How we made the Doors' Hello, I Love You

‘This is not the next Mick Jagger’ … Jim Morrison.
‘This is not the next Mick Jagger’ … Jim Morrison. Photograph: Araldo Di Crollalanza/REX/Shutterstock

John Densmore, drummer

Jim Morrison wrote the words for Hello, I Love You when we were still in a band called Rick & the Ravens. “Sidewalk crouches at her feet / Like a dog that begs for something sweet.” That’s a crazy great lyric! He couldn’t play an instrument but he’d come up with melodies in order to remember his incredible words. We’d been walking around the boardwalk of Venice, one of the few diverse areas in LA in the 60s, when Jim saw an African American girl. She was the “dusky jewel” who inspired the song.

We recorded a raw demo with Ray Manzarek on keyboards and his two brothers playing guitars. But the brothers were worried about Jim. He was crazy and had never sung before. He sounded timid and hid in a corner in the garage. I thought: “This is not the next Mick Jagger.” But he found his own unique way, writhing around with the mic cord like a snake. I’m not into guys, but I noticed he looked like Michelangelo’s David. He wrote many of his early lyrics while living on a rooftop. We’d have breakfast and he’d say: “I hear a concert in my head.” And I’d say: “Wow, OK!”

When Ray’s brothers quit, I invited Robby Krieger to rehearsals. He played bottleneck guitar and the next thing I knew we’d become the Doors. However, Hello, I Love You wasn’t recorded until our third album, Waiting for the Sun, because we were struggling with the arrangement. Finally Paul Rothchild, our producer, demanded we finish it and Robby gave me an idea for the drums. “Why don’t you play like Ginger Baker on Sunshine of Your Love?” he said. “Play the tom-toms on the offbeat.” I did that in the chorus and it worked.

‘Jim was Dionysus’ … from left, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison, and Ray Manzarek.
‘Jim was Dionysus’ … from left, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison, and Ray Manzarek. Photograph: Express/Getty

By then, Jim was getting seduced by the drink. We had to overdub a lot because he was so fucked up, or even get him to redo the vocals the next day. Creativity and self-destruction sometimes come in the same package. Jim was Dionysus, but it took three Apollos to balance that Dionysian energy. He was a force.

Robby Krieger, guitarist

The Rick & the Ravens demos contained classic songs but they were pretty rough and got rejected by everybody. A little later, Columbia signed us but Jim took a bunch of acid just before the meeting with the execs. He came back and said: “Man, I killed it. I told ’em where it was at. It’s gonna be great.” The next day we were fired. Another time, he thought the studio was on fire and sprayed everything with an extinguisher. It wasn’t on fire. It was the acid.

Luckily, the talent scout who’d got us signed to Columbia got us a deal with Elektra. It was the perfect label for us, because it was smaller and they could tolerate Jim’s antics. We’d been playing songs that later became classics to 10 or 15 people at the London Fog, a club on Sunset Strip. Then someone from the Whisky a Go Go booked us and suddenly we had a proper audience. Our songs started getting played on the radio and, not long after, Light My Fire went to No 1.

I was never satisfied with it. I told my dad how much I hated it

We always waited until our songs sounded right before we recorded them, so we didn’t get to Hello, I Love You until three years after the demo. We thought it was a little too commercial, straightforward pop and not quite as deep as our other songs. I put a ton of fuzzbox guitar under the vocal, but we couldn’t work out how to switch it from one key to another. In the end, we just stopped the song in the middle! I play some crazy guitar that pans from one speaker to another, then the song just starts again in B flat.

People thought we stole the riff from the Kinks track All Day and All of the Night. We didn’t, even though it does sound similar. Ray Davies, their frontman, was cool about it. He never tried to sue us – and nobody said anything about the Ginger Baker drumbeat either. I remember the recording session well because my dad was there. For some reason, Rothchild was on a bummer, in a real hurry, and I couldn’t get the crazy guitar bit right. Eventually he just said: “That’s good enough. It’s perfect.” I was never satisfied with it, though. I told my dad how much I hated it. But it went to No 1 in Britain and America – and I’ve grown to like it now.

• The 50th anniversary edition of Waiting for the Sun, including unreleased recordings, is on Rhino. A vinyl seven-inch of Hello, I Love You is out now.