It was a wild party Saturday night in West Hollywood with an eclectic musical lineup playing poolside to 350 enraptured partygoers who had gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Morrison Hotel,” The Doors’ fifth record. Hosted by the Sunset Marquis hotel (which had a massive Morrison Hotel album backdrop on its wall) and the Morrison Hotel Gallery, a slew of surprise performers paid tribute to the iconic band, including Miley Cyrus, Gary Clark Jr., The Struts, Eagles of Death Metal singer Jesse Hughes, Michael Bolton and Dennis Quaid. They joined The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger and the Tangiers Blues Band for the 90-minute outdoor concert.
Released in February 1970 and produced by Paul A. Rothchild, Morrison Hotel came at a pivotal time for the band. The Soft Parade, their orchestral fourth record, was largely seen as a critical failure. Recorded in Los Angeles in just a few months, Morrison Hotel was divided into two distinct sides, spawning songs like “Roadhouse Blues” and “Peace Frog,” co-written by singer Jim Morrison and Krieger. The record rose to No. 4 on the Billboard album charts and was the second-to-last record the band made with Morrison, who died in 1971.
Musician and photographer Danny Clinch led the Tangiers Blues Band, which was the house band for the event. Opening the show, they were joined by Clark Jr. on guitar for a quick set that included a cover of Prince’s “Kiss” and Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”
After the Grammy-award winning Clark Jr., Alex Greenwald from Phantom Planet made a literal splash when, in the middle of his performance of “Peace Frog,” he leaped from the stage into the hotel pool and he sang the rest of song while jumping around and wielding the mic around his head like a lasso. Following Greenwald’s leap, it was fitting that Badflower launched into “People Are Strange” next.
Next up was crooner Bolton. Standing very still and solemnly at the microphone, Bolton performed a subdued Light My Fire leading up to Krieger’s slithering guitar solo and its implementation of John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things.” The Struts’ singer Luke Spiller, who was sporting a silver sequined top and black shiny tight vinyl pants, appearing like a glam Jim Morrison, tore through an intense version of “Riders of the Storm.”
Keeping the energy high, Hughes, clad in a bright red suit, joined The Stray Cats’ drummer “Slim” Jim Phantom and tore through “Hello, I Love You” before Nicole Atkins slowed down the pace with her beautiful and bluesy delivery of “The Crystal Ship.”
Quaid, who is a seasoned musician (he did play Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire! and has a few albums to his credit), played guitar and sang “L.A. Woman” while Krieger handled backing vocals. The 10-minute performance, replete with Quaid’s rock star hand gestures, riled up the crowd as the song built to its “Mr. Mojo Risin'” crescendo.
Joined by Andrew Watt on guitar, Miley Cyrus performed a rollicking version of “Roadhouse Blues.” Cyrus appeared to be having a great time onstage smiling brightly, dancing, and even exchanging a couple of quick pecks with Watt. Her raspy and yowling vocals did well to channel the spirit of the song.
As the energy level rose deep into the California night, Krieger suddenly announced that the show had been shut down. An all-star jam of “Gloria” was nixed.
Catching up with SPIN after the show, Quaid said that “Light My Fire” was the first song he learned to play on guitar when he was 12, and noted how important The Doors’ music was to his life.
“I don’t know what it (the effect) is – and my mother may not like what it is – but it’s pretty great,” Quaid said. “Robby’s still a 16-year-old kid in his bedroom, playing his guitar and wondering what could be.”
Earlier in the evening, The Morrison Hotel Gallery, located in the Sunset Marquis, was packed. The Morrison Hotel album cover and other photos from those sessions were shot by Morrison Hotel Gallery co-owner and legendary rock photographer Henry Diltz. The 45 photos on display were from Diltz and a variety of additional photographers.
Seated in the hotel lobby, Diltz told SPIN that he named his gallery after The Doors’ fifth record because when he first opened his gallery in New York, he’d put a blown up Morrison Hotel cover photo in the window to attract passersby. “The name was really an accident. We had a sign painter come and put Morrison Hotel on our window just to highlight that photo, you know, to get people’s attention and then, of course, it stuck and it stayed there.”
Explaining the origin of the album’s cover photo, Diltz said it was a stealth endeavor done on the sly in downtown L.A. after The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek stumbled upon a hotel he thought would make for a great shoot, except that the hotel refused to grant permission. “The guy behind the desk wouldn’t let us photograph in the lobby because the landlord, who wasn’t even there, wouldn’t allow it. So we went outside and then I noticed through the window that the guy left the desk and went up in the elevator so I said, “Quick, run in there you guys and take the photo.”
Krieger told SPIN he was pleased with the heavier Morrison Hotel since he felt that the orchestral-infused The Soft Parade sounded like The Doors were trying to copy The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. As for the jolting “Peace Frog,” the fourth song on Morrison Hotel, Krieger said that Morrison, stuck for lyrics at the time, borrowed words from a poem he’d written about abortion, titled “Abortion Stories.”
“We couldn’t call it ‘Abortion Stories,’ I mean, we could have, but it wouldn’t have been too cool,” he said. “I don’t know how he came up with ‘Peace Frog.’ It has nothing to do with it. I mean, what is a ‘Peace Frog?’ That’s Jim for you.”