MUSIC

Mary Harris & Burleigh Drummond of Ambrosia: The Gonzo Today Interview

 

by Kyle K. Mann

 

“I remember exactly when I first wanted to become a musician,” Mary Harris says firmly. “It was when I was four years old and saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan sing ‘She Loves You, yeah yeah yeah.'”

“For me it was seeing John Lennon sing ‘Twist and Shout,’ Burleigh Drummond grins. “That’s what I remember.”

We are seated on couches in their beautiful Southern California home, armed with refreshing beverages. I’m taking notes, having decided it’s the most casual way to interview the two.

Neither look old enough to have seen the Beatles on Sullivan, that iconic moment that changed a generation and reverberates to this day. When I comment on their youthful appearance, they laugh. “I get up and run every morning,” Mary exclaims.

“I’m up at dawn doing yoga,” Burleigh adds. “The other thing that made me want to be a musician,” he continues, “was watching Turkish cymbal-makers at work. I can still see them spinning the shiny gold, spinning, making…”

Burleigh Drummond lived in various worldwide spots as a child, due to his father’s career as a full Colonel in the U.S. Army, and Burleigh discusses him. “He wrote speeches for JFK!” Burleigh’s grin is large, and I admit that blows my mind. I reflect as we sip our drinks, thinking about that. Yow, JFK! Could talk for a long time about just that. But, back to the music.

Mary Harris and Burleigh Drummond are current members of the rock group Ambrosia, founded in 1970 by drummer Burleigh, bassist Joe Puerta, keyboardist Chris North and guitarist David Pack. All sang with the group, with Puerta and Pack handling most of the lead vocals.

Ambrosia had their fair share of hits, several of which are still widely played. Pack left the group in 2000, which was when Mary performed with them for the first time onstage, eventually becoming a full member in 2012. The band also currently features their longtime guitarist Doug Jackson and guitarist/lead vocalist Ken Stacey, and their blazing live show tours widely, playing their hits and complex progressive rock album tracks, as well as new original songs.

“How many major bands do you know that have husband and wife teams?” I ask.

Mary and Burleigh look at each other. “Well, there’s Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo,” Mary answers slowly. A pause.

I nod. It’s pretty darn rare. There’s a lot more on my mind about Ambrosia, including the Ralph Steadman cover, but I want to go to Mary’s years on the road with Jimmy Buffett, which included her being credited as the Vocal Arranger. I ask how she became a member of the infamous Coral Reefer Band.

“My friend Brie Howard was in the band, playing percussion and singing. She called and said he was looking for another singer to join up. I remember going to a place in Malibu, singing, and that was that… the easiest audition I ever did. Afterward we sat and Jimmy told me what was important to him: good singing, good personalities, and good camaraderie.”

Mary pauses, thinking back to the early 90’s. “Jimmy said something I’ve never forgotten. ‘I may not be the best guitar player or singer, but I’m a great Jimmy Buffett.'” We laugh, it is indeed a quality line.

Burleigh chimes in, “Mary was under a lot of pressure. She lost 15 pounds and didn’t sleep for a week.”

“At first,” she continues, “I was expected to dance with the two other singers on the left. But I had almost always played keyboards on stage with my singing. That first week of rehearsals…” Mary sighs. “Charlie the tour manager, finally had me move over with Brie, and sing and play percussion with her. Then, we did a live album with [noted engineer and producer] Elliot Scheiner. Those two singers got canned. Elliot pushed me, and became a friend. I became the Vocal Arranger on the next 4 albums.”

But, how exactly did that happen?

“I just became the Vocal Arranger.” She smiles. “I don’t remember how it happened.”

I look over to Burleigh. “Was there any chance of you joining the band?”

He gets a prankish look. “The only way I would join Buffett’s band…” He pauses for effect. “…is if he asked me.” I laugh.

“Jimmy’s drummer has been with him forever,” Mary explains.

I ask what her reaction to playing in a big-time band for the first time was, but Mary shakes her head. ”I had been in ‘Animal Logic’ with [ex-Police drummer] Stewart Copeland, [jazz bassist] Stanley Clarke, [guitarist] Michael Thompson… that was pretty big, and before that I was in [the early all-girl group] Red Shoes, we played the Roxy, we were on TV, so I was used to being on stage.”

Then there is Pink Floyd, who Mary has recorded with. I ask her to elaborate. “Its backing vocals on a couple live videos, not on the record. We just saw [Pink Floyd longtime engineer] James Guthrie and we asked him about it. One was “Dogs of War” and the other…”

I lean forward.

“I can’t remember.”

I lean back. It flabberghasts me that Mary can’t remember. Pink Floyd is only one of the biggest groups in music history. Later, I listen to the video track on Youtube. Yep there she is. Wow.

Well, onward. What stories she can tell me about the Coral Reefer Band? The ones she can tell? She grins.

“We used to do “bus theater” where the two tour busses would pull up alongside, and people would act stories out through the windows. It would start that way, and, people would get crazy, mooning each other… of course, I didn’t do that. Our bus usually won.”

“You were with Buffett for years… why would you leave such a gig?”

“I needed to spend more time with [their son, and now touring musician] Micky… it was hard being away so much.”

I nod, marveling, but happy that it has all worked out. “Let’s go back to Ambrosia. How often are you doing gigs currently?’

Burleigh looks at me alertly. “60 to 70 gigs a year, and we want to get that up to 100.”

“You book the gigs, at present?”

Burleigh nods. “About 60 % of the dates, yeah.”

“You have an all-new album in the works?”

Mary brightens.  “There are a lot of song possibilities!”

“Mary wants to focus on Ambrosia,” Burleigh notes. “The new album… let’s really do what we’ve been promising the fans for years. Our last album of new material was 1982.”

“Our new songs are written by all members,” Mary says seriously.

Clearly there is a lot of creativity going on with Ambrosia!

The band live is outstanding, being tight, in tune, and enormously laden with vocal and instrumental talent. I can attest to that having seen them play venues in multiple states in this decade, in a wide variety of venues. With a fresh album of new material coming, the nearly 50-year-old group are at the top of their field. My mind turns to the origins, and I ask Burleigh how he came to join the Los Angeles-area band. He laughs.

“I was studying drums at Drum City. Musician’s Contact Service… I saw a 3×5 card from the rest of the band so I replied. They liked my name!”

At about this point the vodka kicks in, and I lose focus momentarily. Burleigh says something about his VW van being a factor, that the band liked that they could carry their equipment in it. And something about a “goatee down to your bongos.”

I snap out of it and resume taking coherent notes. “When we met up, we all talked for hours every day. You know, when you’re 18 or 20, you play records for each other, you’re excited.” He smiles at the memory, and I ask if he remembers the first time he heard Ambrosia on the radio.

“Holdin’ on [to Yesterday]… no, I don’t remember. But, I do remember we all gave 100% to do what we had to do.” He frowns. “Our manager was taking 100% of our publishing. I wrote 80% of the lyrics to ‘Make Us All Aware.’

“That’s a great prog song,” Mary comments. (Later when I get home I give it a listen. What an outstanding tune. Crazy difficult and utterly beautiful. I’m stunned and numbed.) Mary continues, “It’s one of the most creative piano parts [performed by Chris North] possible.”

Burleigh picks up the story. “So money was a huge issue. Everybody was scrambling for the scraps. By the time you get to the third album, Chris couldn’t hang. He left because the money, it wasn’t worth anything. I knew if I didn’t write anything I would suffer the fate of Chris.”

Ok, wow. I’m shaking my head, and ask Burleigh about the last album with the Ralph Steadman cover, titled ‘Road Island.’

“We created that album to return to our prog roots. We were fans of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’ we loved the book. Warners was happy with us, we had had some hits… Steadman hung out in the studio with us. We went to lunch and got shitfaced trying to keep up with him. He did caricatures of us all. Kinda struck a nerve, exaggerating some aspect of you that was not public but he made it public.”

Now we are listening carefully, this is intense.

“We took a train ride up to Ralph’s house. His studio was this huge room with tons of stuff in it. I looked up to see this thing spiked up on the wall. I kept looking and realized it was the hugest rat I’d ever seen, decomposing. Ralph said he was drawing it at different stages…”

We all have a sip of our drinks, and Burleigh continues “I think the cover of that musician screaming… it was some kind of primal scream. Everybody was unhappy. We were trying to break away from our manager. We all had angst, we were all accused of selling out.”

And the last single? “‘Feelin’ Alive Again.’ That’s David Pack trying to write a hit single.”

Which went nowhere. But there was a minor hit… Burleigh speaks. “‘How Can You Love Me.’ That one always bugged me, I didn’t like the first drum track. At one point I threatened to burn the master tape in the studio with a lighter if we didn’t re-cut it.”

Listening to the track back home, I am impressed. Solid tune! I carefully pay attention to the drums… seems pretty dang good to me. Also, that YouTube video of the band kicks my butt.

So, what are hard parts of being on the road, the terrible road?

“Burleigh gets more sleep on the road than home!” Mary says.

“Six [hours] if I’m lucky,” he counters.

We talk about hotels, hotel beds, hotel food… some better than others, of course. Airports, flying, riding… the numerous inconveniences. Then I turn to my favorite band of all time, Mary and Burleigh’s ‘Tin Drum.’

The super short version is that Mary and Burleigh’s family band is special, and has yet to gain wide recognition despite 3 stellar CD releases. “I still get inquires,” says Burleigh. “We had opportunities… I had a guy call me up when we had [their evocative ballad] ‘Surrender’ and say we could break the tune wide open, but it would take a million dollars.”

Mary: “We spent a lot of money on Tin Drum…”

I bring up the original five person band, featuring Brie Howard, bassist Marco Mendoza and guitarist Mike Hoffman. Burleigh just sighs. “I let go of this amazing thing.”

“Ambrosia has the clout,” Mary adds.

After seeing Ambrosia packing ’em in, with long lines of fans waiting after concerts to get their old legacy albums signed, I can’t disagree. But something tells me it’s not over yet, for the Tin Drum configuration of tunes and energy. For one thing, Mary and Burleigh’s talented children, Micky aka Burleigh and daughter Sierra, both incredible musicians, have played in the band in recent years. It’s very cool, and practically beyond description to see the kids and parents playing music onstage. In whatever configuration you see them, the entire Harris/Drummond family have an outstanding, unique chemistry.

Yep, as I make my goodbyes and head out the door it seems to me that, for these veteran musicians, who just happen to be married to each other and play in the same band, that the best is yet to come!

 

Lily Locksmith

 

by: Doc Jeffurious Higgason

Artist: Lily Locksmith
Album: 45rpm 7″ Single ‘Player’ b/w ‘No Use But O’Well’
Label: Enviken Records
Rating: 4.0/5.0

You take the average American somebody and ask them to name a few things associated with the very proud and noble country of Sweden, most of the time their answers will be very generalized and textbook-ish. Yes, they will normally bring up the meatballs or those chewy little candy fish. They can also tell you that it’s the birthplace of the world’s most favorite furniture monger, IKEA and sputter a few quotes from that puppet chef. All-in-all in those, well honestly few moments, it feels like we have been very unfair to Sweden.

One thing that isn’t usually touched upon is the fact that behind the United States and the United Kingdom, Sweden falls squarely into third place as being one of the biggest exporters of music worldwide. Think of ABBA…or don’t. Think of Ace of Base…ok, really the individual contributions aren’t exactly what we are tallying up here, just the overall Swedish vibe cast across the world. How about The Cardigans? Does that do anything for you? Yeah, NO? Dammit.

Inside of Sweden exists a tenacious subculture that embraces the fashion and music of the American 1950’s and 1960’s. It is known as “Raggare” a lifestyle that exists across Europe into parts of Asian as well. It would and can be described as a living homage to that time with a flaunted love of fast ass cars, vintage American pop sensibilities and the lovely, raucous sound of Rockabilly music.

Out of that movement most recently has sprung forth the classic twangy, R & B sound and bold vocal styling of one, Lily Locksmith. This girl from the “heart of Sweden” exudes soul-felt talent and can at times invoke spirits from that particular time in the past.

Her latest single Player, available now from Enviken Records, is a cover of the Nick Curran and The Nitelifes tune. On it, Lily unleashes a fitting tribute to the late Curran in a song that has a very familiar gallop of Little Richard with the chesty attitude of Big Mama Thornton; she sings about how she is tired of her man’s overly cavalier approach to love and how he “treats her like a clown”. Her heartache comes out as straight up rhythm and blues sass, it’s quite clear that she is ready to pull out a chain and thrash this man who dares to treat her so.

On the flipside of Player is the song No Use But O’Well, which is admittedly this writer’s favorite. What could be called a “jump blues” number, this bewitching bright B-side is everything that defines the term “hot”. A steady back beat, wide opening vocals and quick, stabby and licky guitar work…this can’t be 2017, right? Where are all the electronic bleeps, farts and whistles?

I am romanticizing of course. The world, though bloated with hate and mediocrity always has room for a tiny bit of romance. Especially for a time and place in the world that ultimately led up to a cultural explosion that was experienced around the world, music has always been that unspoken universal language. Lily Locksmith and her band have a way of lighting up that corner of time that many believe was closed forever.

You can check out a digital copy of Lily Locksmith’s single Player by heading over to www.envikenrecords.com. While you are there why not look into the beautiful, limited edition red vinyl version of the record? There are only 500 so might as well grab a few, right? Also, both Player and No Use But O’Well have lovely music videos that accompany them and are available on the Enviken Records’ YouTube channel. Lily Locksmith is everywhere, if you miss her it’s your own damned fault.

 

Jonathan Richman Live At Zanzabar

by: Doc Jeffurious Higgason

Louisville, Kentucky — April 14th, 2017

I never really attended church as a child. Many of my friends did, sometimes their parents would invite me along, probably just to keep from hanging out on their front porch while they were away. The few times I went, I usually sat there unaffected, packed tightly within the cottony-soft blankets of ignorance. Feeling as moved spiritually as I would sitting in the lobby of a restaurant waiting for a table. Just enveloped in boredom with other people listening to crappy music, each hoping to be picked next.
I recall my first experience with true “religion” when it arrived around the time I was twelve-years-old. The song “Imagine” by John Lennon was playing on the local college radio station. As it occurs to me now, the lyrics enthralled me. Those words had such a haunting beauty I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. Goosebumps formed on my forearms and I began to weep softly.

That was what I considered to be my first encounter with what I felt and still feel is a direct channel to a higher power. Music. Music is my religion. I do not worship it, though I am nourished by it. What is it about hearing music that moves a person in such a manner? When the tones cause an involuntarily emotionally and physically reaction. I always look for that same feeling in all the music that I consumed. I don’t listen blindly in other words. The sensation of being moved in such a manner is almost an obscure luxury in recent years. So much trash to sift through for so little nutrition. Those moments of finding something singularly cool become so much more special, I always fall backwards into the profound and surrender to the entire experience, every single time.

I had the opportunity recently to bask in that magnificent old time feeling once’t again. This time I took a trip to Kentucky for another “spiritual” first, to see Jonathan Richman, who is at his core a true American Rock-n-Roll original and legendary singer/songwriter. Richman is a prime example of how it is to be a rock star that has the integrity to operate within a set of their own standards. There is rarely huge advertising campaigns announcing his arrival. It’s all word of mouth. There is no merchandise table. He hits the stage with drummer Tommy Larkins and both create a very personal live experience where Jonathan pours out every ounce of his lovely essence. You feel like every song performed is especially for you.

Richman has achieved fame by adding a major contribution to the development of what became known as the American punk movement. A sound that grew largely out of the “garage band/proto-punk” bands of the 60’s. Richman’s early band The Modern Lovers has been cited as being very influential to musicians and writers across many genres and mediums. Jonathan Richman’s music has been said to be one of the central arteries between bands like the Velvet Underground to the blossoming origins of the New York City and English punk scenes of mid 70’s. He eventually dropped the name Modern Lovers and began touring simply as Jonathan Richman. Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s Richman maintained a worldwide cult fan base performing around the globe, followed by a widening spotlight on him with his appearance in the Farrelly Brother’s epic comedies, 1996’s ‘Kingpin’ and ‘There’s Something about Mary’ in 1998.

I felt evidence of the legend of Jonathan Richman, live and in person that night at Zanzabar in Louisville within the opening strains of his first number “My Baby Love Love Loves Me”, Richman immediately gained the warm attention of the crowd and never once did they let go. Jonathan merrily held his guitar up high and gave his hips a swivel, all very sweetly and sincerely, keeping with his reputation as being child-like and exuding a certain sort of whimsy. He charmed the crowd with the things he said and the little dances he would erupt into even in the middle of songs, leaving Tommy to provide the percussive footsteps. The goosebumps hit me right about halfway through “Springtime In New York”. In the course of the show there were many times I felt that same kid-ish feeling where I was just pulled into the absolute joy of the occurrence.

Jonathan’s ability to relate to an audience is something I honestly have never experienced in a live show. The crowd was asked to sing along with “People Are So Disgusting” as Jonathan went through many worst case scenarios of motel existence and his sympathy towards those who have to clean up the messes. His eyes would move from person to person, each time you could see the little light of connection.

(video courtesy of Christopher Martin)

My friend Chris Martin, the fella responsible for getting me to the show later told me that “Jonathan looks at people until they smile. Then finds another person.” The point is all about getting everyone in the room singing and playing along, making them participants in the performance rather than just mere observers, especially when Jonathan looks out into the crowd and reminds them that it’s ok for them to give him “the beat”. In many cases he is like if Bob Dylan had a younger, more pleasant brother. The show ended with a updated version of a The Modern Lover’s era song, “Old World”…

“I say bye, bye, bye, bye old world.”

…and there were those who hooted and cheered for an encore, Jonathan walked back onstage, read a wonderful poem and it was done…dignified.

Through some mutual folks, my friends and I were able to meet Jonathan and Tommy as they were in the process of packing up gear and finishing up a brief nosh before hitting the road. Jonathan was speaking with someone from the venue about the issue of sound proofing. Jonathan’s sound live is not loud, he makes it powerful and that power certainly was concentrated in that room. He was talking about audiences listening to live music comfortably and said that when the club owners allow bands to dictate loud volume criteria the owners are just catering to the band’s sense of stage fright.

As Tommy was packing up the last bit of his gear, things quieted down and we finally spoke with Jonathan. He told us about touring around, he and Tommy travel around quite frequently and do it very simply. Usually the arrangement is Jonathan and Tommy in a modest van and a double handful of nameless motel rooms; in some cases they make it abroad and play to appreciative crowds in Europe and Asia as well. Jonathan also said that he likes to go to schools and perform for kids. He has no problem taking the class that has the most unruly child. He proudly confessed to us that usually by the end of the show that unruly kid is leading the applause. Both guys were very welcoming to us and though the visit was brief it has had a very lasting effect on me. We said so long and both Jonathan and Tommy hopped into their van and proceeded to make their way to Chicago.

Sheryl Crow’s Newest Proves That Music Can Save You

 

by: Kidman J. Williams

Artist: Sheryl Crow

Album: Be Myself

Label: Warner Bros.

Rating: 4.4/5.0

 

Sheryl Crow’s first album “Tuesday Night Music Club” hit the scene in 1993 and since then she has earned herself nine Grammy Awards and sold more than 35 million albums all over the world, along with five of those albums breaking the platinum mark.

This future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hasn’t done too bad for herself by just putting her real self out there album to album. Crow’s honesty has always been her drawing power. And let me tell you, she doesn’t disappoint on her newest effort “Be Myself,” due out April 21, 2017.

“So for the first time in my life, I made it a point to sit down and really listen to my old records.” Says Crow. “I’d drive my kids to school and play the old stuff as I came back home. That helped me remember what it felt like when I was just beginning as an artist.”

“But,” she clarifies, “it wasn’t about repeating myself. It was about revisiting where I came from and seeing where that would take me now.”

“Be Myself” has a welcoming throwback sound; the same sound that gave Crow the ability to speak to every fan on a personal and individual level while letting us know that she is just one of us with the same salient struggles that we all have to live with and endure.

She also reunited with producer, songwriter, musician and her partner on the early albums of her career.

“Musically, this record is about coming back together with Jeff Trott,” Crow said. “This past summer, because of what was going on in the world and particularly in the United States; I began to feel a sense of urgency about writing. So he came out from L.A. for a couple of days here, a couple of days there, and we turned out some good old-school Sheryl Crow tunes.”

Usually I wouldn’t start with the fourth track on an album, but in this case I will because the hit is not the most attractive thing on this album. The self-titled track and single “Be Myself” is a great catchy soundtrack song for this summer.

Trust me when I say there is nothing wrong with this anthem song declaring to the world that being yourself is the best self you can be. It just isn’t the finest work on this great album. And frankly, after we end up hearing it three times an hour on the radio for a whole summer, we are going to be begging for relief wishing that we were someone else.

“Love Will Save the Day” is the kind of song that saves people from themselves. We have all been there. Those times where everything is hopeless, despairing, and desperate. Whether it is a break-up, problems with your family, or maybe even your own anxieties crippling your life; this is the song you put on repeat in your dark room lit by one single candle while you fade out with your headphones on and forget about the world for a while.

Right from the opening of the song with that vinyl scratch embedded into the background of the song as the guitar gently holds you to its breast and tells you everything is alright while an angel resonates into your ears, “We get lost along the way. I know it hurts right now, but it will fade. Sometimes it is hard to find some light, with darkness on the left and on the right, believe me that love will save the day.”

The very funky second track, “Halfway There” is a whirlwind of sound with a message of compromise, something this world has forgotten how to do.

The song is jammed full of funky guitar riffs, grooving beat, and a guitar hook that seems to come in on the four count, giving it a unique movement. The lead guitar has a great break part that incorporates a nod to the psychedelic era of the late 60’s.

Crow nails it with “Be Myself.” She harnessed all of who she is, where she came from, while staying true to herself and above all, she is honest with her fans.

She gives you all of her fears, love, while being very topical, and most important, she leaves you with hope. No matter how dark things seem Crow makes sure that the listener understands that it will always get better. And she really knows how to have fun as well, as she explores all of the nooks and crannies of the human experience.

Sheryl Crow is out on tour right now. Click Here for more information.

Tracklisting:

  1. Alone in the Dark
  2. Halfway There
  3. Long Way Back
  4. Be Myself
  5. Roller Skate
  6. Love Will Save the Day
  7. Strangers Again
  8. Rest of Me
  9. Heartbeat Away
  10. Grow Up
  11. Woo Woo

The Doors- 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition review

 

by Kyle K. Mann

Artist: The Doors

Album name: The Doors- 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Label: Elektra/Rhino

Rating: 4.1/5.0

As the hype continues this bizarre year of 2017 over the 50th anniversary of all things 1967, on March 31 Rhino/Elektra released “The Doors: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” which is meant to be the last word on the self-titled debut.

Is this package worth the 60 bucks?

I’ll say yes, though I’m not as objective as some readers might like. As I’ve noted previously, the Doors are a band I saw at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom before they were famous, and I have a great deal of built-in affection for them.

Well. So, whaddya get for the dough?

In brief, two CD versions of the original mixes of the vinyl release, one stereo, one mono, and a third bonus CD of the band playing at San Francisco’s Matrix club, as well as a mono vinyl record album. The latter CD is live material released a decade back, but that is, according to the story, now taken from a first generation source. Indeed, this live CD sounds considerably better than the last version.

For me, the stereo CD version of the original studio tracks is stellar, with the attention to sonic detail staggering. Listening to the tracks using a new HP laptop and it’s bundled PowerMediaPlayer, and a pair of new audio-technica headphones, I’m noticing details I had never heard before. The crispness on the high end is breathtaking, including the marxophone hits on “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” and the astonishing cymbal tones John Densmore achieves throughout “The End” and especially at the conclusion of that track.

For this superb sonic excellence we have original producer Paul Rothschild (and engineer Bruce Botnick) to thank. Densmore complains in his first book about the many hours Rothschild spent tuning and tweaking the drum tones in the studio, in setting up to record. I’m willing to bet Densmore will agree it was all worth it now, because the drums are simply impeccable on the stereo mix. Again, as one example, the various tones of drums and cymbals on the percussion-driven “The End” are staggering. About the only thing I can compare it to is the clarity of the drum sound on the late 70s Steely Dan recordings, like ‘Aja.’

Rothschild famously insisted that he wanted the Doors’ music to still be listenable in 20 years. Here we are, a full half century later, and his triumph is complete. Rothschild, who died in the 90s, would have loved this release. Elektra Records owner Jac Holtzman was quoted as telling Rothschild when he assigned Rothschild the production, “…do NOT fuck this up.”

I would say Rothschild pulled it off.

Now, as to the mono recording. Frankly, the disc I have is subpar. Perhaps it’s this particular CD I have, but there seems to be something wrong with the audio, particularly the vocals. It’s breaking up, fuzzy, unclear. For something that is supposed to be an audiophile’s delight, this mono mix ain’t cutting it.

I never liked mono anyway, so again, I’m not truly objective. I want Densmore and the bass on the left, and Krieger’s guitar and Manzarek’s organ on the right, with Morrison in the middle. Everything all mushed together sounds unnatural to me, weak and thin, undynamic. Listening in the headphones is a diminished experience for me.

That aside, the mono CD I have breaks up when the music volume picks up. It’s clearly discernible. I won’t be playing it, it’s unlistenable.

The question then becomes, is the mono vinyl album (“180 grams” as the front album sticker proclaims) the same? I can’t answer, because my turntable is in storage. And most of you either don’t have an old-school phonograph, or have it stashed away in the garage, covered with dust.

So I don’t see much in the mono releases, either the unheard vinyl album or the CD.

Which brings us to the live Matrix recording, warts and all. In brief, this is what pushes my buttons to tell you that if you are a Doors fan, this 60 buck package is worth getting. What a great live version of “Soul Kitchen.” Even with no echo effects on the vocals and instruments, and the oddness of the sparse applause, this is a worthy effort, with the tracks ordered in the same way as the album, although 3 of the shorter tracks originally on Side Two are missing.

Yes it’s strange to hear “Alabama Song” without the jingling marxophone and the big group vocals. But the live track has some different magic to it. The stripped-down version shows both what a great live band the Doors were, and by comparison how much work Rothschild really did to nail the production into a classic.

I even appreciate the tuning up before “Light My Fire.”

This signature hit, delivered in a somewhat different arrangement from the album version that the Doors had already recorded and released, is refreshing because of the high energy of the hard-charging solos. Morrison is heard faintly, cheering Krieger on as Densmore slams away at his tubs with finesse.

“Back Door Man” live in this early version is pulsing, vital. The vocal is solid, even a bit restrained. Again, the cleanup on the audio is impressive, remembering that this version was not recorded by Wally Heider and his famous truck, but just a home reel-to-reel tape. Good stuff.

And then there is the over 14 minute version of “The End.”

“Fall down now, strange Gods are coming,” sings Morrison. What? There are lyrics here I have never heard. Like, a lot of of them. I’ll let you discover these improvisations for yourself, but I will say that 50 years later, the Doors, incredibly, have some surprises left. It’s a bit shocking, actually.

A note on the packaging: pretty cool, with a worthy booklet that includes different band photos and some clarifying notes from Doors engineer Bruce Botnick. Historic, I’d say… after all, he was there.

My rating? 4 out of 5 stars. If this package had been trimmed down to the stereo and live CDs, and the price cut accordingly, it would get that last star. But if you’re a true Doors fan (after all, nearly 17 million likes on FaceBook) then suck it up and spend the cash.

We still have some 50th anniversary packaging to come, because the Doors have announced that their second album “Strange Days” will also be getting a 50 year celebration later this year.

Start saving up.

 

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