Fifty years later, Tommy tells how he got Jim Morrison busted
Tommy Janette is amazed that Saturday was the 50th anniversary of his historic run-in with Jim Morrison, lead singer of the hot new band the Doors, at the New Haven Arena.
Janette, now 72, still calls it “the biggest thing to ever happen in my life.”
“This guy was going to be a superstar,” Janette noted. “And I got ‘the lizard king’ busted! Nobody else can say that.”
But Janette said of those chaotic events that quickly swirled out of control: “The whole thing could have been avoided. All he had to do was knock on our door and say, ‘Hi, I’m Jim Morrison.’ We would have asked him for his autograph and none of this would have happened.”
As Janette sat in his Meriden condominium last Monday and recalled that crazy December night, he was near a table covered with scrapbooks from his days as the singer for Tommy and the Rivieras. He also has a poster reproduction of Morrison’s New Haven Police Department mug shot.
Janette’s band was one of the opening acts that night, a prelude to the Los Angeles-based foursome that had burst onto the scene earlier that year with the hit song “Light My Fire.”
But Janette and his bandmates didn’t know what Morrison looked like, so they failed to recognize the strung-out guy who was roaming around backstage, causing a commotion.
Janette has told this story many, many times but it’s clear he still delights in re-telling it.
“Morrison arrived with a girl. (Sandy Spodniak, a student at what was then Southern Connecticut State College). He was just walking around with this broad. They went through a lot of rooms and then they went into our bathroom. Why they picked that one I’ll never know.
“My guitar player, Buddy Tinari, went in there to ‘walk the dog’ and discovered these two long-haired people making out. He came back and told me, ‘There’s some long-haired guy in there with a girl.’ I said, ‘Tell him to get out of there.’
“Buddy came back a minute later and said, ‘He told me to do something that’s not physically possible.’
“So I went into the bathroom and saw this pretty brunette pushed up against the wall and a hippie guy with his back to me, kissing and groping the girl. I said, ‘Beat it’ and like he said to Buddy, he told me to do something that wasn’t physically possible.”
Janette said he went back to his dressing room and asked the New Haven police officer who was stationed outside the Rivieras’ door to please clear that couple out of the bathroom.
“When the girl sees the cop, she takes off. The cop says to Morrison, ‘You can’t be back here, this is a dressing room.’ And Morrison says, ‘(Expletive) me.’ All he had to do was say who he was, but he didn’t do that.
“I’m watching all this. The cop takes out his can of Mace and starts shaking it. He tells Morrison, ‘I’m serious. This is your last chance to leave peacefully.’ Morrison says, ‘This is your last chance to (expletive) me.’
“When the cop starts to Mace him, I’m thinking, ‘This can’t be good’ and I open the door and tell the other cops in the hallway: ‘Fight!’
“The cops come running in, take him down onto the floor and cuff him. Finally, he says, ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m with the band.’ The cops drop him, they don’t know what to do. They decide to pick him up and carry him back to the Doors’ dressing room.”
Janette said he later learned Morrison was refusing to go on stage until he received “in-person apologies from the chief of police and the mayor of New Haven.”
Janette noted, “That was not going to happen.”
Meanwhile, the crowd of about 2,000 in the Arena was getting restless. They wanted the Doors.
Janette recalled: “The first band, Lochsley Hall Assembly, was already on stage and the promoter told me, ‘This band can only go on for so long. I need you to buy some time when you go on.’ We had planned to be on stage for only about 15-20 minutes. Every time we finished a song, the promoter gave me the sign to ‘stretch it.’ I was thinking, ‘If we stretch it any more, you’ll have taffy!’
“After we’d been out there for about 45 minutes, the crowd started to boo us. Finally, Morrison condescended to come on stage.”
But after a couple of songs, Morrison, known for his story-telling and sharp commentary accompanying the music, went into a major riff in the middle of “Back Door Man.”
A writer for Life magazine, Fred Powledge, who was at the show, wrote that Morrison launched into a rap about what had happened backstage: “We wanted some privacy and so we went into this shower-room ... And then this little man came in there, this little man in a little blue suit and a little blue cap. And he said, ‘Whatcha doin’ there?’”
Morrison told the crowd: “And then he reached ‘round behind him and he brought out this little can of somethin’ and then he sprayed it in my eyes. I was blinded for about 30 minutes.”
Janette, who was watching Morrison’s performance from the back of the stage, recalled: “All of the cops were starting to come closer to the stage. When Morrison called them ‘New Haven pigs,’ that’s when the show was shut down.
“‘Gentleman’ Jim Kelly, the New Haven police lieutenant, got on stage and said, ‘The show’s over.’ The lighting guy turned on the lights and Morrison said, ‘The show’s not over! Turn off the (expletive) lights!’
“But Kelly said, ‘It’s over.’ More cops came on stage and one of them threw Morrison off. It was a 15-foot drop to the concrete floor. I’m amazed he didn’t get killed.”
Morrison was taken to the police station, where he posed for that famous mug shot. (It has the date Dec. 10 on it because by the time he was busted, it was past midnight.) He was charged with breach of peace, resisting arrest and “performing an indecent and immoral exhibition.”
The police report identifies Janette as “the complainant” for Morrison’s arrest.
“I was a 22-year-old kid. I had no idea what a complainant was. But the cop said, ‘Tommy, you called me into your room. That makes you the complainant.’ So I signed my name on the paper.”
Janettte, who ironically is now community affairs director for the Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association, a group that educates youths about the dangers of drugs, has included his account of that night in a book he wrote which he said will soon be published: “Happy Daze.”
Janette makes it clear he is no fan of Morrison, who died at age 27 of an apparent heroin overdose in a Paris bathtub. “He was so stoned that night he was here! The guy was just a mess. He was a crude, obnoxious person. If he wasn’t such an (expletive), he could have been one of the biggest stars in the industry, 50 years later.”