Gary James' Interview With Joe Russo Of
The Soft Parade
He looks like Jim Morrison. He sings like Jim Morrison. He is Joe Russo, lead singer of The Door tribute band - The Soft Parade. In a time when signed acts are finding the going rough, Joe Russo and company are preparing for a Spring tour of Russia that will have them headlining 13,000 seat arenas. Joe Russo spoke with us about The Soft Parade, The Doors, and the man he most resembles - Jim Morrison.
Q - So when are you going to Russia?
A - We're going to Russia in May and then possibly Germany. Our manager is going over there next week to start putting that together.
Q - Is there a big demand in Russia for your act?
A - Well, yeah. The Doors have a really big following in Russia. They have a big following in a lot of countries. Our manager is in touch with promoters in Russia that happened to have been in New York and saw us and got very excited. So that's being put together. We're playing an 8,000 seat venue in St. Petersburg. Then we're going to Moscow to the Olympian Theatre, which is like a 13,000 seat venue. It's like the most prestigious concert hall in Russia.
Q - I thought Russia was going through some tough financial times.
A - Yeah, but you know, so is America, and we still go to concerts. (Laughs) It's weird. Itís a really backwards economy. I don't fully understand it myself.
Q - At one venue you played, Fairfield University, ticket prices were $12, $15, and $18. Is that the standard rate for admission to one of your shows?
A - Usually, you can see us for seven, eight, sometimes, five. I guess about seven or eight is the average. That was just a really prestigious venue and I guess the tickets were a little higher.
Q - Joe, you say about The Soft Parade, "Weíre not acting. Weíre not an imitation. What we are, are four musicians who are performing the music of The Doors." But your not Jim Morrison, you're Joe Russo so you have to be acting a part.
A - Well, it's an impression in the sense that we re-create it visually. I donít put on an act. In other words, I don't go up there and consciously act like Jim Morrison. Yet, the show and my performance are credible and effective. I think that's just because of the integrated similarities between he and myself. Vocally, body language, things like that. What I mean to say is, I don't go onstage and act like Jim Morrison. Thatís something I couldn't and wouldn't do. The reason that it's so successful I think is because what I do is very real and very sincere and it just comes from within me on a very natural, spiritual level. You can never act like a Jim Morrison and have it come off Ďcause let's face it, imitations usually, for the most part, have a comedic effect. It usually is never really startling. It usually never hits home. I think Morrison was a complex and unusual and almost ungraspable figure. You really can't imitate him. Either you have his spirit and charisma, or you don't. The audiences that we play to, the effect that this band has on the crowd, I can't over emphasize it enough. People are very skeptical. Then they see my photograph on the poster and go "Wow, this guy looks like him." And then the show starts and bit by bit they just are overcome. It really is amazing, and I'm very proud of it. I put this band together with the intent of doing this, but I never thought...it's surpassed my goals. People just go absolutely crazy. It's fanatical. It's unbelievable. And I've seen the other Doors tribute bands and they don't have that effect. People are just really blown away when they come to see us. They get something they hoped for but never really expected.
Q - How did you get your insight into Jim Morrison? I'm assuming you read the books, watched the movies, and talked to people.
A - Yeah, I've talked to a lot of people. I just did a lot of research. I'm just a very observant person. I just picked up a lot I guess at a very young age. I guess he had his influence on me subconsciously, but I don't do any kind of imitation. I've read all the books. I've listened to all the records. I talked to the people. I feel I have a pretty good grasp of what the real Jim Morrison was like, good and bad. What I try to do on stage is present the most passionate, entertaining, effective element of The Doors. A lot of Doors concerts were dull. A lot of them very unprofessional. A lot of them were very luke warm in their response. What I try to do is present The Doors at their best, their most electrifying, The Doors at their peak, visually and performance wise. And, I think we do that very well.
Q - One article has it, that you cannot walk down the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California without people approaching you. What do people say?
A - (Laughs) All kinds of things, and not just down there but anywhere I go. There's always some kind of comment and naturally at a show, it's at it's apex, because they're caught up with the music and the sights. They scream "Jim!" They grab my legs. They pull me. They come up on stage. They do all kinds of things. We really get the crowd involved. They really just lose themselves. It's really exciting. When people scream "Jim!", I take it as they're into the mystique and fascade of what they're seeing, which is the real Jim Morrison. But they know I'm not really Jim Morrison. It's nice to think we suspend that reality for the time we're on stage, because that's what we want to do. We want people to forget it's 1992. We want people to forget where they are. We want to take them back to that spiritual moment, for the hour or two that we're on stage. It's great to be able to escape into The Doors creative spirit. People say "I feel like I've seen Jim Morrison now." They can't get enough. They come back and back. We've got an incredible following, because we give them something they can't get any place else.
Q - When did you first realize you looked like Morrison?
A - I was at some kind of gathering. Ray Manzarck was doing some kind of speech. It was some kind of Rock 'n' Roll collector's convention. Some girl said, "Hold on for a moment," and stood me against the wall and just started taking a couple of snapshots. She said, "You look just like him. Didn't anybody ever tell you that?" That was the most monumental incident that comes to mind. There were other little things. That day, that moment in time, The Doors were having their big resurgence with the No One Here Gets Out Alive book, 1980, 1981. The recognition factor of Jim Morrison was really starting to get worldwide and that's when it really started to happen. At that time I wanted to put a Doors tribute band together. I actually rehearsed with various musicians, but for some reason it never evolved. I don't know the reasons why.
Q - You talked to Vince Treanor, the Doors road manager.
A - Yeah, he was fascinating. Unfortunately, he has disappeared. Nobody has heard from him. I talked to Vince in July 1990. I went up to the West coast as I was forming the band. I contributed to a book called Break On Through. The authors put me in touch with some of their contacts and Vince was one of them. He was a terrific guy and very cordial. We literally spent days together talking about The Doors. A fascinating man. Really nice guy. He was gonna be doing a book called Behind The Doors or something like that. He went to China or something like that and nobody has heard from him since. I talked to Frank Lisciandro (Morrison's friend) and he's been trying to get a hold of him. Nobody's heard from him. He's just kind of disappeared. Nobody knows where he is.
Q - You also spoke with Alan Graham, Jim's brother-in-law.
A - Yeah, Alan also I believe is working on a book. He was married to Jim's sister Ann for about 20 years. They're no longer married. They had some children together. He's a minister actually. He called me not too long ago and I had some fascinating conversations with him as well. He had a lot for first-hand information 'cause he knew Jim from '67 on, and he spent a lot of time with him. Naturally, being a member of the Morrison family, one is privy to a lot of things. So, he was a great source of information. He's a very noble, outspoken guy.
Q - Isn't it strange that Jim's brother and sister have never written a book?
A - The family is silent. Albert Goldman is doing a book on Jim Morrison and I had numerous conversations with him. He doesn't know how to approach his (Morrison's) childhood because there's nobody who was there. His parents won't talk. His brother and sister won't talk. And to really understand a human being, somebody as complex and mysterious as Morrison, you've really got to tap into their roots, their childhood, their parents, their upbringing. There's nobody to go to for those years and Morrison is just cloaked in mystery.
Q - You did not like The Doors movie?
A - I hated it from top to bottom, side to side, inside and out.
Q - You say about the film, "Events were distorted. Morrison was just this unlikable, egotistical, out of control jerk and I do not think that's how Jim Morrison was at all."
A - Let me clarify that. Jim Morrison at times was an out of control jerk. OK. He was not an out of control jerk all of the time. What the movie failed to show was the warm, sensitive, jovial, sense of humor, generous, the soft spoken side, the gentlemanly, the very personable side of Jim Morrison. It's like you know, there was no other side to him. That really depressed me. I think the acting and the casting were very weak. I think (Val) Kilmer tried his best but Kilmer didn't know what Jim Morrison was about and did an imitation. He did an imitation based on what he thought he was. He wasn't in tune spiritually with Jim Morrison and I think it shows. It's an act.
Q - Did you try out for that role?
A - I didn't try for it. Given the material and the way he was portrayed, I don't think anybody could have done Jim Morrison justice. I don't think the blame is on Val Kilmer. I think the blame is on the director. I think the blame is on the script. Visually, it was beautiful. It was very well shot and very dramatically shot and re-created. It was very well done from a set designer and a cinematographer's viewpoint. But I don't think it captured the essence of Jim Morrison at all. It just turned into a big, muddling, depressing movie with no real point of view. I think it harped on very trivial elements of Jim's life and blew them up into things of major importance. With all respect to Patricia Kennealy, I really don't think she was the pivotal figure in Jim Morrison's life, like she's made out to be in the film. The film introduces Patricia Kennealy and Jim Morrison's life two years before she ever met him. The movie has Patricia Kennealy and Jim Morrison meeting backstage at the New Haven concert which took place in Dec. 1967, when in fact Jim Morrison didn't meet Patricia Kennealy until mid 1969. With all respect to her, I donít think she had any real meaning in his life, or was a big influence, certainly not to the extent of all the screen time that was given to her. I think the reason she was given so much screen time was for the exploitive nature of the material in his relationship with her. To me, it was really boring.