The Doors had one of the fastest climbs from being unknown to success. It was only two years between the time Jim Morrison wrote the first lyrics on the Venice Beach rooftop until Light My Fire was the number one single in America and 1966 is when the acceleration began for The Doors. 1966 took The Doors from obscurity to the edge of fame and it started at The London Fog. In late February or early March of 1966 (the exact date is unknown), The Doors auditioned for and became the house band at The London Fog.
By all accounts, The London Fog was a non-descript bar. While it was only about half a block down the street from the Whisky a go-go, it didn’t have the clientele or the reputation for quality of acts that the Whisky had. The London Fog was a hole in the wall bar with a nautical décor and customers that included drunks, prostitutes, and sailors looking for a good time, and smelled of spilled beer and overflowing ashtrays. In a later interview, Jim Morrison through the fog of success didn’t romanticize the experience or the reality remembering the club:
“Our first job was at the London Fog on Sunset Strip. It was a small club. The most people it could hold, I’d say, would be about fifty — on a good night, there could be about fifty people. There was a bartender named George, a doorman named Sam, sometimes Joey would be at the door, a waitress named Susie and a dancer named Rhonda who danced in a little rope cage across from the bandstand. Jesse James was the owner. He was a young man, but he was dying of cancer and it was kind of a struggle to keep the place going.”
When The Doors auditioned at the London Fog all of Morrison’s and Manzarek’s film school friends filled the club. Owner Jesse James (he claimed to be the great-grandson of the real historical outlaw) probably thought he had found the band to fill his club. However, the club quickly returned to its usual clientele and the bar remained mostly empty giving the band what amounted to paid practice sessions. Morrison was still too shy to face the audience so he performed most of the time with his back to the patrons. It’s also where some of The Doors songs started filling out because the band didn’t have a lot of songs in their repertoire. They started to elongate songs adding solos and occasionally Morrison would add his own poetic improvisations and songs like “When The Music’s Over,” “Light My Fire,” and “The End” started filling out in length and complexity. Ray Manzarek once said that because of the London Fog The Doors “became this collective entity, this unit of oneness.” Although the London Fog gave the band a chance to hone their songs, they had their eyes on the Whisky and hoped word would get out and make its way down the street to The Whisky. The Doors stayed in residence at the London Fog until late May of 1966 when they auditioned at The Whisky.
In 2011, thirty minutes of a tape made of The Doors at the London Fog was discovered. It is the earliest known recording of The Doors live (with the exception of the demos they made), and of this writing, still await release.
Sources: The Doors FAQ by Rich Weidman and The Doors Guide
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