Richard Purden

WHEN The Doors appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970 it would be their final performance in the UK and the last recorded concert film of the band with frontman Jim Morrison, who would be dead within a year at the age of 27.

The LA band’s fifth album, Morrison Hotel, now reissued for a deluxe 50th anniversary edition, was seen as a return to form after their previous effort The Soft Parade had failed to chart in Britain.

The final date of the Roadhouse Blues tour revealed a very different Morrison, gone was the unpredictable rock theatre of the puckish, clean-shaven and curly haired imp in leather trousers. A heavily bearded, long-haired and heavier set figure remained firmly rooted to the spot in front of 600,000 festival goers with a much-contested obscenity trial hanging over his head.

Widely known as the “Miami incident” it was alleged Morrison unzipped his trousers onstage and exposed himself. Despite that The Doors delivered a potent musical performance with their poet-vocalist shifting easily from crooner to his raw and bluesy best.

Guitarist Robby Krieger says the band went into the live show with little time to prepare. “I flew over with Jimi Hendrix the night before”, he explains down the line from California. “Jimi was a little out of it and sleeping most of the time. He said: “If you score [drugs] first call me, and if I score first I’ll call you’, that was the last thing he said.”

Krieger was in no mood for substances as the band squared up to the 2am slot wondering if a potential three-year jail sentence for Morrison would permanently derail The Doors. “Jim was obviously in a bad frame of mind with the whole trial thing but it was a chance for him to have some relief, play music and forget about all that. We hadn’t played very much before that show with the Miami situation so we just went on and did what was more comfortable, although Morrison Hotel had just come out we did the older stuff.”

The 1970 album, popular with fans and critics, restored the band’s reputation with Morrison saying: “Our music has returned to the earlier form, just using the four instruments. We felt we had come too far in the other direction, ie orchestration, and we wanted to get back to the basic format.”

Unlike The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel had no big hit single but it was a more complete offering that included jukebox favourite Roadhouse Blues. Peace Frog and Ship Of Fools were among the highlights with shared songwriting credits between Krieger and Morrison. “I came up with the riff on Ship Of Fools but I don’t know where I got that thing from. I tuned the guitar down to D, the low string and started on this riff while Jim looked through his poetry book and found these lyrics about the sea and the ship’s captain; I think he was talking about his grandfather.”

Also released in September of that year was a stripped down version of The Soft Parade on vinyl. The sugar-coated string and brass orchestrations coupled with an appeal to the pop charts on Touch Me alienated many in The Doors' audience. With Morrison trying to quit the band a number of times after Miami, Krieger took on a more notable role composing three of the album’s singles. “There are no sleepers among The Doors records”, he says in defence of the album. “I think the fact we used orchestration rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way because they figured The Doors were four musicians and it should always be that way. The Beatles and Stones had used orchestration, to my mind I don’t think we should have done it, it was the producer’s [Paul A. Rothchild] call but looking back it works on a lot of that stuff like Touch Me.

"Maybe it doesn't sound as much like The Doors as some of the other records. Wishful Sinful is my favourite, I love that song and I still play it with my jam band. I’m really proud of the way it turned out, the words are pretty cool too. Jim, as usual, did a great job singing it, he was so good at translating songs. A lot of the time he would sing it a different way from the way I heard it, he could only do it his way but a lot of the time it came out better.”

It was Morrison’s belief that Krieger was the most underrated guitarist of his generation. Beyond his idiosyncratic style combining a range of influences Krieger was also a gifted songwriter delivering many of the band’s best known hits from Love Me Two Times to Light My Fire.

“We realised early on we didn't have enough originals so Jim said: ‘You guys should try and come up with something too; why do I have to do all the work’. I asked him what I should write about and he said it had to be ‘something universal’; not something going on at that time but something that would be remembered 100 years from now. I decided on earth, air, fire or water because that’s the four elements and you can’t much get more universal than that.”

The renowned events behind the scenes at The Ed Sullivan Show when the band performed Light My Fire live have been much contested even among members of The Doors. “That was crazy," says Krieger, now 74. That was the big national show that everyone wanted to get on because The Beatles had done it and it made them really take off in the US. We got there and the producer said: ‘I don’t want you to sing ‘get much higher’. We were like ‘OK, whatever’ and of course Jim didn’t do it. I don't think he took the guy seriously. It wasn’t like he was even saying: ‘f*** you’ or anything. He just said: ‘this is how it is written and that’s how I’ll sing it’.

Krieger suggests Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic The Doors was “a Hollywood movie that took some liberties. They didn't show the relationship between the band very well. It was trying to play off one against the other but for a rock ’n’ roll movie it was pretty damn good.”

Perhaps the time is right for Krieger to tell his version of events? “The books by Ray [Manzarek, who died in 2013] and John [Densmore] both kind of put each other down which was stupid and caused a lot of problems. I have been writing my book which is about half-way done. I’m thinking of doing another movie that is more based around the early stuff and the friendships.

"To me Jim was like an older brother and we hung out quite a bit especially in the early days doing all the stuff you do when you’re in a rock band. When he started drinking too much that put the kybosh on it. I just couldn’t hang with him after that. I wish he had never started that drinking or he would’ve been here today.”

Disputes among members have dominated the band’s narrative since Morrison’s death. Drummer Densmore, now 75, is viewed as protector of the band’s legacy, refusing to allow their music to be licensed for advertising. He was also successful in halting keyboardist Manzarek and Krieger from using The Doors name on tour. Relations have thawed with the pair playing the occasional live gig, most recently in January of this year with ex-Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic for a homeless charity.

A live rapport with other Seattle luminaries including Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell and Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder, the latter performing memorable versions of Roadhouse Blues and Break On Through back in 1993, has demonstrated they are still capable of creating a compelling live chemistry.

Would Krieger consider anything beyond these occasional sporadic performances with Densmore? “Who knows; if the right thing came along I wouldn’t be averse. I wish John was more into playing, he has tinnitus so it’s hard to get him to do anything. Eddie Vedder was great and really into it and totally into Morrison – he grilled me about Jim for about two hours, he’s a good guy. I’d like to get together with him again and do something like that.”

For now The Doors' various live albums and concert films are a reminder of their versatility often improvising on the spot around Densmore’s bossa nova beat during Break On Through or drawing out Light My Fire’s jazz leanings.

“It didn’t matter how long we hadn’t played because we were always comfortable with each other; if someone went off somewhere the others followed and that’s what was fun about playing in The Doors. You never knew what was going to happen, you had to take a few risks and trust that the other guys would come with you. The Doors were four guys who were perfectly synchronised to make music and the songs are what will last.””

The Doors Morrison Hotel 50th anniversary edition is a super deluxe 1LP/2CD; The Soft Parade/Stripped is out now