Remembering Paul Rothchild

Bruce Botnick, Paul Rothchild, Jim Morrison
L-R: Bruce Botnick, Paul Rothchild, Jim Morrison, c. "The Soft Parade"

On March 30, 1995, Paul Rothchild, producer of The Doors, died at age 59. More than a producer, Rothchild was an integral part of The Doors, as influential and necessary as any member of the band. Rothchild helped The Doors create their timeless music and was a full partner in their studio experiments.

Paul Rothchild, like many, thought Jac Holzman had made a big mistake when signing The Doors, but he was soon won over. Rothchild produced The Doors in the studio for all except one album (“L.A. Woman”) and was essential in crafting their sound. From the outset, Rothchild wasn’t intimidated by The Doors. When Robby Krieger wanted to play guitar with a “wah-wah” pedal on the first album, it was Rothchild who nixed it, telling Krieger it was faddish and gimmicky and asking whether he wanted the songs to still be played in twenty years. When The Doors were trying to record “The End” and they weren’t getting it, a frustrated Morrison said “does anybody understand me?” Rothchild said he did and they sat together and talked about the song, its themes and what they were trying to accomplish. For the next night’s recording Rothchild lit some candles, darkened the studio lights and recorded Morrison’s vocals in one take.

During the recording of “Strange Days” Rothchild assisted with and even suggested experimental techniques to try on the album. It was Rothchild who suggested doing “Horse Latitudes” sans music. Instead he created an aural backdrop by having the band (and visitors such as Jefferson Airplane) scream, or clap their hands, or even use the sounds of dropping a Coke bottle into a wastepaper basket. Rothchild’s most famously remembered suggestion may have been during the vocals for “You’re Lost Little Girl” to have Pam Courson perform oral sex on Morrison while they were recording.

Not all of Rothchild’s influence had such positive results. As The Doors’ career advanced, Jim Morrison’s interest in music as a creative outlet waned, and Rothchild’s perfectionism in the studio increased as he asked for more and more takes of vocals and instruments. Robby Krieger has pointed out that this added to Morrison’s frustration with the recording process and in hindsight maybe it would have been better had they done some of the checking of levels and tuning before Morrison showed up.

“L.A. Woman” might not have been the tour-de-force that it was if not for Paul Rothchild. True, Rothchild told The Doors he quit because during the rehearsals for “L.A. Woman” he said the songs sounded like cocktail lounge music. The Doors now had something to prove and decided to produce the album themselves (along with longtime engineer Bruce Botnick). Perhaps if Rothchild had stayed on as producer, or The Doors had lured him back, it wouldn’t have provided The Doors with the incentive and inspiration they needed and the album wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did.

Paul Rothchild’s influence and guidance in the studio helped push The Doors to their creative limits. He deserves the credit that he receives from the band and fans as a critical component and member of The Doors.

Originally published March 30, 2014.

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