Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Doors and The Whisky

The Whisky, May 16, 1967
On May 23, 1966, the Doors became the house band at the Whisky A Go-Go, at which time they opened for acts such as Them (feat. Van Morrison), Buffalo Springfield, Love, The Association  and Captain Beefheart. Within a year they'd have the top single in the nation ("Light My Fire"), well on their way to becoming one of the most famous / infamous bands of all time. During their stint at the Whisky, The Doors began to experiment vociferously, but not until a gig when they opened for Them (June 2-18, possibly also with Buffalo Springfield).  Jim Morrison's stage jitters returned after The Doors left Jesse James' London Fog, supposedly brought about by the enormity of The Whisky, the high ceilings and the crowd looking down upon him from the balcony. In the early days of the gigs Morrison would often sing, demurely facing John Densmore. 

Them (Van Morrison in particular) was instead a raucous Irish band that drank more than they were paid; and Jim looked upon Van as a mentor. One could surmise that Morrison overcame his stage fright through alcohol. Indeed The Doors' experimentation with music mimics Jim's increasing use of mind altering substances. Morrison would allegedly pop LSD25-laced sugar cubes like candy without any visible effect. As he did, the music of The Doors (of Perception) got richer and deeper.

Mario Maglieri, who would later partner with Elmer Valentine to turn the Villa Nova into The Rainbow Grill, said of the Doors’ short tenure at the Whisky, "Everybody wanted to get into the Whisky: the Beatles, Steve McQueen, Charles Manson (who got thrown out), Jayne Mansfield." Everyone wanted to see Jim.

The band's sets were primarily songs that would appear on The Doors, plus covers, medleys and instrumentals that evolved on a near daily basis; "Latin Bullshit #2," as an example, was an instrumental jazz joint based on a Gil Evans composition. Yet what may be the band's, particularly Jim Morrison's masterpiece (he didn't write "Light My Fire;" although a group effort, the song was penned by Robbie Krieger), "The End" transformed from a meek and unrequited love song into an ominous Oedipal saga that evoked the darkest alleyways of the unconscious.  By July '66, Jim's performance of "The End," the Oedipal expletives intact, got the band fired from The Whisky; Elmer Valentine would not permit such language. For Morrison, this was a devastating blow. The Whisky represented real success for Jim who later stated that the band's one time goal was to be as big as Arthur Lee's Love (the Whisky house band while The Doors were still at London Fog). Nonetheless, The Doors spent the next several months recording their debut and released the eponymous album in January 1967. In May the single version of "Light My Fire" would become the biggest selling 45 of the year. The Doors would return to the Whiskey in May 1967 co-billed with the Byrds - Elmer Valentine was a businessman after all.

The Doors promotional billboard on Sunset - December 1966, one of Bill's Signs

For those who care, here is "Light My Fire's" progression through 1967 (for the rest of you, carry on…): Released January 4, 1967 on the The Doors at 7:05, the single version (most AM stations played the 45 rip at 2:52, with some playing a slightly longer edit, 4:40) debuted May 31, 1967 at No. 47. The single was No. 25 on June 7, No. 18 on the 14th, No. 10 on the 21st and No. 5 June 28. As the single gained momentum through an increase in the number of stations playing the slightly longer version, it hovered at the No. 2 slot until July 5, 1967 when it hit No. 1. It would remain at the top through July and into August, dropping to No. 3 the second week of the month. "Light My Fire" would fall from the Top Ten August 30th, was No. 18 on September 6th and on the 13th would finally drop off the charts – all this among other incredible singles (it was 1967 after all) including "Penny Lane," Aretha Franklin's "Respect," "White Rabbit" and the Monkees' "Daydream Believer." 

Originally opened in the 1930s, The Whisky, in its present incarnation, turned 50 just last year. Mario Maglieri may have said it best. “The Whisky just kind of followed the tradition and kept it going…It was a party every night!" 50 years hence, it was The Doors who truly put The Whiskey on the map.