Man, The Music, The Doors
Doors Collectors Magazine
forty years of creating music legends, Jac Holzman maintains
a keen presence on the cutting edge. We found him surfing the
Internet, still interested in the public's opinion of the music
he is responsible for, still a player in the business for the
sheer satisfaction of discovering each new sound. We were fortunate
to have been given a generous portion of his day to hear his
remarkable story and honored that he would entrust The DCM to
bring it to you.
would you explain how you first became involved in the music
Jac: In 1948 I was intrigued by the emergence of the long-playing
record. I saw the LP and I saw a tape recording and the confluence
of these two technologies made it clear to me that there was
an opportunity to create something that was different from what
the four major labels were doing-the four major labels at the
time being RCA, Capital, CBS, and Decca. I loved music, I loved
electronics and I was not interested in working at a regular
job, so I took my Bar Mitzvah money and decided I would start
a record company. All kinds of people told me I was crazy. Professionals
in the record business who were patients of my father (a doctor)
told me I was nuts, but with the exuberance of youth I just forged
ahead and did it anyway. I just loved music and the idea of making
records. I struggled for a long time. It was six years before
I broke even.
started Elektra in 1950 with a $600 budget. How was that different
from your establishment of Discovery Records today?
Jac: It was 41 years different. You really have to answer that
question by asking, What is the difference between the climate
in 1950 and the climate in 1991?- which was when I acquired Discovery
labels. In 1950 everybody was starting from the same point. None
of us knew anything. Between 1950 and 1954/55 over 1,000 labels
were started and only two survive today, that is, two survived
with any kind of continuity-Elektra and Atlantic.
DCM: Why did you decide to return to making records?
Jac: I think record-making is more than a craft. I think it's
an art in terms of not only getting the record right but in connecting
that music effectively with its audience, which is termed "marketing"
today. I like that process and I missed it. I figured I was coming
up on 60 and if I wanted to do anything like that again I had
better get moving. I acquired Discovery because I needed to go
to the independent distributors with an actual record line not
a story. Not tell them what we are going to have, but tell them
what it is that we've got. So I acquired this line. It was about
150 records wide. Working with my brother I cleaned it up, got
it down to about 50 or 60 and at least we had something to sell.
And then going forth we started with jazz, which is what we acquired,
and then our Jazz for the Movies Series [themes from movies that
lend themselves to jazz arrangements].
DCM: How does working in the business today compare to the early
Jac: It's much tougher now. It's especially difficult for me
because although I have a reputation, people don't think I'm
relevant any more. I was relevant in a bygone era. I have no
answer for that except to make my records and let the world tell
me whether I'm relevant or not.
DCM: How has working with the artists changed over the years?
Jac: I think the biggest difference is that an artist today is
surrounded by levels of management and various people who are
in the artist's world. It is more difficult for a record company
to have a direct relationship with an artist than it used to
be. That doesn't mean it can't be done. We have very direct relationships
with our artists here because we insist upon it, otherwise we're
not interested in making the records. We are not merely financiers
or distributors of records. If that's all there is we're not
interested. If we have no contribution to make. . .if the artist
has done the record perfectly, we'll take it but that's really
I also think
the artists are better served by their representatives in the
sense that the deals for the artists are much better today than
they used to be. Now, that is not because the record business
has become more generous, but because the pie is a little bit
bigger and the advent of the CD did change the dynamics and the
economics of the record industry a great deal. On the other hand,
the cost of connecting a record to its audience has gone up astronomically-the
requirement of a video, of an electronic press kit, the number
of different formats you have to cover with different types of
promotion people-all of this geometrically increases the expense.
And for a smallish label like ourselves it has made us ask the
question several times. Is this an artist we not only wish to
sign, but an artist that we'd be able to work with over a long
period of time?
DCM: Early in Elektra's history you signed artists from "high
risk" areas. Was it an advantage for Elektra to work with
Jac: It was an advantage because we were the only people willing
to take a chance on them. In particular, I had a very rewarding
and lengthy relationship with Josh White. He wasn't a Communist.
I wouldn't have cared anyway. He was just a very special artist
from a special time and I was a fan. I'm here because I have
fun. If I stop having fun, I stop doing this. In fact, it was
a disadvantage for Elektra because there were some people who
would inform record stores that they had records by a Communist
in their bins. That kind of crap I didn't need. We stuck with
Josh over the years and he turned out to be a very important
artist for us.
DCM: We understand you missed a chance to sign the Lovin' Spoonful.
Can you tell us the story?
Jac: Paul Rothchild had very close relationships with a number
of different people including John Sebastian. The Lovin' Spoonful
were a band John put together and when I heard Do You Believe
In Magic? I really wanted to sign the band badly. It was, however,
unlike anything we had ever done. But then again, music at that
time was different from anything we had ever done. Our first
involvement with electric music had been the Paul Butterfield
Band. I thought The Lovin' Spoonful were the natural evolution
from that band. They were involved with some "gentlemen"
associated with the Stallion label, and Stallion had a relationship
with Kama Sutra which had a distribution deal with MGM. They
had much more proven ability dealing with singles, and singles
were the name of the game in those days because a single was
a calling card for an album. We put a good offer on the table
and John wanted to be with us. Something happened behind the
scenes that I don't know about, but John was put in a position
where he could not be with us. We didn't get The Spoonful. They
did four tracks for us for another album later on. I really missed
having The Spoonful because John turned out to be an absolutely
great songwriter. That was a big disappointment. DCM: What was
your greatest career disappointment?
Jac: My greatest career disappointment was being out here [in
L.A.] when Bob Dylan was in New York. I missed Dylan. I was living
out here and I never heard Dylan, and it was a heartbreak.
DCM: What do you consider your greatest contributions to music?
Jac: One was Nonesuch Records. Without Nonesuch we wouldn't have
been able to afford to do a whole bunch of other things like
pay an enormous advance of $5,000 for The Doors. Nonesuch was
our relatively low-priced classical label. It focused mostly
on Baroque music at the beginning; an idea that clicked immediately,
and is now one of the great classical labels worldwide. I'm very
proud of that. I'm as proud of Nonesuch as anything I've ever
thing is the sense that you could create a label that was responsive
to music and musicians, that was a business enterprise, and that
stayed true to the music. I think Elektra was that for a long
period of time, when I was there and during the Krasnow years
[Elektra's president starting in 1983]. At least for the first
eight years of Krasnow's ten-year plus reign it was magic. So
giving Krasnow an instrument to play was a contribution because
he took it in directions where I would not have been capable
of taking it; his tastes were different from mine but at least
he had the Zeitgeist to work with.
DCM: Whose idea was the famous 1967 LA billboard?
Jac: I saw a billboard and decided it was a good idea. Arthur
Lee claims that I stole the idea from him which is not true.
. .I had a feeling about the group. But here's the story of the
record release delay [The Doors]. When the record was finished
and mastered, which was October 1966, I had told them that we'd
release the record in November. I began to get cold feet because
I was worried about certain records that were coming out toward
the end of the year that might take away from the impact I wanted
The Doors to make, and also Christmas records had a longer season
than they do now. So I was concerned about that. And also the
boys wanted it out. I sat down with them and said, "Look
guys, let's come out in January. January 4th when nobody's going
to come out with a record. I won't release any other album that
month so you have a clear shot."And that's what we did.
That was an immensely important decision and concession on their
was always my choice to make that record, to work with that band.
Paul, at first, didn't want to do it. There was a band that he
saw in New York called The Paupers that he was more interested
in. I finally just kind of pushed him into it and said, "You've
got to do this." He agreed and he tackled it with the usual
Rothchild energy which was total. I also thought he'd be the
only guy able to stand up to every member of the band, either
individually or collectively. I also thought that they had done
a lot of wood-shedding [working with each other to create a unique
sound] but their music wasn't organized for a record yet. And
that Paul was the right person to help them give it shape but
it had to be done skillfully. He was a terrific technician in
the studio and backing him up with Botnick. . .Botnick was my
favorite engineer for this kind of stuff and Bruce and I had
worked together on Love. So I thought that was the right combination
and I insisted that it be that way. It worked out brilliantly.
Everybody at the company-people in the business affairs department
kept everything going smoothly in our relationship with the band.
We had a sense of what we were doing. We had a plan. I wrote
every one of our 32 independent distributors that we had at the
time in 1967. I said, "This is the best thing we've ever
had and we need everybody's help on this one. This is it for
us." And it turned out to be true. We had no hint that this
thing was going to explode the way it did. It sold 10,000 a month
for the first two or three months which was not an insignificant
number of records and then it jumped to 250,000. I would say
everybody within the label was important. The distributors caught
that we really believed in this and gave some extra special help,
so that was important.
DCM: Break On Through wasn't well received as a first release.
Any thoughts in retrospect?
Jac: I've been faulted for releasing that single first. In the
context of its day and at the time it was the right thing to
do because if we were going to learn our way we were not going
to learn our way on Light My Fire, rather with Break On Through
and get the marketplace prepared. It was just too early to start
with Light My Fire. Break On Through was a good tune for that,
and we made a video for it. There is a film on that which we
shot using our own camera with our own people, in-house, with
an optical as well as a magnetic soundtrack, which was sent out
to the various TV stations that ran dance shows. Elektra was
independent without a lot of money and we couldn't afford necessarily
to tour the band, but what we could afford to do was send this
"video" out. And it worked. We sent out a lot of them.
DCM: The story of your signing The Doors after seeing them at
The Whisky is well-known. What particular quality about the group
made you pursue them over the course of the next few months prior
to signing them?
Jac: I didn't get The Doors when I first saw them. I kept going
back and back and back. The reason I saw them at all was because
of Arthur Lee. Arthur Lee was the top half of the bill and The
Doors were the bottom half. Arthur said to me, "You've got
to stay around to see this band." I had come from New York
on an airplane to see Arthur, it was 2 o'clock in the morning
metabolism-time and I stayed around and was very tired. But I
also felt I hadn't given the group a shot and I had a high regard
for Arthur's opinion; though he was flaky in many respects I
thought he was a talent and still do. Because I'd been so tired
I went back the next night. It was on the third night that I
began to hear some of the classical influence in the material.
I also was struck by the simplicity of it. In architectural terms
it reminded me of the Bauhaus period-very lean, clean, straight
lines-there was nobody on stage who didn't belong on stage. I
was impressed how John understood how his job was not to provide
a rhythmic underpinning only, but to provide that as well as
to follow Jim because everybody really followed Jim-whatever
he was going to do was where they went. Finally, about the fourth
night I got it. Jim was not moving at all, but I understood that
this was a coiled spring ready to burst forth. I just went on
a gut feeling. The Doors had recently been signed to Columbia
but not recorded by them. I don't think they were too happy with
record companies at the time. I just pursued them all summer
long. When I wasn't in town, my wife at the time, Nina, would
cook them dinner. I just went after and after and after them
like a dog with somebody's trouser cuff in its teeth. I just
don't give up when I decide I'm going to do something.
DCM: Less than a year ago Arthur Lee countered hecklers at a
Boston show by telling them Morrison was 'a nothing'-he'd stolen
everything from him (Arthur). He accused Elektra of taking all
the money Love had made for them and investing it in The Doors.
He was quoted, "I am Elektra-if it hadn't been for me, they
would never have survived."
Jac: Arthur has his version. I'd consider that Arthur was sort
of rapping. The big difference between Love and The Doors: One
was almost destined to be a local band; they would not travel.
I once got Arthur to come to New York. He turned around the same
day and caught a midnight flight back. He was not in New York
for more than 24 hours. Very uncooperative about traveling. He
was not willing to seize the moment. The Doors were totally committed
to what they were doing. No wonder they succeeded and Love didn't.
Love had incredible success from our standpoint. They were the
first real contemporary pop artists with the exception of one
or two earlier folk groups in the folk days that hit the charts
so we were real happy to have them. Love didn't make that much
money for us. What made the money for us, for the Doors investment,
came from Nonesuch Records. That's where the money came from.
Didn't come from Love. Oh, yes...did we make money with Love?
Sure we did. But the real financial underpinning of the label
in those days was the classical music line, until we got the
pop music line working well.
DCM: What was the Doors' best performance you ever experienced?
What in particular do you remember from that show?
Jac: The best performance I remember was at the Fillmore East
in '69. It was one of those magic evenings when everything worked
absolutely perfectly. The audience was right, the venue was right,
they were right and everything built and fed on each other. It
was a magical evening.
DCM: The press were always quick to cover Jim's outrageous behavior.
Can you share with us some special moments when you saw Jim at
Jac: My moments with Jim were generally peaceful. In my experience,
Jim was a person who would break out in a rash occasionally,
and he would do something like chop up a typewriter in the office
for which we would just deduct the cost of the typewriter from
the next royalty check. That wasn't a big deal. I found him to
be extremely soft and willing to talk. He would try to get me
to go drinking with him which I wouldn't do because I knew I
was out-classed. Once when I declined he said, "Jac, you've
got to get more out there on the edge." And I said, "Jim,
I agree with you, being out there on the edge is important; the
trick is not to bleed." That's been quoted before.
DCM: Did Jim ever talk about wanting to record his poetry?
Jac: Yes, we talked about that. He wanted to do it. And I agreed
so we entered into a separate non-Doors agreement about the poetry.
Some people thought that we entered into this as a sop to Jim.
I don't think it was that. There was a willingness to accommodate
him. He hadn't told me that he planned to burn the candle at
both ends and die. We did go in on a Sunday and we did record
several hours of his poetry. Then I couldn't get him back into
the studio to do any more. I think he was unsure of himself.
He liked the idea of electronics and poetry but he had no notion
as to how to complete the idea and that's why the thing lay fallow
for awhile until it was resurrected on An American Prayer. Now
I think if he's got a record player wherever he is that he would
be pleased with An American Prayer. I think it's a wonderful
DCM: Little is known about Pamela Courson. What do you remember
of her and her relationship with Jim? To your knowledge were
there other women who affected Jim as much as Pamela?
Jac: Well, the thing that I think the movie [The Doors] missed
that was a shame was that Pamela was a pretty good foil for Jim.
She could give as good as she got. She would fight back. What
they did was dare and double-dare each other constantly. It was
interesting to watch, but it was not fun to be around. I'm sure
there were great moments of intimacy and closeness which I was
never a part of but it was a prickly relationship; a push-pull
relationship, for sure. I know that Jim had other women in his
life. I think they were as much to taunt Pamela as they were
for Jim to get off.
DCM: What do you consider The Doors' greatest music?
Jac: In terms of the Doors' albums there are songs that run throughout
their catalogue that I think are outstanding, but as complete
oeuvres, the first and last albums: The Doors and L.A. Woman,
by far. L.A. Woman was an album where they broke away, where
by mutual agreement Paul Rothchild was not involved.
DCM: What did you learn from knowing Jim?
Jac: The thing I learned from Jim was an appreciation for appropriate
limits. Jim would do everything to excess. I'm a fond lover of
excess but not to be done constantly. Jim did it constantly.
When you go over the edge you do cut yourself.
DCM: What did you learn by Jim's death?
Jac: I learned a number of things from Jim's death. From a personal
standpoint, I was in my thirties and it brought me face-to-face
with my own mortality as I think it did for everybody. It was
a difficult thing to deal with for everyone at the company since
we all had great
affection for him. A couple of us knew a few days before the
news broke and we were able to handle it appropriately. We'd
seen a circus around Jimi Hendrix and that was not going to happen
with Jim. Another thing is, in retrospect, I learned something
motives. In the Greek classical sense I think Jim was looking
for a kind of immortality. If Jim were in his fifties today he
would not have the immortality he had by burning the candle at
both ends and dying young. For Jim it was the right choice. And
I think at some level the poetic death was his choice. I learned
to accept that. That's one of the things I learned. Everybody
gets to choose the way they go. And how you live determines,
probably, how you may exit. It's also the thing that everybody
DCM: What do you remember of Ray, Robby and John?
Jac: Of the group, John was probably the most "curmudgeon-est"
but he had a very firm sense of what he wanted to do. I think
John was in love and out of love with the group. There were moments
when he wished the whole thing would go away and moments when
he was happy to be part of it. Robby was a surfer dude. And he
surfed whatever the wave of The Doors was. The thinking one in
terms of conceptualizing and taking it all some place was Ray.
He had a sense from the very beginning of what it was that they
had, of who Morrison was, of how to put it together, and I think
he was a very special kind of glue that held it together. Every
time Jim would go off on a tear it was Ray who made the band
continue to happen.
DCM: Why did you sell Elektra in 1970?
Jac: I had been running Elektra for 20 years with a system of
independent distribution where all the money belonged to me and
I was making change out of my own pocket. After a while it became
uncomfortable for me. Most importantly, I could see that the
coalescing of industries that has occurred in everything else,
whether it be automobiles or whatever, was going to occur in
the music business as well. Even though I thought we had particular
advantages in being an independent and spirited small label,
very hands-on, everybody easily-reachable, I thought that record-making
was going to change. No matter how good we were at that, our
inability to distribute in a major way through our own controlled
distribution system was going to have a negative effect on our
ability to grow. So when the opportunity came to join people
that I had a high regard for, there was no twinge of hesitation,
I just said yes. It was a very easy negotiation taking less than
three weeks. It was a very simple, straightforward deal that
I've never regretted. Warner Communications at the time came
out like bandits because of the things that we signed not only
because of the Doors' catalogue but all the other things that
we had-Carly Simon, Bread-which really didn't happen until after
the label was sold. Judy Collins happened big after that. And
of course we had accidents like Queen which didn't hurt. My association
is with the Warner Music Group. Discovery, the label which I
operate today, is a wholly-owned unit of the Warner Music Group.
It functions independently of the other labels, but uses the
Warner Music distribution system domestically and in most major
countries of the world. In addition I'm the chief technologist
of the Warner Music Group.
DCM: How are the Doors' records selling today?
Jac: When the catalogue was reborn as a result of Apocalypse
Now Doors' records went to another plateau. They've never stopped
selling. There's always been a steady stream of Doors' sales.
But they multiplied many-fold after Apocalypse Now. I think one
of the reasons was Jim had died, there was a certain sympathy
in Coppola's approach to making the film inherent in the structure,
and tension of the film itself, and most especially in the courage
with which he made that film and put up all of his own money
to do it. He was at great risk and Jim was a great risk in what
he did. I think all of that came together. The use of The End
in Martin Sheen's opening scene in the hotel room was, I thought,
one of the very best marriages of a piece of existing material
to a scene that was created free-form, that was driven by the
music. I thought that really had an enormous impact on people's
recognition that The Doors were not just a band from the late
60s up until the time that Jim died in 1971. But were a band
with relevance today. I think people understood from hearing
the material again that that lean, clean, very spare musical
line that they had did not put the music into any time zone.
The music was itself timeless. The Oliver Stone movie has increased
sales yet three or four-fold again. I have no idea of figures
but I understand that the numbers are quite impressive.
DCM: Were you associated with Oliver Stone's The Doors? What
aspects of the movie do you think told their story most truthfully?
In what aspects did the movie fall short?
Jac: I was not associated with the film although I did meet with
Oliver at one point. He was curious about the Doors' relationship
to the record company which was always cordial even when Abe
Somer, their attorney, convinced them to go on strike for higher
royalties. I just let them strike. It stopped one day when the
boys said, "Jac is waiting for us to make a move, let's
go over and have a chat." And I said, "You can go back
in the studio tomorrow, I'll make a deal with Abe." I just
don't like the way this thing was done. I'm always available
to talk and I hammered out a deal with the boys which was later
ratified by the lawyer. But I don't think he particularly liked
that. John, in his book, makes reference to a time when Abe got
me on the phone and was trying to puncture the image of Elektra
as being an artist-caring company. The thing that was right about
the movie was all the live performances. They were dead on. I
sat in the screening theater with some trepidation because I
knew that I was being portrayed in the movie by the guy who played
the Lieutenant in Platoon. Not a character with a lot of courage
in that movie. I had met with him and we spent a few hours together.
He looked through some Elektra scrapbooks of the period, none
of which I think helped him because he only had one line to say
which is a line I never would have uttered. . ."Well guys,
if you can do on a record what I saw on that stage we'll make
a lot of money." It's a brutish thing to say and not something
that would have emanated from my mouth. Putting that aside I
have attained a certain immortality as a result of it. They were
not originally going to use my name because they couldn't find
the release that I had signed. I was friends with the people
at Carolco and I sent it to the president of Carolco and he lost
it on his desk. So they were going to use some Jewish-sounding
name because their belief was that everybody in the record business
was Jewish. There's some truth to that. Rothchild said, "But
everybody knows, if you use another name you're in trouble...."
so I signed another release. But I thought the live sequences,
especially at The Whisky were magical. They were chilling. And
I thought Val [Kilmer] was terrific. I don't think you can tell
the story of this band. There are just too many things, and they
lived very "densely" so a two-hour movie isn't going
to do it. But what you can do and what I think the movie successfully
did, besides communicating Stone's vision of whatever he thought
the Doors' thing was about, is communicate the experience of
The Doors. That's very tough to recreate.
DCM: What have you wished you could say about The Doors but have
never had the opportunity to say in print?
Jac: The success of The Doors gave Elektra a very special kind
of visibility from which we were able to get other artists as
a result. It was one of the luckiest times of my life. I rode
the tiger. I spent as much energy hanging on as I did enjoying
it. I wish I had enjoyed it more. It was tough. The music of
The Doors affected certain people in a very special way. It demonstrated
that you could boogie and think at the same time; it's very,
very true. There's never been a band quite like them or a band
that will last as long into the future as I think The Doors will.
I think people will always find something of relevance in The
Doors. People who function behind the scenes as I do don't often
get an opportunity to know that they've contributed something
to making it happen. I don't know that it would have happened
without Elektra. I'm not sure that it would have. I think we
were the right label at the right time. We gave each other the
mutual kick over the goal line. They couldn't have done it without
us I don't think, and we couldn't have done it without The Doors.