Interview: Jerry Scheff, Bass Player on “L.A. Woman”

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The "L.A. Woman" Sessions
Marc Benno, Jerry Scheff, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison

Doors fans know that Jerry Scheff played bass on “L.A. Woman,” and in his new book “Way Down Playing Bass with Elvis, Dylan and The Doors” (see the Doors Examiner review) he details his experiences with some of the biggest legends of rock ‘n’ roll. Jerry was kind enough to answer some questions for The Doors Examiner and Doors fans.

DE: You started as a session musician that morphed from playing gigs while you were in the Navy. Do you think this kind of networking still works today?

JS: Actually, I started in clubs in my mid-teens. I lived near San Francisco and over the years a few of those contacts had some bearing on my career. I think these days all you have to do is look at the big number of young players that are constantly rising up from the masses and making names for themselves. They didn’t just appear in a puff of smoke; they networked their way up.

DE: You worked with Elvis, and that even impressed Jim Morrison. How did you like working with Elvis?

JS: Working with Elvis was always great. He was always respectful and loved musicians. I left his band for about two years in 1973 but it was because of the whole entourage that surrounded him. I was one of the only “Yankees” at the time and that was a little awkward for me but he personally could not have been a nicer guy.

DE: In “Way Down” you didn’t spend a lot of time on the “L.A. Woman” sessions. Could you take us inside the studio? What was it like recording with The Doors? What was the atmosphere of the sessions like?

JS: The sessions were business as usual. Jim was soft spoken and friendly. Like I say in the book, I never saw him or any of the other guys stoned on anything except a few beers. I didn’t live with them. I only saw them in a business capacity. I never witnessed an argument between them. Just calm dedication to the project.

DE: How much input did you have in “L.A. Woman”?

JS: As far as the album as a whole goes, I probably made a few suggestions here and there but nothing earth-shattering that I remember. If you are speaking about the bass parts that is a different story. I once saw an interview online with Ray Manzarek when asked about the bass parts on “L.A. Woman” he held up his left index finger and blew on it as if it was on fire. He went on to imply that he was responsible for the bass parts. One very important bass part that was his idea was the “Riders” bass part. He came up with the most important eight notes in the song. The signature E-B-G-B-E-A-C-sharp A. He may have suggested a few other things as far as the album’s bass parts but that was it.

Rather than go on about the intricacies of making a bass part feel right and not mechanical, I suggest that listeners listen to the other Doors albums paying attention to the keyboard bass or real bass playing, and compare them with the “L.A. Woman” bass parts.

DE: Is there a song on “L.A. Woman” where you really hear your work? Or is representative of your playing?

JS: The whole album is representative of how I played Doors music at the time. I was playing differently for other people, especially Elvis.

Scheff recording “L.A. Woman” (Click for full size):

The "L.A. Woman" Sessions

The Doors in their office
At the office: John Densmore, Scheff, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Marc Benno. The legs of Jim Morrison can be seen at left.

DE: Did you ever consider starting your own band?

JS: No.

DE: You’ve worked with a lot of different artists and different styles of rock music. Which style do you think best defines you as a musician?

JS: None of them. I try to play appropriate music no matter who, what, or when I am playing it.

DE: Is there any advice you’d give to a musician trying to get started in the business?

JS: Don’t try to be all things to all people; you will wind up becoming one with the faceless.

DE: Thank you Jerry for talking with me.

See Jerry’s book, “Way Down Playing Bass with Elvis, Dylan and The Doors.” You can also visit his web site for more information.

Originally published May 5, 2012.

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