A Musical Surprise at the Beach: Aug 19, 1967

A Musical Surprise at the Beach: August 19, 1967

By Mike McCormack

The year I turned fourteen, the first album by the Los Angeles based group The Doors captivated my friends Jack, Alex and me.  We sat for hours in my cellar listening to the record from start to finish again and again.  We puzzled over the meanings of enigmatic lyrics that deep voiced lead singer, songwriter, and front man Jim Morrison sang.  Ray Manzarek’s jazzy Vox organ solos pulled us to musical destinations we’d never traveled to before.   When “Break On Through,” and “Soul Kitchen” exploded into pathos, the power of the sound grabbed us.

To our delight, the abbreviated version of the album’s catchiest track, “Light My Fire,” climbed to the top of the hit charts. The song became ubiquitous on New England radio stations by midsummer; we turned up the volume every time we heard it.

Doors songs raced through my brain on the hot August night when Deacon Casey drove Alex, Jack, Mike and me toward the beach.   Deac,” as Alex christened him, was serving in St. James Parish in Haverhill’s Acre for the summer. We met him on a June afternoon when he turned up in our neighborhood on a walk he was taking to meet parishioners. He introduced himself to us at the basketball hoop on the telephone pole near Watnick’s Junkyard. We invited him to shoot around with us.

After that introduction, Deac hung out with us two or three times each week. On weekends, he sometimes took us for drives in his blue Chevy sedan to an ice cream stand or a grinder shop.

We knew Deac’s stint at St. James was close to the end on the August night when he suggested we all take a ride to the beach with him.  I was thrilled by the invitation; going to the beach was a big deal for me.

Occasionally, my father drove my brothers and me to Plum Island where he could fish from the beach for striped bass. If he had some extra money, he’d take us to Salisbury Beach where we could ride the tilt-a-whirl and dodgems. We rarely traveled to Hampton Beach, the beach Haverhill’s families with money liked.  Dad always told us there was, in his words, “nothing for us there.”  Besides, he hated the crowds and didn’t want to pay for parking.

As we motored east out of Haverhill on Route 495, Deac didn’t tell us exactly where he was heading.   My excitement rose twenty minutes into the drive when he took the Salisbury exit.  It would be fun to eat some fried dough and play a few pinball machines.

To my disappointment, Deac drove right in and out of the center of Salisbury Beach without stopping.  He circled past the roller coaster and dodgems and then turned north.  He cruised out of Massachusetts, crossed the state line into Seabrook, New Hampshire, and proceeded over a bridge into Hampton Beach.

Soon we were inching along in thick traffic past packed crowds of people roaming sidewalks in the humid evening air.  Deac maneuvered out of the congestion.  When he pulled into the paid parking lot behind the Hampton Beach Casino, I was stunned. I couldn’t understand why he would choose to waste money on parking.

Deac shut the car off and suggested we get out and walk around. When we stepped out into the parking lot we were taken back by the sound of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” We froze. Was someone playing our favorite album on a car radio?             No. The sound was too clear and loud and seemed to be coming from inside the Casino.

Alex reasoned that we were hearing a local band in the Ballroom covering Doors’ songs.  We stopped talking, stood still, and listened. “Alabama Song,” another tune from our favorite album, wafted our way.  A local band would not choose to play that show tune from a 1927 musical.  Nor could any band sound that much like the recording. We wondered if The Doors themselves, our favorite band, the band with the number one song in the United States, might be playing at that very moment in the ballroom of the Hampton Beach Casino.

“Alabama Song” ended.  Alex and I glanced at each other. Before we could speak, more music flowed our way from the Casino. We immediately recognized “20th Century Fox,” another song on the album.

It had to be The Doors.

Deac and Mike, neither of whom was tuned in to music, looked baffled.  Deac asked, “What’s going on?”

“It’s The Doors,” I spouted. “And they’re playing right here!”

When I suggested we head to the front of the venue, everyone agreed. We hustled out of the parking lot, up the side street, and stepped quickly along the elevated boardwalk. Reaching the entrance, we joined a throng of teenagers who were lingering to listen.

The band blasted out “Back Door Man.” Morrison attacked Howlin Wolf’s Chicago blues favorite with intense vocals. Then guitarist Robbie Krieger broke into the bossa nova influenced opening riffs of the album’s lead track, “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” My face broke into huge grin.  Deac noticed my happiness and suggested we go in.
I responded, “It costs money.”

“How much?”

“Three –fifty a ticket.  I have enough money for myself”

Deac reached into his pocket. He pulled out a few wadded bills and some change and counted the money out in his hand. I held my breath. He put the money back in his pocket.

“That’s too much, “ he said.

Mike grew impatient. “Let’s get something to eat.”

Deac agreed.  “Let’s check out the candy stores.  We can listen more on the way back.”

We shuffled down the boardwalk away from the magic.  When we arrived at a saltwater taffy shop, I waited outside and pouted about not being in the concert.

After my companions bought their taffies, we headed back to The Casino.

Seeing lines of excited people streaming out of the venue, my spirits totally collapsed. The music was over.

The Doors’ Hampton Beach performance capped a noteworthy week for the band. The previous Saturday, The Doors had opened for Simon and Garfunkel in the duo’s hometown at Forest Hills in Queens, New York.  The Doors performed on borrowed gear when their own gear didn’t arrive on time.  Most patrons were there to see the headlining local heroes; audience response to The Doors was less than tepid. Throngs of people flocked to rest rooms and concessions during the Doors’ final of four numbers, “The End.”  Jim Morrison exited the stage in a rage.  By more than one account, this was The Doors worst gig ever.

The Doors headlined at the Commodore Ballroom in Lowell on Tuesday night.  Jim Morrison unsuccessfully tried to connect with his longtime idol Jack Kerouac. Legend has it that when Morrison went to his home, Kerouac’s protective mother refused to wake the author from a nap. Other accounts report that Kerouac wasn’t even in his hometown at the time, but ensconced in a house in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Whatever the truth, Jim Morrison must have been disappointed.

Three nights later, The Doors played separate shows in Annapolis, Maryland and Alexandria, Virginia on the same day. Since Morrison graduated from high school in Alexandria, concert promoters tried to play up the lead singer’s local connections.

Morrison had little time to enjoy his homecoming. After playing the two Friday gigs in different communities, the band traveled to New Hampshire to perform two full sets at the Casino the very next night.

Following these East Coast dates, The Doors headed to California to cut tracks for their second album, “Strange Days.”

I realize I was fortunate to hear The Doors at the beach on a night when they were hitting on all cylinders and sounding terrific.

That being said, I’ve always regretted that I didn’t break away from my friends and go into the Casino on that long ago evening.

I never had another opportunity to see the band.



3 Responses to A Musical Surprise at the Beach: Aug 19, 1967

  1. Louise says:

    Thanks for bringing us to The Doors and to Hampton! They’ll never be the same again for me.

  2. Steve O'Connor says:

    Good story. We all loved the Doors. I listened to The Band one night outside the Casino. I forget whether it was sold out or I didn’t have the money, but I can relate to that feeling of wanting so badly to be inside.