Posts Tagged ‘Paul Rothchild’

Janis Joplin Pearl

“Pearl” never stood a chance at being just an album. That was assured when Janis Joplin was found dead in her hotel room of an accidental heroin overdose during the sessions that would lead to her second and final solo record. At that point, “Pearl”, which came out a little over three months later, could never simply be the latest measure of the brilliant blues singer as a recording artist. It became part of the myth of Janis Joplin — an idea that’s only grown bolder and more complex over the decades. To many fans, Pearl became her final words and a de facto farewell. To others, an incomplete hint at what could have been had she gone on. And for others still, Exhibit A, a clue of sorts to what had gone wrong for this young, white girl from Texas who had never fit in, sang like the old-time blues singers, and dazzled the world in a bright swirl of feathers before being tragically hushed.

In filmmaker Amy Berg’s award-winning 2015 documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue, it’s echoed that teasing out Joplin the person from the myth has always been a challenge. Part of that is our own fault. As music fans, we tend to romanticize blazing meteors like Joplin, who, as Neil Young would later put it, burn out rather than fade away. They flash so brilliant and blindingly across the sky that we never suspect they might come crashing down at any moment. Some of that blur is of Joplin’s own making. Big Brother and the Holding Company drummer and bandmate Dave Getz has explained that by the time Joplin went solo, she had intentionally disappeared, at least publicly, deeper into the stage character that had captured the imagination of anyone who had seen her perform. It’s the character we see portrayed on the front sleeve of Pearl: all bright, flowing garments, dangling bracelets, and plumage draped over a Victorian loveseat. It’s a persona so bold and magnetizing that it becomes easy to forget the possibility that Joplin understood the blues and expressed hurt so very well because her life, up to that time, had been full of crushing pain.

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It becomes all the more desirable, then, to push beyond the myth and take Pearl as the stunning gem it is and not merely the final act of a mysterious, mythical figure because, by all accounts, Joplin may have been on the verge of finally moving past some of the pain that had always plagued her as someone yearning for acceptance. Though she suffered from the loneliness of being a rock star and had begun self-medicating with alcohol, several people close to her indicate that she had finally kicked her lingering heroin addiction. She had found some of the first camaraderie and community since her Big Brother days in San Francisco while touring Canada that summer aboard the Festival Express. She finally had the band she needed to be her wild, unpredictable self onstage — the Full Tilt Boogie Band — and Joplin herself had spoken openly about how much Pearl producer Paul Rothchild, who had long taken an interest in the singer and expressed a desire in seeing her make records for decades to come, had taught her in the studio. It’s all the more a shame, then, that Joplin never completed those sessions. As an artist, she was that titular pearl: raw, natural, and finally getting the polish her talents deserved. And that’s how Pearl deserves to be considered and remembered.

Joplin shot to stardom as an explosive performer, so it wasn’t necessarily ill-advised that her prior solo outing — I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! with her Kozmic Blues Band and producer Gabriel Mekler — had sought to capture that kinetic chaos in the studio. However, in addition to an unexpected shift from psychedelic rock to a stronger focus on soul and R&B, Joplin’s voice spends the bulk of that record at odds with her band and their arrangements. In his November. 1969 review for Rolling Stone, critic John Burks famously lambasted the backing band, suggesting: “It’s simply a matter of reaching the point where you can shut out the band — entirely — and listen to this woman sing.” Burks is overly harsh, but he isn’t wrong that Kozmic Blues, at times, spins like a sabotage attempt on its star attraction.

Luckily, Rothchild, already a seasoned vet who had produced The Doors among many others, knew that the excitement of Joplin’s live performance could be tapped into without settling for lower-quality recordings. From the get-go on Pearl, gone is the stripped-down, stiff production that had previously left Joplin belting atop a band that sounded either out of step with her or in another zip code entirely, and jettisoned altogether are the claustrophobic horns that would crowd her voice for attention. As that tag-along guitar line kicks in over the urgent beat of opener “Move Over”, it’s clear that every piano affirmation or tambourine shake exists purely as a platform to showcase Joplin’s original tale about being fed up over a man playing games with her heart. Finally, she had not just centre stage in the studio but a spotlight.

But Pearl captures far more than Joplin finally receiving suitable production to show off her talents. Rothchild saw so much more in her than just that Otis Redding intensity and a golden throat and powerful set of lungs that, like so many primitive forces of nature, might one day sputter out. As a result, the Texas girl who grew up imitating Bessie Smith and so often, when finding herself trapped in a vocal corner onstage, could just scream and shout her way out instead learned how to put together all the components of her voice without sacrificing the ability to relate her pain and longing to listeners. And when done just right, that desire lands like a gut-punch every time. Nobody could sing the lines “Don’t you know, honey/ Ain’t nobody ever gonna love you/ The way I try to do?/ Who’ll take all your pain” in “Cry Baby” like Joplin: drawing out and cooing each syllable of one line before rattling off the next as if down on her knees. And that’s all before belting that titular chorus as only she could. It’s pained and sexy and yearning as she offers to be a man’s port in a storm when he could, if he wanted, make her his home. The similarly themed “A Woman Left Lonely” finds Joplin, rather than going from zero to 60 and back again as she might normally, building from a hushed admission to a desperate wail by song’s end, a heartrending exercise in restraint and the power of rising tension.

Pearl also finds Joplin more confident and willing to put her voice out there as vulnerably as possible. On the a capella “Mercedes Benz”, a comical commentary on the folly of consumerism and the last song Joplin ever recorded, she lets her voice hang out there ragged and bare as can be. While some might call it a novelty or even a bit of hippie relief on an album full of blues songs about wronged and longing women, for Joplin, the tomgirl bullied all her adolescence for her looks and voice, it feels like a courageous act to put herself out there like that with no place to hide. More notably, we hear Joplin trust her voice as she strums and sings Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee”, a relatable road story about the high costs of living the life we choose, proving, yet again, that she was so much more as a singer than just a belter or the theatrical performer that floored audiences onstage. It’s all the richer, then, as she begins to pepper in Joplin-isms: blending the words “McGee” and “yeah,” straining her voice at just the right moments, and finally testifying with full punctuation as the song hits its rallying final stretch. The song would climb to No. 1 and become Joplin’s most indelible hit. Fitting in that her performance of it might play just as well back home in Port Arthur, Texas, as it did in a hipper scene like Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. It’s a level of acceptance she never got to experience.

“Buried Alive in the Blues” sits smack-dab at the end of Pearl’s side one, a painful reminder that the album, like Joplin, remained unfinished. Rothchild offered the song’s composer, Nick Gravenites, a chance to sing the vocals, but he declined. So, there it sits, an absolute boogie that we’re left to wonder what-if about. Likewise, we don’t know exactly what would’ve become of Joplin had she lived beyond the Pearl sessions, but we do know what she saw herself heading towards. “Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin … they are so subtle. They can milk you with two notes. They could go no farther than A to B, and they could make you feel like they told you the whole universe … But I don’t know that yet. All I got now is strength. But maybe if I keep singing, maybe I’ll get it.” It’s difficult to say whether or not she quite got there by Pearl. What we do know, however, is that Joplin has been to dozens of singers — including Stevie Nicks and Florence Welch — what Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin were to her: a guiding light — or, in this case, a glowing pearl.

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The Doors returned to their roots and were reborn a rock and roll band on “Morrison Hotel”, the group’s fifth studio album. 1970 was more than the dawn of a new decade. It was also the end of an era.

The year began with the breakup of the Beatles, wrapped up with the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and was also hallmarked by any number of other musical convolutions. The Rolling Stones did not release a new studio LP, The Who were still struggling to follow up “Tommy,” and rock ’n’ roll itself was on such shaky ground that, when the critics looked around and tried to prophesy what the “Next Big Thing” was going to be, most of them settled upon the crop of singer-songwriters who — let’s be honest here — would barely have gotten a look in a year or two before. And then The Doors released “Morrison Hotel,” and, for 40 marvelous minutes or so, it was worth waking up in the morning again.

For this new collection, the original album has been expanded with more than an hour of unreleased recordings taken from the sessions for Morrison Hotel. These 19 outtakes transport listeners into the studio with Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek for an unprecedented perspective on the making of the album. Botnick says: There are many takes, different arrangements, false starts, and insightful studio conversations between the band who were in the studio and producer Paul Rothchild  who was in the control room. It’s like being a fly on the wall.

Several of these unheard recordings spotlight how Queen Of The Highway and Roadhouse Blues evolved across multiple sessions. It’s especially interesting to hear how the band played with different bass players on Roadhouse Blues. Early versions include Harvey Brooks, who played on the band’s previous album, “The Soft Parade”. Later takes feature guitar legend Lonnie Mack on bass along with The Lovin Spoonful’s John Sebastian on harmonica who, due to contractual restrictions at the time, had to be credited as G. Puglese.

Among the treasure trove of unreleased outtakes are also rough versions of Morrison Hotel tracks Peace Frog and Blue Sunday, as well as The Doors rarity I Will Never Be Untrue. The collection also captures some incredible session outtakes of the band jamming on cover versions of the Motown classic Money (That’s What I Want) and B.B. King’s Rock Me.

Completed in only a few weeks and released in February 1970, the hard-charging album took its name from the skid row hotel in downtown Los Angeles that’s featured in the iconic cover photo taken by Henry Diltz. Morrison Hotel: 50th Anniversary Deluxe edition includes the original album newly remastered by the Doors’ longtime engineer and mixer Bruce Botnick, plus a bonus disc of unreleased studio outtakes, and the original album on 180-gram virgin vinyl. the music will also be available from digital and streaming services the same day. for this new collection, the original album has been expanded with more than an hour of unreleased recordings taken from the sessions for Morrison Hotel. “There are many takes, different arrangements, false starts, and insightful studio conversations between the band – who were in the studio.

“Morrison Hotel” is not the sole glimpse into this new-found funkiness around these days. Earlier this year, a staggering six CDs of live material culled from The Doors’ four-show residency at the Felt Forum in New York provided us with the most complete examination yet of The Doors as a working band. The shows catch The Doors firing on every cylinder, a blazing rock ’n’ roll band at the height of its creative and improvisational powers.

Plus, says Manzarek, New York was the Doors’ favourite place to play. “The New York audience was always interesting. London was great, and Los Angeles was good. But New York was the best, and you can feel that in the live show.”

“Morrison Hotel” was still several weeks away from release at the time of the Felt Forum shows, but much of the album was already firmly nestled in the live set, including the song that remains the new record’s definitive track, the opening “Roadhouse Blues. “What a signature lick. That’s all you have to hear, and you know what that song’s meant to be. And that great last stanza by Morrison… ‘I got up this morning and got myself a beer.’ Is that rock ’n’ roll or what?”

On that evidence alone, Manzarek says, “‘Morrison Hotel’ was definitely back to roots, back to basics. Great songs. In fact, the only thing it lacked was, as we called them, an epic. There was no song over five minutes. We didn’t have a ‘Light My Fire,’ ‘When The Music’s Over’ or ‘The End.’ But so what?”.

“Indian Summer” was an outtake that dated back to “the very first day of recording for the first album. We found it in our bin of stuff. There was us, our producer Paul Rothchild and our engineer Bruce Botnik, and we wanted a simple little song so we could get the sound down. So we did ‘Indian Summer’ and then went into ‘Moonlight Mile.’

Revamped and with much of it rerecorded, “Indian Summer” emerged as one of the most unexpected treats on the new album. But pressed to name his favourite, Manzarek has little hesitation in pointing to another song whose genesis dated back a few years, “Waiting For The Sun.”

The song was originally intended as the title track to The Doors’ third album, back in 1968. “We loved the title so much that we called the album ‘Waiting For The Sun,’ the artwork was done, but the song wasn’t ready. It hadn’t come out of the oven yet. Never mind, nobody will know there’s the song called ‘Waiting For The Sun’ as well. So when it did finally come out on ‘Morrison Hotel,’ people went — wait a sec! But I’m glad we waited, because it came out a stunning piece of music.”

So is the rest of the set, an album that drives from the opening punch of “Roadhouse Blues” to the closing grind of “Maggie M’Gill,” and, in between times, launches such future Doors favourites as “The Spy,” “Ship Of Fools” and “Land Ho!”.

Dave Marsh at Creem called The Doors’ fifth album “the most horrifying rock and roll I have ever heard,” and that was a compliment. “When they’re good, they’re simply unbeatable.” It was the best record he’d heard all year. Rock Magazine and Circus unanimously agreed that it was The Doors’ best record yet, and while it was maybe a little early to be making such pronouncements (‘Morrison Hotel’ was released in February 1970), Circus described it as “one of the best albums

On the inside of the original gatefold is the following statement: “This album was compiled from live performances recorded in cities throughout the United States between August 1969 and June 1970. Aside from the editing necessary to assemble the music into album form, the recording is an organic documentary and absolutely live!”

However according to Paul Rothchild, the band’s long time producer, the album had to be virtually stitched together from numerous performances, simply because he couldn’t get complete takes of any of the songs, and therefore had to do a lot of splicing and editing to create a necessary master. Yet when the surviving band members eventually began opening the vaults, releasing these shows in far more complete form, they would prove to utterly contradict Rothchild’s claim that “There must have been 2000 edits on that album”. In fact it turns out that not only was each performance left relatively intact, but that the majority of songs selected were recorded over two nights at The Felt Forum, in January 1970.

We begin with the emcee imploring the crowd, who are chanting “we want The Doors”, to “sit down and go back to your seats”, lest the local fire authorities decide to cancel the show. It’s a terrific way to draw the listener in, creating a sense of actually being in the audience, capturing that sense of excitement and anticipation which must have been rippling through those in attendance.

Instead of “Roadhouse Blues” or some other popular number, they choose to open the set with a powerful and particularly psychedelic cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, thanks mainly to Robby Krieger’s hallucinatory slide guitar and Manzarek’s acid-Baroque keyboards. Next is a tune that I’m sure was close to Jim Morrison’s heart, “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)”, before seamlessly segueing into a raw and dirty “Back Door Man”, during which Morrison slips in a few verses of “Love Hides”, a song the band never recorded much less attempted to complete based on what we have here. The medley concludes with an urgent, almost primordial reading of “Five to One”, a call to arms if there ever was, although something tells me that by 1970 Jim had become weary of the whole ‘rock prophet’ phenomenon.

The bluesy “Build Me A Woman” portends the sort of style of song writing the band would go on to explore further with L.A. Woman, the band’s final LP with Morrison. Now if you need to go to the toilet, I recommend that the listener do so immediately before the epic, majestically dark and twisted “When the Music’s Over” kicks off. Through headphones one can discern the odd subtle edit here and there, no doubt due to the limits of vinyl. Well, either that or Rothchild made an executive decision in cutting out a minute or two of music he felt was superfluous to a piece that already runs for nearly fifteen minutes.

The band perform a rather perfunctory rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Close to You”, with Ray Manzarek on lead vocals (for better or worse), followed by “Universal Mind”, a sort of pop-jazz number, on which Morrison expresses the lyrics in seemingly half-interested fashion. Jim manages to offend half the Catholic diocese with his introduction to “Break On Through (to the Other Side)”, and while the band are playing at full tilt, apart from the poetry and theatrics, I somehow get the feeling Jim just wasn’t into it anywhere near as much as he was a couple years earlier. Still, it remains an exciting example of rock at its atavistic best.

Whether the listener can sit through the entirety of “Celebration of the Lizard” obviously depends on the extent of one’s devotion to all things Doors, not to mention level of tolerance, because at more than fourteen minutes in length, you’re going to need a lot of it (either that or a lot of drugs). A studio version was attempted though discarded during the making of Waiting For The Sun, and probably for good reason. Most of it is little more than poetry as performance art, and the sort of ‘poetry-meets-music’ experimentation that would ultimately inspire Patti Smith, another rebel poet of rock. Manzarek himself put it rather pointedly in his autobiography: “(Jim) loved his confrontational theatre. And then the idea struck him. He was going to confront his audiences with these cries for freedom.”

Morrison’s vocals are a touch shaky (disinterested?) on “Soul Kitchen”, the album’s final song, although no less engaging for it. Obviously the scotch and ciggies had by then begun to take their toll, or maybe it was a symptom of Jim’s very soul, or overall state of mind.

Apart from the odd dodgy bootleg, until the 1990’s live albums by the Doors were something of a rarity. There was The Hollywood Bowl (all fifteen minutes of it), and the excellent Alive She Cried, released in 1983, but that was about it – meaning that Absolutely Live was for many years the most authoritative document of what it was like to be at one of their concerts, and about the closest someone of my generation was ever going to get.