When L.A. Woman was released on April 29, 1971, only insiders knew it was the epitaph for a band. No one expected that, three months later, Jim Morrison would die in Paris. Everyone then thought The Doors’ sixth album was also the singer’s last word. That was true until 1978, when the surviving members added music to Morrison’s spoken word recitations and released An American Prayer. But that was a special tribute , not a full-fledged Doors album.
Thereafter, L.A. Woman was been re-mastered and expanded in various incarnations including the 40th anniversary collection released in 2011. Now, director Martin R. Smith and producerJeffrey Jampol have edited a very fitting tribute to the album. The documentary should please any fan and help newcomers understand why this LP has such a significant role in rock history.
The heart of this anatomy of a classic, of course, is new interviews with Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, and John Densmore who discuss the contexts of the times and how they helped shaped the lyrics and sounds. Each demonstrate the instrumental foundations they created to support and inspire the lyrics of every track. Insightful commentary is added from Doors insiders like Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, their manager Bill Siddons, and engineer Bruce Botnick who helmed the sessions after past producer Paul Rothchild left the studio justifiably saying the early tracks were boring him. By all accounts, after Botnick suggested the group record in their own rehearsal hall, the energy soared with the group returning to its jamming, blues roots. Enthusiasm went even higher when Elvis Presley’s bass player, Jerry Scheff, agreed to play on the record.
It’s clear all participants have special fondness for the album. The process was full of good times that were part of its creation and all feel pride for what resulted—“Love Her Madly,” “Riders on the Storm,” the title song, John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake,” and “The Changeling” among the highlights. It’s fun to hear how “Riders on the Storm” evolved from a jam of the country hit, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and how Manzarek drew from a Blood, Sweat and Tears song called “House in the Country” for one of his organ solos.
At the same time, there is a poignant tone as The three Doors can’t avoid pointing to overt and possible meanings in Morrison’s lyrics. In some lines, there’s his hope for a new life in Paris as he knew he was leaving the band. Others seemed foreshadowings of what fate awaited him. Haunting melodies were more than appropriate for a man full of ghosts and a worn out psyche giving one last album his all. He was a man with the weight of the legal system on his shoulders, and L.A. Woman was intended to be his gift to his bandmates and audience. While the music is the focus with the studio being center-stage, there’s more than a “making of” dimension here. There’s the aftermath and layers of meaning few other recordings can share.
The visuals include archival footage of the Doors performing both live and in the studio. The 94 minute main feature is supplemented by extended interviews, an excellent montage of the sites of L.A. shown over the title song, and a live version of “Crawling King Snake.” Altogether, “Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman‘” is a personal statement from The Doors for all who love them and those newly discovering their legacy. It’s the story about an album that was more than just one album, and the story about it is well told here.