The Doors in Danbury/October 1967
Music was another important part of the counterculture/ antiwar protests and happenings. FM radio became its messenger. In earlier days, FM radio stations were the domain of classical music, jazz, and college programming. Rock music was scarce on the FM dial in New York City until 1966 when legendary deejay, Murray the K, became program director on WOR-FM.
Murray, joined by former WABC-AM jock, Scott Muni, started free-form radio, playing Rock album tracks. WOR-FM featured both well-known and obscure songs from major and minor Rock recording artists. Unfortunately, the free-form aspect of WOR-FM didn't last long. By the end of 1967, the station's owners changed the format to Top 40 and Oldies. Shortly after the change on WOR-FM, many of the station’s disk jockeys, including Muni and John Rosko, found a home at WNEW-FM. Other stations, like WPLJ-FM (formerly WABC-FM) came on the air.
I listened to Murray the K a few times on WOR-FM in 1966, but was still hooked on AM radio. However, by late 1967, I became an avid listener to WNEW-FM. The new FM Rock stations were a radical departure from standard radio broadcasts on the AM dial. Gone were screaming jocks who talked through the beginnings and endings of songs. Gone were the omnipresent loud commercial ads. Although the term, “laid-back”, wasn't in vogue quite yet, it describes perfectly the mood created by this new radio format. Each listener felt that the program was personalized. The disk jockeys spoke in even paced well modulated voices about the music, giving details about the performers, instruments used, and writing credits. Long uninterrupted medleys of songs were played, often centered on a common theme. The dj was given absolute freedom to create the sound he or she wanted. And, the music wasn't limited to Rock. It was not unusual to hear different musical genres played back to back. FM radio became as much of an art form as the music it played.
“Disraeli Gears” by Cream, “Axis: Bold As Love” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and “Buffalo Springfield Again” by Buffalo Springfield were played often on my stereo turntable. However, the Doors became my favorite Rock band in the immediate post-Sgt Pepper period. I listened to their self-titled debut album daily. By October 1967, I was playing their second album, “Strange Days”. I read all I could about the Doors, especially lead singer, Jim Morrison, whose deep-voiced vocals became the signature of the band. There was something about that band. They were tight...lead guitar, organ, John Densmore's drums, and that borderline baritone voice of Morrison. They weren't from San Francisco, like the Jefferson Airplane and other psychedelic bands. They were from Los Angeles, and had that late-evening-at-the-club bluesy feel to their music. The guitar playing of Robbie Krieger and organ by Ray Manzarek produced the band’s unique sounds. No other band was like them. The Doors and their music became a musical necessity for me.
Jim Morrison and I had one thing in common...we sang from the same stage. OK, truth be told, we didn’t sing there at the same time. However, as a member of the Danbury High School chorus, I participated in several yearly programs on the school’s auditorium stage. One night in October 1967, Jim and the Doors played before a packed house at that same venue. Where I sang “Dona Nobis Pacem”, Jim sang “People Are Strange”.
How did this happen? The Doors' performance was part of Western Connecticut State University's “Fall Weekend”. Originally, the concert was scheduled to take place at the WestConn campus on White Street in downtown Danbury, but the college auditorium was undergoing construction. The high school auditorium was the only other large location available. Miraculously, the powers that be at Danbury High (the same ones who kicked my sister Sara out of school one day when she wore culottes) gave permission for the freaky L.A. band to play in its auditorium. They would later regret that decision
I went to the concert with Sara and other friends. We sat only two rows from the front, stage left. Robbie Krieger was in front of some speakers. Morrison was to Krieger's right, in the center of the stage. John Densmore on drums was behind Morrison, and Ray Manzarek sat at his electric organ, stage right. The audience was a mixture of kids from my high school and college students from WestConn. We were kind of ragged looking and they were dressed up a bit.
The concert was surreal. I couldn’t believe that the Doors were actually there. I knew all their songs by heart, including the ones from the new “Strange Days” album. I recall the band performing “Moonlight Drive”, “Crystal Ship”, “People Are Strange”, “Light My Fire”, “Back Door Man” and the infamous “The End”. At one point during the show, Jim Morrison jumped off the stage right in front of us. He looked much thinner and younger in person than he did in photos. On album covers he looked like an older, beery, beefy-faced guy, but in person he looked like a kid...one of us...clad in his trademark black leather pants while he held onto the microphone as if it were alive.
Towards the end of “The End”, Morrison got carried away by the passion of the song and bashed his microphone stand several times onto the stage. When an article about the concert appeared in the Danbury News-Times the next day, it contained one nugget about that. When Jim banged the microphone stand, he gouged a hole into the Danbury High School stage floor. The article reported that our high school principal, Patrick Murnane, was so outraged by the "damage" caused to the stage that he threatened to sue the band.
Once I heard about the gouged hole, I became a boy on a mission. I just had to see it for myself. When I arrived at school on Monday morning, the first thing I did was go on the stage. It was really no big deal...not really a hole at all, just some scuff marks and a slight indentation. I stood there for awhile in the same spot where Jim Morrison had stood. The Doors’ “When The Music’s Over” was an earworm playing inside my head as I looked out at the imaginary audience and proclaimed,
“We want the world and we want it NOW”
Copyright: Marc Catone, 2012
See photo of the Danbury concert, and story behind it:
Hear "Back door Man" from the Danbury concert: