Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Other Side of the Canyon

has extensively covered the folky side of Laurel Canyon. In early 1971, one incredible LC LP was dropped after another, a trail of music history that includes Joni and James and Carole and Stephen and and… (we’ll get to all that).

Driving through today, the Canyon around the Country Store still has that Americana feel; one is hard-pressed not to sing: “Young girls are coming to the Canyon…” And yet, Laurel Canyon was equally less pastoral over on “Love Street” or at the Cabin; LC was the avant-garde muse of The Doors and Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Alice Cooper.

As 1971 was gearing up for Tapestry, Blue and Mud Slide Slim, The Doors were down on Santa Monica Blvd. having a burger and a beer and playing pool at Barney’s Beanery; spending as much time there as in the studio recording L.A. Woman.

After Revolver, the Beatles' hiatus lasted an unheard-of 13 months. Word on the street was that the Beatles were done, that they’d lost it. Then in May 1967 came Sgt. Pepper.

That same negativity pervaded The Doors in early ’71, The Soft Parade was “disappointing,” its sales were lackluster (despite a No. 1 hit in “Touch Me” – or because of its commercialism), and that lack of interest diffused the far superior Morrison Hotel. With Jim’s antics added into the mix, no one knew that The Doors would find their path in what many consider the band's finest LP.

The Doors’ Workshop at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd. provided a makeshift recording studio without the studio price; not to mention that Elektra didn’t want them wrecking the studio, particularly based on the less than impressive sales of the last two studio LPs. A mixing console was installed upstairs with studio monitors, microphones, and keyboards on the first level. Morrison recorded his vocals in a bathroom doorway to emulate an isolated vocal booth.

To toughen up the LP’s timbre, the band added bassist Jerry Scheff (who recorded and toured with Elvis) and Mark Benno, the hot rhythm guitarist from Leon Russell’s band. And what a difference it made on rockers like the title track and “Love Her Madly.” It took just two months from the LP's inception to its completion in January (the album was released in April 1971).

Here’s how important Scheff and Benno were to the band: “L.A. Woman” was initially a slow, bluesy thing from Jim and Robby Kreiger. It was in the studio that The Doors’ classic came to life, kicked in the ass by Scheff and Benno. Ray Manzarek said, “We smoked a joint and just locked in. God, did we capture it.” And it was Scheff who solidified “Riders on the Storm” with his essential yet subdued bass line. Amazingly, the recording was finished in six days with little in the way of retakes and overdubs. The album was essentially recorded live in the studio.

Sadly, Morrison left L.A. for Paris during the mixing of the LP. What was supposed to be a temporary leave of absence was a final farewell. On July 3, 1971, less than six weeks after the album’s release, Morrison died, bringing one of rock's most tumultuous careers to a bitter conclusion.

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