You go into a bar in Anywhere, U.S.A, you order a drink, maybe light a cigarette. You’re nursing your drink when a band you’ve never heard of before gets on stage and starts to play. At first you don’t pay any attention to them. As you’re sitting there the music starts to seep into your consciousness and you realize the band is a little better than usual and you turn around to watch and start to get in to them. This is the feeling you get from The Doors new release “The Doors: The London Fog”.
An early reviewer of The Doors’ first album said the band appeared fully formed and the London Fog does nothing to dispel that impression. Which begs the question: where did The Doors work out their sound? History has said that their time at the London Fog was a time for them to work out their sound, and lengthen songs like “The End” and “When the Music’s Over” which I don’t doubt, but these London Fog recordings prove that The Doors were already well on their way to being a mature group performance and arrangement wise.
(Jim talks about The London Fog around 19:45.)
The Doors as heard in The London Fog recordings are a bluesier band, and as Ray Manzarek once noted a comparison to the Rolling Stones or The Animals is reasonable, but there are a couple of caveats I’d like to add to that. The first is that The Doors sound different than those above mentioned groups. The second is that all those groups were pulling from the same inspirational source, the blues they loved.
“The Doors: The London Fog” was recorded in 1966 by Nettie Pena when The Doors were in residence there from late February to early May of 1966. Jim Morrison asked her to make the recording. She brought along a twenty-two pound reel-to-reel tape recorder and a couple of cameras. Most of the songs are covers from Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Albert King (with whom The Doors would play in 1970), Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper, which is due, in equal parts, to The Doors’ short list of originals and bar owners wanting bands to play songs familiar to customers. The Doors cover “Rock Me”, “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “Don’t Fight It”, and “Lucille” with above average renditions of those songs. You can hear their original spark in them. The “London Fog” recording also hails from a time when maybe The Doors were a little more equal in stature and presence with Ray Manzarek handling the vocals on Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” giving it a real Chicago tinged feel to the song.
Of The Doors’ originals on “The London Fog”, “You Make Me Real” is far bluesier than the version on 1970‘s “Morrison Hotel” and the country-rock antecedents are there albeit pushed to the back, but it still has the carefree exuberance that will fully flower in the album version. “Strange Days”, which was leaked a few years ago, as noted then is very close to the version released on The Doors’ second album, but as it appears on this release “Strange Days” sounds in context with the rest of the set The Doors play; but it is DIFFERENT from anything else The Doors were playing obviously as they set themselves apart early on from other bands. Whether this was conscious or not is debatable, or only The Doors themselves know for sure.
The London Fog recordings also capture the ambiance of the London Fog 50 years ago, a small, smoky bar with an audience only mildly interested in the band playing, two or three people bothering to clap, Jim Morrison’s exhortations to get up and dance, and a band standard of “don’t go away.” Gives you the feeling of exactly what the London Fog was like.
In Ms. Pena’s notes about the night she recorded The Doors, she writes that there were two reels of tape; and over the years and moves she’s made in her life the second tape has disappeared. The second reel contains an early version of “The End”, and based on what I’ve heard from this package and the recordings I hope she finds the other reel and there’s a “London Fog II”.