I’ve been in an Albert King mood recently and even went so far as to re-string a guitar upside down, tune it to E minor and attempt to play it. Yeah, attempt. It’s not as easy as it sounds. So when I was looking through old stuff to post for Throwback Thursday I came across this CD review from 2010 for The Doors Live In Vancouver with the man himself, Mr. Albert King.
Let’s fire up the Wayback (WABAC) machine and revisit those heady days of 2010 and 1970 when King Albert held court with Messrs Densmore, Krieger, Manzarek, and Mojo Risin’…
…This year fans of The Doors and blues fans alike will have something extra for which to be thankful. On Tuesday, November 23, 2010 Rhino Records in conjunction with Bright Midnight Archives will be releasing an oft-bootlegged performance from June 6, 1970 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Doors Live In Vancouver 1970 presents a full recording of the band’s show from that evening which includes a four song jam with blues legend Albert King.
Although Albert was probably completely unfamiliar with their music, The Doors were no strangers to the blues. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison were avowed blues enthusiasts and many of their songs featured call & response style arrangements. The Doors music was an amalgamation of original American musical styles. Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger were all fans of jazz music, particularly Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s bands. Ray grew up on the South Side of Chicago and was intimately familiar with the city’s greatest export: Muddy Waters. The Doors combined the improvisational aspects of jazz with tight arrangements of Chess recordings of the 50’s, added some California psychedelia and lyrics by the Poet Laureate of the Apocalypse to create their own inimitable sound.
Live in Vancouver 1970 finds these influences profusely swirling around the band as they created the music on stage, cradled comfortably in the eye of the storm. The discs capture the entire show, including five minutes of pre-show stage noise and tuning. The musical portion opens just like their previous album, Morrison Hotel, with one of the most recognizable stuttering blues riffs of all-time in “Roadhouse Blues.” The riff continues on for a several extra bars as Morrison escalates the crowd’s anticipation by delaying the opening lines. Is he out of it tonight? Is he going to sing it at all? This tour was on the heels of the infamous Miami incident and the band, particularly its mercurial lead singer, was considered dangerous and unpredictable. Morrison eases his grip on the audience ever so slightly as he sings the first line; from there it’s a wild ride through the doors of perception.
The fitting “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” segues into a blues staple in The Doors’ repertoire: “Back Door Man.” As Jim Morrison channels the immortal Howlin’ Wolf there is no doubt whatsoever that the little girls understand. This abbreviated yet blistering version stops almost imperceptibly before Robby Krieger starts churning out the riff of “Five To One.” The two songs meld perfectly like two Vulcans in an orgasmatron.
“When The Music’s Over” continues the all-out attack on the senses with lulls and crescendos of its hard-rock psychedelic soundscape. Manzarek and Krieger create sheets of sound so disquieting they would stupefy John Coltrane. When Morrison unleashes the banshee wail of “NOW!” the pair seems to create in unison its demonic musical equivalent. Jim Morrison may have been the mouth and face of The Doors but Ray, Robby and John Densmore provided the relentless soundtrack keeping it fresh and interesting even as Jim’s antics grew tiresome. Here, these musicians are at the top of their game, and thankfully Jim is also on his best behavior. Maybe it was the presence of the King.
Albert King joins the band on stage after “Love Me Two Times” and a short American music history lesson from Jim to the audience while the crew sets up Albert’s rig. The jam starts with “Little Red Rooster.” Robby Krieger plays slide while Albert sends flurries of notes into the ether. Albert and Robby are in the same channel because of the recording set-up; it was recorded by then tour manager Vince Treanor using two AKG-D1000E stage microphones and a Sony T630 reel-to-reel tape machine. Their tones are similar and Robby uses the slide to great effect as he imitates Albert’s deep bends and they go toe to toe for several bars of rousing head-cutting action.
At the beginning of “Rock Me”, Ray can be heard calling out chord changes. Even without rehearsals, the band and King play like they did this every weekend and twice on Tuesdays. Ray Manzarek recalls in the notes “What a funky night. Jim singing his ass off with a prod in the butt by a legendary old blues man.” Albert King brought out the best in all the musicians of The Doors. They closed the jam with an exhilarating rendition of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” Robby again adorns his finger with the slide and slithers through the verses like a desert sidewinder. Even with King sitting in, The Doors sound and style permeates this seminal rhythm and blues tune transforming it into cascading prismatic majesty. In the midst of it all, Albert King is there not merely riding on the storm but actively contributing to its power. The band and fans are duly impressed. A voice from the audience calls out “all right Albert!” and the disc ends with Jim acknowledging their guest.
Disc two has only two songs but at nearly 18 minutes each, “Light My Fire” and “The End” finish an already dynamic show in a grand manner. Jim’s spoken word piece “Petition The Lord With Prayer” starts off “Light My Fire” and so begins a dazzling display of The Doors improvisational abilities. Ray and Robby build their solos to fever pitch; Robby even throws in Coltrane quotes like “My Favorite Things.” Morrison takes a turn, improvising lyrics based around “St. James Infirmary” and fever. John Densmore’s agile percussion pulls everything together and pushes it to the edge of the precipice. His connection to the music is mesmerizing. It is intuitive and telepathic. He builds the dam and then crashes through it like the cresting Mississippi. Set the night on fire indeed.
With its minor key Eastern melodies and rolling tabla-style drums “The End” gives the crowd a few moments to rest and catch their breath before it too furiously builds to a glorious climax. It’s the end of disc two and the end of the show, but hopefully it is not the end of these archival recordings that have been released almost yearly for the past decade.
Although there are sonic limitations from the original tapes, the sound is clear and robust. The mics on stage capture banter between songs and calls from the audience, all adding richness to the atmosphere of the show. The recordings have been cleaned up and balanced by long-time Doors engineer and producer Bruce Botnik and this set is far superior to the bootlegs in circulation. It makes an excellent addition to any Doors fan’s collection and appeals to curious blues fan as well.
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