Newly unearthed recording sheds light on The Doors pre-fame days
Before their self-titled debut, and long before L.A. Woman, The Doors were a predominately pure blues-rock band, plying their trade in the clubs along Sunset Strip, building a steady, if unpredictable following, thanks largely to charismatic lead singer Jim Morrison, whose personality and penchant for Dionysian antics were well and truly established when this recording was made. However this is not The Doors most people know; instead, this surprisingly well preserved audience tape made by Nettie Peña in May 1966, offers the listener the chance to go back in time, months before they were offered a recording contract by Elektra founder Jac Holzman.
Mastered by the group’s original engineer Bruce Botnick, London Fog 1966 is one of the most unique and precious documents ever released in The Doors’ catalogue, capturing them when they were still in a somewhat nebulous state.
The CD starts with a brief period of tuning, before the show itself gets under way, giving the listener a sense of actually being in the audience. Opening number “Rock Me” sees Morrison in old bluesman role, singing like a dysfunctional Dean Martin raised on the banks of the Mississippi. Clearly what this track immediately illuminates is that everything great about The Doors was already firmly in place, even if they were predominately relying mostly on covering other people’s material.
“Baby Please Don’t Go” is loose but intense, with Morrison raising the tension in atavistic style while the band do their best to keep the whole thing from descending into chaos. “You Make Me Real” first appeared on 1969’s Morrison Hotel, so it’s fascinating to hear it as it was originally performed. Likewise the spooky “Strange Days,” a song that would eventually find a place on their second LP of the same name.
They seem a tad uncomfortable on “Don’t Fight It,” as Morrison grunts, groans and yelps, like The Kingsmen on LSD. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek sings lead vocals on an impassioned “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” before finishing the set with a messy cover of Little Richards’ “Lucille,” a performance which gives absolutely no indication of The Doors’ future aesthetics. Absent is the baroque-rock of “Light My Fire” (yet to be written), as well as the oedipal epic “The End.” All that would come later. Yet for now, as this recording demonstrates, the band obviously remained a work-in-progress.
Don’t let the lack of high fidelity put you off (there are far worse recordings getting around believe me), because London Fog 1966 is the equivalent of an Egyptologist discovering the burial chamber of some long lost pharaoh. In other words, listening to this album is like musical archaeology. And as far as excavation goes, in Doors world at least, this is about as deep as it gets.