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This Is Happening - Recording Strange Days, 1967

 Wow! And, it keeps happening from here on deep into the night as Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore keep weaving one magical blende after another.

Ray Giles

We’re sitting on a sofa in the control tower of studio one, Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood. Before us on the other side of a huge picture window, engineer Bruce Botnick I setting up mikes and speakers. To the left, behind another window, in a dark cell of a room is Jim Morrison, waiting…doing things with his mind.

Finally Bruce leaves the sound set, shutting off all the lights except for one row which borders right in front of Morrison’s black window and a sogt ball of red light clean across the room from the Doors’ lead vocalist.

Bruce enters the control tower and we’re ready to launch into flight. Least, that’s what we think, Paul Rothchild, the bearded producer does a dew switches and buttons, Bruce then speaks to Morrison who tests the mikes with his famous “yeahh” grunts.

Then there’s the music…the instrumental version, of which along could have been a Doors hit, and Jim Morrison begins singing “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind.”

But it sounds awful. Morrison is coming in with a broken, warbled voice. From the control tower, Rothchild halts everything. He knows this won’t get off the runway.

Bruce Botnick re-enters the sound stage, re-adjusts mikes and speakers and goes into Morrison’s black window for a while. When he comes back out, he does some more re-doing and is about ready to leae the runway when, over the mikes, Morrison asks him to shut off ALL the lights, save the red glow.

With this done, we sit in a dark control tower, looking at the blacker window in the left wall of the sound set which haunts itself in the soft darkness of the red ball. Then again, the already recorded instrumental comes on. This time the room fills with excitement as the rich voice of Jim Morrison rides over everything, loud and clear.

Wow! And, it keeps happening from here on deep into the night as Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore keep weaving one magical blende after another. Sounds that turn us on the re-do and re-do never

Losing, but always adding to the spell. They keep at it, for that turn-on known as self-satisfaction. And then, when they finally have it in the can, there;s still no telling when they’ll want to take the trup over.

Airport

We go to the Sunset Sound Recorders a bit late, and we weren;t sure what to expect. Would we not be admitted because the session was already a go? What were the Doors like individually and what were their recording dates like? Was the private Jim Morrison different from the public one? Was he real or was the super-earthiness put-on?

Most of what we experience was unexpected.

As we drove into the parking lot we noticed Morrisoin standing on the side of a Volkswagon bus. As we got out of the car he sort of shrank away. It certainly seemed to this writere that he wanted to be along with his thoughts. The girl who was with me, however, couldn’t resist approaching him. She asked him if they had started recording yet. He answered that, yeahh, they were recording inside now. She then asked him if he wasn’t going in too. Morrison said, yeahh, later.

Feeling a bit uneasy, I said something like “see ya inside” and chose to leave it at that as I maneuvered us out of the parking lot. Seconds later, as we walked on the sidewalk along Sunset towards the studio entrance, Morrison placed his chin over the grey brick wall of the parking lot and stared right at us, and yet, not at us. It was an unbelievable trip that would have drugged just about any young girl who would have happened by the sidewalk at that moment.

This is especially true when one considers that at this time the Doors had solidly established themselves as the hottest group in Los Angeles. Just the Saturday before they had stolen the show from a star-studded line-up which top-billed the Jefferson Airplane at Birmingham High School Stadium before an audience that numbered well over the expected sellout of 10,000.

If anyone doubts most of the Birmingham crowd wasn’t’ there for the Doors, it can easily be pointed out that half the audience was gone before the Airplane was in mid-flight. This could be attributed to the fact that, as the last group, the Airplane came on pretty late. Sill the Doors were next to last and the audience waited and shouted for more. Also, a matter of days later, before leaving on an East Coast tour, the doors sardined about 2,000 persons SRO into the Hullabaloo, while about three more full houses waited outside in an unbelievable line for the second, and last show!

With requests for the long version of “Light My Fire” snowballing into the switchboards of radio stations, the Doors were hot in a black of popularity. And, with his chin on  a grey brick wall, Jim Morrison gazed out on a not too glamorous portion of Sunset Boulevard.

RUNWAY

Sunset Sound occupies an umimpressive building that resembles, for the most part, a dozen other recording studios that dot the immediate area. Yet it certainly belongs several good-sized notches above most southland tape castles, having recorded more than its share of hits.

The day HAPPENING cisted the Doors, for example, the Merry-Go-Round was doing “Lovely Woman,” and a Billboard hot 100 chart listed several best-sellers, underlined in red ink, such as the Sergio Mendes LP, which has been taped there.

(Clear Light, Elektra’s newest offering is also familiar with Sunset Sound, Paul Rothchild and Bruce Botnick.)   

Anyways, in studio one the propellors of our musical airplane, the Doors, are already in motion. Everything’s on the runway John Densmore drums in the finishing touches to the instrumental of “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind.”

Quite a bit of time and effort have already gone into this number. After the whole thing had been done instrumentally once, it was played back, backwards, as John did a think with the cymbals. When the tape was played back, properly the cymbals came in reverse with a soft scratchswoosh sound.

Now John was putting a reqular dum beat on top of this.

When he was finished he left the sound stage and entered Rothchild’s control tower.

We all sat down and listened as the instrumental was played back. To Hames, my photographer, and myself, it sounded extremely groovy as it spilled into the room from the several large stereo speakers staring down at us from over the picture window. However, when it was over, Doors Ray, Robby and John knew it wasn’t what they wanted. Rothchild also knew.

Into the loneliness on the other side of the picture window went John again. A few times he came in slightly off the beat, but finally, it looked like it was just right.

Again we listened. Again James and I dug it. Again the Doors and company weren’t satisfied. Again John did it.

While this was going on in studio one, just outside in a lobby my companion tried a conversation with Jim Morrison. For those who don’t know, as she didn’t, Morrison’s generoustiy with words seems to be limited only to song. Seldom will one get two continuous sentences of dialog from the Doors vocalist.

She tried something like, I really dig you guys, and, since they were ready to depart on an Eastern tour, will you be playing around here before you go?

Yeahhh, Santa Barbara.

Oh, where in Santa Barbara, she asked, not knowing that there would be the surprise Hullabaloo stop which would bring a fantastic crowd with ahrdly a bit of advertising.

Oh, wow! Said Morrison as he suddenly got up and walked away. She later told me he was “definitely high.”

YOUR FACE IN MY MIND

When the instrumental to “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” was finally completed, John listened to the finished product then said he didn’t know about all of the studio effects. People will say it isn’t the Doors, he suggested. He received no encouragement in this thought.

Although this number was a big different from material like “Light My Fire”, “Back Door Man”, and “Soul Kitchen,” it really wasn’t unexpected. As organist Ray Manzarek had told us in an interview, their message was simple: Groove. To do this, the Doors were not afraid to venture into untried or different avenues. In fact, he said, pointing to “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” and “The End,” they had always looked for all sorts of Groove.

If there was a “Doors sound,” it wasn’t because they always played the same music. Rather, said Ray, it was because when the Doors did something they’d put so much of themselves into it that it just came stamped, “DOORS.”

A classical example of the Doors’ readiness to try new things is “Horse Latitudes” in their new album. It’s so different and extreme they’d probably weaken a few followers at this point if it weren’t for the immediately following “Moonlight Drive,” which is much easier to groove to.

TWO TIMES

Anyhow, with the completion of Morrison’s vocal to the track of “I Can’t See You In My Mind”, Rothchild asks Morrison what he’d like to do. Morrison answers he’s like to do “I Can’t See You In My Mind” over again. Rothchild overrules this, saying he feels its been done right. Morrison then suggests “People Are Strange”, but Rothchild says it isn’t ready yet and besides, it’s on another tape or something.

How about “Love Me Two Times,” asks Rothchild.

A funky guitar struts from the large speakers and then the whole control tower is rhythm-packed as Morrison rips into the song from his dark little room.

Everyone looks at the black window in the side wall of the red-tinted sound stage and either go “wow!” or start tapping to the beat. One of the girls present, who had danced that previous Saturday while the Airplane was doing its thinkg at Birmingham, swims into dance.

Perfect, great, says Rothchild. Let’s get a few more tapes of that. And again the 8-track 15 ips tape travels, the toes and fingers tap and the girl dances.

But Morrison is putting gtoo much into it. After several takes his voice begins to hint the strain and Rothchild calls a break. For sure, one of those recorded sides will do it, let’s grab a bit to eat.

With the girls who had entered just prior to “Love Me Two Times” (they had come over from RCA where the Jefferson Auplane was in session, the Doors go their way as we climb into our car to head back into the Valley.

Since my photographer has to be on a radio interview, and since the recording session is expected to last until 2 a.m., we decide it’s be better to return after the radio program thing is up about 10 p.m.

LOST LITTLE GIRL

When we return, it’s a different, groovier scene. All the lights in studio one are off except for the red ball in the sound stage and the small lights of the dials and gauges in Rothchild and Botnick’s control tower.

The sofa is cuddled with couples, everything is cozy. Floating throughout is the haunting instrumental of “You’re Lost Little Girl.” In the room, not on the other side of the picture window, but in the same room everyone else is in, Robby Krieger sits on a stool with his guitar. He is waiting to tape in a short-but groovy solo. Everyone is quiet and groovy. Everything is groovy.

And as the Krieger guitar sings in the dark, as it swims into our minds, we’re lost in one beautiful musical experience. 

Fiction By - Ray Giles
Photos - Jim Talmadge

 

In this Article

Strange Days
Release Date: 
9/25/67
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 Wow! And, it keeps happening from here on deep into the night as Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore keep weaving one magical blende after another.

Ray Giles

In this Article

Strange Days
Release Date: 
Monday, September 25, 1967 (All day)

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