Dave Brock: The Interview

Catalina Island

by Jan E. Morris
The Doors Collectors Magazine

It had been a tranquil, sunny day on the island; crowds escaping the heat of the mainland would not come to Catalina until much later in the spring. Seated in a hotel lobby in the village of Avalon, Dave Brock, Wild Child's lead singer had just concluded a promised interview for The Doors Collectors Magazine. This, mere hours before Wild Child would take to the stage of the Avalon Comedy Shop and rock the sleepy streets to life. I'd heard stories about Dave Brock's reluctance to grant interviews, and in partial preparation for our conversation I'd read a series of press reviews including a recent cover story in the Orange County Register. It featured a full-page color photo declaring, "He's Hot, He's Sexy and He's Alive." In retrospect, that superficial article neither sounded like the man I'd had the privilege to interview nor really said much about him at all...

DCM: What sort of questions make you cringe?

Dave: People ask, "How do you think Jim thought?" or "What did he think about this?" or "How would he have done that?"; questions that have no answer. I don't like to answer questions like that because I never personally knew Jim Morrison. I would have to be using my imagination a lot and really, what does that mean?

DCM: You've maintained a friendship with Robby Krieger for several years. Can you share with us any interesting stories Robby has told you about Jim?

Dave: One thing that comes to mind is when we were in Amsterdam on the last tour and had the pleasure of hooking up with Robby and his band for a few shows. Robby and I went off and had dinner one evening. I don't usually ask him a lot of questions about how it was because he's probably been through all that, but there's a funny story he told me about how Jim was known for going into a trance on stage. He stood very still, almost motionless, held onto the microphone and sang with his eyes closed. Robby said a lot of the time it really wasn't because he was in a trance. It seems he would continually go out to dinner before a show, order about five things from the menu and he would be so stuffed, he couldn't move if he wanted to!

DCM: What are the songs you never really tire of singing; songs that mean the most to you?

Dave: Not To Touch The Earth, Break On Through... but as far as what the songs mean to a lot of Doors fans, I think that's actually more important to talk about. It seems that everyone has his or her own interpretation about the songs. I've had people come up and tell me their life stories and how this particular song is about them! There are certain things about some of the songs that really strike home with a lot of people. I think that's how everyone gets attracted to this music at first. I think for me it was Break On Through. There was something about that song that really grabbed me. This music has messages, seemingly hidden, that people tap into and that's kind of what lures them into it. Something tells you to follow a little more closely what is being said and what this might mean. I don't think some people can really explain why they like it when they're asked. Jim was really good with catch phrases, provocative little phrases that would be remembered. I think that's what made him a good poet. Sometimes, unspecific things could mean anything. You can manipulate a phrase to parallel an event in your life, take it literally or just enjoy the beauty of the words together. There is a lot of visual imagery in the poetry of The Doors. You can paint a picture in your mind after hearing a lyric. You can "take the trip" and "see the light show" just by listening.

DCM: I suppose that's what makes the music timeless too; why twenty-five years later, it's still so popular.

Dave: I think that could have a lot to do with it. The music seems to be laced with signals and messages that strike a chord. Brilliant lyrics, surrounded by great music. I don't think enough has been written about The Doors as musicians. I was listening to an Eric Clapton piece on the way to the boat today, when he was with Derek and The Dominoes, recorded at the Fillmore East in New York in 1970. I'm not sure what song it was, but it was a slow blues number, really slow. It almost sounded like Back Door Man. I thought to myself, There's something missing here. What is the drummer doing. . .or not doing? Eric Clapton is one of those fluid guitar players like Robby, but one thing I noticed in that song was, Where are those drum fills? Where is the punctuation? The drummer was just sitting there playing straight time. It almost took all the feeling out of the song. I was thinking, Where's Densmore?

DCM: Each of The Doors has made his own special contribution.

Dave: Yeah. Ray turned playing the keyboards into a completely different art. He became a whole rhythm section when Robby fired off a lead, playing bass and high keys at the same time. I'm not aware of anyone who has tackled that style before or after The Doors. He created haunting sounds, like those in Waiting For The Sun or L'America. Ray has some of the best keyboard leads known. Robby has a unique sound of his own. It's amazing, the sounds that come out of his amplifier. There's a tidal wave of warm fluidity, just rolling right off the stage. Guitars, in the hands of many modern day "weekend warriors" can be very loud and painful. But Robby has such warmth in his guitar (he's playing a Gibson 355 hollow body these days). It's anything but painful. The sound moves right through you. John put the commas and periods in Jim's sentences. Anytime Jim would pause, Densmore knew exactly what to punctuate and how to create the sound. Sometimes he would use a short fill between lines or a MAD BUZZ ROLL at the end of a sentence. With his background in jazz, he was perfectly suited for the free-form style of The Doors.

DCM: I've heard that you're a bit of a writer. Is that true?

Dave: I've written a lot of songs, however, I haven't had the time or energy to develop very many of them yet. I think the only way I could get that off the ground would be to vanish for a while. I really have to be away from all my usual distractions to get anything like that done.

DCM: What about acting?

Dave: The small part I did in Death Becomes Her was a lot of fun. I'll probably start doing more things like that soon. Acting is something I actually planned on doing way back in my school days. No matter what phase of education I was in, I was always in acting classes.

DCM: You were considered for the role of Jim Morrison in The Doors movie. . .

Dave: Yes, as a matter of fact, I was on full-time alert since the time I was involved in The Jim Morrison Rock Opera. It always seemed as though "The Movie" was within a few months of being made from the time I started playing Jim on stage. It almost happened several times but it was about five years before it actually took off. During that time I met with many people interested in making a movie. Probably the most interesting of these encounters was with Larry and Althea Flynt, publishers of Hustler magazine. They were dead serious about the project. Dennis Hopper was hired to direct, Terry Southern to write the script and the late Harry Nilsson to help with the music. The Flynts invited me over for dinner to talk about the movie and introduce me to Dennis. At the time it had not been decided who would play Jim. Over the next couple of weeks, Dennis auditioned me with a couple of actresses he was considering to play Pam. At one point during the next few meetings, Dennis simply turned to me and said, "You're right for the part," then went on with his conversation. Things seemed to be going great; there were grand star-studded parties at the Flynt estate. I had the opportunity to meet some very interesting celebrities. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the air. Not all of the excitement was associated with the film. Larry had announced himself as a candidate for President of the United States. It was he against Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority (opponents of freedom of speech and expression, opposing publications like Hustler magazine). The movie project took a back seat, Dennis went to work on something else and the project unraveled as quickly as it had started. Larry was committed for arriving at the court house building wearing an American flag as underwear and they finally locked him up! Danny Sugerman was also making progress toward selling the movie rights for No One Here Gets Out Alive. He told me Oliver Stone was very interested in the book and things could happen at any time. "You'd better be ready." How much more ready could I be? I was over-ready and that was probably my biggest problem. The whole thing had become surreal to me. I didn't know how much of myself was left to scrutiny. Danny really wanted me to get the part, but the decision was now up to Oliver. Both he and Val Kilmer attended many Wild Child shows during this time. The deal went through and it was going to happen...again. Late one afternoon, I received 45 sides [pages] of script. I was supposed to be prepared to audition the next day. Should I be glad or maybe...FRANTIC? I found out I was to be the first to audition and Oliver wanted to test the first version of the script. I did a "cold reading" in his office with him and Resa, his casting director. The pressure was really on. I got a couple more call backs, but as you already know, Val Kilmer got the part. Incidentally, I think Val did a great job.

DCM: Do you still perform mostly around the L.A. area?

Dave: We don't play in L.A. as much as we used to. I enjoy playing out of town. It's a good way to travel if you schedule some free time between shows. I don't feel the need to do as many shows as I can. I enjoy having time off. I've got a variety of hobbies that I'm involved with. Hobbies are good to have when you're in the entertainment business; kind of a therapeutic medicine. I think that makes the now a little more special too. It's not a nightly thing. I've never been into touring for six months or even four months out of the year. I like to go out for two or three weeks and be done with it.

DCM: What's it like playing those old clubs on the Sunset Strip -- The Roxy and The Whisky? Is there something you particularly like about them?

Dave: If the walls could only talk. A lot of magic has happened in those places. It was a very common event in the Sixties for a group to walk off the stage at The Whisky and get a recording contract. All of the biggest rock groups played at The Whisky: Three Dog Night, Love, Van Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, Led Zeppelin and The Doors.

DCM: What do you think of performing in Europe?

Dave: Well, I like it. Each country seems to have a personality of its own. There are a few key words you must know in each language. After that you can improvise. For Doors fans the songs being sung in English are no problem; they still sing right along. In Holland and Germany we must play Whiskey Bar. In Italy, they threatened to break the promoter's legs if we didn't play People Are Strange or The End. The preferences change from place to place.

DCM: How did you get started playing Jim?

Dave: I got into this thing doing The Jim Morrison Rock Opera back in the early Eighties and getting that role was a complete accident in itself. That's how I got mixed up in all of this. I thought I was going to see The Jim Morrison Rock Opera but it ended up being a live audition at Gazzarri's.
DCM: What exactly happened?

Dave: I had just moved to L.A. -- I was a student at Long Beach State. I'm from northern California (the San Francisco Bay Area). One night, I was riding around in my car with a bunch of people. They were making a lot of noise and the radio was on and Bill Gazzarri came on with his commercial..."It's Tuesday night and we've got Rockin' Blaster; Wednesday night Jim Morrison Rock Opera;..." What was that? So the next night I went down to see the Rock Opera and I was greeted at the front door by a lady with a clipboard. She asked me my name and what agency had sent me. They thought that I was there to audition, so I said O.K. I got inside this club, Gazzarri's, and it's full of people. There were all of these guys lurking around the club; I mean really lurking! Seeing that spectacle steered me away from any kind of notion that the ghost of Jim Morrison hides behind these eyes. . .you know? I remember, this one guy came up to me and stared. . .glared at me right in the eyes and said, "Jim is inside of me." I said, "Sure partner. . .Yeahhhh." They had a band that knew about ten or twelve Doors songs, and everybody kept doing the same songs over and over and over again. Light My Fire, Touch Me and Hello, I Love You. Typical hits. Nobody tried the only song that I knew by heart -- L.A. Woman. It was my favorite song at the time.

DCM: Were you one of the last ones to sing?

Dave: I was the last one. I guess I did a pretty good job because, the producer, Jim's sister, Anne, came up to me after I was done, brought the photographers over, took pictures, and I thought, Wow, this IS really neat!

DCM: How old were you then?

Dave: Twenty-two. It was quite a trip. One week after that, I got the lead in the Opera, almost instantly. That just goes to show you how little they knew about what they were doing. I got the lead in something that I'd never done before. I was a theater student, but that wasn't my major. Two weeks after that I was in Rolling Stone next to Jagger and McCartney....

DCM: So how long were you involved with the Rock Opera?

Dave: It was in pre-production for about six months but they couldn't really pull it together. They got a lot of publicity on it and at first I was pretty optimistic. I didn't really know what was going to become of it. All I knew was that it was very exciting to jump into something like that. It played four nights or so, before everybody mutinied.

DCM: Do you have identity problems with people calling you "Jim"?

Dave: No, I have my very own personality and use it all the time as a matter of fact. When the show's over I don't like people calling me Jim. I don't want people to get confused about that. I don't go walking down the street with leather pants on and I don't go to interviews in my black shirt and beads. I don't try to make people think maybe I am Jim! That's all too weird. Jim was The Lizard King. He lived that part for a while. I simply play that part for the purpose of the show. Confused people like Patricia Kennealy would like to think otherwise, but that's their problem. Oh! Speaking of which (or witch?). . .it was recently brought to my attention that an excerpt from her book was resurrected and re-published in some foreign rag. In this rather rambling, psychotic article, Kennealy has apparently got me confused with someone in another band. I have personally never met her and she has never been to a Wild Child show. And this coming from someone who is quick to condemn people who write books about Jim without ever having known him. What makes her an expert on tribute shows? By her own admission, she would never pay money to see one! I could go on but it would just be a waste....

DCM: I think you've made an important contribution by helping to keep the music alive. The CDs are great, but they can't compare to the experience of hearing the music done well in a concert setting.

Dave: I'm glad that we're able to accomplish a good representation of that; as close as I can make it. I would never be so egotistical to think I could do it exactly like the original. But I'd like to think that we're coming close.

DCM: I was impressed by the number of really young people at your shows. They seemed to be enjoying it as much as anyone else; singing along to all of the words. Do you think they really understand what The Doors were all about or are they taking it superficially?

Dave: No, I think just the opposite. I think they are more passionate about it than anyone else. They know they missed it and that feeling alone makes them want to know more. They missed it because they simply weren't born yet or weren't old enough. The Sixties was a very romantic time in our history, a very turbulent time. There were a lot of things that were changing radically and I don't think we could ever duplicate that environment. The Sixties was a pioneering period and the frontier has been ravaged, unfortunately.

DCM: Last but not least, what is Wild Child for? What purpose does it serve?

Dave: I like to think of The Doors' music and poetry as museum pieces, with each song a different painting, sculpture or work of art. This art has many meanings, faces and sounds; some pleasant, some not, but all very important. I love what The Doors put together and the people they gathered together. The most I could ever expect to do with Wild Child is to perhaps hold the door open for a while longer.

Reprinted from The DCM edition #5
Photography by Barbara Bachmann