The Doors Reflect on Earliest Concerts, Jim Morrison’s Genius

American rock group The Doors, from left to right: John Densmore (drummer), Jim Morrison (singer), Robby Krieger (guitarist), and Ray Manzarek (organist), appeared on "Top of the Pops" (BBC TV Studios) in London, England on September 5, 1968.
American rock group The Doors, from left to right: John Densmore (drummer), Jim Morrison (singer), Robby Krieger (guitarist), and Ray Manzarek (organist), appeared on "Top of the Pops" (BBC TV Studios) in London, England on September 5, 1968.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY KORY GROW AND PUBLISHED BY ROLLING STONE ON DECEMBER 16, 2016.

“When I think about the beginning of the Doors, it feels like a strange, beautiful psychedelic dream that happened,” John Densmore says. “I guess it happened.”

The drummer has been reassessing the band’s salad days because he recently contributed to a newly released, limited-edition box set, London Fog 1966, which contains the earliest known recordings of the Doors. It features a recording of part of one of the band’s concerts at Sunset Strip club the London Fog that one of the group’s friends made that May, seven heavy, keyboard-saturated covers of blues and R&B songs by Muddy Waters, Wilson Pickett and Little Richard, as well as early originals like “Strange Days” and Morrison Hotel‘s “You Make Me Real.” It also contains black-and-white 8-by-10s, a replica of a beer coaster from the club, a postcard and a fabricated set list written up by Densmore. “All it’s missing is just a little clipping of a shag carpet with the smell of stale beer,” says the drummer, who speaks matter-of-factly, with a dry sense of humor. “The London Fog was a dump.” Taken as a set, the box evokes the most transformative time in the band’s career.

This period began a few months after the Doors formed. The group had made its stage debut at a UCLA film school screening where one of keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s class projects was shown. They played some parties for their friends, as well as a private party at Hughes Aircraft, where Manzarek’s father worked. It wasn’t until early January 1966 when the owner of the London Fog offered them a residency, where they’d play five 45-minute sets a night, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., six nights a week. The Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive reports they made $5 each on weeknights and $10 each on weekends.

“The stage was so fucking high, you needed an oxygen mask,” Densmore recalls of the London Fog. “I was worried about Jim falling. It had all these stupid, little circus ropes around the sides of the stage so you supposedly wouldn’t fall. It was ridiculous. And across the way was a cage with Rhonda Layne, the go-go girl. She was slightly overweight and wore a miniskirt and go-go boots, doing the twist or the frug. She didn’t know how to dance to ‘The End,’ that’s for sure. How do you do the frug to ‘The End’? And the audience would stare at us like we’re nuts, and then we’d play ‘Lucille,’ and they’d go, ‘Oh, Little Richard, OK.'”

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