Perpetually lighting their fires


March 9, 2001

The Orange County Register

First rule: Don't call Wild Child a tribute band.

"I don't even like to be labeled that," says Dave Brock, who for more than 15 years has resurrected the spirit of the Lizard King in what he calls a "Jim Morrison celebration."

"A lot of people place the word 'cornball' next to the word 'tribute' in their psyche. It makes people think of a fat, dumpy guy who looks nothing like Elvis, yet thinks he's Elvis."

Second rule: This is serious. Think of it as performance art - much the same way Morrison thought of the Doors, though Brock doesn't go so far as to expose himself or incite riots. Now, after a decade of fine-tuning and constant touring, the show attracts a fanatical following.

But no matter how much it contributes to the larger-than-life Morrison myth, Brock's unrivaled routine - which once prompted Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek to remark, "The guy's so good, he scares me" - is not some cheesy send-up. The fact that many tag it as such is why he doesn't grant many interviews anymore.

"I know why it used to happen, but people still come to me with preconceived notions that we're some circus act. They just want a quick one-liner to twist around in their articles. I won't do it anymore."

Likewise, he says many people assume he's perpetually on a Jim trip. That Wild Child's increasing success has gone to his head. That he can't separate himself from the act.

"I guess that means I do my job well," he says. "But in no way, shape or form do I think I'm Jim Morrison. I treat this entirely as a theatrical show, not a freak show."

That becomes a double-edged sword: In striving to recapture the raw magnetism of Morrison and the Doors - basing his moves largely on kinetic intensity of the famed Roundhouse concerts originally aired in England - Brock can be so good that it's easy for fans to blur the line between reality and surreality.

"When Dave's on, he's on," says the Sun Theatre's Ken Phebus. "That's when he'll only respond to Jim. I've known the guy a long time now, and at times like that, even I have to call him Jim."

Phebus calls the Huntington Beach-based Wild Child "an amazing phenomenon. The crowd it draws is like the 'Rocky Horror' crowd. They're singing and dancing and yelling things out at Jim. There's nothing like it."

"I try to make it as close as possible to the original Doors experience," Brock says in a halting voice that suggests he's either very careful with his words or has studied the way Morrison gave interviews.

The 30-something Brock admits that his show builds from films and tapes, not his own memory. "I was too young to have seen them. I got into the band when I was in high school. None of my friends were into them. I was weird for liking them."

But it wasn't until he stumbled into the role of Jim for an offbeat Doors "rock opera" in the mid-'80s that the idea for Wild Child was born.

Brock had heard a radio ad for what he thought was a Doors tribute at the now-defunct club Gazzari's, but it turned out to be an open casting call for Morrison wanna-be's.

"There were probably 50 or 60 guys there dressed in leather pants and hanging from the rails, thinking they were Jim. It was strange." Brock was the last to audition, performing "L.A. Woman" ("the only song I knew all the words to at the time"). Two days later, he had the part.

"It kinda changed my life," he understates.

Now he relishes the opportunity to bring the unpredictability of a Doors concert back to life.

"Our fan base spans from teen-agers who know nothing about the band and go home huge Doors fans to people in their 60s and 70s who saw the real thing. With a lot of those older people ... it never fails that at one of the shows, someone comes up and tells me they saw the Doors live long ago and that our show is just as great."

And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on. That's what has made them an O.C. staple.

"That word of mouth is the best advertising we have ever had."