This is PART 1 of an interview Legs did in 1994 with Steve Harris, former VP at Elektra. Steve has one of my favorite quotes in Please Kill Me: “I was a big supporter of Iggy’s everywhere.” In this interview, The Doors get huge. Danny Fields gets hired by Elektra. John Sinclair gets busted. Gloria Stavers gets pissed that the death of Martin Luther King takes Jim Morrison off the front pages. This is one of many interviews that are going to be pulled from the PKM archive. – Gillian
Legs: Danny Fields left me with the impression that Jim Morrison was kind of a prick and that he didn’t get along with him at all?
Steve: Well, that’s because Danny thought that he could lead Jim around. That thing that happened at Warhol’s castle in California where he took the keys to Jim’s car because he thought that Jim was too drunk and he really got pissed at Danny for that.
Legs: Danny just took the keys to Jim’s car?
Steve: This was when Jim was fooling around with Nico and he was hanging around in the castle and he was very drunk and very high and Danny was afraid that he would die if he drove and there was a couple of other things where he thought that Danny was using him to further his own career for whatever reasons but I don’t think that’s really true.
Legs: Did you get along with Jim Morrison?
Steve: Very much. Let me tell you one cute Danny story about Jim. There was this fabulous party that I threw in the penthouse of the Hilton Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 54th street, and it was very rarely used then. Now its used a lot for fashion shows. This was 1970 or something—like 69 or 70—and Jim came up to me and said, “I want Danny out of here!”
Legs: Do you know why?
Steve: No, I didn’t ask him. He just said, “I want him out of here!” So I thought about it for about five minutes and I went back to Jim and I said, “You tell him.”
Legs: Did he tell him?
Steve: No he didn’t; he chickened out. He didn’t have the balls to tell him.
Legs: Was Danny smarter than Jim?
Steve: It wasn’t that. I mean, Jim didn’t think in terms of that kind of thing, it was that first there was the group of people that were there a year before The Doors signed so that was a feeling of comfortability immediately, then Danny came when “Light My Fire” was starting to move up the charts. At that point it wasn’t like it was easy to know Steve because Steve knew us before we started to become successful, you know?
Legs: It was like people were jumping on their coattails?
“Jim had a wonderful sense of manners and I must point out that when he wasn’t drunk he was a pussycat and when he got drunk he became a redneck boozer like the kind you’d see in some Alabama bowling alley or something.”
Steve: Well, it was more like Jim didn’t really need Danny as much as he needed other people at the beginning. Whether he thought that way or not I’m not sure, but that would have been the simple way of explaining it. Danny was very talented at what he did and what he did was give credibility to the group with people that might have thought… you know what happens when a group are so far underground like The Doors were? I mean, Happy Together was the Number One record, that kind of stuff, and Stevie Wonder. It was all nice little records I always say tied up with ribbons in three minutes. So if you set the tone of what was going on then right around the time that “Light My Fire” really started to move and immediately afterwards for a while, The Doors were great heroes. But at the same time the people that were quote “underground,” that everybody was kind of catering to, because they were the tastemakers and all that crap, you know, they were beginning to feel that Jim was kind of jerking-off on stage.
Legs: Right, and appealing to teenyboppers and becoming…
Steve: Well, to me it’s like any other person in the arts that you discover. You always want to feel that you are the only person that you and your select amount of friends have kept this person in a cult and then when you hear airline stewardesses that know his music and say, “I like Jim Morrison and The Doors,” you feel like [they’re] selling out but, they’re not, they’re just doing what you’re supposed to do because you’re in this business and that’s to make a record that everybody buys and make a lot of money.
Legs: Could you talk a little bit about how Elektra was before The Doors and how Elektra was afterwards? Was it basically a folk label or kind of ethnic?
Steve: Yes. When I got to Elektra it was—actually the way I came to Elektra was, I was putting out my own records and doing publicity and promotion. I put out about ten records on different labels, my own production company, and four of them hit the charts. I said, “This is easy!” And then for some reason I had a conversation with Jac Holzman because I thought what Elektra was doing was just very interesting. And there was a couple records that I picked up and I called them up on the phone simply because I was doing publicity and promotion and thought that they would be interesting and we got together and we talked and Jac said to me that he wanted to put out a label, so he puts out a label. We went into partnership on a label called Bounty Records. And the first record we put out was a record called, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” a Dylan song covered by Peter Antell, I don’t know if you remember that.
Paul Rothchild produced it and the night before we were gonna release it—the night that we finished the record—Paul came running in, breathless, and said he just found out that The Byrds did it. They pressed up 250,000 records with picture sleeves and it’s coming out tomorrow. So we had this meeting and the meeting went like this: “What do you want to do?” and I said, “Let me go out to California—that’s where they’re gonna break this record—lets see if we can’t steal some of their thunder with this record on an immediate basis”. So I flew out to Los Angeles and everybody said “Go to Palm Springs, forget it, you haven’t got a chance out here, it’s The Byrds and this New Yorker, nobody is going to give you a shot.” So I took a drive to San Diego. I figured I’d go to a station there. The most important station in Los Angeles at the time was an RKO station, the chain station, I can’t remember the call letters but it was a chain of stations and there was a guy that was heading up that chain of stations and his name was Bill Drake. And he was really really important because if you got on all those Drake stations you’d be like king of the mountain. So I go to San Diego and its about five o’clock and I go into the station and there’s nobody in the music department except one guy and I said, “Listen, I’ve got to get back to L.A., I’ve traveled 3,000 miles for somebody to listen to a record that’s really good, takes two and a half minutes.” I put my hand up, the guy listened to it, he said, “That really is a good record.” I was thrilled, and on the way back I heard the record on the RKO station which I had dropped off there the day before, it was Bill Drake that I played the record for and didn’t even know it, so it got played all around.
Legs: So it charted?
Steve: It charted the bottom of the charts but it gave Jac [Holzman] and Paul [Rothchild] and the people at Elektra the impetus: “Hey, we can do this; this is fun.” And it took The Byrds’ impetus away. In fact when you talk about The Byrds’ hits you don’t usually mention “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” I don’t think, do you?
Steve: So anyway we released a couple of more records on Bounty and then Jac came in and said to me how would you like to forget Bounty, come and work for me at Elektra, I want to be competitive. So the first product that he put out was a… what do you call it when you have several different artists? A compilation. He put out a compilation with The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Beefeaters which were actually The Byrds and stuff like that, [Paul] Butterfield. And people were really pretty interested in that and it sold reasonably well and we got it played where you could because there wasn’t really any FM then. And they had these kinds of stations that would play folk music for an hour on a Saturday night. So you’d go where you could, you know, you had it written up and you got some space and some real estate in record stores. And then I was working on people like Judy Collins and Tom Paxton, Tom Rush and you know, that was really a folk label. And it was probably the best; I mean, its competition was Vanguard Records. And I believe Jac was really looking to move into a different direction simply because the Hootenanny thing had saturated the market because there was a show on television called Hootenanny so we signed the group called Love.
Legs: Where was Paul Rothchild and what was he doing?
Steve: Paul Rothchild was the staff producer for Elektra.
Legs: Were you friends with him? Did you like him?
Steve: Yes, yes, of course. He was very friendly. In fact, it was Jac and myself… there was a sales guy named Mel Posner. There was Jac’s brother, Keith [Holzman], and there was a guy named Bill Harvey who just died recently, and there was the art director and myself. That was it. So, picture that when The Doors started to break, this little nucleus of people.
Legs: When did you hear about The Doors? When did you become aware of them?
Steve: I was in California with Jac and he went to see The Doors at the Whisky.
Legs: And you went with him?
Steve: No, I didn’t go with him, but he came back and said, “I saw a really interesting group and I think I’m gonna sign them.” And he did. And then they came to New York to do a show on 58th street under the bridge. That’s how I met Danny [Fields]. I had met The Doors in California but I hadn’t heard them play yet. So they were doing the sound check at this club in New York called Ondine’s. And the interesting thing was that they were so dark green on stage doing this thing and Jim was, of course, at the bar while everybody was doing their music and then Jim came over and we talked for a long time. I met him briefly in California but—we had talked for a long time—and then I sat down and kind of just… well there was somebody sitting at a table with a whole bunch of fan magazines and I was kind of looking at the fan magazines and started talking to the guy at the table and I said—later Danny and I kidded about it—but this was… Danny was a hippie yenta. So I took his number and I called him and he called me back and I said come on up and that was a year probably before he came to work for Elektra.
Legs: Did you like Morrison when you met him?
Steve: Oh, I liked him instantly.
Legs: Did you see that he was a star?
Steve: I said right away to Jac Holzman if this guy can read the phone book…
Legs: Sign him.
Steve: No, he was already signed. I said if this guy can read the phone book we’re in, because you know I came from Cameo-Parkway records, doing national promotion for them when I first got into the business. And that was a company out of Philadelphia that was owned at one time by Dick Clark and had Bobby Rydell and Chubby [Checker] and all those artists, Swan records Freddy Kent, and all of those artists had tremendous ties to American Bandstand. So the first question you always asked when you heard a new record was: what does he look like? Because you figured Dick [Clark] is gonna play it and if Dick plays it and he’s cute, then you got a hit. So my question when I first got to Elektra, I always used to say, “What does he look like?”
Legs: Was he striking in talking to him as was he…?
Steve: Yes, because what he did was he knew where he was at and he knew that he was part of the entertainment world obviously and the glamour and looks helped sell this and so he was using himself as we were talking to act very sexy. I could tell that.
Legs: So he was always sexy to men and women?
Steve: Yes, yes, he was trying to conquer me. And I told him that he had all the attributes of Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe and the Swedish actress…
Legs: Ingrid Bergman?
Steve: No, no, no before then. “I vant to be alone.”
Steve: Yes, Greta Garbo and with all that masculinity. And have you ever seen him? Did you ever see him perform?
Steve: But you’d see that sometimes he would perform but you couldn’t see his face like Garbo, he would shake his head like Monroe and he’d use the leather and he’d boot that stuff like Dietrich and he had all those feminine traits; feminine wiles with masculine traits…
Legs: Yeah, very mysterious, he carried that off very well.
Steve: Yes, he did pull that off. In fact, when he met my wife it was the same thing. Conquer the wife and then the wife will say to the husband, “Boy, if you’re working on this act, this is the one.”
Steve: Yeah. And he came over to my house for dinner on several occasions and he drank an incredible amount of booze.
Legs: Did he drink everything in the house?
Steve: Yeah, and we’re talking about… I mean one time The Doors came over… I mean he drank about two bottles of wine, a bottle of champagne, and a bottle of vodka and then he performed that night at the place we were talking about…
Legs: Underneath the bridge.
“Sometimes Jim would perform but you couldn’t see his face like Garbo, he would shake his head like Monroe and he’d use the leather and he’d boot that stuff like Dietrich and he had all those feminine traits”
Steve: Yeah. And he always had the gentleman in him, meaning that if Jim and I were talking back stage or somewhere and my wife would come and he would stop whatever—no matter who he was talking to—and he would walk over to her and say, “Hello Nicole, how are you? How’s the baby? How was France?” I mean, he would make sure he knew that she had been in France and that kind of thing in order that he could carry on that kind of conversation. I guess that was part of the military upbringing. He had a wonderful sense of manners and I must point out that when he wasn’t drunk he was a pussycat and when he got drunk he became a redneck boozer like the kind you’d see in some Alabama bowling alley or something.
Legs: So can you tell me about the success of “Light My Fire”? What did that do to change your life?
Steve: What it did for us was, we were an independent distributor at that time and we had a lovely label that didn’t bother anybody because all we said was sell our albums because there was no place to really get them played and people that were folk enthusiasts would go in and say, “Oh, I’ll buy this, it looks nice and I trust Elektra so I don’t have to hear it.” Then things began to sell and the independent distributors around the country began to take us seriously, not very seriously but fairly seriously but when “Light My Fire” hit, that’s when Elektra really became competitive for two reasons. One is that you have these independent distributors that have leverage: “Hello, get that record in the windows!” Two you also had leverage to sign other acts, its not like, “Oh, your a nice little folk label.” We got a call from Al Schlesinger who was the attorney and manager of Bread because he liked the job that Elektra did with Love so, that’s how that begins to assimilate itself. The fact that The Doors and Love and Judy Collins and all of that folk—there was something very classy about the way we were doing business and the way we were taking our advertising out. The first meeting I went to at Elektra in 1964/65, the conversation was we were going to take ads out for Judy Collins and Jac was gonna put it in a theater arts magazine and I thought that was really classy because we’re talking about 1965 when all you really needed was a Cashbox, Billboard and Record World and if you had a jazz album maybe some Downbeat or Esquire or something like that. Now when The Doors hit what really did strike everybody was—and I might say these were my suggestions—all the retail stores in the country we gave tee shirts to—which was the first tee shirt—that said “The Doors.” And why did it say “The Doors”? When people walked into the stores my feeling was they’d say, “What’s all this about?” Somebody has got a new record, its called “The Doors.” The first posters that came out were The Doors posters that were blackened all over the Village and when they came to Ondine’s the first radio commercial ever for a group was on WNEW-FM or WOR-FM which hadn’t… the first commercial was on that station to see a rock group. We did the opening like they used to do at the old Copa—you know when Tony Bennett was there and people like Bobby Rydell showed up there—prime time we just really invited the times and the voice and all of the people and the disc jockeys to come to an opening of a rock & roll group which wasn’t you know… usually they went to see Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis.
Legs: How was it?
Steve: Fabulous, fabulous. Richard Goldstein did a review that I couldn’t have written myself, for the Voice.
Legs: He was writing for Life though, before that, right?
Steve: He was writing for Life but that was freelance. I don’t think he was on staff. I sat there at the opening with a guy named Frick, it’s all I remember of his name, and he was a big guy with Life magazine and so of course, he was getting off just being there like, “Isn’t this fun? Look at all these hippies.” You know, he didn’t get it. But as The Doors got more important at the beginning of “Light My Fire” and things began to move a bit, I kept calling him and he alerted somebody else and through my friendship with Gloria Stavers [editor and chief of Sixteen magazine], who knew that other person, too, that was done so when Jim went up to New Haven with the bus that’s when Life magazine was covering it. And that came about really through Gloria Stavers and myself and that guy having dinner with Jim, I can’t remember who did the story if you could ever find it.
Legs: I have it.
Steve: The Life magazine story?
Legs: I have the story. Do you know who the photographer is, though?
Legs: It’s the guy from Dispatches, the famous Vietnam photographer.
Steve: Really? No kidding?
Legs: And I forget his name but, he’s the guy who’s throughout Dispatches and I think he got blown up.
Legs: And I think two of them went into Cambodia on motorbikes and then they were kidnapped with Sean Flynn, who was Errol Flynn’s son.
Steve: I’ve seen a movie. There’s a movie about that guy. So anyway, when you see the guy if there’s any way of contacting him he’ll remember. So we went to this Chinese restaurant and he met Jim and they started to talk and then he said, well I’m gonna do this. So that’s the way it was all set up. And then he saw him later when The Doors played Hunter College. And Gloria Stavers called me up in tears the morning that the article in Life came out and she said: Martin Luther King pushed my baby off the cover. That’s when Martin got shot. That was her… that was her remark.
Legs: Do you remember hiring Danny?
“And Gloria Stavers called me up in tears the morning that the article in Life came out and she said: Martin Luther King pushed my baby off the cover. That’s when Martin got shot. That was her… that was her remark.”
Steve: Yes. Yeah. Well, I remember meeting this guy that was very bright at Ondine’s and then he would call up and whenever I wanted to find anything out—any rumor—I’d put Danny on the case. If he didn’t know it he would find out about it. And I found out that he could write and remember at that time we were not what Elektra was doing, you know, just doing an ad and saying this is the ad for Billboard and this is the ad for Cashbox, this is the add for Cream, whatever. We were doing specialized ads for different magazines.
Legs: So you needed to be writing your own copy?
Steve: Yeah. And we started an in-house advertising agency. So Danny was writing copy and he was brilliant at it. I mean Danny could be out all night and then I’d call him up and I’d say, “Danny, you got to get in here, we have a deadline here” and he would stagger in at 11:30 and write a few lines that were brilliant. Thank you, goodbye. And Danny and hired together we hired Tinkerbelle. You know Tinkerbelle. Enough about that, we won’t get into that.
Legs: Can you tell me a little bit about when Danny comes back from Detroit and he has seen the MC5 and the Stooges?
Steve: Yeah. He tells me about it, and I put it, okay it’s another act and I didn’t feel anything because you know you have to hear it and things were going so fast you deal with what you’re dealing with and then I heard some tapes of the MC5 and I just thought it was really good rock & roll. And Danny was telling me more about the manager whose name begins with an “S”…
Steve: John Sinclair. And how he went to jail for a while and so he made that…
Steve: Romantic to start out. He made the manager the star at the beginning to me. Then I heard some tapes and I really got a kick out of “Kick Out The Jams,” you know which everybody did at the beginning and I just thought it was a really good rock & roll album and then I didn’t think in any terms except that.
Legs: Did Danny try to sell you this political stuff and you just…?
Steve: No, no, no, I was just as political as Danny was.
Legs: Oh, you were?
Legs: Because I always thought Danny was kind of…
Steve: Well, we all were, except for there was a guy that was a sales manager who voted for Goldwater. Plus he was a sales manager…
Legs: So everybody was political?
Steve: Yeah, I think so, that had the room or the time for it. I think that what Danny would like to do was heighten on his own–probably it was his project–because I had in roads into two things. I had inroads into the rest of the company, hey work this and I had inroads into purse strings hey let’s bend to this and my secretary was a girl named Josephine Mori. And Josephine was wonderful. When Esquire magazine came out with the Top 100 people in rock & roll in America, Clive Davis wanted to know why he wasn’t one but Josephine was. And the caption under Josephine’s picture in the Top 100 people in rock & roll in America was, “If you want this trade poop with no hype, call Josephine.” So maybe at that time I didn’t realize but I liked to surround myself with people that really knew what was going on.
Legs: And Danny was thought of as company freak?
Steve: Well, there was no title. That was kind of a joke title. But everybody took Danny seriously. I mean he wasn’t walking around moaning. They took him seriously because he was educated and he could write and he could express himself.
Legs: And people always listened to him.
Steve: So the important thing for Danny to do was to hype me. Because like I said I controlled a lot of purse strings and said “Hey, let’s spend on this” and it was all competitive within the company you know, like anything else and also I had the wherewithal to walk into the sales department and say, let’s get it in the window, let’s do this, let’s get it out.
END OF PART ONE
PART TWO COMING SOON: STEVE HARRIS ON IGGY AND THE STOOGES – PART 2 is HERE