By Chris M. Junior
If The Doors had a home away from Los Angeles during the first seven months of 1967, it was San Francisco.
“We loved it up there. It was a big, happy family; all the guys would jam with each other,” Robby Krieger says today. “It was different from L.A. There, you felt more in your own world. The whole scene was on the Sunset Strip and in Laurel Canyon. Whereas in San Francisco, it was a lot more spread out, and it seemed more progressive.”
Los Angeles, the guitarist adds, “was a little more Hollywood, if you will. But that didn’t mean we were going to move to San Francisco or anything. We kind of liked to be ‘the band from L.A.’ because they kind of looked down on L.A. up there.”
Two days after the release of their debut album, The Doors played their first San Francisco gig, staged Jan. 6, 1967, at the Fillmore Auditorium (and also featuring The Young Rascals and Sopwith Camel). And according to the book “The Doors on the Road” by Greg Shaw, Krieger and his bandmates would perform more shows at the Fillmore between mid-January and late July 1967, in addition to gigs at other San Francisco venues.
Among them was The Matrix, which opened in August 1965 and counted singer Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane as one of its early owners. The Doors played their first Matrix show on March 7, 1967, and for Record Store Day 2017, Rhino will issue the thoroughly titled “Live at The Matrix: San Francisco, Ca — Mar. 7, 1967” on limited-edition vinyl. (The seven tracks on this RSD vinyl release, plus one more Matrix recording, appear on one of the CDs in Rhino’s 50th anniversary deluxe edition of the first Doors album.)
Even though it was a small club, The Matrix left a big impression on Krieger in terms of its usefulness.
“What would happen was, whenever a band like us from out of town would come to San Francisco to play on the weekends at the Fillmore, we’d hang around and during the week play at the Matrix,” he explains. “It was kind of cool. We treated (playing there) more like a rehearsal because usually there weren’t many people — around 50 or 60. It was kind of relaxing and something to do during the week.”
Rhino’s Record Store Day 2017 release of “Live at The Matrix: San Francisco, Ca — Mar. 7, 1967” is special in that the recordings were sourced from the original tapes, which until recently were believed to have been lost. (The “Live at The Matrix 1967” collection, released in 2008, was a combination of two Doors dates sourced from third-generation tapes.) Also, the rendition of “Light My Fire” is unusual in that it features a previous and noticeably different arrangement: The signature intro appears instead between the first and second verses.
“I’m sure we just reverted to the way we always did it because we never rehearsed,” Krieger admits. “I mean, we did at first, but by the time we were playing gigs, there was no such thing as rehearsal. So it was very hard to make a big change like that, until much later. When it became a hit, then of course we did it that way.”