January 17-18, 1970: The Doors Play the Felt Forum

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The Doors Live at the Felt Forum, January 1970
The Doors Live at the Felt Forum, New York City, January 1970

On January 17, 1970, The Doors began a two-night stand at the Felt Forum that was to be a tour in support of the forthcoming release “Morrison Hotel.” This also kicked off The Doors’ final year as a touring band with Jim Morrison.

The previous year had been a bad one for The Doors. Recording sessions for “The Soft Parade” had been expensive and tedious, and the album had been skewered by critics. In the aftermath of the March 1969 concert in Miami, Jim Morrison had been charged with indecent exposure and the rest of their tour was cancelled. The Doors rallied, though, taking advantage of this enforced hiatus from touring by going back into the studio and returning to the basics of rock and the blues. “Morrison Hotel” was recorded quickly, starting in November of 1969, with the album being released in February 1970.

The Felt Forum was a small, intimate venue inside Madison Square Garden. Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek likened it to the Whisky a Go-Go. Although the gig was only two nights, The Doors played two shows each evening.

The shows were recorded for “Absolutely Live” and it was felt that the more intimate setting and acoustics of the venue would be enhance the recording of live material. The Felt Forum shows wouldn’t be released in their entirety until “The Doors: Live in New York” in November 2009.

“Morrison Hotel” had not yet been released, but The Doors played a lot of songs from the album. Fans enthusiastically greeted the new material, including “Roadhouse Blues,” “Ship of Fools,” and “Peace Frog.” The band also threw in Doors standards and songs like “Crawling King Snake,” “Little Red Rooster,” and “Love Hides.”

The Felt Forum engagement took its toll on Morrison’s voice and by the fourth show he sounded hoarse. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop Morrison and the rest of the band from putting on great shows which included having John Sebastian sit in, and in a Doors rarity, also having Dallas Taylor sit in with John Densmore on drums.

There are some notable events that followed The Doors’ appearance at the Felt Forum. The first is that Patti Smith encountered Jim Morrison at one of the press parties. In an interview on CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” Smith describes going to the post-show party in the early part of 1970 which almost certainly followed the Felt Forum shows.

As Smith was stashing some food in her purse for herself and Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom she was living at the time, a disembodied voice intoned “try the hamburgers, they’re real good.” She looked up to see Morrison sitting by himself at the end of the table and all she was able to do was take a hamburger.

An even more awkward meeting was when Pam Courson, who came to New York with Morrison, encountered Patricia Kennealy. Kennealy had met Morrison the previous year when The Doors were playing Madison Square Garden proper, and she and Morrison had started a relationship. Kennealy describes the meeting with Courson as “one of the stranger moments of my life.” Morrison and Courson went out to dinner with Kennealy and an ex-boyfriend. Kennealy surmises that Courson didn’t know anything about the Kennealy-Morrison relationship.

The final strange encounter was at a party that Elektra Records’ president Jac Holzman threw for the band, both in celebration of The Doors having fulfilled their contract with Elektra and to woo them to sign a new contract. As Morrison and Courson were leaving the lavish party, arms draped around each other, Courson said to Holzman, “Well, in case we’re on Atlantic next year, thanks for the swell party.” As Holzman’s jaw dropped, Morrison had a smirk on his face and Holzman knew he had been the target of one of Morrison’s jokes to elicit a reaction.

Notes on sources: “Break on Through” by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky.

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