Below is the first interview I did for the website Doors.com in 2004. I got to know Greg Shaw by volunteering to do some research for the anticipated updated version of The Doors On the Road. This comprehensive catalog of all the Doors’ live shows was first released in 1997, before it was easy to access such info on the internet. As a result, it was a much loved resource for hardcore Doors fans and bootleg recording collectors.
Sadly, I’ve lost touch with him and have heard through the grapevine that he disappeared into the ether after experiencing a few rough patches with his health. I truly hope he is okay and will bounce back to complete the On The Road series we talked about so long ago.
When did your love of rock and roll begin?
Greg: I was struck by music at an early age. I can actually remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I must have been around 8 years old and being enraptured by their early foppish songs like “She Loves You.” By sixth grade, it seemed like everyone was listening to Cousin Brucie on WABC in New York City and had seen the Beatles movies and never missed an episode of the Monkees. I didn’t particularly care for the Monkees hit songs. Instead, I was struck by songs like the very sarcastic and uncharacteristic “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” as well as the “Last Train to Clarksville” with its haunting refrain of “And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.” Clarksville was one of the final whistle stops for young men who would soon be fighting for their lives in Viet Nam. Like “Love Me Two Times,” the music thinly concealed the horrific reality the protagonist was about to encounter. It was a time where just 2 years could make the difference between just being another kid in High School or clutching an M-16 in a foreign jungle where a moment’s inattention could be the difference between life and death.
Musically, one major advantage I had was an older brother (by 6 years) who was right on top of the new music. By the end of sixth grade I had moved on from the Monkees to groups like the Byrds. Instead of buying 45s (singles), I gravitated toward albums because it was often the more obscure and experimental material that caught my interest. By early 1967, I was much more interested in the more sophisticated music coming out and found the “top 40” “teeny-bopper” music more and more frivolous. I was fascinated by material like the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and when Sgt. Pepper hit the shelves on June 1st, 1967, it was just the beginning of an explosion of music from England, LA, San Francisco and New York.
My brother and friends frequented the Cafe au Go Go in Greenwich Village, which was a long rectangular club that couldn’t have accommodated much more than 100 people. The stage dimensions were so narrow that the bands practically played into the opposite wall while the majority of patrons were seated on either side. I remember my brother returning one night and raving about a black guitarist who was playing again the next night and insisted I go. Being young (I wasn’t even a teenager yet), and I thoroughly blew it by responding that I wasn’t really into the Motown R&B stuff and had made other plans. Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had missed the NY debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and unfortunately it wasn’t the only time I made such a regrettable decision. I also missed the Dead’s NY debut the same month. My brother caught the Thursday show and raved about their finale of “Viola Lee Blues” during which the band swirled into seven crescendos, which concluded with a crashing explosion of sound. The next day he ran into Jerry Garcia in Grand Central and after speaking for a while offered to buy his psychedelic guitar case, which Garcia politely declined. Cream did a run at the Cafe au Go Go in September and I missed that as well. In retrospect, I think a lot of us had the mistaken assumption that this renaissance of music was so powerful that it would just keep getting better and better and if you missed anything it would soon come around again and the band would be even more remarkable by then. Even with a war hanging over our heads, the optimism was so contagious it felt like an electric buzz surging through the streets.
My parents had a lot of friends with children in high school and I would often catch a ride home with them from school. I think they really got a kick out of how much I knew about music and they sort of took me under their wing.
Around that time, I hitched a ride with someone and she was with two heavy leather-jacketed New York toughs who took an immediate liking to me when we stared talking about music. Although I lived in a nice area where you could spin by towering apartment buildings and in a few minutes be on dirt roads with horse farms, we were still close to the Bronx. And in the NY metropolitan area there was this bizarre hybrid of attitude forming where the greasers were embracing the new hip culture. It was like the 50’s never ended; instead it transformed into punk hipsters who embraced portions of the emerging hippie culture. Even the gangs seemed to have put down their zip-guns and picked up smoking pot instead. While doing research, I ran across a fascinating 2-page 1970 article from Harvard’s campus newspaper about our area in which the author said no one in Westchester could understand why the Sha Na Na segment in the Woodstock movie was considered such a novelty, because here, the 50’s had never really left. It was the same in a lot of New Jersey. Anyway, I vividly remember the guy in the front seat tossing me a beer and saying, “Have you heard the f–king Doors!” They had just seen them at the Village Theater (which was soon to become the Fillmore East). I went right out and bought the album and remember liking the fast and intense tracks like “Take It As It Comes” and “Break on Through” the best. I tended to like the fast-tempo intense music the best, and these songs hit me the hardest, in a similar way to Moby Grapes “Omaha,” Love’s “7 & 7 Is” and the Dead’s “Cream Puff War.”
I couldn’t musically relate to most kids my own age, who were still listening to bubble-gum crap like Herman’s Hermits. Through fortunate circumstances, I was exposed to a lot more than most of my peers and relished the time I had with the older crowd. It was a lot to assimilate at such a young age. When I innocently made the ridiculous mistake of correcting a science teacher in 7th grade during a lecture on psychedelic drugs; it resulted in being called in to the principal’s office due to the school’s concerns over how a 7th grader would know so much. In retrospect, it was one of those classic “what the hell was I thinking?” moments and I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut at an early age.
What was the first concert you attended? First record purchased?
Greg: It’s vague for me. I’m often reminded about concerts I taped and had forgotten about because I often gave the masters away to friends. I certainly recall those legendary events that I missed because I was so busy with friends that I passed because I had already made other plans. If I could go back in time, I sure as hell would have changed my plans. I missed the previously mentioned shows, as well as several more Jimi Hendrix shows, Cream, the Doors, Who, Dead, etc. The Village Voice (NYC’s alternative paper) was hard to find and a lot of great local shows had come and gone by the time we heard about them. I cringe when I think about it, but as I mentioned, it seemed like what was happening was going to go on forever. We thought we were changing the world and that new opportunities were always just around the corner. No one imagined that within a few short years it would all begin rapidly disintegrating and that artists like Jimi, Jim and Janis would be gone forever.
I know someone will remind me of earlier shows, but off the cuff I remember John Mayall at our local high school, as well as Seals and Crofts. Since we were so close to Manhattan, a lot of groups filled open nights with bookings at nearby schools, including the Doors (Danbury and Westport), Cream and Mountain. The first huge show I recall was the Dead at Hartford’s Dillon Stadium when they were joined at the conclusion by the Allman Brothers for a spectacular jam. Later, probably one of the most remarkable events I ever attended was the SNACK benefit in San Francisco. It featured a succession of ten bands including an impromptu reunion of the Grateful Dead (who had disbanded for an indefinite time) and concluded with a jam featuring the Band with Bob Dylan and Neil Young. On an offhand note, I never ever had trouble getting tickets through 1975. You could go to a show without a ticket and get one at cost within minutes from someone selling a friend’s ticket who couldn’t make the show. The phenomenon of scalping was almost exclusively something you encountered at sports events. One existent difficulty I remember was the ’73/’74 gas crises when rationing created a lot of concern about sufficient fuel to get to a show and back. New York had a $5.00 maximum, so we’d establish a carpool and siphon gas into the vehicle with the best mileage. I was good at it and ended up with more mouthfuls of gas than I’d ever care to remember.
As far as records go, I know early on I had Beatles, Byrds and Monkees albums, but after Sgt. Pepper, the deluge of fantastic albums was just incredible. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again in our lifetime. The closest thing to it was 1979/80 when Punk and New Wave turned the industry upside down. However, as great as it was, it wasn’t quite as revolutionary as the years following 1966, which saw the debuts of so many incredible bands. It still astonishes me that so many groups, in geographically diverse areas (SF, NY, LA, London, etc.), seemed to have tuned into an extraordinary synchronicity while recording their albums in late 1966 and early ’67. A complete list would be pages long, but just for starts it would include the Doors, Hendrix, Cream, Procol Harum, the Butterfield Blues Band, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & Janis, Velvet Underground, and many more. Not to mention the transformation occurring within the Beatles, Stones, Byrds, and even the Beach Boys. I’ve reflected on that time a good deal, and it just seems the synchronicity was so extraordinary that it clearly transcends mere coincidence. Something happened that just defies logical explanation. And it became more and more rebellious and chaotic in the next few years. America was splintering into warring fragments and the violence between them kept escalating. I find the contemporary media’s portrayal of the 60’s only being a time of “peace and love” ridiculous and pathetically naive. It felt like we were all precariously balancing on a smoldering volcano threatening to erupt at any minute. In later years I wondered if it was just the vivid memories of youth. However, when I was researching the Doors book, I was quite taken aback at how much happened in such a relatively brief period of time. So much happened so fast that the evening news couldn’t even keep up with it all.
Did you ever attend a Doors show?
Greg: Unfortunately, no. I missed the opportunity. I remember walking on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village in March 1968, and the sidewalk across from the Electric Circus was completely covered with flyers for their upcoming debut at the Fillmore East. I really wanted to go, but since I was 13 I couldn’t find anyone to hitch a ride with. And there was always the predicament with the trains out of Grand Central, which weren’t running at 1 am, and in those days most shows ran late. It was a constant problem because it basically made it necessary to drive, and it would be several years before I was old enough to do so.
How did the idea for The Doors On the Road originate? Had you written about rock before?
I had written a few concert reviews for local papers when I was a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. However, when I started working as a live sound engineer (at one of the most prominent clubs in the state), I didn’t have time for writing. I did record shows there and edited them for a special live series on the local public FM station, but it was difficult meeting their deadline and working at the same time, so I let that project go even though I loved doing it.
When a book on Grateful Dead concerts and set-lists (Deadbase) was coming out, I contributed information because I had been collecting rare recordings since 1970, taping concerts by 1973 and had gathered a lot of information. When it first came out, I was inspired by it and considered doing something similar with some of the bands I liked. My love of the Doors music had recently been re-ignited with the release of some of their video compilations (as well as some unreleased underground ones I got my hands on) and they boosted my determination. I went through the books that were then available and gathered what I could and contacted old friends asking about obscure tapes and posters. Doors tapes, in particular, were few and far between. There still aren’t a lot of them, but in the late 1980’s there were hardly any. As with many bands, underground recordings had questionable dates and locations and it became a nightmare trying to discern their origins. I started doing my own research and it took me a while to determine how to really go about it and where to search. My original idea was to replicate the formula of the Dead book with the basics of date, location, and set list. However, I soon found that there was so much interesting information on the concerts that I wanted to include it as well. Initially I was just going to be a brief sentence or two, but then I realized that if I found all the details fascinating then others probably would as well and the entire project took on an entirely different and expanded approach. New York author Albert Goldman liked the idea and encouraged me to fill out the basic skeleton I had shown him with details about the shows.
I was also determined to make it as accurate as possible. Deadbase quickly released a 2nd edition with new information (I think they have 11 editions out now), but my ambition was for the Doors book to be as thorough as possible the first time around. I knew it would be practically impossible to do so, but I did the best I could. I’ve subsequently unearthed a good deal of new info, some of it generously offered by other fans of the Doors, and I hope to offer a new and revised 2nd edition soon.
When I had the basic outline of the book drawn up, two remarkable things occurred, as if fate intervened. First, I talked about what I was doing to a friend in Corte Madera, California and it turned out he was related to Paul Rothchild. I gathered up the courage to call Paul, and because I was friendly with someone in his family, he opened right up to me and appreciated how sincere I was in my efforts to accurately document the band’s history. He invited me over to the “secret location” of the vault where the master reels for “Absolutely Live” were stored and had copies of the set lists scribbled on the reels made for me. He also gave me a handful of leads to pursue and suggested I send what I had to Ray. Ray appreciated what I was doing and helped me enormously with his memories of concerts, etc. I think he also appreciated the fact that I was writing about the music – and not the gossip. I wasn’t including any of the dicey stories, etc. It was strictly about the music and I said that if he found anything inappropriate in the book I’d delete it and that he was also free to add anything he’d like to see included. Ray then passed on my number to Albert Goldman, who was preparing to write a book about Jim. That was the second stroke of fortune which was totally unexpected. I knew he had a rather tough reputation for relentlessly pursuing the truth, no matter how upsetting it might be to fans of his subject matter.
However, after talking with him for a while, I realized that he genuinely appreciated the Doors and wasn’t out to crucify Jim. The turning point for me was when I called the biggest John Lennon fan I knew and he said he really liked Goldman’s book on John because it showed the very human side of him and actually made him appreciate Lennon even more (although apparently a number of fans were upset with the book). While talking with him, I realized the fact is that everyone has said or done things that they wish they hadn’t and could take back, whether in anger, jealousy, ignorance, or whatever. We all make mistakes; it’s part and parcel of the human experience. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t put their foot in their mouth and wish they could retract their comments, especially during their teens and twenties. Anyway, Goldman really liked what I had done so far and actively encouraged me to finish it while telling me about the insides of the publishing business and what to look out for. It wasn’t long before he asked if I’d like to work for him doing research and as a result, I discovered a lot of resources I hadn’t previously considered.
During this time, I was living in LA during those smoldering years that finally exploded in the ’92 riots. Although there was a lot I liked, I’d had enough of it. I love the New York sensibility, with it’s dark, biting humor that just cuts through the bulls-t. I left the West Coast and within a few weeks in NY I realized I hadn’t laughed so hard in years. I also took a “sabbatical” on the Doors book for a while. When I finally got back to it, the break had given me time to rejuvenate and I went at it with renewed enthusiasm, found an agent, and tried my best to confirm all of the dates and information. Some shows just couldn’t be confirmed but I kept trying right until the day of the deadline for publication. I have gathered a good deal of new info and Doors fans have been a tremendous help. I’m very glad I put an e-mail address in the book so they could write. I’ve made a point of trying to write everyone back, including people who wrote just to say they enjoyed the book. If they took the time and effort to write, the least I could do is respond with a “Thank you,” even if I couldn’t think of much else to say. I feel a loyalty to them because I am one of them. We’re all Doors enthusiasts first and foremost; I just happen to be one who wrote a book documenting their live performances.
What happened to Goldman’s manuscript? Was it completed and if so did you ever get a chance to read it?
Greg: When I last spoke to him, it was still in the developmental stages. I think a basic outline had been established and he had some sections completed. But he was exceptionally thorough in his research and I think he was concentrating on trying to find things in Jim’s life that contributed to his exceptional talent. We both shared a chronological interest in establishing as precise a sequence of events as possible. Although a fair amount has been written on Jim’s early years, a lot of it has just been a basic overview. I think his book would have detailed a lot of Morrison’s passages through childhood and focused on the insatiable quest for knowledge reflected in Jim’s reading of many of the great philosophers at a relatively young age. Goldman was quick to point out that Jim’s literary pursuits were (and still are) quite extraordinary for his age. Regardless of any controversy surrounding Goldman’s work, he was obviously a brilliant and gifted writer. Albert clearly had an affinity for Jim because it was both rare and refreshing to find someone of Morrison’s intelligence in the rock ‘n’ roll world. Indeed, the whole band appeared to consist of Mensa caliber intellects with Jim’s penetrating insights out on the front line. I know Morrison’s work has often been compared with the 19th century surrealist French poet Arthur Rimbaud. However, I personally have grown to view Jim’s writing as a contemporary amalgam or synthesis fusing America’s 1800’s “Romantic Movement” (reflected in Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”) with the 20th Century’s unsettling “Realistic Movement” as grimly exemplified in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Eliot intertwined complex literary associations and effective symbolism into a vivid, ironic portrayal of the contemporary “metropolitan desert.” Poems like “Moonlight Drive” bear remarkable literary echoes to Eliot’s “Gerontion” with its allusions to the spiritual implications of conversion and atonement that could be attained by an immersion into the transcendent waters of death and resurrection so powerful they could prevail over the descent into Dante’s ninth circle of hell.
There are numerous other examples, but I mention T.S. Eliot because Morrison stylistically also created concentrated collages which incorporated indirect references to other writers which were interspersed with modern reflections that punctuated the fierce commentary with humorous anecdotes. Certainly none of this escaped Goldman’s attention and he was aspiring to chronologically demonstrate the succession of literary works that had such a profound influence on Morrison’s perception of life.
In addition, he also really wanted to depict the mid-sixties atmosphere of Los Angeles in the Doors’ early years. When I did research for him, he initially had me concentrate on the whole scene surrounding the Sunset Strip in that time period. He wanted to thoroughly describe the pulse and ambience of the entire music/arts scene that was developing and to convey a sense of what it was like for an emerging band struggling to get a foothold in the music business. It would have rendered a vivid impression of the zeitgeist of the times. Not only did he want to include a detailed overview of the music scene, but also of the different assortment of artists who frequented the clubs, and the emerging directors from the UCLA film school that Ray and Jim had crossed paths with. In addition, it would have explored the CIA’s tests with psychedelics, which they hoped could be utilized as a weapon that would instill terror into the hearts of the enemy, thereby rendering them powerless. In one of the greatest ironies of the century, those tests became the fountainhead to the entire psychedelic subculture that exploded in LA and in the SF Bay area when the CIA’s “guinea pigs” were transformed into the acid elevated apostles such as Ken Kesey who designated “Further” as the destination of choice and sought not just to push the envelope, but to dynamite it into irretrievable confetti.
Albert had done some extensive interviews, and he was always quick to spot an offhand remark that might lead to unexplored avenues. He also possessed a keen eye for missing or obscure passages in a person’s life. It was clear to him, as it is to most Doors fans, that something very deep and profound was driving Jim and Goldman was fascinated with what factors may have contributed to the genius that was burgeoning. I’ve known quite a few truly unbridled people in my life who defied incredibly dangerous gambles and he was interested in that because it described the enigma of personality that Jim shared in common. (On a side note, a few years ago I had an opportunity to talk with one of the old gang about all of this and when we lost track of how many of them were deceased we finally decided to drop the conversation.) Goldman was seriously questioning what drove certain people to tread that razor’s edge between life and death.
I certainly understand that some people were apprehensive that Goldman would render a fairly scathing account of Jim’s inner demons and didn’t want to inadvertently add any fuel to that approach. There may very well have been some things he would have intimated that would have verged on being too personal. However, the dissimilarity between this particular book and others was that he had spent some time with Jim and the other band members and I think the material he wrote on them clearly demonstrated that he had the highest regard for the Doors. And not just Jim. He commented numerous times on what exceptionally good musicians they all were. He felt that Ray and John’s talents had been fairly well acknowledged, but was appalled that Robby Krieger really hadn’t received the recognition he deserved as one of the great guitarists of the era.
I don’t know what’s become of the manuscript and research Albert had done on the book. My sense is that if it had been near completion, it would have been released posthumously. So, apparently he wasn’t far enough along with the book for his editors or estate to release it. I would love to see what he had completed and I would venture that there are sections that could certainly be published as articles derived from the unfinished manuscript.
You mention Dorothy, Ray’s wife in the credits. She was present throughout the whole Doors’ history but fans have never gotten a chance to hear her side of things. Did Dorothy share her memories with you too?
Greg: Indirectly. By that I mean that when I spoke with Ray on the phone she was often nearby and would gladly add something to Ray’s recollections. And periodically Ray would pause to ask her if she remembered when something occurred and quite often she did, or she had memories of other things going on at that time that helped to pinpoint what we were discussing. Ray’s respect for her was unmistakable and he was always glad to enthusiastically recount what she had said. Out of respect, I never asked if I could speak with her. She deserves her privacy and I would never want to impose. Besides, Ray was frequently running things by her and as far as I was concerned I was speaking with them both. I got the impression that she was a very intelligent woman and that the love and consideration between them had transcended the years.
Can you tell us what’s in store for fans with the updated edition? Will the 21st Century Doors tour be included?
Greg: I’m redesigning the entire book, adding in all the new information and also adding in edited material and more quotations from my previous resources that reflect the mood and atmosphere of the times. I’ve gotten better copies of a lot of the flyers, etc., so the quality of the artwork should be a lot better. In addition, I’ll include the Doors 21st Century tour, although no one knows how much longer it will continue. Even though John Densmore has opted not to participate, it’s still part of the band’s history, just like the tours they did after Jim died. And there’s always the possibility that John will have a change of heart, pick up his drumsticks and hit the stage. Let’s hope so. It would be great to see them all together again. I’m striving to expand the book enough so that people who bought the first edition will feel it’s worth having the 2nd edition as well, and that they’re not just buying the same book twice. I certainly don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve been ripped off and would feel terrible if they did. That’s one of the reasons I’ve taken longer than anticipated to pull it together. I try to look at it from an outside perspective as if I were one of the people picking up a copy.
Have you attended any of the recent 21st Doors shows?
Greg: I certainly have intended to, but I’ve been so incredibly busy that their dates nearby me conflicted with other things I was involved with at the time, much to my frustration. In the past year there have been a few situations that came up that basically made me shelve the project for a while.
The first edition of The Doors On the Road contained some amazing, rarely seen photos but they were not identified. Will the updated version have these same photos labeled or will you be using new pictures of the band?
Greg: I’ll use what I can from the previous book, depending on copyrights, and I’ve been offered some more photos, which I’ll include in the new edition. I’ll also include information with the photographs because I feel that the photographers deserve full credit for their work and not just an obscure footnote hidden somewhere within the book. And the concerts will be identified as well.
In addition, I’ll make every effort to include most everyone who has helped in the credits. In the first book, I missed a few, most notably Ida Miller, and I feel terrible about that oversight.
How were you able to find your research sources? Was it difficult to locate recordings and footage?
Greg: It was very difficult at first, until I finally developed sort of a sixth sense of where to look, after a great deal of trial and error. Research can be quite grueling and you never can be quite sure when you’ll hit gold or come up with nothing. It’s difficult because most of the time I really need do the work myself, which can get quite costly with all traveling. I often need at least two days to fully establish my itinerary and estimate travel time between locations. When I’m “on the road,” I have to make full use of my time and coordinate my time to others’ schedules. After several days of this, it becomes quite exhausting, and I’ve gone out on runs that go from one day to the biggest one that dragged out to almost two months. Since I did the Doors book, I’ve become friends with a group of other researchers doing similar projects on rock ‘n’ roll and we have sort of teamed up to help each other out. We all have horror stories and share them so that others will know where good resources are and which can present a problem.
How long did it take to research the first edition of The Doors On the Road?
Greg: Since I didn’t know how to go about it at first, it took a while to learn the ropes. Overall, it was about 5 years, but I was also doing research on other bands as well. I have a series of On The Road books coming out, so I would often look for information on other bands also, in addition to looking for information on a particular project a friend was working on. I’ve contributed to several books extensively and made a lot of notes about articles that might be of use in the future. I have a pile of notebooks full of lists of concerts in different areas of the country. Someday, I’ll get it all on computer, but for now I need to focus on getting the other books together. After the Doors book, I went right into extensive research on other bands, including foreign reviews which I have to find someone kind enough to translate. I’ve had good luck with some, but finding people who are willing to translate articles has turned out to be one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve encountered. I hear that some of the available electronic translators have greatly improved and I certainly hope so. A few years ago I tried some and would submit a few sentences on a Doors concert and it would come back as something like “Cats don’t mind reading newspapers provided the refrigerator Door doesn’t fall on them while they are using telepathy to discover non-existent planets where cattle can be raised.” The sad part is that this is hardly an exaggeration. Now that’s just the kind of unintelligible babble Doors enthusiasts are dying to read!
Do you have a tentative release date set?
Greg: I have one book coming out soon on Traffic, which I teamed up with Jan Inge in Oslo to do. Jan essentially launched the Steve Winwood fanzine “Coloured Rain,” which quickly became the most respected magazine on the subject. Although I did a great deal of the Traffic research, covering the US and as much of Europe as I could, Jan’s work was absolutely invaluable. His knowledge of the band members’ activities prior to Traffic is incredible. He would like to do a book on the Spencer Davis Group and certainly doesn’t need my help, but generously asked if I’d like to be involved. I’d consider it an honor to help him.
Another book is essentially 90% complete, but the requests for the Doors book have been steadily increasing since the original print-run sold out. I’m seriously considering moving the 2nd planned release to third and getting the 2nd edition of the Doors book out there next. I’m going to have to re-scan all of the artwork and it will take a while to get everything into order. So, I’m not exactly sure how much needs to be reworked, so I haven’t been able to set a tentative release date yet. Hopefully I’ll have a better “guestimate” soon.