For the first time anywhere, the true story behind Jim Morrison's so-called "last" studio session.
Released on a bootleg label in 1994, The Lost Paris Tapes: The Private Tapes Of James Douglas Morrison has become one of the most popular unofficial Jim Morrison recordings in collecting circles. It features a 37-minute poetry session recorded in 1969 and what is purported to be Morrison's final studio recording made in Paris in 1971. But exclusive new research reveals the true history behind this alleged last session and solves a mystery that has endured for more than forty years.
The story goes something like this: In the final weeks before his death, Jim Morrison entered a Paris recording studio for the first time since abandoning his life in America. He is joined by two unknown street musicians he's recently met. They tune their instruments and joke around while deciding what to play. Morrison eventually suggests they record one of his own songs. He's been drinking but in a playful mood as he begins "Orange County Suite," an unreleased ballad about his longtime love Pamela Courson. He soon improvises some alternate lyrics and claps out a beat as the two buskers meander musically behind him. The session ends a few minutes later and Morrison labels the tape "Jomo And The Smoothies," perhaps an anagrammatical nod to his moniker "Mr. Mojo Risin'" (itself an anagram of his own name), and leaves it with a Paris acquaintance who forgets about it for the next two decades.
Jump to the end of 1994 and a bootleg CD called The Lost Paris Tapes is released which includes this studio session and spins the remarkable tale that you've just read, a tale that many — including at least one Morrison biographer — have believed without question ever since.
It's here where our search for the truth begins.
The Lost Paris Tapes contains recordings from two separate reels:
The first and longest reel was taped in 1969 at Elektra Sound Recorders by producer John Haeny and it is, as far as we know, Jim Morrison's first attempt to record his own poetry in the studio. It captures renditions of "Orange County Suite," "Whiskey, Mystics And Men," "The American Night," "Woman In The Window," "Bird Of Prey," "Winter Photography," and other poems and songs. Several of these recordings have turned up over the years on releases such as An American Prayer and The Doors' 1997 Box Set. This tape is often labeled as being from March 1969, but John Haeny has recently revealed the actual recording date to be February 9, 1969. Visit the Poetry Sessions page for more information.
The second reel is more mysterious. As the story above relates, the tape box is labeled (supposedly by Morrison himself, although this remains unconfirmed) as "Jomo And The Smoothies." Morrison sounds inebriated and he is joined by two unknown musicians playing stringed instruments. Jim begins to sing "Orange County Suite" but soon goes into an improvised jam. The recording ends after only fifteen minutes when Morrison asks for the tape to be played back for them.
The earliest written reference to both reels is in an article titled "The Paris Tapes Of Jim Morrison: An Exclusive Story" by Rainer Moddemann printed in issue #31 of a fan publication he operated out of Germany called The Doors Quarterly Magazine dated December 1, 1994. Moddemann writes that he first learned of the tapes' existence in a phone call he received from an unknown man with a French accent in January 1994. The man told him that he owned some unheard Jim Morrison recordings which he was interested in selling. Understandably skeptical of the stranger's claims, Moddemann asked if he could hear the tapes and the two arranged to meet at the Place des Vosges in Paris in early April 1994.
When they met, the man used the pseudonym "Jacques Merit" and explained that after seeing the tribute band The Soft Parade perform at La Cigale on December 8, 1993, he realized that there would likely be a great deal of interest from fans in his unheard recordings of Morrison. He then played a cassette for Moddemann who instantly recognized Jim's voice.
Moddemann writes that the first recording he heard was known to him. It was from an Elektra Studios poetry session which had been partially released on a 1982 vinyl bootleg called Rock Is Dead. But this copy seemed to be unedited and the sound quality was much better. The man next played a clip that Moddemann had never heard before and featured Morrison attempting to sing "Orange County Suite" with two unknown musicians. Moddemann asked what this second recording was and who the musicians were, but "Jacques" wasn't sure: "I really don't know who the other two people are," he said. "Jim left these tapes in a plastic bag in my apartment three weeks before he died."
Jim Morrison photograph produced by "Jacques"
"Jacques" went on to explain that he was a casual acquaintance of Jim Morrison's in Paris and produced a color photograph of the bearded singer standing by a window, which he said was taken by him in the living room of Morrison's apartment on Rue Beautreillis. A few weeks before his death in 1971, Morrison had allegedly visited "Jacques" at his home studio and asked him to transfer a poetry reel he owned to cassette. Upon leaving, Morrison took the cassette but forgot to grab his plastic shopping bag which contained the two reels and other personal items. "Jacques" ran after him but he says he was already entering the elevator when he reportedly told him, "Keep it for me, I'll pick it up later!" But Morrison and "Jacques" never met again.
According to Moddemann's article, "Jacques" then produced two empty reel boxes. He explained that the smaller of the two was for the previously unheard session. Moddemann saw that it was labeled "Jomo And The Smoothies" and he believed the handwriting to be Morrison's. "Jacques" had no explanation for the label and said Morrison had not shown him this second smaller reel in 1971. He then told Moddemann that he was interested in selling both reels and this is where the article ends.
In the subsequent issue of The Doors Quarterly (#32 dated June 15, 1995), Moddemann writes that both reels had been sold to a female fan in North Germany for $10,000. In addition, he states that he took some photos of the reels before they were sold and noticed that the smaller box, "containing the Paris session," had Bill Siddons's phone number written on it in Morrison's hand. The same issue of The Doors Quarterly also includes a review of The Lost Paris Tapes CD.
This is the first time that Moddemann's fanzine identifies the unknown recording as being from Paris. What happened in the six months between December 1, 1994 and June 15, 1995 to reveal this new information? It appears that this is when The Lost Paris Tapes was released, probably to coincide with Jim Morrison's birthday on December 8, 1994.
The bootleg's liner notes are written by someone named "Rodney Lorca," which we can safely assume is another pseudonym, and repeats the story about how "Jacques" acquired the tapes (the name "Jacques Merit" is again used). But this time, some incredible new details are added about the second reel — written, perhaps appropriately, as though it were a fairy tale:
Once upon a time, in mid-June 1971, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, returned to Paris from a short holiday in Corsica. In a Parisian bar he met two unknown street musicians. He decided on the spot to invite them for a spontaneous recording session in a nearby studio, where he had been on that day to listen to a tape of his poetry session recorded at Elektra Sound Studios.
This is, as far as I can tell, the first time it was ever claimed that this newly-discovered recording owned by "Jacques" was made in Paris in 1971 and was Jim Morrison's final studio session. The CD lists "Michel Dubois" as the producer of the session and "François Ferrand" as its engineer. Two more French names could not exist, and yet, anyone who has heard the recording knows that the engineer who says, "Got your action covered, Jim" is most certainly not French.
So sometime between Moddemann's meeting in April 1994 and the release of The Lost Paris Tapes in December 1994, a story had sprung up about where and when this unknown session was recorded. A story that "Jacques" seems to have never mentioned to Moddemann in their earlier discussions.
The photographs above are the only images I've found of both reels and come from The Lost Paris Tapes CD booklet. The other items seen in the photos are said to have been inside the plastic shopping bag Morrison left with "Jacques." The Elektra reel is clearly legible and appears to be a two-track mixdown made for Morrison by session producer John Haeny. Strangely, the second and arguably most interesting reel is only partially shown and the image is not clear enough to judge the handwriting or make any other assessment as to its origins. If the reel were made and recorded in France (or somewhere else in Europe), one expects there would be something to note that fact on the reel box. Perhaps the fine print on the box would be written in French or contain a European address?
What these photos do show is that both reels are recorded on the exact same brand tape (Scotch 3M) with only the length differing — one appears to be a 7-inch reel and the other a 5-inch reel.
Here we should ask an obvious question: What are the chances that Jim Morrison visited two different studios in two different countries in two different years and yet managed to have both sessions recorded (or copied) onto matching audio reels?
I don't know how common Scotch 3M reels were in France in 1971, but I do know they were commonly used by Elektra Records. And the fact that both reels match each other certainly suggests a high probability that they date to the same time and place. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In issue #34 of The Doors Quarterly (dated June 25, 1996), Rainer Moddemann pens an article titled "Jim Morrison's Quiet Days In Paris" where he offers new details about the Paris session. He writes that the recording studio was located in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and describes the unknown performers as "two young American street musicians who were playing guitar in front of the Café de Flore." He also reports that Morrison bought the musicians drinks and paid for an hour's worth of studio time. Moddemann's article even provides an exact date for the session — June 16, 1971.
This is an unbelievable amount of new information considering "Jacques" had told Moddemann in April 1994 (according to The Doors Quarterly #31) that Morrison hadn't even shown him the second reel when he visited him in 1971: "No, as I've already told you, he didn't show me this box when he was in my flat." It was only later that he discovered it inside the bag along with some other items.
When I recently asked Rainer Moddemann where he had gotten these additional details about the "Jomo" session for his article, he said that they came from an interview he conducted with "Jacques" at the time; he also claimed to have no idea who the mysterious "Rodney Lorca" named in The Lost Paris Tapes booklet might be. Unfortunately, Moddemann did not respond to my request to see the photographs he reportedly took of the original reels before they were sold in 1995. It's possible that examining additional images, especially if they were taken up close, could help shed some more light on the reels' origins or at least confirm if it is indeed Morrison's handwriting on the "Jomo" reel box.
In Stephen Davis's 2005 biography, Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend, "Jacques" altered his story once more, explaining that he ran into Morrison in a Paris bar when the singer told him that he needed a reel transferred to cassette. "Jacques" invited Morrison to his home studio where he had the equipment to do such a transfer. After Morrison left, "Jacques" told Davis: "I went back to the studio and noticed Jim's plastic sack on the floor. I ran to the window, but he was already halfway down the block."
In 1994, "Jacques" had told Moddemann that Morrison was entering an elevator the last time he spoke to him; in the version he now told Davis, Morrison was already outside walking down the street when he called to him from an open window.
Regardless of which version one believes, to date, I have been unable to corroborate any of them or find any other mention of Jim Morrison entering a recording studio in Paris shortly before his death. The earliest mention of it dates to the release of The Lost Paris Tapes in late 1994. No previous books, articles, or interviews that I've found report the event.
It seems the only source for the Paris session story and its ensuing variations over the years has been one person — a man named "Jacques Merit." Where he may have gotten his information, especially if Morrison never mentioned the reel to him in 1971, remains unclear. If he found and spoke to one of the two musicians on the recording or its original producer or engineer, he has never said so, nor has anyone ever come forward claiming to have been involved in a Paris session.
When the man who possessed the original reels first met with Rainer Moddemann in April 1994, he used the pseudonym "Jacques Merit." The same name was also used in The Lost Paris Tapes CD booklet to identify the person who owned the recordings. But shortly after selling the original reels in 1995, "Jacques" revealed that his real name was Philippe Dalecky, a French musician.
In addition to the two reels, Dalecky possessed one of Jim Morrison's original poetry notebooks which he said had been inside the same white La Samaratine shopping bag the singer allegedly left behind in 1971. The notebook first turned up at auction in 2006 and again in 2008. Both listings included the original color photograph of Morrison that Dalecky had shown Moddemann in 1994 and repeated the story about the two reels and a final recording session in Paris.
Above, the notebook sold by Dalecky which contains 20 pages of Jim Morrison's handwritten poetry.
The auctions always referred to this particular Steno pad as "Jim Morrison's last notebook." In fact, it seems that whenever a Jim Morrison notebook comes up for sale, it's invariably claimed to be his last; but it's nearly impossible to know for certain at this time. Morrison's writings have yet to be conclusively catalogued and he rarely dated his work. It's even unclear when the poem "Paris Journal" was written as Morrison visited Paris on at least two different occasions.
But Dalecky's notebook does offer some clues which may suggest a date: In addition to containing verses from "Waiting For The Sun" and "Winter Photography" (both written in 1968), Morrison wrote on the inside front cover the name and number of Cahuenga Auto, a car repair shop in Hollywood, suggesting at least some of the material in it dates to well before the singer ever left for Paris.
In 2009, author Heinz Gerstenmeyer discovered the first crucial piece of information about the "Jomo And The Smoothies" recording. In his book, The Mysterious Death Of Jim Morrison, Gerstenmeyer interviews producer John Haeny, who recorded Jim Morrison's 1969 and 1970 poetry sessions and was contracted to produce Morrison's solo poetry album (he later produced An American Prayer). Gerstenmeyer asked Haeny about Morrison's impromptu studio recording with two unknown musicians which purported to be from Paris. While Haeny did not know the origins of the reel and was not responsible for recording it, he was able to confirm that the engineer heard on the tape saying, "Got your action covered, Jim" was none other than longtime Doors producer Paul Rothchild.
John Haeny, Paul Rothchild, and Jim Morrison in the studio, 1968
This information provided the first tantalizing clue as to the true origins of the so-called Paris session. Knowing it was Rothchild's voice on the tape proved that it could not have been recorded in Paris. It also meant that it was not recorded in 1971 as Rothchild did not work with The Doors on their final studio album. So the claim that this could still be Jim Morrison's "final studio session" even if it wasn't recorded in Paris can also be easily dismissed.
Given that the song Morrison begins to sing is "Orange County Suite," a track he had recorded for himself sometime around May or June 1969, it quite possibly dates to that same time period.
The mystery remained stalled until the fall of 2012 when I was listening to an unrelated audio recording from the 1960s. It occurred to me that the voice of the person I was hearing sounded very familiar. I listened again to the "Jomo And The Smoothies" tape and could swear the voice of one of the unknown musicians was this same person. But what were the chances?
In fact, they were pretty good. This person knew Jim Morrison very well. The voice I had in mind was that of the musician closest to the microphone playing an unusual stringed instrument and suggesting various songs, one of which he calls "Mr. Five Feet Five." No song with this title exists, but a song called "Mr. Five By Five" does. It's a popular tune from 1942. Jim says on the recording that he doesn't know the song and, having been born in 1943, it's no surprise. But it does suggest that the unknown musician is a bit older than Jim. The person I had in mind was about ten when that song came out.
I soon approached Frank Lisciandro, who knew and spent time with both Jim and this other person, and presented him with my theory. He listened again to the recording and revealed that he could identify three voices on the tape: Jim Morrison, Paul Rothchild, and, remarkably, the very same person that I had suggested to him. Although Lisciandro had heard the tape once or twice before, this was the first time he had ever given it a close listen along with a possible name to go with one of the voices. After over forty years, we had finally identified one of the unknown musicians!
The recording I had been listening to months earlier, and which first brought this name to mind, was a poetry reading given by Michael McClure in the late 1960s. Frank Lisciandro confirms that the man suggesting songs on the "Jomo And The Smoothies" tape is indeed the poet Michael McClure.
In fact, at one point on the "Jomo" recording, Morrison refers to the musician as "a poet." I had always assumed he was joking, but it seems he meant it literally. Lisciandro further identified the stringed instrument McClure is playing as an autoharp, something he often carried around.
Above left, Michael McClure and his ever-present autoharp, a gift from Bob Dylan. Above right, Morrison and McClure backstage at the Cow Palace on July 25, 1969.
The confirmed connection to McClure further cements my belief that this recording was actually made in the spring of 1969 when Morrison and McClure were working together on a screenplay adaptation of McClure's novel The Adept (titled Saint Nicholas). They both sound like they've had more than a few drinks and in interviews McClure has admitted that his friendship with Morrison was fueled by their mutual affinity for both poetry and alcohol.
Paul Rothchild, likely in the midst of studio sessions for The Soft Parade, must have reluctantly agreed to entertain Morrison's request to run some tape while he, McClure, and a third as-yet-unidentified guitarist recorded their "demo." Jim then asks Paul if he'll pretend they're "just some nutty group" that cornered him into an audition. Not receiving a response, Morrison asks, "Um, would you nod 'yes'?"
Put into its proper context, the recording reveals a playful Jim Morrison trying to have some fun in the studio, despite what his producer might be more interested in doing. This is a far cry from the miserable tale of a lonely American singer in a Paris studio, recording with a pair of strangers in his final days and stumbling through a session in a last desperate attempt to make music.
In truth, it was just some friends screwing around. When he's told they're going to play the tape back, the second musician offers an incredulous, "Aw, they couldn't've taped that." And Morrison himself can be heard admitting that what they'd just performed was "ridiculous" but he still wanted to hear it.
In July 2013, I was finally able to get in touch with Michael McClure and sent him a copy of the "Jomo And The Smoothies" recording to listen to for the first time. McClure confirmed that it is indeed his voice on the tape and that he and Morrison are clearly drunk, but unfortunately, he did not know who the third person might be and had no specific memory of the session:
"That is Jim and I and we are drunk (at the least) and your dating may be correct or it might be a year or so earlier. I don't remember doing the recording but that is not at all unusual considering our usual condition."
McClure went on to suggest reading his play "The Meat Ball" (published in 1971's Gargoyle Cartoons) for what he called "a near accurate portrayal" of what he and Jim were like while intoxicated.
I've read many comments over the years about how unfortunate and embarrassing it is that this recording ever surfaced. While I understand and respect that point of view, I take a different approach.
Of course Jim Morrison wouldn't have wanted this impromptu session released on an album. Similarly, it's doubtful that he would have wanted any of the studio banter and outtake material that's been released over the years to be issued during the band's run. But four decades on, these recordings take on a new significance for those who want a better understanding of the real person behind the iconic images and classic albums. It shows us more than the two-dimensional leather-clad Greek myth that's been repeated so often by lazy journalists and gives us the real Jim Morrison, unfiltered and unedited. For this reason alone, a curio like this is almost priceless.
And despite the many fictions which surround this recording, at least one fact seems certain and it's often overlooked: Jim kept the tape.
Morrison could have easily thrown it out any number of times, and indeed he wasn't known for hanging onto his possessions for very long, yet he held onto this reel for two years and even brought it with him to Paris. At the very least this suggests it meant something to him — perhaps just as a unique and amusing reminder of his friendship with McClure. But even this gives us a new insight into Jim Morrison's personality that we otherwise never would have known.
Unfortunately, the identity of the person who plays an acoustic guitar on the "Jomo And The Smoothies" session remains a mystery. He only speaks a few times off-mic, and both Michael McClure and Frank Lisciandro have been unable to identify him. One possibility is that he is a musician who was working with Paul Rothchild, perhaps even on a Doors album. A second, somewhat ironic, possibility is that he is an unknown street musician that Morrison and McClure met in Los Angeles.
Here is a clip isolating and amplifying the few times the unknown musician can be heard speaking:
Perhaps someone out there recognizes the voice?
But at least now that Michael McClure has positively been identified as one of the performers, it may help bring back some memories and lead to some new information. What is no longer a mystery is just where, and likely when, this recording was made. And while we can say that what has come to be known as "the Paris session tape" is one of Jim Morrison's oddest studio recordings, it most certainly was not his last.
If you have any additional information or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.