Stay Tuned By Stan: Doors Upset Miami

Thursday, August 1, 2013
Stay Tuned By Stan: Doors Upset Miami

Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.

“Light My Fire”

At first, Elektra Records head Jac Holzman asked Paul Rothchild to fly out to California to produce Elektra’s newly–signed group, The Doors. Paul flew out, listened, and told Jac he was nuts to sign this group.

Holzman stood firm, telling Rothchild “Paul, you owe me. You’ve got to do this band. You’re the only person for the job.” Paul Rothchild did produce The Doors for Elektra, using 19-year-old engineer Bruce Botnick on the console.

The first album was named obviously:

Rothchild recalled the studio event, while recording one album track running 12 minutes long -- “The End” -- and its drama:

… where the acid started peaking. [Morrison] had these Vespers, and he started reading from it and tearing it up and got into “Kill the father, fuck the mother.” We were halfway through, and I got chills top to bottom. I said, “Bruce, do you know what’s happening out there? That’s history. Right at this moment. That’s why we come here.” It was one of the few times you turn and say to somebody, “Pay attention, this is it.” I remember it so vividly, and at the end of the take I was drained as anyone out in the room from the experience.

The album’s first cut, “Break on Through (To the Other Side),” worried Elektra. On early, nervous editions of the album, Elektra cut out the word “High” from the lyric’s “She gets high,” worried that radio would not play that drug-implying word. The edit became “She gets, she gets.” (Censoring became less of a problem for Doors’ songs as the months proved the group deeply popular. Later editions restored the naughty words.)

“Light My Fire” became the album’s second single, but not without its own struggle. As recorded, “Light My Fire” ran a bit over seven-minutes long. The cut had already become famous, but Elektra knew seven-minutes meant less airplay. Against The Doors’ wishes, Rothchild cut the take down to about three minutes. The Doors put up with it.

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
If I was to say to you
Girl, we couldn't get much higher

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire

Meeting the Public

Having broken up with his girlfriend Mary Werbelow (as expressed in the lyrics of “The End”), Jim Morrison began living with pro groupie Pamela des Barres.

Des Barres in her book I’m With the Band wrote: "The word was out on the street that everyone had to see this lead singer because there had never been anything like him . . . with the unnatural grace of someone out of control . . . He looked like a Greek god gone wrong, with masses of dark brown curls and a face that sweaty dreams are made of. . . It was really mind-boggling.”

Coinciding with the release of The Doors on January 4, 1967, Elektra put its “all” behind The Doors. Elektra’s Steve Harris hired several young, hot, well-boobied girls to create an air of excitement at all The Doors’ shows, throwing their underwear on stage, and coming on to Jim Morrison during performances. (By now, Morrison had a new “Pamela” in his life: Pamela Courson had replaced Pamela des Barres.)

Morrison and Pamela Courson

The Doors began getting booked to appear at major festivals like San Francisco’s Great Human Be-In (along with The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane). But not in the top spots. Yet. The Doors still had miles to rise to that level.

The Be-In Crowd

By April, three months after the album’s release, The Doors were booked for two shows with Jefferson Airplane, playing to their largest crowd to date of over 3,000. This new venue, named Cheetah’s Club, out near the Santa Monica Pier. It had just opened on March 21st sporting a 7,000 sq. ft. dance floor surrounded by stainless steel walls.

Riding the upward swing of success their new album is producing, The Doors, for the first time, started getting top billing over the biggest bands from rival San Francisco. It gets like: Jim is highly delighted tonight and proving it, he does his “tightrope walk” along the stage edge, doing a shaman Indian dance, then falls off-stage, down some 8 feet, ka-boom for the first time during a performance. Obviously a big night for the band.

By July, “Light My Fire” hit #1 on the singles chart, beating out Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Executives at Elektra had to control themselves.

Summer’s half gone, and within Elektra, “more Doors” became the label focus. Another LP for 1967 is quickly planned.

Album Two

On Monday, August 21, 1967, the group begins work on its second album at Sunset Sounds Studios in Hollywood. Its title would be Strange Days.

The first Strange Days session had been back in May, but now – August -- is the group’s first chance back in the studio since then.

In the studio, the band is smoking a lot of pot. Morrison is now different. He’s more confident. He feels “in charge” now, showing up at sessions when he feels it, and otherwise being not findable. When he does arrive, he has become a combination poetic scholar and loony drunk. And sometimes he just slides out of on-going sessions on a break, out to get more hammered.

Morrison’s eccentric behavior is not much spoken about at Elektra HQ, where the sales guys have advance orders for Strange Days of 500,000 albums. This is clearly a different world for Elektra now. Even having “sales guys” is different. The Doors, led by Ray Manzarek, worked over Holzman performing his legal rep role, and quickly get their royalties up from 5% to 7.5%, and their own publishing back.

Then, with Strange Days recorded, Morrison flew back to New York in mid-September to do photo shoots for Elektra Publicity, getting him on the covers of magazines like Vogue. Another world once more for Morrison. Meeting celebs like Andy Warhol. Then heading over to Jac Holzman’s NY apartment (nobody there), where Morrison throws up all over the entry door. Jim now is rebelling against everything, and has moved from hallucination pills to hard liquor.

Morrison as The Young Lion

Wasting no time, Elektra moves Strange Days to market on September 25. Ten months after album one.

#2: “Strange Days” cover

Two singles emerge from Strange Days: “People Are Strange” (#12), then “Love Me Two Times” (#25). The album itself goes Top Ten (to #3 in November).

Back on stage, zooming from city to city, The Doors are now personified not so much by “hit tunes” and more by their surreal performance attitude. UCLA’s Daily Bruin carried this paragraph:

"At times during the brilliant improvisational sections to numbers, Morrison was like a conductor/dictator gone berserk. He would thrash about attempting to zap the potent energy so abundant within him to each individual member of the group. He screamed at them, urging them onto more volume, more notes, more intricacies, more, MORE, MORE. He thundered back to his life-line microphone in time to reinstate pure human horror in the black air of the auditorium."

Morrison now treats every show like it’s his last.

One night, playing in New Haven, Morrison met a local co-ed (age 18) and they start making out in the backstage shower stall. The police order them out of the stall. Morrison doesn’t obey, and gets mace in his face.

The performance goes on, with police lining the stage. Halfway through the first set, Morrison went into an fuck-laced tirade to the audience, describing what had happened backstage. He pointed out the villains: the police.

The concert ended right there with Morrison getting dragged offstage by the police. At the local police station, he got photographed and booked on charges of Inciting a Riot, Indecency and Public Obscenity.

Jim Morrison becomes the first rock star ever to get arrested on stage. Off to jail after the show. He’ll be released at 2 the next morning, posting bail of $1500.

1968 – Album Three

Back fast to recording, this time to T.T.G. Recording in Hollywood, now newly equipped with state-of-the-art,8-track recording capabilities, and begin recordings for their third album Waiting For The Sun.

Album 3: Waiting For The Sun

Getting this album created became torturous. It took from February through May, 1968, to get into the can. Consider these hurdles:

• At first, one full album side of the album was to be one piece – “Celebration of the Lizard” – Morrison’s on-stage combination of spoken verse, allegorical story telling, and music bridges. Producer Paul Rothchild wanted perfection, demanding take after take. But the sessions are all getting fouled up. Even though Morrison was into recording, his constant drinking and partying made him unreliable and creatively blah. He now has an “I couldn’t care less” attitude. Then, after his “his full masterpiece” "The Celebration" got finally cut from the album, he withdrew and rebelled.

Only one reduced section of “The Celebration” became a track on Waiting for the Sun.

• A second drama/song, called “The Unknown Soldier,”. This “song” was anti-Vietnam and anti-war, and included on-stage sound effects produced by The Doors, including a count off in 4’s (“Hup, Hup, Hup 2-3-4…Present Arms!,” the sounds of rifles getting loaded, a drum roll, rifle shots (with Robby pointing his guitar at Morrison).

Morrison keeling over to stage, then Morrison screaming, grand organ, “Make a grave for the Unknown Soldier.” On and on, this drama continues until the war’s end, crowds cheering, bells tolling…

Interrupt: March, 1968. Though the album is nowhere near finished, Elektra needs a new Doors single. Right now. "The Unknown Soldier"/ "We Could Be So Good Together" single is released. Many radio stations avoid playing the song due to its war anthem/anti-war bias. To promote the single, Elektra produces a short film climaxing with Jim getting shot while strapped to a pole on the beach.

• The recording sessions get worse and worse. Drummer John Densmore got fed up and left the studio (he returned the next day). Having blown his chance to get "Celebration of The Lizard" on the record, upset as hell, Jim leaves for a few hours returns extremely drunk, returns, lowers the lights and goes into the recording booth completely plastered and sings the take of "Five To One". (If you listen closely to the part at the end of the song where he says: "Hey come on honey...(swig)... go along home and wait for me, baby, and I'll be there in just a little while..." you can hear him take a swig of his bottle of brandy.) 

Friday, July 12, 1968

The Doors’ third album – Waiting for the Sun -- was released today and became a huge success among the kids and on Top 40 radio. But rave reviews comparing this album to their previous two albums came back to haunt them. (Not to fret, though. Since its release, Waiting for the Sun has sold over seven million copies.)

As if in apology for not getting that big cut onto actual vinyl, inside the sleeve of the album is printed Morrison's 133-line poem "The Celebration of the Lizard".

And the title track "Waiting for the Sun," left off this album, will be included on The Doors’ 1970 album Morrison Hotel. (Stay Tuned).

1969 On the Road

On Jan. 24 of 1969, Elektra and the East Coast learn how big rock dates in indoor arenas can get.

Answer: Madison Square Garden, The Doors appearing for a sold-out audience of over 20,000.

Jac Holzman is out front tonight with his son Adam and an entourage of Elektra personnel. Tonight’s gate takes in over $125,000 and The Doors retain over $50,000. It makes them one of the highest paid acts in the business.

Jim Morrison begins the performance without showy theatrics, but with every little pose he gets into - the crowd erupts. To prove his humble connection to the crowd, early on he tosses his leather coat into the audience. Cheers erupt. New York loves The Doors!

To these 20,000, Morrison has become bigger than life. Constant lighting changes set the “Garden” on fire, strobe-ing it. The Doors have now pulled off one of those major events, rocking the world’s most important arena.

They decided to do a BIG tour. Hey, why not! Starting in Miami, on…

March 1, 1969, a Saturday

This night, the whole Doors cavalcade has set up within the Coconut Grove in Miami. The place is called The Dinner Key, resurrected and enlarged from an old seaplane hanger. Rafters up above, and a rickety stage thereunder. The arena is designed to hold 7,000. Tonight it is crammed with over 12,000, and that not counting a few hundred who’ve crawled in second floor windows after scaling the walls outside.

Bill Siddons, manager of The Doors, has the $25,000 guarantee against the anticipated attendance, but not against all this! “We had one guy stationed at every door and we had 13,000 people in that building, not including the people who got in when my guys were thrown off the door. You ever seen sardines in a can?” Outside, another 2,000 fans pounded the walls, begging to get in. It’s the hottest night of the year. No air conditioning.

Jim Morrison showed up, drunk even by his standards. His flight got in late. He’d sent Pam home, avoiding more arguing between them. He was not one to argue with, and was drunk, drunk, drunk.

Bearded now. Wearing a leather hat with a skull and crossbones on it. He was angry and lashed out against his sex-symbol fame, dangled by the media. When he walked on stage, he took it out on the mike there.

The concert would be a short 65 minutes. Morrison first just rapped at the audience, incoherently, while the band repeatedly played the intro to “Break on Through,” over and over and over.

Morrison on stage to the crowd: “…I’m not talking about no revolution. I’m talking about have a good time. I’m talking about having a good time this summer. Now you all come out to L.A. You all get out there. We’re going to lie down there in the sand and rub our toes in the ocean and we’re going to have a good time. Are your ready? Are you ready?”

“Five to One” was to be his first song. He couldn’t get it started. Now he was angry at the crowd: “You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots..” The audience started shouting back at him.

On stage, he collapsed, briefly and as he often did.

On and on. One in the crowd jumped up on stage and poured champagne over him. Jim pulled at his shirt: “Let’s see a little skin. Let’s get naked. You wanna see my cock, don’t you? That’s what you came for, isn’t it? Yeahhhh!” Morrison teased showing it for a moment, but not really.

The police came on stage to calm things down.

Finally, “Light My Fire.” Audience members started climbing on stage. One climber gave Morrison a lamb to hold. Jim got thrown into the audience. It was over.

The Doors went back to their dressing rooms. Siddons paid one policeman for the cost of his hat that Jim had flung into the audience. Good-natured joking.

Local newspaper reviewers raised articles of outrage. The Miami Herald wrote, “It was not meant to be pretty. Morrison appeared to masturbate in full view of the audience, screamed obscenities and exposed himself.”

That article got it going. Two days later, the city of Miami issued an arrest warrant for James Douglas Morrison, the complaint signed by an office boy who’d been at the show and worked for the state attorney.

The accusations:

1) lewd and lascivious behavior (felony)

2) indecent exposure (misdemeanor)

3) open profanity (misdemeanor)

4) drunkenness (misdemeanor)

The trial would take a year to get going, and jury deliberations did not begin until August 12, 1970. Between now and then lay 18 months when multiple concerts would get cancelled, one by one, and the press used “Miami” and “Exposed” to sell more copies. (On April 5, Rolling Stone published an article titled “Wanted in the County of Dade.” A follow-up article claimed “Morrison’s Penis Is Indecent.”)

As 1969 crawled forward, with concert after concert getting canceled on The Doors, the band went back to making new records for Elektra in a brand new studio in L.A. that had been called “The Studio That The Doors” built.

Elektra had a couple of new albums in mind. What better time?

1969 crawled toward the legal judgment over Morrison back in Miami. Until September. It seemed to take longer than some of those songs of his, the ones that never seemed to get to “The End.”

-- Stay Tuned