Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
600,000 people. That was the size of the crowd the Doors faced down at 2 AM on Saturday, August 29, 1970. The LA rockers were booked to perform in the middle of the last great rock festival of the Woodstock/Altamont/Monterey Pop-era, alongside the likes of the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Sly And The Family Stone, and Leonard Cohen to name just a few. Though they played shrouded in a near-incomprehensible darkness, bathed in an ominous red hue, The Doors knocked it out of the park, putting together an hour-long set that serves as a dramatic final capstone to their touring career.
The summer of 1970 was a fraught time for the Doors. Jim Morrison was facing years in prison after being charged with flashing his penis during a show in Miami. During a break in the legal proceedings, the band came to the UK under the promise of a nice pay day, and hopefully a good time. The results, which have been locked away for years, will finally be on view thanks to a new DVD titled The Doors: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 that’s set to drop next month on February 23.
Straying far from his reputation as one of rock’s most unpredictable frontman, Morrison hardly moves a muscle while crooning his way through a truncated setlist of the band’s most beloved songs like “Break On Through To The Other Side” and “When The Music’s Over.” The bearded frontman doesn’t need to divert into antics to totally capture your attention. His vibe is almost shamanic. The musicians in the band are on their A-game as well. The group’s biggest hit, “Light My Fire” gains new life as a stretched-out, psychedelic jam, while the set-ender “The End” is as mystic, and explosive as ever.
Recently, I had the chance to talk to the Doors’ drummer John Densmore about the group’s latest archival release, what it was like to perform at that iconic festival, and where the Doors might have gone had Jim Morrison not died prematurely the following year in Paris.
What was the state of the band like in August 1970 heading into the Isle Of Wight gig?
Well, Jim was obviously pre-occupied by the trial in Miami. They flew him over to the Isle Of Wight for the weekend. He still sang great, he just didn’t jump around too much. Sometimes he was very theatrical. Sometimes he’d lay on the floor. Who knows? We were excited to be there. The lineup was incredible. The fans knocked the fences down because either it was too expensive or they didn’t have enough toilets. I don’t know what the hell. It was sorta like the end of the pop festival scene and it makes it kind of interesting.