Jim Morrison once said, “There’s the known and the unknown and in between are The Doors.” A lot of what falls into the unknown is the pre-history of The Doors, and what doesn’t get discussed at length is the immediate predecessor group to The Doors: Rick and the Ravens. May 7, 1965 is one of the documented appearances of Rick and the Ravens at The Turkey Joint West in Santa Monica. (The Turkey Joint West is now an English pub called “Ye Olde King’s Head”.)
Rick and the Ravens consisted of Ray Manzarek (in his onstage persona “Screaming Ray Daniels”) on keyboards and vocals, Rick Manczarek on guitar, Jim Manczarek on harmonica and piano (both Rick and Jim Manczarek are Ray’s brothers, Manczarek being the original Polish spelling), and Vince Thomas on drums. Rick and the Ravens formed around 1961 (Ray may have been playing in more than one band at the time, as a recording of the song “Moanin” with Ray Daniels and the UCLA Trio is dated at 1961).
Rick and the Ravens often played The Turkey Joint West, which was also a hangout for UCLA film school students. If the club was empty, Ray would invite his film school friends onstage to sing or bang a tambourine. It was, of course, on one of these occasions that Ray invited fellow UCLA film student Jim Morrison onstage for a raucous version of “Louie, Louie.” An alternate version of the story is that Morrison may have been sitting in the back loudly calling for the band to play “Louie, Louie” and Manzarek invited Jim onstage, perhaps to keep him quiet? In either rendition of the story, it’s the first moment documented that Jim Morrison sings onstage.
Rick and the Ravens hit their apex when they opened for Sonny and Cher. This is another moment where Morrison became involved with Rick and the Ravens. The band was short a guitar player that night and Ray recruited Jim to appear onstage with an unplugged guitar so they could fulfill their contract. Morrison later quipped “it was the easiest money I ever made.”
Rick and the Ravens also had a recording deal with Aura records and they recorded several singles like “Soul Train/Geraldine” and “Henrietta/Just For You” that went nowhere. In lieu of Aura paying for the pressing of another record that wouldn’t go anywhere, they offered the band free studio time to finish out the contract. Using that studio time The Ravens cut the demos of songs written by Jim Morrison that led directly to the creation of The Doors.
Note: This article is updated and expanded and appears in The Doors Examined, now available. Sources for this article: “Break on Through” by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky, and the Other Voices Doors Talk Forum.
Originally published May 7, 2013.