I was 16 or so when I first paid attention to The Doors. Looking up at that black and white poster of Jim Morrison at a girlfriend’s house and feeling somewhat intimidated. More so because I didn’t quite feel the same love for Jim and his band that she did. Or at least the love for The Best of The Doors CD that she did. Awkward.
However, I saw Oliver Stone’s movie when I was 17 and I thought “yikes! This Jim guy was a live one!”. I soaked up the soundtrack and got myself a copy of that The Best of The Doors two disc set. But it would be another couple of years before I would truly fall head over heels. College, it seems, was the catalyst – boozing, meeting new folk, and singing various big doors numbers while walking home late through the city centre (maybe a wee bit drunk) really helped the music sink in.
I was obsessed with Morrison Hotel for the longest time when I really fell for The Doors. It wasn’t all about Ray’s keys lighting tracks up, but it was about Robbie’s guitar. Jim, of course, was still the focal point, but he wasn’t so much the shamanic poet as he was a rock singer at this point. The story behind Morrison Hotel and the circumstances that led to a more back to basics approach to making the record are for another day, but it included Miami and the muted reception to The Soft Parade. It’s an album that lacks the mystery and the big singles that The Doors had been known for, but it does boast Roadhouse Blues.
This, friends, is entry level Doors. The kind that are accessible. Etc. etc.
Do you know who else likes it? Cincinnati Babyhead, that’s who. So, we sat down at a booth at the Morrison Hotel and discussed our love of an album that resonates big time through our bones.
CB: Roadhouse Blues. What a way for an album to open up for a snot nosed teen kid. Easy to catch that beat and groove. There was no thinking involved. Instant into this music. So much to like on the first cut, it’s just a hard rock and blues.
Ray’s piano sets the boogie tune, Robbie Krieger cuts a great solo – harp, drums and bass fill it out. Morrison has the vocals that are made for the music – when Morrison sings “I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer”, I believed him. CB was making a b-line for this lifestyle.
J: No kidding. I don’t think they recorded a better straight up blues tune than that one – though L.A. Woman’s The Changeling comes very, very close for my money.
Krieger has this really unique playing style and you hear it here… it’s jagged and it cuts right through the speakers. I always thought that there was a sense that Jim knew reaching for the beer first thing in the morning is a slippery slope, but he’s rolling with it… cause he’s already there and he’s an all in kinda guy – “ach well, fuck it”. The solo is amazing too… Jim shouting “do it, Robbie! Do it!” and he obliges.
CB: Exactly on the same page with The Changeling / Roadhouse. Gets the juices flowing. Something guttural about it and, yeah, Robbie just smokes and “cuts through the speakers” which were bouncing off the floor at my house. I could have listened to them jam longer on this one.
Morrison was probably on the downside of the liquor thing, but as a young bullet proof/carefree/testosterone fueled male I was looking forward to my turn.
J: Robbie and Jim definitely found their stride, I reckon. What an opening statement, eh?
CB: They certainly found some kind of groove. The whole band along with Robbie and Jim found their “stride”. Confident and tight.
Waiting For The Sun feels like it wants to break out into a heavy metal riff, Morrison even lets go a wail!
J: I never actually thought about that before, but you’re right. There’s some fuzz in those big slabs.
[CB is always right. He has spoken.]
CB: This great sound was unique to the Doors. Just two songs in and digging this one. The rest of side one just continues with more good stuff.
J: … all the good stuff, CB.
CB: Ray’s barrel house piano on the 3rd cut takes the band into a straight ahead Doors rocker.
J: … oh aye, You Make Me Real is vibrant and punchy and again, Jim is on form. He really is more of a rock vocalist on this album than shaman, eh? His rhythm and phrasing is different.
Take Peace Frog for example. I love it unconditionally. I’ve heard it a million times and when I was out and about asking for The Doors when a ‘DJ’ was on at a bar at the weekend, 9 times out of 10 this was the track they’d put on. But I just never tired of up. After Jim’s monologue about the Indian’s scattered on dawn’s highway and the ghosts I would be shouting at the top of my voice along with Jim:
Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven
Blood stains the roofs and the palm trees of Venice
Blood in my love in the terrible summer
Bloody red sun of fantastic L.A
Blood screams her brain as they chop off her fingers
CB: I guess those things you noted are some of the reasons I really like this album. It rocks on a tune like You Make Me Real. Ray’s barrel house is a great touch. If I would have heard Peace Frog at the bar I would have went nuts and started jumping around like some kind of amphibian!
J: What a fucking line – “Blood screams the brain as they chop off her fingers”. Robbie’s guitar lines just encouraged Jim there.
CB: He [Robbie] pulls out Chicago a couple times on this song. Maybe some Chicago blues influence. Killer cut.
J: You know what else, CB? I love how the final chord segues into Blue Sunday. It’s magical… and mournful. I also love how Jim sings “My girl awaits for me in tender time / My girl is mine / She is the world / She is my girl”. His phrasing is Sinatra-esque. Jim clearly loves Pam and she him, but their relationship was pretty fierce… and well, I guess that’s where the mournful tone comes from… but I just follow the groove, man. And what a groove. What a band.
CB: Why we listen and fall in love with records. No secret why they would put this cut here. I love listening to full albums. Robbie lays down some nice jazzy licks.
Ship Of Fools has one of my favorite grooves. Robbie setting the tone, bass comes in then organ. Love it. A little break in the middle so Jim can have his say then back to that great groove. Fantastic!
J: Shaman Jim saw the future, CB – talking about the end of the world here.
CB: Great Doors tune. Robbie Krieger lays down some nice work on the last cut on side one.
Hearing Morrison yell out ‘Land Ho’ on the first track on side two is worth the listen for CB.
J: there’s a weird groove on this one, eh?
CB: I guess Morrison had sailing in his blood
J: Haha! He was probably a reincarnated pirate. Fond of the seven seas and a penchant for some booze.
CB: The Spy is just an all time favorite Doors song. The band sets the mood for this one. Man what a great tune. CB wanted to be “a spy in the house of love”. Sort of a demented lounge song (if CB ever cuts a record this will be the first cut).
J: same, man. Top 3 Doors tunes for me… there’s this trippy vibe to it… psychedelic blues… the tempo shifts ever so slightly. Or at least John lets you think that. Jim is at the top of his game here. The way the band shift it when Jim sings “I know your deepest secret fear”. Amazing.
(CB’s Demented Lounge is the type of album I could get behind)
CB: I wonder if Nick Cave has listened to this one. He should. Ray and Robbie take it out.
Three more tunes on side three.
J: … and they’re all incredible. Queen of the Highway, Indian Summer, and Maggie M’Gill.
CB: Queen of the Highway also has a great groove and lyrics and images that have stayed with me. Plus a few tempo changes. Interesting piece – almost more of that lounge feel again.
J: Aye, it still retains that The Soft Parade vibe to it, though it doesn’t sound out of place here. It would have been interesting to hear how it would have sounded on The Soft Parade, actually… though I guess it would have meant we’d have missed it here. So ignore that.
Anyhoo, the opening lines get your attention and, like you say, Jim paints a lasting picture. It’s clearly about him and Pam again, eh? – the romance between two crazy young lovers and dreamers. Well, until Jimbo shows up (“No one could save her / Save the blind tiger / He was a monster / Black dressed in leather“).
CB: Indian Summer is like Blue Sunday. Change of pace that works and helps set up the last cut.
J: Definitely a change of pace, but again, it doesn’t sound out of place. Some nice vibes here, too.
CB: The album ends the same way it started, with a heavy beat and groove. Tough, mean rough blues, Doors style.
J: Maggie M’Gill is definite rough blues. No doubt. Robbie again with that cutting blues playing of his. Tangy Town sounds like a fucking riot – booze and blues, rock n’ roll cars… and getting your new shoes on those dancing feet of yours.
CB: Yup lets meet all our friends there. First round is on CB. Again Robbie does some great work. Kind of a Captain Beefheart groove which is basically old blues the rough way.
I listened to this album more than any other Doors album (I listened to the other ones a lot). Great tunes, great album. Everything I liked about music at the time. The Doors as a group came together to make some good music on Morrison Hotel ( The cover reminded me of Muswell Hillbillies and Willy and The Poor Boys). Their sound just nailed me.
CB hadn’t been in a roadhouse before but after this album he was counting the days when he could do just that. He wanted to be soaking up that music in the right digs.
“Cause people down there, really like to get it on”.
J: Much the same as you, CB. I was obsessed with this album for a while. Seriously. I think I got into the Doors in a BIG way when I was in my early 20s and I latched onto this one. Big time. I gave it way more time than any of the others. Is it my favourite? I dunno, that’s maybe Strange Days (that’s one dark and trippy LP), but this is easily the one I turn to when I want to have a good time listening to The Doors. Jim and Robbie tear it up… as great as they all were, this is their album.
CB: They all do good work on the album but over the years I hear Krieger’s stamp all over it. But it’s still a Doors album and I lived with this for a long time. When Morrison had his shit together he was good. He had his shit together on this one. Manzarek still added that special piece to the sound.
Funny that they had Lonnie Mack on bass on the first and last song. A great blues guitar man. I had forgot all about that.
J: yeah… I also forgot that John Sebastian is credited as G. Puglese. Recording Roadhouse Blues must have been quite something.
Thanks to CB for sitting down to shoot the breeze about this one… and thanks for reading along. Feel free to join in the conversation and share your own thoughts and experiences on Morrison Hotel, cause we’d love to hear from you.
We enjoyed chatting about this one so much, we might even do it again… see what other albums we feel the same way about. Or we might just talk about Sean Connery. Who knows.
**my copy of Morrison Hotel is a reissue in a standard sleeve that I picked up for £6 around 5 or 6 years ago. I haven’t been able to locate the particular copy on Discogs, so can’t tell you much about it other than it is, according to the sleeve, a European reissue. It’s a really pretty thick slice of vinyl, too. Anyhoo, the important thing is that it sounds great to me.**