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When the Doors brought original rock bad boy Jerry Lee Lewis to the Forum in 1968

Photo of Jerry Lee LEWIS
Jerry Lee Lewis
(GAB Archive / Redferns)

The Doors reveled in their role as rock’s new bad boys when they burst onto the pop music scene in 1966, and two years later, when they helped usher in the nascent era of arena rock with the opening of the Forum in Inglewood. They carried that idea all the way through to the acts they invited to open for them.

“I have to brag a little about us being first to give a tip of the hat to ’50s rockers,” Doors drummer John Densmore recalled recently. “When we started getting some power, we were trying to get Johnny Cash to open for us — before the TV show,” he said, referring to Cash’s breakthrough weekly musical variety series, “The Johnny Cash Show,” which premiered in 1969.

Jerry Lee Lewis On The Ed Sullivan Show
Jerry Lee Lewis plays the piano and sings as he appears on the CBS variety program "The Ed Sullivan Show."
(CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images )

READ MORE: When pop music got big: 1968 and the birth of arena rock »

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“The promoters wouldn’t go for it. They said, ‘No, he’s a felon,’” a remark typical of many people’s attitudes at that time toward Cash, who struggled with substance abuse and was at a low point in his career. (Although he had been arrested three times in those years, Cash was never convicted of a felony.)

So, the Doors next turned to one of the baddest of all of rock’s first generation bad boys to join in at their inaugural performance at the Forum in December 1968.

“At the Forum, we finally got the power to dictate who we wanted to open,” Densmore said. “Ray [Manzarek, the group’s keyboardist] jump-started world music by having a Chinese musician playing an obscure instrument open the show.

“Then Jerry Lee Lewis came on,” Densmore said of the Louisiana rocker alternately known as “The Ferriday Fireball” and “The Killer.”

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“Half the kids didn’t know who Jerry Lee was. He was in his country phase at that time. … We said, ‘Jerry Lee, you’ve gotta do some of your old rock songs.’ He had this [country] album out at the time, and the cover showed him with his head buried in his hands. The title was ‘She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me)’ — is that great?

“We said, ‘You’ve got to play ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ The audience was just shouting, ‘Jim! Jim! Doors!’ But he was great. At the end of his set, he slammed the top of the piano shut, climbed on top and said, ‘OK, for those of you who love me, God bless you. For those who don’t….’ and then he stuck his tongue out and gave them the raspberry.”

Bad-boy-rock class dismissed.

READ MORE: A look back at entertainment in 1968 »

randy.lewis@latimes.com

Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter.com

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