When I was producing the rock opera in 1980, Hollywood nightclub owner, Bill Gazzarri, ran a month’s long radio advertising campaign announcing the search for singers to fill the role of Jim Morrison. In actual fact, we were looking for seven of them who would be cast as The Jim-Tations.
The campaign produced a god-awful and grotesque procession of wannabe amateur singers. Half of them could not even hold a note. One guy, in particular, thought that his audition would consist solely of his monosyllabic and agonizingly repetitious utterance of, “Indian, Indian, Indian…” He said that for over an hour. Then I had him yanked.
One of my favorite of the worst/best impersonators was Cro-Magnon. Everybody hated Cro-Magnon. It wasn’t that he was so bad. It was because he was so obsessed with Jim. He believed that he, and he alone, was the only one who should portray the dead rock star.
Cro, as he was nicknamed by the cast, for his uncanny resemblance to the caveman, was someone who had showed up for an audition like hundreds of other Jim Morrison lookalikes. He had the manners of a mule, smelled twice as bad, and try as he might, could only produce a sound equal to that of Quasimodo as he murdered his rendition of “Light My Fire”. He was not called back. This did not deter him from showing up at every single audition with all the resilience of a bounce-back toy. No matter how hard you smack it down, it pops right back up and straight into your face.
The producer had taken pity on Cro because as bad as he sounded and as much turmoil as he caused, he was so passionate and deadly serious on making sure Jim was portrayed correctly. In the end, he became like Shakespeare’s pesky and troublesome spirit, Ariel. He booed, jeered, and taunted the entire cast unless they gave it their all in every rehearsal. Cro’s presence actually kept The Jim-Tations on their toes, and ultimately, each one gave a great performance.
The cast was selected, seven Jim Morrison look-a-likes, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Jerry Lee lewis, a Marilyn Monroe and a host of ghosty characters.
Jimmie Hendrix, whose real name is Jimi Graham, (believe it or not) looked and sounded so much the the real Jimi that it was difficult to see or hear the difference, with one exception, the real Jimmy was left handed Jimi Graham is right handed. To this day more that thirty years later no one ever said a word.
Even after the cast was assembled and the rehearsals began in earnest, Cro would be there before anybody else. When people scowled at him or shooed him away, he was not insulted or deterred. Sometimes, he would become so troublesome that it was not uncommon to find him and three or four other Jim-Tations arguing or even wrestling in Gazzarri’s parking lot.
On opening night, Cro showed up in full regalia as a sort of homeless Lizard King. He spent the entire evening stalking the cast and badgering patrons by complaining that he was the real Jim Morrison.
When the musical had completed its run, he continued to show up at the nightclub trying to convince them to let him do a one-man show. Bill Gazzarri ejected him forcefully after telling him in no uncertain terms that he was sure that people would not come to the club to see a Stone-Age Jim Morrison. Cro was deeply offended, but finally got the message and wandered off into the wilderness like a comic/tragic clown.
In addition to the amateurs, a cast of famous and soon-to-be-famous professional actors were also vying for the role of a rock ‘n’ roll idol.
Among these were Sylvester Stallone, Gary Busey, Timothy Hutton, Tim McIntire, Wings Hauser, and John Travolta. All of whom were ill-suited for the role, but that did not stop them from submitting dreadful audition tapes that made my eyes water.
The Morrison’s even got caught up in the fever. Over dinner and cocktails, they were recruited by a fellow retired Navy officer, who was none other than the parents of a daughter married to the wild man rocker by the name of Frank Zappa. The group of parents were all in a state of bewilderment as to how their sons and daughters had become famous radicals after being raised so well.
As the evening ended, the “Zapped” family gave Clara some photographs of a young actor, who had just finished shooting his first movie, “Double Down”. It was a dismal gambler/gangster feature shot in Reno, Nevada on a below-the-poverty-level budget. They wanted to see if Anne and I would consider him for the role of Jim.
We met with the actor’s representative, a writer named Michael Blake. It was he who wrote and directed “Double Down”. He was unashamedly proud of his film. He was equally unashamed about promoting one of the actors from his film, who was killed off in the first scene. Blake would say, “This guy is going to be the number one box office attraction in the very near future. You just wait and see.”
I did wait and I did see. A few short years later, Michael Blake wrote a little movie called, “Dances with Wolves”. His prediction had become as real as Mount Rushmore and Kevin Costner became an overnight box office sensation.
Today Jimi Graham is still Rockin his heart out, and every day he plays, he rekindles those wonderful remembrances of “The Roar Of Crowd And The Smell Of Grease Paint”
Thanks a million Jimi