The Doors Release ‘London Fog 1966’, Surviving Members Recall Early Days
Every few years, just when you think there couldn’t possibly be any more Doors material in the vaults, a new batch of material emerges. The latest Doors release, a limited-edition box set titled London Fog 1966, features some of the Doors’ earliest recordings, made while the group was honing its skills during a residency at a small club on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. Surviving members John Densmore and Robby Krieger recently spoke with Rolling Stone about that seminal period.
“The stage was so high [at London Fog], you needed an oxygen mask,” recalls Densmore. “I was worried about Jim [Morrison] falling. It had all these stupid little circus ropes around the sides of the stage … ridiculous. And across the way was a cage with Rhonda Layne, the go-go girl. She was slightly overweight and wore a mini-skirt and go-go boots….
Such was the setting in which the Doors—Densmore, Morrison, Krieger and late keyboardist Ray Manzarek—honed their craft and developed their band chemistry. Morrison, in particular, made great strides as a vocalist and performer. “Playing in front of people, even if it’s 12 [patrons], ups the ante,” says Densmore. “It forced us to examine everything. Jim’s baritone was not fully formed. I’ve got a lot of testosterone in my playing, but I was learning that what was really important was a sense of dynamics.”
Krieger concurs: “In the beginning, Jim wasn’t as talkative or singing as good. We were constantly trying to get him to turn around and engage the audience. [Here], he sounds boisterous … happy.” Krieger adds that the band was poised to blossom as a musical entity. “We were young, and at that age, that was the time to be creative,” he says. “As Jim explained it, he felt like all his life up ’til that point was like a bow string being drawn back and then finally you let it go and all the creativity comes out.”
The set lists for the London Fog gigs featured an eclectic mix of covers and original songs, many of which later appeared on the Doors’ studio albums. Morrison, who didn’t play an instrument, often created melodies in his head as a way to remember his original poems and lyrics. Arrangements were often constructed around “songs” that Morrison would sing a cappella.
“A song like ‘Crystal Ship’ has a complicated melody,” observes Densmore. “He would sing it and we’d go, ‘Holy shit, wait a minute. F-sharp. Let’s do that.’ He couldn’t play a chord on any instrument, but he had this orchestra in his head.”
It was Morrison, as well, who insisted that all songwriting credits be shared equally among the four band members. “That moment was pivotal,” says Densmore. “I don’t think any musical organization since the Thirties had done that. It produced 200 percent commitment from each of the four members. Later, when we played a gig and we were big, and we were introduced as ‘Jim Morrison and the Doors,’ he dragged the announcer back out and forced him to call it ‘The Doors.’ He was the star frontman, but behind the scenes, it was totally equal.”
London Fog 1966 is the first installment in what promises to be a steady stream of Doors-related archival recordings slated to appear in the coming months. With January 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of the Doors’ self-titled album debut, the time is ripe for more material, says Densmore. “There will be more stuff, including a couple of films, including one you haven’t seen before,” he says. “I’m very excited about that.”
Meanwhile the Doors’ legacy seems to grow with each passing year. Regarding the band’s legendary chemistry, Densmore employs a train metaphor. “Jim was the engine, Ray was shoveling coal, Robby was writing these great, catchy hit songs, and I’m the caboose,” he says. “I’m in the back, and I’m really enjoying it, but I’m also quite aware of Jim’s self-destruction and real nervous about it and trying to put the brakes on. But I’m young and we don’t have substance-abuse clinics. I didn’t know he was an alcoholic, so there was tension. But I knew we were creating something that maybe would last. I hoped 10, but now it’s 50 years. There it is.”
London Fog is available on vinyl here