“Strange Days” Recording Session

Published in HAPPENING
By Hank Zevallos

We’re sitting on a sofa in the control tower of studio one, Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood. Before us, on the other side of a huge picture window, engineer Bruce Botnik is setting up mikes and speakers. To the left, behind another window, in a dark cell of a room is Jim Morrison, waiting…doing things with his mind.
Finally Bruce leaves the sound set, shutting off all lights except for one row which boarders right in front of Morrison’s black window and a soft ball of red light clean across the room from the Doors’ lead vocalists.
Bruce enters the control tower, and we’re ready to launch into flight. Least, that’s what we think, Paul Rothechild, the bearded producer, does a few switches and buttons, Bruce then speaks to Morrison, who tests the mikes with his famous “yeahh” grunts.
Then there’s the music…instrumental version, of which alone could have been a Doors hit, and Jim Morrison begins singing “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind.”
But it sounds awful. Morrison is coming in with a broken warbled voice. From the control tower, Rothchild halts everything. He knows this won’t get off the runway.
Bruce Botnik re-enters the sound stage, re-adjusts mikes and speakers and goes into Morrison’s black window for a while. When he comes back out, he does some more re-doint and is about ready to leave the runway when, over the mikes, Morrison asks him to shut off ALL the lights, save the red glow.
With this done, we sit in a dark control tower, looking at the blacker window in the left wall of the sound set which haunts itself in the soft darkness of the red ball. Then again, the already recorded instrumental comes on. This time the room fills with excitement as the rich voice of Jim Morrison rides over everything, loud and clear.
Wow! And, it keeps happening from here on deep into the night as Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore keep weaving one magical blend after another. Sounds that turn us on, they re-do and re-do, never losing, but always adding to the spell. They keep at it, for that turn-on known as self-satisfaction. And then, when they finally have it in the can, there’s still no telling when they’ll want to take the trip over.
Anyways, in studio one of the propellors of our musical airplane, the Doors, are already in motion. Everything’s on the runway as John Densmore drums in the finishing touches to the instrumental of “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind.”
Quite a bit of time and effort have already gone into this number. After the whole ting had been done instrumentally once, it was played back, backwards, as John did a thing with the cymbals. When the tape was played back properly the cymbals came in reverse with a soft scratch-swoosh sound.
Now John was putting a regular drum beat on top of this.
When he was finished he left the sound stage and entered Rothchild’s control tower.
We all sat down and listened as the instrumental was played back. To James, my photographer, and myself, it sounded extremely groove as it splilled into the room from the several large stereo speaker staring down at us from over the picture window. However, when it was over, Doors Ray, Robby and John knew it wasn’t what they wanted. Rothchild also knew.
Into the loneliness on the other side of the picture window went John again. A few times he came in slightly off the beat, but, finally, it looked like it was just right.
Again we listened. Again James and I dug it. Again the Doors and company weren’t satisfied. Again John did it.
When the instrumental to “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” was finally completed, John listened to the finished product then said he didn’t know about all of the studio effects. People will say it isn’t the Doors, he suggested.
He received no encouragement in this thought.
Although this number was quite a bit different from material like “Light My Fire”, “Back Door Man”, and “Soul Kitchen,” it really wasn’t unexpected. As organist Ray Manzarek had told us in an interview, their message was simple: Groove/ To do this, the Doors were not afraid to venture into untried or different avenues. In fact, he said, pointing to “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” and “The End,” they had always looked for all sorts of Groove.

If there was a “Doors sound,” it wasn’t because they always played the same music. Rather, said Ray, it was because when the Doors did something they’d put so much of themselves into it that it just came stamped “DOORS.”
A classical example of the Doors’ readiness to try new things is “Horse Latitudes” in their new album. It’s so different and extreme they’d probably weaken a few followers at this point if it weren’t for the immediately following “Moonlight Drive,” which is much easier to groove to.
Anyway, with the completion of Morrison’s vocal to the track of “I Can’t See You in My Mind”, Rothchild asks Morrison what he’d like to do. Morrison answers he’d like to do “I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind” over again. Rothchild overrules this, saying he feels its been done right. Morrison then suggests “People Are Strange”, but Rothchild says it isn’t ready yet and, besides, it’s on another tape or something.
How about “Love Me Two Times”, asks Rothchild.
No, says Ray, Jim isn’t in the right mood. Rothchild is ready to take it back when Morrison says yeahh, he’ll do it.
A funky guitar struts from the large speakers and then the whole control tower is rhythm-packed as Morrison rips into the song from his dark little room.
Everyone looks at the black window in the side wall of the red-tinted sound stage and either go “wow!” or start tapping to the beat.
Perfect, great, says Rothchild, Let’s get a few more tapes of that. And again the 8-track 15 ips tape travels, then toes and fingers tap and the girl dances.
But Morrison is outing too much into. After several takes is voice begins to hint the strain and Rothchild calls a break. For sure, one of those recorded sides will do it, let’s grab a bite to eat.
When we return, it’s a different, groovier scene. All the lights in the studio are off except for the red ball in the sound stage and the small lights of the dials and gauges in Rothchild and Botnik’s control tower.
The sofa is cuddled with cupples, everything is cozy.
Floating throughout is the haunting instrument of “You’re Lost Little Girl.” In the room, not on the other side of the picture window, but in the same room everyone else is in, Robby Krieger sits on a stool with his guitar. He is waiting to tape in a short-but-groovy solo. Everyone is quiet and groovy. Everything is groovy.
And as the Krieger guitar sings in the dark, as it swims into our minds, we’re lost in one beautiful musical experience.