This is an excerpt of the forthcoming book “Strictly From Hunger!: A Rock and Roll Memoir” which Follows John Morton and his band Hunger! as they reach for fame in fortune on the Sunset Strip in 1968. For more information please visit and “Like” the Facebook page for Strictly From Hunger.
Looks Like Paradise to Me!
We couldn’t get a gig anywhere on our own so we decided to learn some new material and go from there. The Beatles, The Animals, The Zombies, and The Doors were now on our set-list. We practiced late in the evenings. Mike Parkison and I were kicking around the idea of changing our sound so we could get hired at different clubs with jazz and lounge music. One hot night I told Mike, “why don’t we meld that Jimmy Smith sound and rock sound together and see what we come up with?” We played “She’s Not There” with a heavy keyboard opening like Vanilla Fudge, a driving guitar like The Doors, and strong vocals. We said, “shit we’re on to something here.”
After one practice I was sitting on the front porch having a smoke when I saw a familiar face coming up the walkway that at first I couldn’t place, “I live just up the street from you guys and heard you playing,” he said, then I recognized him from the Battle of the Bands at the Teenage Fair. It was Jim Morrison. “What you got going here? Beautiful women coming and going, fucking far out live music and having a good time. Looks like paradise to me.”
“Yeah, but we can’t get any gigs,” I said.
“I’ll see what I can do, but you’re not going anywhere without original music in this town. It isn’t about just being a great musician,” he said, “it’s about projecting an image that is universal to everyone.” I thought to myself, this person, Jim Morrison, with such great insight and illumination in real life was such a totally different person onstage, one of fear and confusion. It was just a ruse to give people the spectacle they wanted to see. The guy I met had no ego. Jim was playful and poetic with a dash of sarcasm. It must be why people are so drawn to the mystique that was Jim Morrison. As I discovered as I got to know him, he was just a regular human being trapped in a phenomena that wasn’t real to him unless he was high. There was a realness to him that I soaked in like a sponge to water.
After Jim left I went back inside and told the other guys that I had met Jim Morrison outside, and he said we needed original material. I thought their reaction would again be disbelief, but they just asked, “who’s going to write the songs?” I said I’d try it. I thought we had a chance at stardom, especially after meeting Jim Morrison. We had all met The Doors backstage at The Teenage Fair, but most of the band never really thought The Doors would become superstars. They were just another California band with a new sound. I felt there was greatness in them that was ready to explode on the scene. I think by the time we got to Hollywood and we discovered Jim Morrison lived nearby, the band thought it was a fluke. Somehow, in the back of my mind I knew we’d cross paths again, call it a premonition if you will. Talking with him gave me the feeling that success was there for the taking. It was then that I retreated to the back patio and started writing songs that would eventually become part of the Hunger! sound.
The Doors were doing gigs late into the morning and I would drop in when Jim came back from a gig. We’d sit on the steps to his place getting high. I remember him joking about making it home without being followed. As I got to know him over the short period of time we lived next to him, The Doors had all the trappings of fame, they looked and acted the part of fame from my perspective, fast cars, one that stood out to me was a Porsche convertible, I believe it belonged to Jim. The other cars just didn’t stand out like that beauty. Other times we’d sit in his living room, everything was orderly and in it’s place. Dark leather couches with ultra modern furniture, very relaxing. The marijuana and wrapping papers were on a glass table in an ornate wooden box. He kept a unique etched lighter and cigarettes in a jeweled container. I remember a picture on the wall of some beautiful naked woman in a Spanish setting that probably came with the place. A pool in back that never seemed to be used but had a nice sunning area with outdoor furniture. He must have had a house keeper because the place was always immaculate. For me it was a pleasure and honor just to be there. The house must have cost a fortune to rent. It wasn’t some flop house, get high pad. It was a perfect bachelor pad. The Doors were still riding their “Light My Fire” high.
Getting high with Jim Morrison was like a ritual taking place, he was like a magician quoting Huxley or Yates, waving his hands around like he was doing a coin trick, a glass of red wine in his hand or sharing a bottle on the front porch sharing a joint. There was a method to his madness and being around him I could feel it was easy to be pulled to the dark side. He was the mentor and I was the student. He’d bring out his notebook and write passages of revelations when I was most lucid and he seemed so focused and clear. That was a mindblower. I’d be staring in a fog of smoke and he’d say, “hey man! Looks like you’ve reached the next level.”
All I could manage to say was, “yeah man, I can dig it! Wow that’s some powerful weed,” and we’d both laugh as it trailed into a deep echo. It never crossed my mind that the wine was laced with LSD.
We were mesmerized by The Doors. They led an incognito lifestyle outside of gigging almost invisible and they liked that. I never saw a limousine parked in the driveway next door and I believe few people knew where they were staying. We wanted a taste of that lifestyle. We felt somehow that we could get it by being in the right place at the right time. For me it was a learning experience. The Doors had worked their way up the ladder and I wanted to know all I could learn from Morrison’s experience and we grew a bond for a short period of time. He was willing to share and that’s how I came to trust in my own talent as a songwriter and musician. He made me understand that it was an uphill road to so called overnight success. He pretty much provided a roadmap to psychedelic rock stardom. I have to say Jim Morrison was a realist. He never took anything for granted in my opinion. I thought we could work our way up the ladder. That turned out to be a pretty naïve idea because most of the rest of the band thought things would happen by themselves. There wasn’t the seriousness to take it to the next level which we saw in The Doors. Most of the guys were too busy partying, meeting California girls, and smoking weed. Mike Parkison and Bill Daffern were the exceptions, they were interested in refining our sound. They were both experienced players who had done some fine work with The Courtmen.
The more I went over there the more I got to know The Doors. Both Jim and Ray had remembered me from The Portland Teenage Fair and how I befriended them with my hospitality. It helped too that I was a nice guy and not taken in by their star status. Even though Jim Morrison had showed up at our practice there wasn’t that superstar pretension. The truth is I never expected anything from Jim and Ray, and it was mutual.
Ray was there a lot, and I got to know him on a personal level, he was so profound in his speech like a well read scholar, and he was into LSD and liked to smoke weed. He was very open and introduced me to a real psychedelic world. He was really into God and the universe and not in a religious way. He had met with Timothy Leary and embraced his teachings. I later wrote the song “Open Your Eyes” with the talks I had with Ray in mind. The end of the song says it all, you can talk and you can speak/and you can be someone worth living in reality. He seemed very serious and had a watchful eye on Jim, almost protective. Ray loved Jim and was willing to take care of him. He knew Jim was an alcoholic and did everything in excess. Drugs, booze, women and emotions. People took advantage of him. Ray said when Jim was on he was on and when he was off he wasn’t worth a shit! Ray said that Jim was always thinking of his life as an unfinished film and someday he’d return to it and produce his masterpiece. I think Ray agreed with him because it gave Ray hope not so much for The Doors but for Jim and his well-being. He talked years later about that very same thing, he never admitted ever that Jim was a lost cause, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek had traveled a long road together.
Robby Krieger was there occasionally, he seemed like the quiet one, consumed in thought, almost shy. The flashy psychedelic clothing just blew me away and the shoes must have been high end Italian. If John Densmore was ever there when I was there I don’t have any recollection of meeting him.
Later in the same week after I first met Jim Morrison we got a call from someone at The Magic Mushroom telling us that there was a last minute cancellation and they said they’d heard some good things about us, that Jim Morrison had put in a good word for us so he was giving us a spot sight unseen. That was unheard of, we knew that bookings in there were well in advance and it would be crowded, we jumped at it. The Magic Mushroom gig would turn out to be very instrumental in our quick rise in Hollywood.