Morrison Lives: Days of the New Does the Doors

By Todd Smith

Godzilla ain't the only lizard king to be resurrected recently. A tribute album to the Doors is currently in production, comprised of re-makes of many of the band's biggest songs. To cover Jim's part, the surviving band members have invited a select group of artists to contribute performances. Guest vocalists include Eddie Vedder, Chrissie Hynde, Marylin Manson, and Travis Meeks from Days of the New singing "The End."

Several days before we were scheduled to leave for the session, we were in the break room at the studio and "Apocalypse Now" was on TV. It was just past the beginning where Martin Sheen is riding in the helicopter over the Vietnamese jungle to the soundtrack of the "The End." I am usually not aware of how young Travis is, but on this occasion I realized that he really had no way of knowing the historical significance of the song he was to re-create. I didn't bother trying to tell him.

Representing the Doors at the session were Robbie Kreiger and John Densmore, on guitar and drums respectively. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek did not participate on this track, as producer Ralph Sau explained, because the band did not want this to be a "New Doors Album;" rather it is a tribute album, with lots of guest players. So Robbie and John are on this track, and Ray and Robbie might be on another, etc., supplemented with the best of the best session players.

On electric stand-up bass was Rob Wasserman (Grateful Dead, Was Not Was and every other record in your collection), and keyboards were handled by Jamie Muhoberac who has played with the Stones and is largely responsible for all those really cool synth textures on Seal's records. There was a tabla player from the musician's union in L.A. and Travis.

The session was in Studio B at Record One in the valley, which is a branch of Ocean Way studios in Hollywood, which is known for its vast arsenal of vintage gear. The walls of the control room were lined with Pultech, Lang, Fairchild EQ's and compressors. The tracking room had U-47's, U-67's, C12's and M49's hanging all over the place. I think at one point I was literally drooling…

Before the trip, we were under the impression that the track was already done, and Travis was just going to come in and sing over the new arrangement. Which is why we were very surprised when we arrived to see all these guys setting up drums and keyboard rigs and stations for a live session. It appeared that they were going to create the track from the ground up with Travis present. This was much better, because then it would truly be a collaborative effort.

Before long Robbie Kreiger came in, with all the aura of Yoda, the Jedi Master. I did not recognize him at all, but he needed no introduction. It was a heavy moment, let me tell you, when Robbie and Travis sat down with guitars and started playing through this song. It was, like, two dudes just working out a song; but one of the dudes was Robbie Kreiger and the song was "The End."

Then Rob Wasserman joined in, and Jamie on some keyboard sound, then the tabla and Densmore on kit or percussion. And in this way the song was arranged and recorded in sections to 2" tape, then the sections of the song were loaded into ProTools, edited together and laid back to a master tape for overdubs and vocals. The whole process took about three days.

If there were any skeptics at the beginning, there were none by the time it was over. The first time Travis stepped up to the mic and sang "This is the end…" there was a spooky vibe that shot through the control room and everyone just sort of looked at each other. It was really cool watching all these veterans gain respect for this 20 year old kid. As Robbie said, no one else had the balls to tackle this song. To pull it off this, you had to tread the fine line between imitation and regeneration; if it sounded like imitation, you would be crucified by the critics. And it couldn't be too different, because that song is what it is. Travis had to walk without fear alongside Morrison in the place where this song lives. And he did so, but he wasn't too respectful, as he got them to change the first half of the song to ¾ time.

Todd Smith is the chief engineer at Distillery Sound, the recently established studio owned in part by Travis Meeks.