While “Riders on the Storm” is one of the most indelible hits from The Doors, even the most diehard fan hasn’t heard the band’s original take on the classic track. Until now.
The band recently released the demo of the song. It’s part of The Doors 50th-anniversary box set reissue of the album L.A. Woman due out on Dec. 3. You can hear the band’s final version here and the newly released demo version below.
The “Riders on the Storm” demo is very bare-bones and lacks a lot of the finished version’s polish. There are no rain or thunder sound effects in the demo. That came much later. But the demo puts Jim Morrison’s voice front in the mix and gives his haunting lyrics more space.
The Doors longtime producer, however, didn’t think it belonged on the album — or any album for that matter. Producer Paul Rothchild left the project over disagreements with the band, many stemming from disputes over “Riders on the Storm.”
“Paul put his head in his hands and said, ‘This is cocktail jazz, I can’t do this anymore,’” engineer Bruce Botnick told Rolling Stone about the demo. Botnick would go on to co-producer the 1971 album with the band.
Botnick found the demo by accident recently when he was going through old studio recordings.
“We came upon that and went, ‘Oh, my God,’” Botnick told Rolling Stone. “And the funny thing is, when it got transferred, it got transferred backward. So I had to flip it electronically, and when I heard it, I went, ‘Holy tamales, look what we’ve got.’ We had no idea there was even any aural record of the sessions.”
L.A. Woman: 50th Anniversary Deluxe will include 18 previously unreleased demos from the original album.
Book Explores The Doors ‘Riders on The Storm’
The Doors came up with the melody for “Riders on the Storm” during a jam session. Most of the songs on L.A. Woman happened that way, drummer John Densmore said.
“Just recently, [The Doors guitarist] Robby [Krieger] said he felt that L.A. Woman was the most organically formed album we ever did because most of the songs were initiated from just jamming,” Densmore told Rolling Stone. “Whereas Robby would sometimes bring in a completed song like ‘Light My Fire.’”
The band wrote many of the songs on the album that way. But Stephen Davis, who penned a Morrison biography in 2005, said the lyrics to the song began forming years earlier. Morrison would travel between Florida State University where he attended college to Gainsville, Florida early 300 miles away to see his girlfriend in 1962.
“Those solitary journeys on hot and dusty Florida two-lane blacktop roads, with his thumb out and his imagination on fire with lust and poetry and Nietzsche and God knows what else — taking chances on redneck truckers … and predatory cruisers — left an indelible psychic scar on Jimmy, whose notebooks began to obsessively feature scrawls and drawings of a lone hitchhiker, an existential traveler, faceless and dangerous, a drifting stranger with violent fantasies, a mystery tramp: the killer on the road,” Davis wrote in Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend.
Morrison said in 1970 the country music song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was the original inspiration of “Riders on the Storm.”