A Producer – Paul A Rothchild (update)

I’ve always thought that record producers deserve their own biographies, or certainly a little more information available out there.

Producers have this fascinating dual representation in the popular media.

On one hand they are the devilish lackey or enforcer of the hopelessly out of touch/money-grubbing record label, sent in to ‘whip a band into shape’ and make sure they come up with another single. The other side of the image is a skilled, intelligent person who can challenge a band and help them  to come up with amazing music. In this version, a producer seems to earn a fierce loyalty from a group and develop a fruitful partnership.

Whenever I read a bio of a band, I always want to know more about the producer. How they worked, how they felt, what sort of power and influence they had with both label and band, what sort of relationships.

One such producer is the late Paul A. Rothchild probably most famous for producing the first 5 Doors albums and Janis Joplin’s Pearl. I know relatively little about him, but most of it is fascinating. A perfectionist and a man of conviction – he was able to wrestle (with help no doubt) the difficult Jim Morrison into many fine performances, but was just as demanding on the rest of the band – “nearly every song on the album [Waiting for the Sun] required at least twenty takes…while ‘The Unknown Soldier,’ recorded in two parts, required a total of 130 starts.”*

His conviction seemed most evident in simply walking out on the Doors after hearing demos for LA Woman, which he is misquoted as calling ‘cocktail music.’ Perhaps leaving a band as troubled as The Doors at this stage was not that hard a choice, but I always found it impressive that he was honest with both himself and the band at that point.

So the sad thing is that there must be dozens of producers out there that have amazing stories, but because they, like so many ‘behind the scenes’ individuals, are doomed to miss out.

Here’s a snippet  from an interview with Paul in 1981, from Blair Jackson

BAM: The first three LPs consisted mainly of songs they knew from being a club band?

PR: the first TWO were released material from the original stage show. By the time we hit Waiting For The Sun, things were getting a little thin.

BAM: Is that why the production was so much more elaborate than on the first two albums?

PR: You got it! As the talent fades, the producer HAS to become more active. It’s sort of like the aging beauty queen. As the beauty fades, more make up goes on.

BAM: What specifically did you do to remedy the situation?

PR: Well, from the third album on, we got into heavy vocal compositing because Jim would come in too drunk to sing decently. Sometimes we’d put together eight different takes of a song to make one good one.

BAM: What’s an example of where you did that?

PR: I don’t even have to name titles. Every single song from the third album on was done that way. Every one. I don’t mean a verse at a time, either. Sometimes it was a phrase at a time, from one breath phrase to another.

Imagine splicing together phrases, lines and words from hundreds of vocal takes for this one:

*p179 ‘No-One Here Gets Out Alive’

11 thoughts on “A Producer – Paul A Rothchild (update)

  1. I used to be a huge Doors fan, but over the years I’ve reconsidered Morrison and now find him to be completely overrated, he had some lyrics that were above the average pop crap, but he’s also to blame for ‘Wild Child’, and I wouldn’t call him a poet. “Cocktail music” is right, the Doors would have been unheard of without Paul Rothchild. (too harsh?)

    • I know what you mean. For me, without the Doors’ music he’d be far less impressive. The four of them are pretty integral to each other. Maybe not too harsh – or maybe unheard of without Jac Holzman to call Paul in? Although we could probably trace it back a bit, huh? To whoever took Jac to the Whiskey to see them play? And then back further and further…

      Even though they did ‘LA Woman’ without Paul, what they must have picked up from him (and Bruce) over the period of the first few albums would no doubt be vital, huh?

  2. I was just talking about how The Doors music has become very dated… Unlike bands like The Stones and The Who, whose albums from the same period are absolutely timeless (think Let It Bleed & Tommy), The Doors sound like a time capsule… dusty and maybe best left hidden away.

    • Yeah – I wonder if that is partly due to the Psychedelic part of their sound vs the Blues roots of the Stones for instance? One genre has aged better for sure.

      And perhaps the lyrics add to the dating effect? And I’d say the Vox Continental has a time-capsule-like sound, immediately evocative of a certain time and place in music history.

      But I do still love a lot of the Doors music, very influential and pretty groundbreaking. Dramatic yes, but still progressive. And Paul just deserves a little extra recognition perhaps.

      Ok – a Top Ten Doors Songs (in no particular order and for various reasons, some which could be attributed to Paul in part perhaps, others certainly for the Doors as a group of 4 performers rather than as a vehicle for Jim)

      – LA Woman
      – The Changeling
      – When the Music’s Over
      – Break on Through
      – Back Door Man
      – Strange Days
      – I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind
      – Spanish caravan
      – The Soft Parade
      – Peace Frog

      Anyone else?

  3. Crawling King Snake
    When the Music’s Over
    The Soft Parade
    Five to One
    Back Door Man

    * think you are dead right about the blues lineage being the timeless factor in the stones and the who ash… looking at this list of doors songs, they are predominantly from the bluesier side of the band.

  4. Ah, lots of love The Soft Parade, very nice. And for their blues stuff from all 3 of us.

    I nearly went for The End, Mark – it has such atmosphere, but I find the Oedipal section a little juvenile, you know? Love the magic Robbie works but.

    And Five to One nearly made the list for me too, Graham. Such swagger. Yeah – and so much can be traced back to the blues. Pretty powerful genre, even subversive in the sense that, some artists probably have no idea of such lineage in even their own work

  5. I reckon they’re all pretty underwhelming, except there is magic in the first two records. Strange Days is underrated. Plus they got Iggy excited enough to form a band.

    I think Morrison was someone to watch. He had charisma even when he was completely smashed, which was most of the time. That was just as important as the music itself or (dare I say) the lyrics in their dynamics.

    • Hi Matthew! Definitely some magic in the first two – and ‘Strange Days’ is probably number 2 on my list I reckon.

      And I think the train-wreck that Jim became towards the end was a big part of the show sadly (for the fans who wanted to hear music) and part of the rebel’s calling card perhaps, that self-destructive bit

  6. So true, Ashley.

    I recall getting high with mates and having a giggle to An American Prayer as teenagers. We had great respect for Morrison, but we never took his poetry seriously, even then.

    The self-destructive element was perhaps the ultimate appeal at that stage in our lives, inseparable from the music itself.

    I gave an ex-girlfriend a copy of No One Here Gets Out Alive (largely sensationalised stuff) to read and she claims she has never listened to The Doors since. She was smitten with his looks but now he’s the ultimate wanker!

    • Very sensationalised stuff – paints Jim in a very positive light, huh? I actually thought John Densmore’s biography was a fair bit more balanced.

      That’s a shame for the rest of The Doors – being punished for having Jim as a singer!

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