Penthouse Retrospective

by John Densmore Originally Published: September, 1990

The Doors: Abre Las Puertas | 30 Years Ago This Month

Robby giggled nervously in the background. The hookers slunk out of the room and headed for the water. Jim stood there with a glazed look on his face. Around his feet lay broken records with his sandy footprints on them. Ray’s jaw tightened.

It was another standoff. Living side by side with Ray and Dorothy in two rooms for the previous year had had its effects. Jim had turned them into surrogate parents, and now he was breaking away.

The summer of 1967 was one of traveling the country from coast to coast, from gig to gig, studio session to studio session. We were trying to crack New York again, appearing at the Scene in June while the Monterey Pop Festival, the first of its kind, was going on in California. I was depressed that we were in this dumpy club across the country while all of the important groups of the sixties were in Monterey. Of course, we weren’t even invited! Later our PR man Derek Taylor was to say that we’d been overlooked. Bullshit. They knew about us. They were afraid of us. We didn’t represent the attitude of the festival: peace and love and flower power. We represented the shadow side. My flower-child half strongly wanted to be tripping and dancing at the festival, but I was in the demon Doors.

Jae Holzman, who was, after all, president of a folk label (Elektra), had had Paul Simon over for dinner and played him some of our demos for our second album. He told Paul the Doors were going to be the biggest group in America, and Simon agreed. Simon also agreed to have us play second bill with Simon and Garfunkel at Forest Hills. Ten thousand people!

You could feel our nervousness backstage when Paul came in to wish us luck. He was very friendly. I don’t know whether it was nervousness, or just that Jim hated folk music, but he gave Simon the worst vibes, in short of saying “Get the fuck out of our dressing room.” To the guy who hired us! Then we went out onstage and Jim didn’t give an inch. He didn’t try to connect to the audience in any way. At the end of our set, during the “Father, I want to kill you” section, Jim put all the bottled-up hatred and rage and whatever was bothering him into slamming the mike down and screaming. It lasted about one minute. The audience woke up a bit and started thinking about what they were seeing. After intermission, Paul and Arty walked out onstage to thunderous applause.

In July “Light My Fire” hit No. 1 on the charts and stayed at No. 1 for a month. It remained on the charts for an unheard-of 26 weeks. A rumor spread like brushfire that it was the anthem for race riots in Detroit that summer.

The recording of our second album, Strange Days, began very well. We were refining our so-called California sound, with “spooking organ tones, the traces of raga and sitar…” as a rock writer described it at the time. And Jim’s lyrics kept astounding me.

His stuff was great — erotic, but not pornographic; mystical, but not pretentious. His poetry was a source of his power as much as his sexually charged “David” looks or his “brass-and-leather voice.”

During the recording of the Strange Days album, Morrison’s attitude was more confident. For all of us, the studio was becoming a familiar place; we were more relaxed there. It was almost like a second home. Bruce Botnick, our engineer, was using more and more microphones on my drums, which my ego liked. Getting a “sound” on the drums still took forever. I had to play each drum and cymbal over and over individually in simple, monotonous patterns until Paul Rothchild, our producer, was satisfied with what he heard. I, too, wanted a fat drum sound, but I felt it didn’t warrant half a day’s work.

Because of glitches like these, Jim started avoiding the sessions until he absolutely had to be there. When he did arrive, there was incredible tension in the room for a while, but no one expressed his anger over Jim’s rudeness or tardiness.

One night we were smoking a bunch of hashish and mixing “You’re Lost Little Girl” down to the final two tracks for stereo. Ray came back into the control room from the hallway, where he occasionally listened to the playback with the door ajar. He was trying to “distance” himself from the sound, which we had heard over and over, to gain some objectivity. Plus, Rothchild usually blasted the playbacks.

“I think your song, Robby, is perfect for Frank Sinatra,” Ray suggested with his tongue thoroughly inserted in his cheek.

“Frank should dedicate it to his wife, Mia Farrow.”

‘Rosanna’s expression changed from fear and rage to relief. Jim put the knife down. I thought: “I’m in a band with a psychotic! I’m in a room with a psychotic!”’

We all chuckled. The vocal had a serene quality, which may have been due to Rothchild’s idea of having Jim’s girlfriend Pam come down and give head to Jim while he sang. On one particular vocal take, Jim stopped singing in the middle of the song and we heard some rustling noises. Rothchild appropriately dimmed the lights in the vocal booth, and who knows what was going on in there? We went with a later take, but Paul’s idea may have affected the vocal we went with. It had a tranquil mood, like the aftermath of a large explosion.

When we finished mixing “You’re Lost Little Girl,” we listened to it twice again, at extremely high volume. It sounded great.

People who have never heard of the The Doors could well be familiar with their music. An insider now opens The Doors for Penthouse.

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