LA Woman - what a drum part... Is he hitting rimshots? It's not perfectly consistent in volume like they tell you to, but the track ends up working so well anyway. Probably would have sounded worse with all the corrections applied in later years!
In November of 1970, The Doors recorded their final album with Jim Morrison at "The Doors Workshop," located at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90069. The building was previously an antique store before it served as the bands office and rehearsal space.
Jac Holzman, 39-year-old founder of Elektra Records, had signed The Doors in 1966 after being tipped to their potential by Arthur Lee. Holzman saw them four nights in succession at the Whisky A Go Go before he realised Lee might be right. Not the sort of man to interfere in The Doors’ private lives, Holzman did, however, sometimes make a tactful intervention in their music; he’d once forbidden Krieger to use a wah-wah pedal on a song. The band called him ‘El Supremo’.
Earlier in 1970, Elektra had teamed up with two larger companies, Warner Bros and Atlantic, in a move that radically improved its distribution in America and overseas. Elektra wasn’t a sales-driven, commercially calculating label, but, as it happened, The Doors were a group whose success could be relied on. “They were gigantic,” says Holzman, now almost 80. “Remember, this was a time when DJs were playing whole albums. They would play all The Doors’ albums. The buzz and recognition of the band was continuous. A new Doors album was going to be a huge event no matter what.”
For all that, Holzman hadn’t been a particularly big admirer of their 1970 album, Morrison Hotel, feeling they’d “gone back into their comfort zone… I was hoping for something more adventurous.” Early rehearsals for LA Woman at Sunset Sound Recorders did nothing to raise his expectations. Indeed, they presented him with a major setback. Paul Rothchild, the producer of the band’s records since 1966, who’d recently been working with Janis Joplin [Pearl] just prior to her death in October, seemed exhausted and disillusioned. When The Doors played him their new epic, “Riders On The Storm”, Rothchild put his head in his hands and said, “I can’t do this any more.” He left the rehearsal with an ungracious comment about “Riders…” and cocktail jazz.
Rock’s history books portray Rothchild as something of a chump for failing to spot the magnificence of “Riders…”, yet it was more complicated, more emotional, than that. After five Doors studio albums in four years (and a live one), Rothchild sensed he’d become an impediment, not a facilitator. He was a perfectionist, a “30 takes” man, and this was one time when The Doors needed imperfection desperately. If Rothchild had produced LA Woman, remarks his engineer Bruce Botnick, “it probably would have killed him sooner than the cancer that got him [in 1995]”.
Later that night, an emergency meeting was held in a nearby Chinese restaurant. The Doors returned, telling Botnick they wanted to co-produce the album with him. Instead of using a top-dollar recording studio, they intended to record in the rehearsal room of their office building, The Doors’ Workshop (on the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevards), where a clubhouse atmosphere prevailed and there was a pinball machine. “It was a place where they could come and go with zero pressure,” notes Siddons.
Botnick, 25, immediately made a suggestion. He’d been engineering an album by Marc Benno, a singer who’d had a duo with Leon Russell in the ’60s (The Asylum Choir) and was now making solo records for A&M. The bassist on Benno’s LP was Jerry Scheff, from Elvis Presley’s renowned TCB Band. Botnick: “As soon as I said that, Morrison’s ears pricked up. ‘Oh, I’d like that! Elvis’ bass player!’” Besides hiring Scheff to add muscle to the rhythm section (The Doors, of course, had no bassist), Botnick brought in Benno as a rhythm guitarist, giving Krieger the freedom to concentrate on his idiosyncratic lead lines. The Doors, that angular foursome with the unorthodox Spanish-rock sound, were now a reinforced, souped-up sextet.
Botnick liked the new tracks he was hearing, but Holzman hadn’t been privy to any of them. For Holzman, LA Woman was a step into the unknown, and a risk he was happy to take. “I trusted the band,” he says, “and I trusted Botnick, who I knew had done a lot of the important production work on Love’s Forever Changes. I thought The Doors would be in good hands. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have rubbed a rabbit’s foot if I’d had one.”
The Doors made one demand of Holzman. They insisted that he stay away from the recording sessions. Physically, this was not easy; Elektra’s offices were directly across the street from The Doors’ Workshop. Holzman stuck to the bargain and didn’t cross the road once.
One might be excused for supposing that Morrison wouldn’t have been ready, wouldn’t have been in a proper psychological condition, to undertake the exacting, often stressful processes of making an album of new Doors music. In photographs onstage in Dallas (December 11, 1970), he looks obese, apathetic and dog-tired. “He got a pot belly and went from 150lbs to 180lbs,” says Siddons. “He lost the ‘cat’ body that he’d had. We all thought it was intentional. He never wanted to be a sex symbol; it just happened. All of a sudden he was answering to a monster that he’d created, and he went, ‘Fuck this.’” In the months since the Miami trial, John Densmore recalls, Morrison had “seemed more serious and quiet”. Holzman, today, while brushing away the arrest and trial as “a set-up”, also admits that he expected LA Woman to be The Doors’ last album. “I sensed a finality about it. Growing his beard and getting [fat] was a pretty obvious statement.”
Fewer than 10 people witnessed the recording of LA Woman, including the musicians who made it. Among the most persuasive – and surprising – testimonies are those of Frank Lisciandro (who attended the sessions as a photographer) and Bruce Botnick, the co-producer. Lisciandro assures us that Morrison, far from reluctantly going through the motions or struggling to stay focused, had a wonderful time and was the principal cheerleader for the music they were making. Lisciandro: “He was the most relaxed I’d ever seen him in a studio. He was in an optimistic mood. I think the absence of Paul Rothchild gave him an opportunity to step forward as a bandleader.” Botnick found Morrison a “prince” to work with. “There were no drugs, no women, no sycophants,” he says. “Jim still liked to drink, and there was plenty of beer around, but he wasn’t drunk. He was extremely creative and he really led the sessions. And since he was staying at the Alta Cienega Motel right across the street, he was usually at [the Workshop] before we were.”
Morrison was in a long-term relationship with 24-year-old Pamela Courson, the girlfriend who would accompany him to Paris. Because Morrison had a tendency not to talk about women behind their backs, it was difficult to gauge how the relationship was going. “She was a constant force in his life, but they were completely volatile,” explains Siddons. “You never quite knew whether they were together or not. They’d taken a house on Verbena Drive and were attempting to live a domesticated life, but that only lasted a few months. That’s why Jim was living at the Alta Cienega Motel.” If nothing else, Morrison’s life in early 1971 was a perfect triangle. The Doors’ Workshop here. Elektra Records there. The motel there. And if you wanted to make it a quadrilateral, you could add the topless bar that he liked to drink in, right here. Morrison seems to have found the geography conducive to writing; motels and topless bars both feature in LA Woman’s title track.
The three surviving Doors, too, can confirm that Morrison was the driving force, as well as being a lot of fun, during the LA Woman sessions.
Densmore: “You ask how we handled him. He didn’t need handling. He sang most of his vocals in one or two takes. He really rose to the occasion.”
Manzarek: “This was a man who was beginning to wear down, but you can’t tell that from his singing.”
Krieger: “He would sing in the bathroom. We had a bathroom in the studio, where Jim was isolated, so we could take his vocals out later and redo them if we had to.” (Actually, as Botnick points out, they couldn’t. “He was leaking into the other microphones.”) The bathroom had no door, so Morrison was visible and actively involved in each take. The room itself was not large – Botnick estimates it at 20 feet by 12 – and had to accommodate five musicians, Densmore’s drums, two guitars and their amplifiers, a piano, a Hammond B3 organ, a Fender Rhodes, a Wurlitzer, a Farfisa and a pinball machine. “It was tight,” says Botnick. “It was like sardines.” No wonder the songs sound like sweat is dripping down their backs.
LA Woman took little more than a week to record. That included ‘Blues Day’ – the day when they tackled “Cars Hiss By My Window”, “Been Down So Long”, “Crawling King Snake” and other blues songs that didn’t appear on the finished album. Morrison, almost free now, was close to reaching the formal end of his Elektra contract with The Doors, which he’d signed at the age of 22. There was something he wanted to tell the others – the cause, no doubt, of the “optimistic mood” that Lisciandro mentioned earlier – but in the meantime, he made his final contribution to LA Woman; his last act as a rock star.
“There’s a whisper voice on ‘Riders On The Storm’, if you listen closely,” says Manzarek, “a whispered overdub that Jim adds beneath his vocal. That’s the last thing he ever did. An ephemeral, whispered overdub.”
Engineer and producer Bruce Botnick recorded some of the greatest artifacts of West Coast psychedelia, among them the first five albums by The Doors. Here he describes the making of their influential second album and its title track, which saw them develop their live sound through radical...
The drums were miked with an overhead Sony C37, placed at the height of Densmore's forehead in the centre of the kit, as well as another 37 flipped out of phase underneath the snare and an Altec-Lansing 'Salt Shaker' on the kick.
I'd use this even if I was doing my Motown sessions," he remarks. "I'd developed it myself, and later on I also had a drum platform made, suspended off the floor to get a little more depth to the sound. We'd always try different things: John might put his wallet on the snare, and we'd always tune the drums for the song. Sometimes I would have a U47 positioned maybe eight feet from the kit and heavily compressed to open it up a bit, but there weren't a whole lot of games. The console was very open-sounding and the mics were pretty bright in those days, so we'd just add a little bit of EQ and that was it."