Back Door Man
When The Music's Over
(New Year's Countdown)
Light My Fire
Recordings / Film:
Reviews / Info:
-This is the only public performance given by The Doors on New Year's Eve.
-Promotional artwork by Rick Griffin (Poster; Handbill; Postcard;)
-Lights by 'Diogenes Lantern Works'.
-The Doors return to Denver in April 1970.
"When I was in my mid-late teens, I was a pretty big fan of The Doors (the first two albums) and attended as many live Doors shows in Denver as possible. December 31, 1967 at Chet Helm's 'Family Dog / Denver Dog' was one of the crazier Doors shows. I, aged 17, was there with my girlfriend and we were both sober (no drugs or alcohol), so my memories of the night are still fairly clear.
For clarification, 1601 West Evans was at one time a failed 'Whisky a Go-Go' franchise (they never took the "go-go cage" over the stage down until Chet Helms moved in) - then a teen club (no booze) with live bands, first called the 'Posh' and then the 'Bird'. In '67 Barry Fey went to see Chet Helms and Cohen in San Francisco and they decided to attempt to clone the Avalon Ballroom at 1601. Chet booked all the NATIONAL acts (e.g. Dead, Quicksilver, BBHC, Airplane, etc), while Barry Fey booked all the local supporting acts (e.g. 'Eighth Penny Matter' who also just happened to be a band Barry was managing at the time). Denver Vice / Narco Detective John Gray and his minions relentlessly harassed the bands (even busted Canned Heat), the patrons, and especially the Dog management until, along with Chet's non-mercenary 'skills' - Chet and the Dog folks were forced to split town sometime in January/February '68. Then Barry took it over and booked ALL the acts, e.g. Cream, the Byrds, etc - until the Dog finally closed forever in the summer of '68. The Dog, in my opinion, essentially made Barry into a successful full-time promoter in Colorado, though he had done some other Doors and Hendrix shows at D.U. and Regis. A known and fairly accurate list of Denver Dog shows indicates that The Doors December 31st gig might actually have been Chet's last one before Barry took over - I mostly agree with it's accuracy, though there are, in my opinion, some holes/inaccuracies in it.
I'm retired, getting old, and my memory is less than half what it used to be. But those times were so much fun, and I was only 17 then. Here are some quick spotty high-level points I remember about that New Year's Eve show:
Opening song - pretty sure was Back Door Man - but an accurate setlist is impossible for me. Jim seemed extremely wasted. He could hardly sing that night, sort of nasally rasping through his hand leaning on the mike. He was so gone there were times Ray may have had to cover on some lead vocals. I've heard Ray had to do this more than a few times.
Barry Fey tells the story of how Jim earlier had drunkenly stuck his head in a large vat of either floor wax or window cleaner, but his hair looked fine to me - could have been one of the earlier nights. But the Dec. 31st show Jim appeared to be smashed, unusually grim, almost hostile at times. Don't know if it was the drugs/alcohol Jim had ingested - or the idiots in the audience who were screaming for 'Light My Fire!' all night - while it was obvious the band wanted to experiment with 'Celebration of the Lizard' free-style music-backed poetry instead. Maybe both. I hate to say it, but many Denver audiences in those days, in my opinion, were peppered with clowns who always wanted people like The Doors or Hendrix to 'play the hits' - and from what I saw at different times it pissed people like Jimi and Morrison off.
At any rate, Jim was what could best be described as 'misbehaving' most of the night - often swinging his vocal mic out over the audience, and he wasn't fooling around - he was definitely head-hunting. I don't remember anyone actually taking a direct hit upside the head, but there was lots of ducking going on in the crowd. The stage at the Dog wasn't very high, probably not even 2' if I remember correctly, so loaded or not, Jim could have picked off a few folks if he was really determined to do so. But it wasn't funny, no one was laughing.
My girlfriend at the time was standing directly in front of me and leaning against me - Jim started staring at her, and then raised his eyes to me. Even while singing, but mostly just standing there, he never broke the semi-hostile intense stare for a long-long time, though it probably seemed a lot longer than it actually was. But he didn't take his eyes off me or blink until I blinked and broke it off by turning to the left to instead look at Ray. It was a non-event, but for me it was one of those moments I will never forget. And it wasn't my imagination. So much for my 5 minutes of Jim Morrison fame.
It was quite a night, being New Year's Eve, and for the countdown, the light show (Diogenes Lantern Works) posted a 'live' analogue clock on the wall around 11:55pm while The Doors were playing 'When the Music's Over' - and Ray & Jim somehow manage to time it so that when the clock hits midnight - Jim is at the climax and screams "We want the world and we want it ... NOW!" - Talk about 'Happy' New Year...
The vibe had been a little negative during the night, as one of Chet's Denver Dog managers had been chastising everyone between bands from the stage for smoking dope in the building, potentially giving the cops an excuse to stop the show, and he was probably right, but it sort of bummed folks out nonetheless.
Finally, Jim decided to pull his later-famous florida flash trick late in the set. As the band played he stood back from the mic and pretended to open his fly and pull it out, while simultaneously hiding it from the audience (and the cops) by holding a leather jacket in front of him (I am not making this up). This went on for at least 5-10 minutes, or at least seemed like it.
This manager of Chet's got so uptight, he literally positioned himself on stage, crouched in front of Ray's keyboard rig, frowning and poised to dart out and stop Jim if he indeed did start waving his member around. Jim took no notice of the guy and continued to tease and taunt the audience and the cops, but it was all an act as far as I could tell. It never made an appearance, I never could see if his leather pants were even unzipped, and my girlfriend and I were standing fairly close to the stage, almost right in front of him. A lot of the audience was not amused, almost freaked out, as the vibe was not humorous, instead mostly negative.
The last thing that comes to mind is that towards the end of the show (possibly the last song, though I don't remember) - Ray and John broke into the familiar opening riff to 'Light My Fire' - and the lamos in the crowd burst into a loud cheer, as they were finally going to hear their often-requested 'hit' - at long last. I just shook my head. Jim did a lazy version of the lead vocal, while Ray was stellar on the keyboards. Ray might even have sung some of the lead, I don't remember.
Ray was definitely the glue that held it all together. Without Ray to always cover when Jim got too rambunctious, things might fallen apart for The Doors sooner. I honestly think, looking back, that even at that early stage of his career in December '67, Jim might have been getting sick & tired of being "Jim Morrison - rock star" - but who knows.
One last thing - the band at that time must have had an exclusive promotion deal with Acoustic amplifiers, as every piece of gear, including the PA was manufactured by Acoustic. Robby's guitar tone especially, and Jim's vocals, sounded inferior compared to their recordings. I am willing to bet that when Rothchild and Bruce Botnick recorded the first two albums, Robby was playing out of something else in the studio, not that Acoustic he was playing out of that night. Though I could be wrong and maybe Botnick knew how to make it sound good in the studio. Doubt it though. Ray's keys/bass sounded ok. John's drumming attack was loud enough to where the sound system couldn't make him sound bad.
By the way - I was also at the April 12, 1970 Doors show at the University of Denver...
Copyright © 2013 Jim Parker
A Special Thanks to Jim Parker for providing his review of the concert to MildEquator.com!
Be sure to read Jim's review of The Doors performance in Denver, 1970!
Artwork: © Rick Griffin
Info: This bulk-rate postcard/handbill was printed to promote The Doors performance at The Family Dog in Denver, CO 1967.
Scans by: MildEquator.com