“Elvis had sex-wise/mature voice at 19.”
Jim Morrison, As I Look Back, from The American Night
August 16, 1977 Elvis Presley died. Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley, each an icon of the type of rock music they represent. Elvis, the “King” of rock ‘n’ roll, the first successful rock ‘n’ roll star to make it to the national market. And Jim Morrison, the Lizard King of Acid Rock.
Elvis was a near unanimous influence on the baby-boom generation. Bob Dylan described hearing Elvis for the first time as, “like busting out of jail.” The Beatles were so nervous upon meeting Elvis that they got high and tripped over their own words in his presence. For the boomers Elvis was a clarion call against the conformity of the 50’s. Elvis was a bellwether for the baby-boomers, his obvious sexually charged shows communicated in his hip gyrating movements and stage shows. Elvis’ crossed the color line in choosing his influences, everything from Gospel to country. He was pushing on the barriers that the baby boomers later swarmed over in their advocacy of free-love and equality of the races.
The members of The Doors weren’t immune from Elvis’ influence. Ray Manzarek frequently mentions in interview of hearing Elvis for the first time and calling it a life changing event. The teenaged Jim Morrison was a fan of Elvis’ and friends of Morrison’s would attest to his Elvis impersonation, a homage you can hear in When the Music’s Over, during the “I hear a very gentle sound” portion of the song.
The Doors are known as a band that didn’t have a bass player, but in the studio that frequently wasn’t the case. The Doors hired session musicians or brought in musicians they wanted to work with. For the first Doors’ first album, Larry Knechtel played bass on the album. Knechtel a member of the famous “Wrecking Crew” (Los Angeles session musicians who worked with a lot of high profile bands and singers) had worked with Elvis on sessions. A more conscious attempt on The Doors part to connect with Elvis was in the hiring of Jerry Scheff for the L.A. Woman sessions, Scheff had played on Elvis’ Double Trouble soundtrack and later played with Elvis in his first Las Vegas shows. Having Scheff playing on L.A. Woman stood out enough in Morrison’s mind to mention it in his impromptu interview with Rolling Stone reporter Ben Fong-Torres.
The Doors covered a lot of songs throughout their career. In the early days they did covers of Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker to fill out their sets. Later they did covers of the songs that influenced them. On occasion, during a live performance, they included Elvis songs such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Love Me Tender.”
The doors of influence swings both ways. Jim Morrison was of course well known for his leather suits and in Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special, in the live portion of the show Elvis wore a suit of leathers. Did Elvis do that in some sort of recognition or homage to the rockers he influenced?
In the book Elvis My Brother by Billy Stanley, Stanley reports a conversation with Elvis about Morrison and The Doors in which Elvis said: “But Jim Morrison had special abilities…. He was the new poet laureate… But he died before he could understand his power and what he could do with it. That’s a tragedy. So much unspoken. Just like James Dean.”
This article appears in The Doors Examined available on Amazon.
Sources: Break on Through by Riordan and Prochnicky, and Return of the King by Gillian Gaar. Thanks also to Mike Eder.
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