The two film students knew each other from U.C.L.A. film school, and had had conversations about music and their favorite poets and authors. But they had never joined forces or made music before until that sunny day on the beach in Los Angeles that created The Doors..
Manzarek relates the story of the encounter in his excellent autobiography, Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors.
At the time, Morrison had sold virtually everything he had, except for a suitcase full of books, and then vanished east. There had been no discussions of starting a band, they’d just talked about all the music they loved and films such as the Seventh Seal, the beautiful and dark film by Ingmar Bergman, and many others.
Manzarek Was Killing Time On The Beach
“And there I was, just sitting in the sun, being a bum, smoking a joint and trusting in the energy. And who comes walking down, but James Douglas Morrison.” Manzarek describes how he was backlit by the setting sun, and sparkling diamonds came off his feet as he walked in the shallows, and came nearer.
Manzarek hadn’t seen Morrison in a couple of months, and he’d lost weight to good effect, and looked like an Indian deity. They talked a bit about what had been going on since they last met, and New York, where Morrison had been staying for awhile. Then Manzarek asked him if he’d been working on anything.
“Yeah, I’ve been writing some songs.” It was a bombshell to Manzarek, who was a skilled keyboardist already, but Morrison had sung very little, though he’d been creating poetry for some time.
He urged Morrison to sing it, and he was hesitant. But he started Moonlight Drive, singing “Let’s swim to the moon, let’s climb through the tide….” Manzarek began slapping his thighs and imagining accompaniment, and Morrison sang louder and stronger as they got into it.
Songs Begin To Flow But Morrison is Unsure His Voice is Good
Manzarek was amazed and then begged Morrison for any more songs he might have. He went into another one called My Eyes Have Seen You, and pounded out the rhythm on his knees, almost in a trance. Manzarek called out melodies for instrumental parts, and general encouragement. Then they tried a third one, a haunted song called Summer’s Almost Gone.
Morrison still was unsure about his voice, and asked Manzarek who was going to sing the music. But Manzarek says his voice was on pitch, and strong, he just needed practice.
Thrilled with the results of their session, the two promised each other they would go all the way with the band, it was the summer of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and they wanted to be part of it.
Morrison Moves in With Manzarek
Afterwards, they go back to Manzarek’s apartment, where they are greeted by Dorothy, his girlfriend. Manzarek announced to her who was back again, and the couple insisted Morrison stay with them. As he had nowhere to go, he agreed, and ended up living there for a few months.
The two were wondering where they would find two other musicians that were so in tune with each other, musically and personally. Morrison was very confident they would find them, and he was absolutely right. Drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger turned up at a yoga class, as many Californians were experimenting with Indian religion and philosophy.
The book goes into great detail how the songs were created, such as Light My Fire, which was brought in by Robby Krieger, and became their first big hit.
With Morrison’s extraordinary voice and mystical lyrics, Krieger’s love songs, and Manzarek’s jazzy and explorative chording, the band developed a very unique sound.
Manzarek, Ray, Light My Fire (My Life With The Doors), G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998, ISBN 0-399-14399-8
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