Anyone who has more than a passing interest in The Doors, “band from Venice” as the sign above the seedy Sunset Strip club once read, will know the importance of the London Fog to the Doors story. It is here we are told that they honed their skills and Jim Morrison gained his confidence to face the audience instead of just the band. From the London Fog they moved up to the prestigious Whisky a Go Go, where they furthered their musicianship and finally got signed to Elektra Records. Not many Doors fans would have ever have imagined they would hear what The Doors were like at the London Fog, but it has finally happened with the release of The Doors: London Fog 1966 box set.
The London Fog was just a few doors (pun intended) up from the Whisky a Go Go and was run by a man named Jesse James (no, not THAT Jesse James). The club by all accounts was dodgy and so were the clientele. What better place for the Doors to play and start out? They were, after all, the antithesis of most bands at the time who were singing sweetly about love and freedom. The Doors would cover those topics as well, but with a harsh edge that felt and still feels more close to the truth than some airy fairy song telling you that everything is fine.
Now to the box set… it has some fun items in it to take you back to 1966 and probably to make you feel you are getting more than you are, such as a postcard that looks like the aforementioned sign and a coaster. I am not sure if the coasters are made to look like the original ones or if the club even had coasters! An interesting note about the coaster is that it has a smudged phone number on the back of it with Pamela Courson written above it. Pam was Jim Morrison’s girlfriend and would inspire many songs and poems of his. Jim and Pam met in The London Fog, despite what you see in Oliver Stone’s movie, so it is a nice touch. Pam would also tragically die at the age of 27, just like Jim.
Once you are past the “filler” items in the box you get to the main attraction… the music! One of the Doors “Holy Grail” items.
They start off with a cover of Rock Me and Baby Please Don’t Go. Both songs sound great and so does Morrison’s voice. Is this really at the fog? You can’t help but wonder that as they sound so good.
From there we get our first listen to a Doors original, You Make Me Real. This song wouldn’t make it onto a Doors album until their 5th, Morrison Hotel. The skeletons of the version we know and love are present but this is much looser and feels almost beach boys inspired with some of its surf-music sounds.
Another cover, Don’t Fight It, is really good and they seem to be having fun with and also on the following number (also a cover) Hoochie Coochie Man. Ray Manzarek takes the lead vocals on this one and certainly does it justice. The Doors always played the blues well. Anyone who thinks that L.A. Woman, which is essentially a blues album, was a departure of their sound needs to listen to this recording.
One song that Doors fans have long lamented that there is no live recording of is Strange Days. Fans can now tick that off the list as it is included on this release. The song, which appeared on their second album and which the album was named after, sounds almost complete. If they had used a Moog synthesizer that night, it might have almost sounded exactly the same.
The recording ends after a rendition of Lucille by Little Richard, a song that Ray Manzarek didn’t even remember they played. It’s not as flamboyant as Little Richard’s recording but I don’t think anyone will be surprised by that.
So that is where the recording ends… for now. Nettie Pena, who captured The Doors on tape that night, recorded a second reel as well, but sadly it is missing. She is hoping to find it and Doors fans everywhere are hoping that she does. The second reel contains an early version of The End, minus the oedipal section, and Light My Fire.
The recording is a missing piece in The Doors history. We have songs from Rick and the Ravens, from which the Doors spawned and the early demo’s from 1965, where they are raw and hungry and have a very 60’s sound. The Fog slots in nicely after that and then we move onto the debut album. Now the only missing link is the Whisky a Go Go.
After listening to this record you will understand how they were plucked from playing in front of a few undesirables and prostitutes to playing in front of packed houses at the Whisky, in such a short time frame.
It’s been said that The Doors had enough material when they were recording their self-titled, debut album to fill three albums. It appears that possibly even more of their songs were written in this early period than had been imagined.
The London Fog didn’t survive the 60’s and was never a popular club compared to a lot of others on the Strip at the time and would be all but forgotten now if it weren’t for The Doors. The only other bands that played there were The Us, The Enemy’s and The Lost Souls*. Now with the box set released, The London Fog will never be forgotten.
Can we have a Doors show from the Whisky now please?
*Thanks to the London Fog Facebook page for that info.