Special to The Gazette
Rob Shannon is the lead singer for what might be the best Doors cover band in the country.
"Moonlight Drive," named after a Doors song, debuted in 2002 with the four band members pulling up to the Wichita Roadhouse in a limousine. They proceeded to play for two and a half hours in front of a sold-out crowd of 300 fans paying $5 a pop.
Since then, they've been everywhere. They rocked the bikers at Sturgis. They were a crowd-pleaser at the Wichita River Festival. Earlier this year they played Schwagstock, a weekend-long music festival in Salem, Mo., that attracts neo-hippies from all over the Midwest. They've performed in hundreds of bars and taverns in between.
Saturday night, they're playing a free concert in Leon.
The Harvest Home Festival committee got new blood this year in Jefferson Knapp, an Augusta native who is sponsoring the concert in conjunction with the launch of his newly-published book, titled "The Brave Journey." He's a “Moonlight Drive” fan who several months ago booked and paid for the act for Leon, which is the setting for the book.
Shannon takes on the persona of Jim Morrison. The band also stars Dustin Lentz as keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Timothy Utter as guitarist Robby Krieger and David Damm as drummer John Densmore. (Pictures, songs and videos can be found at www.moonlightdrivetribute.com.)
Last week, Shannon gave an hour-long interview about this weekend's concert. Here's an edited version of it.
What do you expect in Leon? Have you ever even been to Leon?
"Yes I have, actually - been there, driven through it, what have you. ... I really don't have any expectations except to entertain and hopefully keep everybody happy. You can't please everyone, especially doing the Doors. But hopefully it will bring some people back and some young people will be introduced to a different kind of music. I expect it to be more family-oriented, and I'll keep that in mind because that's what I expect from myself. It's different than playing a nightclub. But I hope to still get into a lot of the poetry and music and do everything fairly normal."
What does Jim Morrison think of your act?
Only kidding. You were two years old when he died. So what is it about the Doors that made you want to do this?
"Well, I don't think I really liked the Doors when I was really young. My dad used to play a lot of Elvis Presley, Little Richard - '50s type stuff. It wasn't until I got to be probably 10 that I even found out other types of music existed. I had a little AM radio and I could pick up a station called KLEO. It was a variety ... I think that's where I first heard the Doors. But I don't think I liked them and it wasn't until I was a teenager probably, 16 or so, that I actually took the time to really listen. I started realizing how abstract the lyrics could be, and the poetry, and it got to where I was reading books about Jim Morrison and the Doors. It just sort of happened for me. I turned into a big fan."
How did that evolve into a tribute band?
"There was an open-mic jam session at the old Roadhouse. I signed up and I was trying to think of a good blues song and I finally decided on 'Backdoor Man' (originally performed by Howlin' Wolf). Dustin's father was on the bass and running the jam, and he hollers out, 'Hey Dustin, let's do the Doors!' I could tell from listening to the way Dustin played that he was really into them. We just hit it off right away. There was great chemistry between us musically."
What's your favorite Doors song to perform?
"All along, I've said it's 'When the Music's Over.' It has every sort of mood in it. I can be mellow and then I can come out raging at the end."
I assume you saw the Doors movie that came out 20 years ago.
"Yeah. I'm not a big fan. Based on things I've read, there were a lot of inaccuracies. They kind of glamorized the troubled Jim Morrison - the drug use and everything, and I think they made him out to be a mean-spirited person. I don't think he was like that at all."
Well, he did die of a drug overdose ...
"Oh, don't get me wrong - he obviously had problems and issues. But the movie didn't pay that much attention to his artistic side, which is what he was all about. I mean, it's Hollywood. It was an Oliver Stone movie. Taking that approach probably wouldn't have sold as many tickets. But one good thing about that movie - it made younger people more aware of the Doors."
You've obviously done your research musically, but how difficult is it to pull off Jim Morrison in the flesh?
"I think he was probably a much better looking guy than me (laughs.) But I have had people tell me I look like him that didn't even know I was in the band. So that's kind of neat. In this show, there's a part of it that's acting, and there's a part of it that I guess I'm just being me. The movement - watching videos and the way he moved, I took it on for my own stage performance.
"Same with Ray and Dustin on the organ. You watch Ray in the video and you're like 'How does he move his head that way? He's not even really on the beat.' But he's feeling it in his soul and just moving his head back and forth ... Dustin actually had to practice that for the stage appearance. Now he's done it so long, it's kind of natural for him.
"Jim had a way of standing behind the mic with one foot in front of the other. He closed his eyes a lot. But then he would just explode at times, too. He might crouch down, then just jump up and flail on the floor. It just depended on what the song was and how he felt at the moment. Same with me. If we're playing a a club, I might get a few drinks in me and get a little crazier."
Which leads me to my next question: Have you ever been arrested during or after a show?
"I decline to answer (laughs). Uh ... Do I really have to answer that?"
Nah. I do know you get pretty crazy up there sometimes.
"Sure. There was one time when I thought it was a good idea to run and jump off the stage and grab a hold of a speaker that was hanging off the ceiling, swing on it all the way across the dance floor, then swing back and land on the stage."
Sounds like the perfect plan.
Yeah, it seemed OK at the time. But the club owner was really upset with us. We haven't played there again. I guess I got too wild for him. I don't mind - if I enjoyed it, and we never play in Aurora, Colorado again, so be it."
Do chicks dig your version of Jim Morrison?
"Yeah, I think sometimes. I think it's kind of silly myself. It's fun times, but I think sometimes people get a little too carried away with the whole experience of it. I've been offered just about every drug and alcoholic drink there is when I'm performing. It's like they think I really am Jim. ... But they should keep in mind that it is just acting for their enjoyment and to maybe take them back in time."
That's the real goal, then?
"Yes, and it's very satisfying. I feel very fulfilled doing this sound. The music still turns people on. And it fits so many personalities. Our crowd is aged anywhere from 18 to 65. A lot of the older folks will stand close to the stage and close their eyes and sway back and forth and I think they really feel like they're going back in time. We've had people come up and say, 'Hey, we saw the Doors back in 1968 at such-and-such place, and you guys are dead on.' How can you get a compliment better than that?"
'Moonlight Drive,' a Doors tribute band, at Leon Festival Saturday night
Special to The Gazette