NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — In 1967, “Light My Fire” was a new hit single. The Doors were becoming famous. Then a trip to New Haven 50 years ago made the group’s lead singer infamous.
“A cop came to the stage and said, ‘Jim, tone it down or we’re going to have to take you off the stage,’” said Jake Russell.
Jake has filled his downtown New Haven hot dog stand, Jake’s Diggity Dogs, with memorabilia of that night. His father, Joey Russell, played Happy the Clown on Channel 8 years ago, and was part owner of the New Haven Blades hockey team. The Blades played at the New Haven Arena, so Joey’s three sons basically grew up in the Arena. The Arena hosted concerts as well as hockey.
“You want to go? ‘Hey Dad, I want to go.’ You’re going,” is how the middle son, Carl, explained it.
Carl and the oldest Russell brother, Hanon, did go to The Doors concert at the Arena. The building stood where the FBI building is now, which is a little ironic considering the confrontation Morrison had with law enforcement.
“Making him, what we think is the first rock star to be arrested on stage,” is how Chaz of “Chaz & AJ in the Morning” summed it up on the radio.
News8 reached out to the morning radio disk Jockeys to find out what their listeners know about that night. We heard from Dean, who said his dad was in a band that was opening for the doors. Dean’s father has since passed, but was a guitar player in 1967.
“The group that my father was in, he was in a show band called Tommy and the Rivieras,” Dean said when he called in to the show. “If Tommy’s out there listening, he’s still alive. Hey, Tommy, how are you?”
It turns out the lead singer of Tommy and the Rivieras was out there. Tom Janette gave up the music business, but kept his scrapbooks, and he remembers 1967 like it was yesterday. He remembers how the backstage area was set up.
“A dressing room attached to a bathroom attached to a dressing room and so on and so forth all the way around the building,” Janette remembered. “When Morrison decided that he wanted a little bit of attention from the brunette that he wound up with, he just kept walking through doors until he stopped in our bathroom.”
A young groupie caught Morrison’s eye, and he decided the shower stall of The Riviera’s dressing room was the place to get to know her better. It was Dean’s father, the guitar player, who walked in on the couple, but he didn’t recognize Morrison. He confronted the couple.
“’Who the hell are you and what are you doing back here?’” is what Dean said his father asked Jim Morrison. “And of course Morrison, typical Morrison, told my father to go f*** himself.”
Not only was that rude, but the band was worried about a stranger in the bathroom because they had new costumes that did not have pockets.
“So all of our cash and our wallets and our car keys and everything else are sitting on this table,” said Janette. “So I opened up the door to the hallway, which is where all the police were.”
Tommy remembers the officer walking into the shower stall and telling Morrison to leave. He also remembers that Morrison said “Eat me” to the officer, who then pulled out a can of mace.
“As he’s shaking the mace, he says, ‘This is your last chance to evacuate the property and leave,’” said Janette. “And Morrison turned around and said, ‘This is your last chance to eat me’ and pushed the cop. So I open up the door to the hall and holler ‘Fight!’ and about 10 police came in and proceeded to knock the hell out of Morrison.”
However, another witness contends that police never beat Morrison up.
“I would be so honest about that and I’d be ashamed if that happened, but no sir,” said retired New Haven Police Officer Bob Meyerholz. News8 reached him on the phone from his home in Florida. He was backstage when Morrison got maced.
“Mr. Morrison’s manager spotted it and ran over and said, ‘What’s going on? That’s Jim Morrison of the Doors,’” Meyerholz remembers. Meyerholz said Lieutenant Jim Kelly, was in charge that night.
“And he said, ‘We’re going to place Mr. Morrison under arrest, but we will do it after the concert. We’re going to permit him to perform, as long as he behaves himself,’” said Meyerholz.
While Jim Morrison recovered, the concert producer told Tommy and the Rivieras to go on and keep playing.
“Every time I grabbed the mic to say, ‘Well, thank you very much,’ he’d do this from the side wings,” Janette said, making a stretching motion with his hands.
The Doors eventually took the stage. In the crowd, were the Russell brothers, who had no idea what happened backstage.
“The bass is playing, the piano is playing, and Jim Morrison goes into one of his talks,” said Carl Russell.
A couple songs in, Morrison tells the crowd about his run-in with police.
“Everybody was a little shocked when he went into this tirade, using the kind of language he did,” said Hanon Russell.
“He used that word that we’re not supposed to use in polite public,” said Janette. “He said f*** several times.”
“That was it, lights go up, and all of a sudden you could now see the police start to get closer and closer to him,” said Carl Russell.
“Then he started to talk about New Haven pigs, and Lt. Kelly said, ‘No, no, no, we’re not going to permit this,” Meyerholz said.
There’s a short film clip that shows what happened. Lieutenant Kelly arrests him. At the very end of the clip, you just catch a glimpse of Officer Meyerholz grabbing Morrison’s arm.
“And we escorted him off the back of the stage and he never resisted,” Meyerholz said. News8 asked if he seemed intoxicated in any way? “Oh God, yes,” said. Meyerholz.
Morrison got dragged off to the police station for that famous mug shot. Bond was set at $7,500.
“And Mr. Morrison got out his wallet, and he had the money right there in his wallet, so he paid his own bond,” remembered Meyerholz.
Speaking of paperwork, in Janette’s scrapbook is a copy of the official police report. Since he called in the first officer, Thomas Janette is the official complainant.
The whole thing might have faded further into memory, like the New Haven Arena itself, except for the fact that, two years later in 1969, the Doors wrote a song with the lyrics “Blood on the streets in the town of New Haven.”
The song is called Peace Frog, but was there really blood on the streets after the concert?
“This was not rioting in the streets and burning things and everything,” Hanon Russell said. “This was a sort of deer in the headlights look everybody had: What has gone on here?”
Janette said it was reporters who confronted police.
“So the press did what the press usually does and got in the way of police, and the police started arresting them,” Janette said.
Dean, son of the guitar player, had his own theory about Peace Frog.
“The blood on the streets thing is actually because of all the racial tension and the rioting that was going on in the late 60s,” Dean said.
That could be, but for most people, The Doors and the town of New Haven mean one historic thing.
“First time in the history of entertainment that a professional performer got arrested on stage in the middle of a performance,” Janette said.
“And the fact that The Doors musically still live on, I think resonates so strongly with people in the New Haven area,” said Jake Russell.
That is why people still get a kick out of all those memories in Jake’s hot dog stand fifty years later.