The Doors were at a low point in December 1970, when they gathered to begin recording their sixth studio album.
They had been banned from performing after singer Jim Morrison’s prosecution for exposing himself at a Miami concert on March 1, 1969, effectively killing their stage career.
Their previous album, Morrison Hotel, released in February 1970, had failed to break out. The group was enveloped in a general sense of doom and decline.
“We were pretty far down. People were saying we were over,” guitarist Robby Krieger recalls. “We couldn’t play anywhere. Morrison Hotel hadn’t done much. Jim was getting fat. Nothing really seemed to be happening, and we didn’t have much material when we started the sessions.”
Then things really started to get bad. “Before we even started recording, our producer walked out on us,” Krieger says.
That was Paul Rothchild, who had been behind the boards for each of the Doors’ first five studio albums. During preproduction in the band’s rehearsal space—where they would record the album to maintain a more informal feel—Rothchild, frustrated by what he heard, determined that the Doors were running into creative dead ends. He wished them well and walked out. Engineer Bruce Botnick took over the reins, and that low moment became a catalyst for one of the band’s landmark albums: L.A. Woman.
In celebration of the disc’s 40th anniversary, Elektra has released a new two-CD version of it that includes alternate takes of album tracks like “Love Her Madly,” “Riders on the Storm” and the title song, as well as a never-before-heard original, “She Smells So Nice,” recording during the sessions. Much to the surprise of Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and drummer John Densmore, Botnick discovered the track, a loose blues jam that segues into B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” while reviewing the L.A. Woman tapes for the reissue.
“I think we came up with an album so loose and cool that it has stood up for 40 years because there was no pressure,” Krieger says. “We figured we were screwed, so we started having fun again. We were so far gone that it was like a weight was lifted when Paul left. He was a great producer, and you can’t argue with the stuff we did with him, but he was always a very difficult guy to work for. He was a perfectionist, and we were looking forward to having the dictator off our back and just having some fun recording for once, which is exactly what happened.
“Before that time, we probably weren’t ready to do something like that—we really needed Paul. But after five albums we all knew how to record and what a good take sounded like, and we ended up recording everything in a couple of takes, maintaining a very loose vibe and energy throughout. It was great the way it came together, with everyone chipping in and contributing.”
L.A. Woman was released in April 1971, but what might have been a new start proved instead to be a farewell. Just three months later, Morrison died while in Paris. “It’s just too bad that what we tapped into on L.A. Woman didn’t last longer,” Krieger says. “Jim had been pretty uninvolved in some of the albums, but he was right in there with us on this, and that’s a big part of what made it so special.”
To commemorate L.A. Woman’s anniversary and reissue, Krieger shared his memories of some of the album’s greatest moments.
“I’ve always considered this the quintessential Doors song. It’s just magical to me, and the way it came about was fantastic. We just started playing and Jim started coming up with those words, and it just poured forth. Jim was sitting in the bathroom, which we were using as an iso booth, singing. I don’t know how he came up with that whole concept on the spot like that, but he did. You would think that would have been a poem that he had written before, as many of our songs were, but it’s not. That was just written on the spot.
“It’s very natural and sums up a lot of our best qualities. All the interplay with Ray just happened. We really understood each other at that point. We could anticipate where one another were headed and just play.”