One of the Wonders of Pop Music--The Doors' L.A. Woman
It was all over. The Doors had had their run--and a very successful run it was--but it had run its course. It was clear the band was exhausted from continuous touring, uninspired, and ill-prepared to make an album. The previous album, though well received critically, had not sold all that well, nor had the album spawned a hit single. Now the band was back in the studio to make a new album, when without warning, their long-time record producer Paul Rothchild, angrily announced he'd had enough, and stormed out the door.
Paul Rothchild, who had produced all five of the Doors' albums, had grown weary of having to deal with the band's mercurial lead singer--Jim Morrison. Morrison, the band's front man and chief songwriter, often shown up in the recording studio drunk, unprepared, and often late. Indeed, while recording the previous album, Morrison wrote only a few songs, most of them with lyrics that were unfinished. After pleading unsuccessfully with Morrison to finish his songs, the band members went to his house, and began thumbing through his notebooks of poetry in search for lyrics to finish his songs.
Now, in December 1970, about to embark on making a new album, Morrison arrived in the studio, with no new songs at all, and an attitude that spoke of not wanting to be there. It was then Rothchild had a meltdown and walked out in a huff.
That's when recording engineer Bruce Botnick stepped up to lead the Doors in recording what would become the Doors' sixth and last album. Botnick always enjoyed working with the Doors, because each member was a peerless, highly individualistic musician. Keyboard player Ray Manzarek was a classically trained pianist, Robbie Kreiger was schooled in playing flamenco guitarist, and John Densmore was a drummer steeped in American Jazz. Best of all, they were friends who loved jamming together and who enjoyed each other's company. The miracle is how three such gifted musicians managed to find each other.
It was Ray Manzarek who started the band, in 1965. He met UCLA art student Jim Morrison on the beach in Venice, California. Morrison was a beat poet possessed with a dark vision. Manzarek was stunned by the depth and quality of Morrison's verse. A bohemian himself, Manzarek liked Morrison immediately.
Manzarek knew of a number of talented musicians, but chose Kreiger (guitar) and Densmore (drums) to join his fledgling band. The problem was Morrison's shyness; he was not comfortable standing up before a crowd, nor did he see himself as a lead singer in a rock 'n' roll band. With a lot of persuasion, and several missteps Morrison overcome his shyness, and discovered his natural baritone blended seamlessly with the blues/rock stylings of the Doors' musicianship.
After rehearsing for several weeks, the band got its first big break with a an appearance at the Whiskey a Go-Go, in Hollywood. Their one-night gig created such a sensation that it led to a permanent nightly engagement as the Whiskey's house band. It was while performing at the Whiskey that Paul Rothchild discovered the Doors, and signed them to a contract with Electra Records.
Ostensibly the band's sole songwriter, Jim Morrison told his fellow bandmates he could not do it alone, and urged them to try their hand at writing pop songs. The following day Krieger arrived at the studio with what would become their biggest hit--"Light My Fire". Coupled with a few rhythm-and-blues standards, and several more songs by Morrison, the Doors' first album made an immediate sensation across the county.
Now in big demand, the Doors toured incessantly, only taking time off every year or so to record a new album. It continued this way pretty much non-stop up to December 1970, when the Doors returned to the studio to record their sixth album.
After Rothchild walked out, the group and Botnick organized a makeshift recording studio at their private rehearsal hall, known as the Doors' Workshop. The idea was to record in a more comfortable and relaxed setting, while avoiding the expenses of a professional studio. A used mixing console was installed upstairs in the Workshop, while downstairs studio monitors, microphones, guitar amplifiers, and keyboards were set up. To compensate for the lack of an isolated vocal booth, Morrison sang into a mic standing in the bathroom doorway.
The first obstacle was coming up with enough quality songs. Morrison had nothing new to offer, so the band began jamming, performing tunes they all loved. This led them to the band performing "Ghost Riders in the Sky". They performed it so well, that Morrison wrote new lyrics that--couple with some musical tweaks--morphed into what would become "Riders on the Storm."
Taken from Morrison's journals written in 1968, the band worked up the music for "The Changeling." Newly inspired, Morrison composed the blues number "Cars Hiss by My Window". Kreiger then wrote a new tune, "Love Her Madly". After much jamming, the band created the music for Morrison's sprawling homage to Los Angeles (what he called "the city of night"). The song would become the album's title track: "L.A. Woman."
The Doors then worked up the music for "Hyacinth House" which was as close to country-and-western music the Doors would ever get; plus a newly-minted Morrison tune: "L'America" (which was originally titled "Latin America"). Morrison then dusted off an old blues number written by John Lee Hooker, entitled "Crawling King Snake". Toward the end of the session, the band created the music for Morrison's dark and foreboding journey through a sort of netherworld, entitled, "The WASP (Texas Ratio and the Big Beat)". To complete the album the band created the music for Morrison's "Been Down So Long," a song inspired by folk singer Richard Farina's book "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up for Me."
Later, Manzarek explained that the band did not "approach the album with one vision, but after we started working on the songs, we realized we're talking about L.A, -- about men, women, love, loss, lovers-lost, and lovers-found in Los Angeles."
For the recording session, Botnik brought in Elvis Presley's bassist Jerry Sheff, and rhythm guitarist Marc Benno to provide additional backing. By all accounts, Morrison--a huge Presley fan--was excited by Scheff's participation. Best of all, bassist Sheff and rhyhm guitarist Benno blended well with Manzarek's keys, Krieger's lead guitar, and Densmore's drums. About the sessions, Krieger said: "The warden (Paul Rothchild) was gone, which is one reason why we had so much fun."
Later, after the band learned of Morrison's untimely death, Robby Krieger said: "I'm glad that "L.A. Woman" was our last album . . . It really captured what we were all all about. The first record did, too, but "L.A. Woman" is more loose, it's live -- it sound almost like a rehearsal. It's pure Doors."
Indeed, with the exception of a few keyboard overdubs, the album was recorded completely live.
The record execs loved it too, especially when "Lover Her Madly", was released as a single, and within weeks topped the Top-40 playlist (it would eventually go four-times platinum). After that they released "Riders on the Storm" as a single, it too went number one (and would eventually go three-times platinum). The album itself topped the charts (and went three-times platinum).
The album received mostly rave positive reviews. Rolling Stone's Robert Meltzer was impressed by the sense of fun and the togetherness of the band, saying it was "the Doors' greatest album" and the best album of the year. Reviewing in New Musical Express, critic Roy Carr called it "one of their best in sometime," praising it as having "great depth, vigor and presence." Critic Stephen Dalton of Classic Rock, reviewing the 40th Anniversary Edition of the album, remarked how "the original L.A. Woman still stands proud, an all-time classic journey into bright shining darkness."