After leaving the multi-platinum modern rock band Fuel in 2006, charismatic frontman Brett Scallions casually remarked to his wife that he would like to try being in “a more earthy band,” one “that could just jam.” And then he pauses and adds, “I just never dreamed it would be the ... Doors.”
Scallions joined with the `60s icons in March via a somewhat circuitous route. Original Doors members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger have been keeping the music alive, re-forming in 2002 as The Doors of the 21st Century, with Ian Astbury of British rock band The Cult on vocals. In 2005, a lawsuit brought by original Doors drummer John Densmore forced them to re-brand as Riders On The Storm. Then in February, Astbury decided to get The Cult back together and focus on other projects, leaving Manzarek and Krieger again in search of a replacement for the irreplaceable Jim Morrison.
Although having fun playing bass in a new group called Circus Diablo (coincidentally with other members of The Cult), Scallions was at the time a singer in search of a band. He had been going through a sort of dark patch, dealing with the bad side of the music business in the days up to and after leaving Fuel, which had a string of hits in the `90s.
There was an onstage injury when he was smashed in the face by a guitar, hurtful comments made by former Fuel drummer Kevin Miller that Scallions could no longer sing, disputes over money, and that standard industry gripe of creative differences with old friend and Fuel guitarist and songwriter Carl Bell.
“One day my manager, Tom Vitorino, called and said I got the perfect gig for you,” Scallions says, speaking from a hotel room in Winnipeg before returning to the United States for shows in St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia. Scallions was curious, but Vitorino wouldn’t give him any more information. A little while later he called again.
“Tom said to me, `All you got to do is come in and jam with these guys for a few days.’” Scallions says. “I said, `Who is it?’ and he said, `It’s The Doors!’” Scallions “fell in love” with The Doors as a child of the `70s growing up in Tennessee, so he had one word for his manager: “Great.”
He flew to California from his home in New York and spent some time with Manzarek and Krieger playing music and hanging out. Oddly, he doesn’t really remember being officially offered the job. “I ended up jamming for a couple of days - I wasn’t sure if I’d get the gig,” he says. “On the second day they started talking to me like I was in the band, and from that point I had the gig.”
Scallions is pleased to note that he has read some comments from fans online who hear hints of Morrison’s baritone in the “new guy’s” voice.
Still, singing for the reunited Doors is very much of a challenge. There are few performers in the history of rock more iconic and revered than Morrison. Not all the fans want to see Scallions, or anyone, singing Morrison’s songs.
“It is a tough gig,” Scallions admits. “There are a lot of die-hard fans who say, `No one can do it like Jim, so I don’t want to hear it.’” He understands their concerns, but doesn’t understand why any Doors fans would want to deprive themselves of hearing the music live.
“I don’t go out and try to mimic Jim,” he says. “There’s no way. I don’t want to be Jim Morrison. It’s hard enough being myself. I just think I need to do the songs justice and sing them as great as I can.”
There are upsides to joining the old Doors as well. Scallions has access to inside knowledge that many musicians and rock fans can only dream about.
“You can read the books and watch the movies, but you can’t get the true thing until you get it from Ray and Robby,” he says. “They have great little stories about Jim and the days of the `60s and their crazy heyday.”
Scallions is reluctant to share these tour-bus conversations, adding that stories about Jim are “sacred” to the band. Bassist Phil Chen has a lot of stories as well - he has played with everyone from Bob Marley to Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart.
“I’ve been telling all my friends, just sit back and be ready to be mesmerized,” Scallions says of the music.
It’s a very happy point for Scallions, who is experiencing personal bliss as well with a baby on the way with musician wife Abby Gennet.
Pressed to explain his motives behind leaving such a successful group as Fuel, he explains, “I was just ready to get out of that situation. I was tired and unhappy. I stopped and asked myself, `What are you doing here, man? You’re depressed, you’re stressed out. You only have one life and you’re gonna kill yourself.”
He wasn’t thrilled with the type of music Fuel was making, either, and was anxious to do his own thing. “I asked myself, man, if you weren’t in this band would you listen to this music? Would you buy these records?”
Singing the music of The Doors is something he feels very good about.
“I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and Elvis and Pink Floyd and things like that. The music with Fuel was not so much in that realm. I’m much happier where I am now,” he says. There is even talk of putting some new records out, with new songs Scallions, Manzarek and Krieger will write together.
And even if that doesn’t happen, just being part of a rock `n’ roll legacy that shows no signs of slowing down after 40 years is a very cool thing. “It’s a big honor. I’m not trying to fill his (Morrison’s) shoes - I’m just trying to walk to around in them for a little while.”
// Notes from the Road
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