Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shows I Saw In The 1960's, part three; The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 3/3/1968 and The Doors, 11/2/1968

This is the third (and final) installment of a series about my favorite 60's concerts.
Part one, Bob Dylan & the Hawks appeared May 3rd, 2012; part two, The Who, December 7, 2012.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience / Veteran's Memorial Auditorium / Sunday, March 3rd, 1968

I know the exact date of this show because sometime in the 2000's an old friend bought me a reproduction of the original poster advertising the show (see below).  It was a show that marked a lot of firsts for me: the first show I attended with Dave Blackburn, my best friend & bandmate who taught me more about music than any other person on the planet (see blog entry The Guitar / The Band / Dave Blackburn, February 12th, 2012) after we discovered our mutual love of The Who junior year of high-school; the first time I ever saw a Marshall amplifier, let alone the fucking WALL of Marshall amplifiers that Hendrix and bass player Noel Redding employed; the first time us Kids From The 60's called a live performance a concert instead of it being a rock & roll show.

Seeing Jimi Hendrix live really was astounding.  It was everything live rock & roll should embody.  First off, it was overpoweringly, scary, great LOUD.   And Hendrix put on a SHOW - playing his white Stratocaster behind his back, with his teeth, humping said Marshall stacks with said Fender - pretty much all the things he did in the Monterey Pop film, only for an hour instead of the few minutes he was in the movie.  He was certainly lewd & lascivious (I'm not sure my little Catholic-boy brain had fully processed exactly what "Let me stand next to your fire" entailed before that night), but simultaneously really FUNNY.  At one point in the show, somehow - by some sonic freak of nature - Hendrix's Wall Of Marshalls starting picking up WCOL-AM, the local Top 40 radio station, while The First Edition's "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In" was playing.  (In retrospect, I don't think I've ever heard Jimi Hendrix and Kenny Rogers in such close proximity ever again in the intervening time.)  Jimi turned the master amp volume WAY up so the audience could hear the Rogers' tune, played along with it for about a minute, said, "Ooooo, psychedelic music," and launched into a blistering take on "Foxy Lady," all without missing a beat.  It was hilarious.  It was classic.  I remember it like it was yesterday, and it was 45 years ago.

I don't remember everything The Experience played.  I think they did the large majority of the first album.  I know they played "Red House," a song I had never heard, the song that Hit Parader magazine informed me had been left off the American version of Are You Experienced.  I know Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were truly great and Mitchell was probably the best drummer I had ever witnessed, until the next year, November 1969, when I saw Keith Moon with The Who.  I know it was one of the greatest live shows I ever saw.  I know it was one of the shows that ruined me for much of 1970's lunkhead rock & roll.  How was I supposed to take fucking Bachman-Turner Overdrive or Montrose or REO Speedwagon seriously?  I had seen JIMI HENDRIX play the guitar live. 

I know that whenever I see a clip of Hendrix - however brief - it always brings back that feeling in the pit of my stomach that only 60's rock & roll concerts gave me: when everything was new; when everybody played like their lives depended on it (and for Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, it turned out they pretty much did); when people played music like you had never heard it, when people stalked stages like you had never seen, when you had your whole life laid out in front of you and everything was going to be fabulous from that night onward.

The Doors / Veteran's Memorial Auditorium / Saturday, November 2nd, 1968

The first time I read Jerry Hopkins & Danny Sugerman's Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive back when it was published in 1980, I came across the following sentence, "The concerts in Milwaukee and Columbus on the 1st and 2nd (of November) were ordinary."  I was at the concert in Columbus on November 2nd.  After police stopped the show during the set-ending "Light My Fire" and ordered the crowd to disperse, the audience refused to leave the auditorium for 45 minutes and subsequently began ripping up & setting fire to the seats in Veteran's Memorial.  I'm not sure what constituted an "ordinary" show to Sugerman in sunny Los Angeles, but in Columbus, Ohio, this was not your everyday rock & roll show.

The Doors opened with "Tell All The People" that wouldn't be released until The Soft Parade album in July of 1969.  That was another great thing about 60's live concerts, there were no rules & regulations.  Bands weren't required to start the show with the first cut off their newest release.  Everything wasn't pre-programmed to match up with the lighting cues or the backing samples.  The band actually played and sang all the instruments and vocals in the songs.  Imagine that in this 21st century of Kanye, Lady Gaga, or even U-2.

The Doors' entire live show teetered on the brink of disaster at almost any and every given moment.  Songs got shortened, songs got wildly elongated; not only did instrumental solos by Ray Manzarek on organ and Robbie Krieger on guitar get improvised, Jim Morrison improvised entire verses & choruses.  I'm not sure there were more than four or five songs where Morrison sang the original lyrics.  And through it all John Densmore sat above, pounding out the beat, keeping it all together.

I'm not sure how to convey to you today in 2013 how simultaneously shambolic and truly transcendent the Doors show was at every turn.  Forget set lists: Densmore would hop off the drum riser and the band would huddle-up by Manzarek's keyboards every three or four songs to hash out (no pun intended) what they were going to play next.  And these weren't polite NFL huddles where the quarterback barks out plays and everybody snaps into formation, this was four guys talking, yelling & gesticulating until the next part of the set took some kind of shape.

Anything could happen.  Jim Morrison would sit down on the edge of the stage and start reciting poetry, sometimes with the mic, sometimes just yelling through his hands.  And then the band would fall in behind him and improvise a tune like they'd rehearsed it dozens of times.  Other times they'd just sit out and watch him recite for as long as the words & muse moved him.  Morrison would dance around like a shaman during the solos, or just simply walk off into the wings and leave the stage to the three instrumentalists.  Ray Manzarek did at least two lead vocals that I can remember.

And let's make one fact abundantly clear: I am a happily-married, heterosexual, working-class Ohio boy, but goddamn, that November night Jim Morrison was the most gorgeous man I have ever seen IN MY LIFE.

I know the band played "Five To One."  They played both "The End" and "When The Music's Over."  They played all of "Celebration Of The Lizard," along with all the pop hits - "People Are Strange," "Love Me Two Times," "Hello, I Love You."  They played "Break On Through," and "Back Door Man."  I can't even picture how long they were onstage, it was a LONG fucking set.  The show in Columbus took place well after the infamous New Haven, Connecticut, show where Morrison got busted onstage for bad-mouthing the cops after they maced him backstage.  By time The Doors crashed into a set-closing "Light My Fire," Columbus policemen had started to gather at the sides of the stage, near the PA speakers.  The entire set had been liberally sprinkled with profanities, let alone just flat-out provocations, you could FEEL the tension in the air.

But when Morrison strolled up to the mic at the end of the "Fire" solos - at the point where Robbie Krieger did the "duh-duh-duh-DUH-uh, duh-duh-duh-DUH-uh" guitar figure - and started YELLING "Fuck, fuck, fuck, Fu-uck, Fuck, fuck, fuck, fu-uck" you could tell all hell was going to break loose.  The cops initially just looked at one another nervously, like they were trying to figure out what they were supposed to do, how this was supposed to be handled.  Finally, after the band had moved into the last verse of the song, someone in authority made the decision to just close the curtains and end the show.  Before they were fully closed though, Morrison & Krieger scooted to the front of the stage, in front of the curtain, and kept singing & playing, with Manzarek & Densmore somewhere behind them, out of sight.

At that point the fire curtain - a weighted, heavily-padded piece of fabric designed to prevent a fire spreading from the stage to the auditorium - was dropped from the ceiling into the orchestra pit, cutting all of The Doors from the audience's view.  But they still kept playing.  Thirty seconds later all the red lights on the PA in the wings of the stage blinked out as power was cut to the speakers.  But John Densmore just kept pounding away, completely out of sight behind the regular and fire curtains.  About a minute later that tribal drumbeat ceased when, I would imagine, someone either took the sticks away from Densmore or toppled him off the drum riser.

This entire time the audience was on its feet, shouting and going nuts at the performance.  The termination of Densmore's beat brought a chorus of boos & derision from the crowd and when a burly cop groped his way out from under the fire curtain and announced to the assembled multitude, "The show's over!  It's over!  You kids go home!" his pronouncement was met with a hail of anything the audience could find to throw - plastic cups, pens, coins, hats, gloves (it was November), etc.  This all went on for almost 45 minutes and I don't think I saw more than 20 or 30 people leave the auditorium.

My dad - who got me into all of those rock shows (see blog entry Birthday Blog, June 30th, 2013) - came to check on Dave and I at one point, but he and his fellow Central Ticket Office employees had their hands full trying to secure the box office from being overrun with pissed-off concert-goers.  I convinced him we were fine and he went back to work.  Two rows up from us, people had started to tear up the Veteran's Memorial seats and set fire to them.  Cops rushed over and put them out, but it was all they could do to keep all the small fires doused.  Light my fire, indeed.  It was pandemonium.

Finally, when it became painfully clear that NOBODY in the chanting, booing, out-of-control crowd was leaving Vet's, and that the outnumbered police in the venue had no chance of clearing the auditorium, the fire curtain was raised, the PA lights winked back on, the stage curtain parted and The Doors blasted back into "Light My Fire" AT THE EXACT SAME NOTE WHERE THEY HAD BEEN FORCED TO STOP THE FIRST TIME!  It was simultaneously the coolest, cleverest and greatest display of rock & roll stagecraft and mayhem I have witnessed in my 61 years on the planet.

Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison, God bless you wherever you are tonight.

© 2013 Ricki C.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Readers: I deleted the above comment only because it contained the personal e-mail address of the person who posted it, the moderator of a Doors info site - Anyone with any interest in The Doors should check out that site, it's a great resource.