birthday, let’s go to Barney’s man!”
Ray: (Laughing) Right! “Hey, man! Come on down!” You know, he’s up in Laurel Canyon or something on Love street, the house that he had with Pam… “Come on man, let’s have a couple of drinks! Wax philosophical…” I think he would have obviously written a lot more poetry and we would have made records and made Doors music. I think he was looking forward to…he talked to John on the telephone some time in…I don’t know what, May or June  and he said, “How’s LA Woman doing?” And John said, “LA Woman is doing great man, critics love it and it’s selling great.” And Jim said, “Boy, we gotta take it on the road, let’s go play it live!” And John said, “Yeah, that’s what Ray and Robby and I were talking about – doing what we did in the studio, but doing it live.” ’Cause its virtually a live recording, we had Jerry Scheff on bass and Marc Benno on rhythm guitar, leaving Robby to play lead guitar…[plus] keyboards, and drums, and we were going to take that whole thing on the road. And Morrison said, “Oh that’d be great man, let’s do that. Soon as I get back let’s go on the road.” John said, “When you coming back?” He said, “Welllll… I don’t know exactly when I’m coming yet, but I’ll be back and we’ll take it out.”
And you know we would have made records – not nearly as furiously as we did in our 20s, we’d be entering our 30s – and you know there would be poetry, and records, and God knows what else.
Ray: And politics. Politics. Psychedelic stoners go into politics. Cosmically conscious leaders of America. Can you imagine? Enlightened cosmically conscious people leading America. God! It could have…it could have been amazing, we would have avoided Vietnam, we would have avoided obviously Iraq, we’d have avoided all kinds of things. And it would have been The New Age, it would have been a new age, a new consciousness to save the planet, save the ecology…kids in school, give them all a good education…
Robby: They got Kennedy. They got the Kennedys, and Jim died, so whatta you gonna do?
Ray: Destiny of the ’60s.
Tumultuous, but more than once I wish that I had been around to experience all of that. I’m jealous of you guys.
Ray: It was expansive! You can’t imagine how expansive you felt, how grand you felt, how big, how big the coming together of a bunch of people who all had long hair and were all outcasts, and it was like, “Outcasts? We know what’s going on! We’ve got the truth behind us! Nobody is lying: We have seen the man behind the curtain, ’Wizard of Oz’, we know what that man looks like and by God that man looks just like us, and he doesn’t know what we know about taking care of Mother Earth, the Garden. The Garden of Eden! This is the Garden of Eden, we just have to get back to it. Take care of the planet, that’s our job. Take care of the planet, take care of the people. THEN let everybody dance and sing and go mad and wild and just get stoned and have the grandest time you can possibly have for your three score and ten.
Does the Obama victory feel to you like a smaller version of that ideal, in some form? Grass roots, “Yes We Can”, “Yes We Did”…
Robby: (Laughing) We hope so…
(Laughing) Exactly. We’ll see how it goes, right?
Ray: I was in tears, man, I was watching that speech from Chicago…
I shed a tear, absolutely.
Ray: And you know, I was like, “Hey, hey, I don’t tear up here…”
Were you at the actual victory speech?
Ray: No no no, I was just tearing up watching it on TV, and I said, “I’m a manly man, I don’t do that sort of thing, tear up just because some guy is saying that we can all come together as brothers and sisters”… It was marvelous, and again, an expansive moment in time, and hopefully, we can keep that going.
I personally celebrated for at least a week after the election.(Yes! I made the Doors laugh again)
Ray: Isn’t it great?
Let’s talk about Live At The Matrix 1967 briefly (November 18; Rhino). This is a double album you’ve just released, showcasing two small club gigs in San Francisco – weeks before you became a household name. To start, there are a lot of covers on this album. Who was the Allen Toussaint fan in the camp? I’m a big fan of New Orleans music.
Robby: Which was the Allen Toussaint cover?
“Get out of my life, woman”…
Ray: (singing) I don’t want you no more!
Robby: Oh, I didn’t know he wrote that.
Ray: Robby! Robby brought it.
Robby: Well, we all liked it.
Ray: We all liked it, but who was the one who said, “Let’s do that” ? Probably you.
(Singing again) Get out of my life, woman, din-din-din-da-din
Robby: Yeah, I loved all that stuff. Wilson Pickett…What else is on there?
“King Bee” is on there.
Robby: Yeah, “The King Bee”…well, the Stones did that first…
Ray: Slim Harpo. Slim Harpo, the Stones got it from Slim Harpo. I heard that in Chicago in…sheez, I dunno, late ’50s, on the radio in Chicago growing up with that blues. (sings) Well I’m a King Bee, buzzin’ round your hive… Woo! Smooth. Dark and bluesy. Yeah, we loved the blues, I mean Morrison came out of the swamps of Florida for God’s sake; I came out of Chicago, Robby came out of a whole jug band and Koerner, Ray & Glover, and Paul Butterfield, Robert Johnson with his slide guitar…So we had the slide guitar master, and the swamp dog out of Florida, the blues keyboard player, and the hard rockin’ marching band snare drummer. That was the Doors.
You’re up at the Matrix in San Francisco, 41 years ago. Tell me a little bit about the other dates you were playing up there compared to this venue, maybe, and the overall feel right before things took off. (Shortly following these gigs the Doors would become very, very famous.)
Robby: Well, we went up there basically to play the Fillmore and the Avalon, and that was really an experience because…well, we had been up there once, but for us the Fillmore was like the end of the world, and San Francisco was the place to go when you were in LA. You always would hear about it. So we got to go up there, and man: The Fillmore is amazing; the audience loved us. We were an LA band, so we were afraid they were going to put us down like they did most LA bands.
That’s a thing about Northern California…
Robby: Exactly. But they didn’t; they really loved us, and so in between playing weekends up there we played at the Matrix. And it was kind of almost like a paid rehearsal, because it was during the week, and there weren’t that many people around, so we were just having fun. And we knew they were going to record, because that was what they did there. So we tried not to let the microphone, the tape recorders get in the way. We just kinda played what we were gonna play and tried to not be aware of the taping going on.
What’s it like listening to the recordings now?
Robby: Well, I’m amazed at how good we were (laughs) because…we were, you know, we had only done one album at that point, and I had only been playing electric guitar for maybe a year and a half…and I think we sounded great.
Ray: I loved the band. I’m one of the biggest Doors fans on the planet, I think they play great. And he has great lyrics…The song structure is great, and the execution of the song structure is great: great guitar player, keyboard player, drummer, those guys … Only three guys making all that music and Jim’s floating over the top of it…excellent, excellent band. Totally biased.
No surprises there. Let’s go party!
Following this interview nine or so people all cram into the elevator: security guard, manager, publicist, wife, photographer, some people I didn’t meet, Doors, me – elevator is at capacity and acting goofy like it’s too heavy. It’s doing that scary jiggly-bungee thing! Jeff (manager) cracks wise that his ego is putting us over the edge. We take our chances and shut the door. As if on cue, the elevator stops at the second floor and we have to squeeze somebody else into the death vessel. It’s getting tight in here! Soon we hit the ground floor and the Doors, replete with entourage, make their way up the block to Barney’s Beanery where spotlights, red carpets, drinks, a gigantic steam tray of signature chili, 95.5 KLOS’ Jim Ladd, and a cake larger than my bed await all of us. Be sure to come back later for more photos and Victor’s recap of the evening’s Beanery festivities…
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