This is the end, beautiful friends, of a longstanding musical tribute. Tonight, July 25, Corty Byron and his band of compatriots pays tribute to the music of the Doors at Tellus360. First staged – where else? – at the Lizard Lounge in 2008, Byron and Matthew Thomas on keys, Chad Kinsey on guitar, Scott Frenchek on bass and Ffej Herb on drums haven’t done the tribute in three years. Byron is putting on the leather pants one last time to pay tribute to the iconic band, so we corralled him one afternoon at Lancaster Dispensing Company to talk shop on one of most mysterious bands in rock history.
First time hearing the Doors: “It was ‘The Doors’ movie, which was…definitely a movie. They got the names of the band members right, but I don’t know about much else. Sorry Oliver [Stone], there was a lot you missed, bud! I was around 7 or 8 years old when the movie came out, and I was already super into Elvis at that point.
My mother watched that ‘Doors’ VHS constantly, probably because of Val Kilmer’s ass, to be honest. Anytime I’d come in the living room, they’d pause it because there’s a lot of stuff you don’t want an 8-year-old watching, I mean, take your pick. I have a memory of that Christmas, my dad got my mom that double-disc hits album with the “Young Lion” photo on the cover that everybody had. And my mom was laughing, because she hated the Doors [laughs]. My sister was ten years older than me, so it ended up in her hands and that’s when I started getting obsessed with it. And to relate it back to Elvis, there’s just something that draws you to those dudes no matter how long they’ve been dead.
Favorite Doors song to perform: “We’ve done ‘The End’ before, and I don’t think we’re going to do it at the show. Anytime we have done it, we’ve never set out to do it. It’s not my favorite, but getting to the end of it feels like such an accomplishment. I think my favorite one that this band does is ‘Riders on the Storm’ because it has a great vibe and you really get lost in it.”
Least favorite Doors song to perform: "The one that was my least favorite is…look, every time I say it, people immediately are like, ‘what!?’ Like, Ffej’s favorite is ‘Not to Touch the Earth,’ and that’s probably in my five least favorite Doors songs. We axed ‘The Unknown Soldier’ because I didn’t want to do the fall again. I’m a 34-year-old guy with a boy on the way, I can’t do it. And the guys told me that I didn’t have to do the fall, but you do. If you’re going to do the tune, you can’t mess with it. ‘Texas Radio and the Big Beat’ is so hard that you don’t even really get to enjoy it.”
The process of “becoming” Jim Morrison on stage: “The thing I try to do is per song, think about where he was in his life at the time. It’s like building a character. Read the books, watch the documentaries, know your history. There’s a difference in singing ‘The Crystal Ship’ compared to something like ‘L.A. Woman,’ he became a different man.
I went to the last place he lived in Hollywood, not far from Venice. It was a second-floor apartment and he did his writing in the bathroom. I went in there and looked out the same window and tried to imagine what was going through his head in the final parts of his career. It was heavy. So, I try to embrace it and give back in a way that it deserves so I’m not just f---ing around. I’ll give a shoutout to Kevin Bittle, who was my director in every play or musical growing up and left me a giant window of freedom to dive into whatever I was doing and take it seriously.”
On performing the Doors tribute one last time: “I will definitely say that this is it. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure that we’d do this one. I don’t know what changed my mind. I mean, I’ve got a kid on the way. We’re all still here, so why don’t we do it? You’ve got to get over a little bit of silliness in yourself to give it your all and put on the pants and take it seriously. Jim himself wasn’t doing this at 34, and he didn’t want to. You learn a lot from him, though. The struggles of Jim are the struggles of anyone who has a lot of pressure on them. It’s a good lesson to not let the pressure take you. It’s a sad story, really.”
A Doors song to introduce a new listener to: “How much time do they have? For me, I think the one song that would encapsulate everything is ‘When the Music’s Over.’ It’s a signature groove, it’s got basically the same chord progression as ‘Soul Kitchen.’ It’s got the Ray Charles-style bass line, it’s got Jim’s scream, the simple stanzas and chorus. And then you have that poetry. Of course, if I had to go with something short, it would have to be ‘Break on Through,’ right? That track still has so much energy, and in the crazy times we’re in, that one really jumps out. Maybe subconsciously, that’s what led us to do this again, because we last did [the tribute] in 2016, so it was like seeing something coming but you weren’t sure what happened. Now we’re in the midst of it, and people need to hear these lyrics now.”
Ride the Snake: a Tribute to the Doors by Corty Byron & Friends takes place at 8 p.m. tonight, July 25, at Tellus360. Find more information here.