The Upshot: WWJS? (What Would Jim Say?) Yet another previously unreleased live set from the Lizard King archives, but given an eye-popping, collector-catnip treatment guaranteed to seduce even the most jaded Lizard King acolyte.
BY FRED MILLS
Well, I woke up this mornin’ and I got myself a beer… and sat down to compose this review. (In my head at least; in truth, it’s 3 in the afternoon, and I’m sipping a caramel frappuccino.) Allow me to introduce the latest in a long-running parade of posthumous Doors live releases, London Fog May, 1966. It summons from the mists of time a proverbial “recently discovered” live recording of the band, expertly cleaned up for the modern digital ear, in order to give acolytes a sense of what Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore actually sounded like, onstage, around the time they were recording their debut album for Elektra Records but had yet to burst upon the national scene.
And it’s neither time capsule nor curio, but rather a valid projection into the collector-archival ether that should hold up for future generations. Vintage, if hard-edged, blues apparently dominated early Doors sets: Here, a lengthy workout on Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and a remarkably serpentine, sensual Muddy Waters’ “Rock Me” showcase not only Morrison’s intuitive embrace of the blues’ primal imperative, but his bandmates’ agility as translators of same. Also in the mix are covers of Big Joe Williams, Wilson Pickett, and Little Richard. Seminal Doors originals also make surprise appearances: a somewhat hesitant “Strange Days” (which would go on to be overhauled and polished in the studio to provide the second album’s title track), and a rowdy-bawdy-bluesy “You Make Me Real,” which subsequently went into hibernation until 1970’s Morrison Hotel.
Time capsule: well, actually… yeah. Rhino has pulled out all stops for this box, which houses both a CD and a 10” vinyl disc of the nine tracks, plus an assortment of memorabilia that includes reproductions of the evening’s setlist from the London Fog, a postcard and drink coaster from that Sunset Strip dive, and photos of the evening Nettie Pena, a UCLA Film School student who Morrison, also a student, enlisted that evening to document his band’s performance on a small reel to reel deck. In those photos, the musicians seem impossibly young, as yet unjaded by stardom, yet clearly determined as artists. Talk about a snapshot. (Pena, who also wrote a review of the gig, discloses that she cannot locate an additional reel of tape from the show that contained the band doing a 15-minute “The End,” but promises that if it ever surfaces, she’ll immediately pass it along to the Doors camp.) Worth additional note: a passionate remembrance in the CD booklet penned by Ronnie Harran, who at the time of the show was booking the nearby Whisky A Go Go and, acting on a tip, came to check out the Doors during their residency at the Fog, ultimately returning to the Whisky, eager to book them at her venue. Everything is housed in a 10-inch, thick cardboard box—pure collector catnip. Just the effort alone that’s been put into this project demands an above-average rating for archival releases; the mesmerizing music guarantees it a perfect score.
Commentary, artifacts, and nostalgia aside, London Fog May, 1966 ultimately brings the Doors—pardon the inside joke—reverse full circle. Prior to Morrison’s death in 1971, the group had reinvested itself in the blues that had originally spawned the combo back in the early ‘60s (as Rick and the Ravens), tackling both vintage material and primal original compositions on Morrison Hotel and on swansong L.A. Woman. And while it’s impossible to say if the Doors vaults have finally been combed clean (as this obsessive Doors collector’s CD library can testify, the band and its archivists have been diligent over the course of the past decade and a half; hats off to Rhino, Rhino Handmade, Bright Moonlight, Elektra and everyone involved), there’s something fitting about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut LP by listening to an early Doors set comprising the blues, soul, and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll that inspired the musicians in the first place.
DOWNLOAD: “Strange Days,” “Rock Me”