|BAM Interview with Paul Rothchild
by Blair Jackson - July 3, 1981
BAM: How did you first get involved with the Doors?
PR: I was living on the East Coast and I got a call from Jac Holzman, telling me I should come out to L.A. to check out this band called the Doors. Jac's wife Nina had spotted them originally at the London Fog and loved them. She brought Jac down to see them the next time they were in L.A. and he thought they were sensational, too. So I flew out right away. The group was playing at the Whisky, on the same bill with Love, I believe. I met Jac and Nina and we saw the first set. I thought to myself "My God, Jac and Nina have lost their minds, these guys SUCK!" I caught a horrible show.
At the same time they were awful, I could tell they were very different from anything I'd heard before. I had nothing to relate them to. They were totally unique. That's usually a signal that someone is either fucking terrible or on the verge of brilliance. This intrigued me, so I stayed for the second set. Well, they were still rough around the edges, but they WERE brilliant. I turned 180 degrees in my thinking about the group.
BAM: How would you characterize them back then?
PR: They were a bunch of amateur musicians having a good time. It was VERY dramatic. Not in the sense that Mick Jagger was sexy-dramatic. It was not white boys trying to be James Brown. The Doors had a different kind of dynamism. In that second set I heard The End, Light My Fire, Twentieth Century Fox, Break On Through and a few others, and I was convinced. Elektra signed them shortly after that.
BAM: CBS had originally signed the Doors, but basically never got excited enough about them to do anything with them. What had they missed that you saw?
PR: They probably saw what the Doors had but couldn't deal with it. You've got to realize that a company like Columbia thrives on middle-of-the-road acts. This was particularly true then, because they were trying to overtake RCA as the biggie in the industry at that time. They did, too. They were very conservative, and the Doors were just plain too weird. They didn't want a band that said "Father I want to kill you/Mother I want to fuck you." Elektra was very brave to sign them. There was very strict censorship in those days. It was brave to put out a record that said the word "high" on it.
BAM: Of course, ev"n you censored the group a little. "Mother, I want to fuck you" became "Mother, I want to AAAAUGH!' and on the remixed version of The End on the Apocalypse Now soundtrack, there's a very distinctive passage of Morrison chanting "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
PR: That was an overdub we didn't use on the record. Flat out, we knew fuck, fuck, fuck wouldn't get on the radio, so that was censored. It's on the master, but it isn't up-front like it is on the Coppola-Rubinson mix. On the original, it's there as a part of the rhythm track, which was the original intent. It was never supposed to be a "lyric". If you listen closely to Doors albums, you'll find hundreds of places where there are vocal things put in that are part of the subliminal rhythm track. You'll hear a "Ch-ch-ch", things like that.
BAM: Was the first album done on an eight-track machine?
PR: No, no. Four-track. And up until about a year before that, I'd been doing everything two-track. Actually, though, most of the album is three-track. We'd put bass and drums on one track, guitar and organ on another, and Jim's vocals on the third. We used the fourth track for a few over-dubbing things. Like on Twentieth Century Fox, I got the whole band out onto a wooden platform, and made them march. If you listen to the rhythm sound on the chorus, it sounds like a small army! I'd just done a flamenco record where I'd used a similar idea. I thought it would be great to put it on a rock 'n' roll record.
BAM: Did the absence of a bass player strike you as a drawback to the band?
PR: On the first album, we used an uncredited bass player named Larry Knechtal on a few tracks. He was one of Phil Spector's boys. He came in and played where Ray's piano-bass thing wasn't hot enough.
We also overdubbed Morrison singing harmony to himself on a couple of things. Double-voicing was a thing to do. It was avant-garde. Overdubbing harmony certainly wasn't new, but the idea of doubling a voice was still considered radical. It was as new then as digital delay is now.
Things were wonderful in the 60's, because it was an era of intense experimentation. Everyone was trying to out-hip each other. With the Doors, we tried to strike a very fine line between being very fresh and original, and being documentary - making the record sound like it really happened live, which it did, for the most part. At the same time we wanted it to sound new. I didn't want it to sound gimmicky by using things that sounded really trendy. For instance, everybody was using wah-wah pedals because Hendrix had just hit and guitar players were blown away by what he did with wah-wah. I PROHIBITED Robbie Krieger from using wah-wah. When he asked me why I said "Because I want people to still be listening to Doors records in 20 years. If you sound like everyone else, nobody's going to notice you, now or in the future. If, on the other hand, we stay true to the original musical concept, this music WILL survive."
BAM: In 1969, Morrison said in an interview that songs like The End and When The Music's Over were free-form pieces that became static when they were recorded. They stopped changing. How do you feel about that?
PR: Well, that's very hip, but not quite accurate. I saw the Doors perform The End no fewer than 100 times, and it simply wasn't that different most of the time - before and after we recorded it. Occasionally Jim would throw in lines - little bits of inspiration like a rhyming couplet - but most of the time the song had a very specific form.
When The End was first performed in the studio, we took almost a whole day to set it up, because it was a very complex piece to record. When we finally got the tape rolling, it was THE most awe-inspiring thing I'd ever witnessed in the studio. It's still one of the top musical events of my LIFE, and I've made over 160 records.
We were about 6 minutes into it when I turned to Bruce (Botnick, the Doors' engineer on every album) and said "Do you understand what's happening here? This is one of the most important moments in recorded rock 'n' roll." Bruce was a just a kid then, and he said, "Really?" I said, "Stop listening to the sound - it's fine - and listen to THE SONG." When it was done, I had goosebumps from head to toe. It was MAGIC.
I went into the studio, and I told them exactly what I just told you, and then, I asked them to do it again. "Let's make sure we've got it." So they did it again, and it was equally brilliant. Afterwards, Ray said "Whew, I don't think we can do that any better.'"I said, "You don't have to. Between the two takes, we have one of the best masters ever cut." It turns out we used the front half of take one, and the back half of take two. We did the same thing with Light My Fire.
My point is, what you hear on the record is EXACTLY the way the Doors wanted you to hear 'The End'. We had done some trimming before we recorded it - cut away some fat - but what's there WAS the song. So I'd say Jim's statement is not quite the truth.
BAM: Excuse me for interrupting, but you are quoted in No One Here Gets Out Alive as saying you thought Riders On The Storm was cocktail music.
PR: I'm glad you mentioned that. I'd like to digress for awhile and tell you about that. I did NOT say that about Riders On The Storm.
Danny Sugerman, (co-author of the book) is a FAN of the Doors who took Jerry Hopkins' original manuscript and destroyed it. Danny didn't interview me, Jerry did. Danny then changed a lot of my interview to HEARSAY that other people did. I am FURIOUS about the book, and so is everyone else I've talked to who is quoted in it. It's a great piece of sensationalism, very little of which holds to historical fact. The general shape of it is correct, but Jim is sensationalized rather spectacularly, and the best parts of Morrison are not there. The people who really helped the Doors' career are treated in a very cavalier manner, and the only people who come off well in my opinion are the groupies and sycophants who were hanging around the band and close to Danny Sugerman - who was a groupie himself.
What actually happened was this: The Doors' career had been going downhill for sometime when we started L.A. Woman. There had been a couple of peaks, but basically, things had been sliding since Miami. Jim was really not interested after about the third album. He wanted to do other things. He wanted to write. He wanted to be an actor. Being lead singer of the Doors was really not his idea of a good time. It became very difficult to get him involved with the records. When we did The Soft Parade, it was like pulling teeth to get Jim into it.
BAM: That record has always seemed very disjointed to me.
PR: Well, it was bizarre making it. It was the hardest I ever worked as a producer. It was nearly impossible to get Jim to sing well and the band to play well on a whole take. It was HELL. You see, by this time, they'd run out of all their material, and what they came in with was raw, very green stuff.
BAM: The first three LPs consisted mainly of songs they knew from being a club band?
PR: the first TWO were released material from the original stage show. By the time we hit Waiting For The Sun, things were getting a little thin.
BAM: Is that why the production was so much more elaborate than on the first two albums?
PR: You got it! As the talent fades, the producer HAS to become more active. It's sort of like the aging beauty queen. As the beauty fades, more make up goes on.
BAM: What specifically did you do to remedy the situation?
PR: Well, from the third album on, we got into heavy vocal compositing because Jim would come in too drunk to sing decently. Sometimes we'd put together eight different takes of a song to make one good one.
BAM: What's an example of where you did that?
PR: I don't even have to name titles. Every single song from the third album on was done that way. Every one. I don't mean a verse at a time, either. Sometimes it was a phrase at a time, from one breath phrase to another.
BAM: What's the joy in producing that?
PR: That's why they pay producers a lot of money. Producers are sometimes paid to make music from recalcitrant artists who are dedicated to destroying their own careers. Jim was a destructionist, no question about it.
Producers are curators of an artists best work. They save the best, throw away the rest. Then, when the artist hears the finished product, his self-esteem is boosted and perhaps he can go back in and do a take like the one the producer just made for him. But if you play them the whole take with them sounding so terrible, it destroys them because they hear how awful they are. I'm not talking about every artist just self - destructive ones. Elvis' later works were put together the same way. Some of Linda Ronstadt's stuff was even done that way, and she's not self - destructive as far as I know.
BAM: The song The Soft Parade sounds heavily fragmented to me, as if it wasn't even designed as one song.
PR: It wasn't. Whenever we got stuck in the studio with a bridge section, I'd ask Jim to get out his notebooks of poetry and we'd go through them and find a piece that fit rhythmically and conceptually. A lot of the fragments there were just bits of poetry we put together. The song came out kind of interesting, I thought.
BAM: But in general, the sessions were difficult?
PR: Very difficult. You see, Jim decided around this time that he was going to be really rebellious. He was a naughty little boy. I think he was trying to show the band that they weren't shit without him. Jim was always testing. He tested us all every minute of every day. He tested people's limits to see where their level of infuriation was.
BAM: How could you stand that?
PR: It was hard, but when he was sober, he was the nicest, brightest, most articulate human being I knew. He was well-read, perceptive, sensitive. Give him three drinks and he was a monster. It was like Jekyll and Hyde. He was the worst. Ninety percent of the time, when he was drunk, he was impossible to deal with. The other ten percent, he transcended himself, and was brilliant. The ten percent is on his records. The other ninety percent is garbage. It would make you throw up to hear this stuff.
BAM: Off-key singing?
PR: Off-key singing. Mush-mouth. Bratty stuff. Fooling around. It's not great stuff. It stinks. You can't put out an album of Doors outtakes because they're embarrassing. It's not like Jimi Hendrix where you might say "The song's not great, but what a guitar solo!" Jim was not good to record drunk.
BAM: You were trying to make a point earlier about L.A. Woman and Riders on the Storm. I'd like to get back to that.
PR: Okay, we're back at L.A. Woman. Let's put this in my career perspective. I had close to 100 LP's under my belt. I had just finished making one of the greatest albums of my career, a labor of total love by the most loving and dedicated musicians I'd ever worked with. I'm talking about Janis Joplin's Pearl album. That music was full of heart, the way it's supposed to be in the studio. You got 110 percent from everyone in the band, and 150 percent from Janis.
That's the setting for this story about L.A. Woman:
I went into rehearsals with the Doors for about a month. They were set up in the basement of their offices on Santa Monica Blvd. But it was a joke! They'd come straggling in. Jim wouldn't even show up half the time. There was no enthusiasm at all. They were drugged on their own boredom. Just totally bummed out. Ray would try to get things together. He has this great enthusiasm! Still does. I love that man! John was really ANGRY about Jim's attitude, and Robbie sort of laughed at it and said, "That's Jim!"
It wasn't just Jim, though. They'd all been lazy. They only had four or five songs that were even defined enough to play as songs at that point. The most complete were L.A. Woman and Riders on the Storm, both of which I thought were great, great songs. My problem was I couldn't get them to play either of them decently. It was like trying to watch an 80 year old man trying to run the marathon. There was simply NOTHING THERE. There was NO energy. They couldn't have played Stormy Weather. Their heart wasn't in it, and it was easy to see why. JIM'S heart wasn't in it.
We rehearsed and rehearsed, but it didn't get any better. Finally I said, "Let's go in the studio. We've got to make a record sometime." I figured I'd be able to do it like the last few - patch together the best stuff. Ray would be a great cheerleader, and we'd finally get this thing going.
Well, we went in the studio, and it was DREADFUL. Wall to wall boredom. Jim wasn't into it at all. He'd get into his spoiled brat thing, and drag everything down deliberately. It was the military kid showing his father what a punk he could be. It was that simple.
I worked my ass off for a week, but it was still just fucking awful. I'd go into them and TELL them that, hoping that it would make them angry enough to do something good: "This isn't rock 'n' roll, it's cocktail lounge music!" But they just didn't have the heart any more. You know, it got so bad that for the first time in my career, I found myself drifting off to sleep, putting my head on the console and nodding off. It was just BAD. capital B, capital A, capital D, capital D, BADD!
I finally turned to Bruce Botnick and said, "I know another producer would stick with this because it's a quarter of a million dollars for the producer, but I can't do it. The reason I went into production was I loved music. But I cannot prostitute myself. This is whoring."
I went into the studio finally and said, "Guys, I think the best thing that could happen is for me to leave, because you've become too reliant on me to come up with the energy and the ideas and the direction, and I just don't want to do it anymore. The only way you'll survive is if you make this record yourself. You'll have to generate the enthusiasm and the brilliance." They freaked. Robbie got pale. Ray sat down heavily. Jim turned around and walked to the other side of the studio. John looked like he was going to have a coronary. "What are we going to do", they asked. I said, "You've seen how I work. Bruce has seen me do it for years. Use that as a jumping-off point and make your own Doors record. Because, if I put together what we've got and presented it to a record company, we couldn't even get a deal."
We said a very warm and tender and loving goodbye and I left. I'm still dear friends with them. If Jim were still alive, we'd still be making poetry records together.
The Doors did go on to produce their own record with Bruce, and from it came two excellent cuts - L.A. Woman and Riders on the Storm, the two that had been excellent in rehearsal. As far as I'm concerned you can take the entire rest of the record and throw it in the garbage can. I think it's terrible.'
BAM: Love Her Madly was not one of their better singles, I agree.
PR: That's exactly the song I was talking about that I said sounded like cocktail music. THAT'S the song that drove me out of the studio. That it sold a million copies means nothing to me. It's still bad music.
BAM: The live album was criticized fairly heavily when it came out. Critics complained that you recorded it past their prime and that Morrison sounded drunk.
PR: I made that album at one of the hottest points of their career. You couldn't have done it any earlier and had it sound good, partially from a recording standpoint. Originally, we weren't going to do a live album at all, but the space between albums got wide there and we had to put it out to sustain interest in their career.
You wouldn't believe what we had to do to make it, how many centuries of tape we had to glean to make that fairly skinny double record set. I couldn't get complete takes of a lot of the songs, so I'd find myself suddenly cutting from Detroit to Philadelphia in mid-song. There must be 2,000 edits on that album. Some of it was terrific, though, and that's on there too. Critics said "this is the drunken Doors." What do you expect, Jim was ALWAYS drunk. That came with the territory.
I'd like to point something out though. Absolutely Live has sold more in the past two years than in all of its previous years put together. There's a whole new audience that wants to know about the Doors and what they were all about live. Let's look at the two audiences; The Doors' audience '68, '69, '70, and the Doors' audience '79, '80, '81.
The Doors original success was predicated on ONE thing: Light My Fire. That was Jim Morrison's great humiliation. It's one of the reasons he lost his enthusiasm. He'd go out on the road and ALL he'd hear was people yelling for Light My Fire. As a songwriter, he had a particular reason to hate it: he didn't write it! Robbie wrote it. In fact, the one part he DID write is my least favorite line: "No time to wallow in the mire." During his life I didn't know he wrote that, though. I remember one day while we were making the first album, Jim and I were driving down Sunset Blvd. and he asked me what I thought about the lyrics to Light My Fire. At that point, I didn't know who wrote it. I assumed HE had written it. So I said "Gee, I think it's great except for the muck and mire line." It was only recently that Robbie and Ray told me that was the one line Jim had written. He never let on to me for a second, though. I think that's tremendous.
Forgetting that Jim didn't write Light My Fire though, Jim was upset that people didn't appreciate the group's more cerebral songs. Certainly, it didn't say as much as The End or When the Music's Over.
But I knew that someday we'd be vindicated - that people would come across all this GREAT stuff and say "Wow, have you heard this?" That's what's happened the last few years. The greatest thing for me about the whole Doors renaissance is that the new fans couldn't care less about Light My Fire. That's not what interests them. It's the broad scope of the Doors' lyrics and their sound. They appreciate the HONESTY of the music. They appreciate it for ALL THE RIGHT REASONS!
Finally. It's for that reason that Strange Days is selling so well now. The fans have FOUND that record. The same with the live album. People want to understand what this strange man was like outside the studio.
To me, this is a major victory. It proves that our approach was right. We went after the truth, and finally it's being heard - a decade later.
The Doors' career is very satisfying to me. There's only one thing in the whole process that bothers me, and that is Danny Sugerman's book. If Jim Morrison were alive today, he'd be livid about that book. Not because of the truth it tells, but because of the lies it maintains.
Like Sugerman's trying to keep going the myth that Jim might still be alive! That is pure, total, unmitigated BULLSHIT! If Danny had sat where you're sitting and listened to Pam after she came back from Paris, he wouldn't be trying to perpetuate this myth - and that's what it is. Pam and I were very dear friends. She sat on this sofa night after night and she'd cry, with the DEEPEST grief, over the loss of Jim. Night after night. It became a mania for her. She eventually gave up her life because of her love for Jim.
Now Ray is quoted in the book as saying that "none of the Doors saw Jim in the casket, so who knows?" That's Ray trying to maintain the myth. The Doors may not have seen Jim dead, but Pam sure as hell did. I saw Pam, in my house DEVASTATED by her grief. Let me tell you, Jim Morrison IS dead.
BAM: What do you think of An American Prayer, the posthumous poetry album put out in '78?
PR: I think anything that was done during Jim's lifetime that might have offended him would DISAPPEAR into total insignificance compared to what I'm POSITIVE would have been his reaction to An American Prayer. That album is a RAPE of Jim Morrison. It was HEAVILY edited. I have a tape of Jim reading most of that poetry in the style and meter that he intended. Jim and I discussed poetry a great deal. I got him to listen to poets like Dylan Thomas reading his own works, and Jim definitely got things out of it. Jim was always talking to me about the progress of words, their meter, their sequence, their flow. He was very concerned about how he presented his poetry. When I listen to that original tape, I hear something compelling. To Doors fans - and there are a few who have heard it - the poetry is chilling.
To me, what was done on An American Prayer is the same as taking a Picasso and cutting it into postage stamp sized pieces spreading it across a Supermarket wall. All Jim's poetry has been cut into bits and spread across a long instrumental composition that is irrelevant. Jim never intended this kind of approach to be done with his poetry. When he went into the studio to record it, it was to get AWAY from the Doors. In a way, it was his signal to the other Doors that he was moving away from them. He definitely wouldn't have used Doors' music. He was talking to people as diverse as Lalo Schifrin, whom he wanted to write some very avant-garde classical music. He wanted it to be sparsely orchestrated.
I think An American Prayer is RUDE. The Doors and Danny and me - anyone involved - should be concerned with preserving the integrity of the Doors' career and the memory of Jim Morrison, even though we should all tell the truth. But An American Prayer was an embarrassment. It was the first commercial sell-out of Jim Morrison. Jim would be humiliated by it as a sensitive person, and incensed by it as a poet. The damage is done, I'm afraid. Let's all hope that this sort of thing doesn't happen again, though, because it takes the Doors farther away from what they really were - one of the all-time great rock 'n' roll bands. And the proof is already out there for everyone to see. We don't NEED anymore convincing.
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