The Day The Doors Signed to Elektra Records, CEO Jac Holzman: “I just went on a gut feeling” – Cool History – 2022
“[The Whisky A Go Go] was our turf now. After we finished some of our songs, instead of applause, silence filled the room” – John Densmore
On this day in rock history, The Doors signed with Elektra Records.
As the story goes, Elektra executive Jac Holzman brings who would become The Doors’ longtime producer, Paul Rothchild, to see the band perform at the world-famous Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood, CA. A few days later, the contract was inked. The rest is history.
Pictured is Paul in the studio with The Doors (photo by Paul Ferrara).
Taken from The Doors Collectors Magazine:
I didn’t get The Doors when I first saw them. I kept going back and back and back. The reason I saw them at all was because of Arthur Lee. Arthur Lee was the top half of the bill, and The Doors were the bottom half. Arthur said to me, “You’ve got to stay around to see this band.” I had come from New York on an airplane to see Arthur, it was 2 o’clock in the morning metabolism-time and I stayed around and was very tired. But I also felt I hadn’t given the group a shot and I had a high regard for Arthur’s opinion; though he was flaky in many respects I thought he was a talent.
Because I’d been so tired, I went back the next night. It was on the third night that I began to hear some of the classical influence in the material. I also was struck by the simplicity of it. In architectural terms it reminded me of the Bauhaus period-very lean, clean, straight lines-there was nobody on stage who didn’t belong on stage. I was impressed how John understood how his job was not to provide a rhythmic underpinning only, but to provide that as well as to follow Jim because everybody really followed Jim-whatever he was going to do was where they went.
Finally, about the fourth night I got it. Jim was not moving at all, but I understood that this was a coiled spring ready to burst forth. I just went on a gut feeling. The Doors had recently been signed to Columbia but not recorded by them. I don’t think they were too happy with record companies at the time.
The press were always quick to cover Jim’s outrageous behavior. Can you share with us some special moments when you saw Jim at his best?
My moments with Jim were generally peaceful. In my experience, Jim was a person who would break out in a rash occasionally, and he would do something like chop up a typewriter in the office for which we would just deduct the cost of the typewriter from the next royalty check. That wasn’t a big deal.
I found him to be extremely soft and willing to talk. He would try to get me to go drinking with him which I wouldn’t do because I knew I was outclassed. Once when I declined, he said, “Jac, you’ve got to get more out there on the edge.” And I said, “Jim, I agree with you, being out there on the edge is important; the trick is not to bleed.” That’s been quoted before.
What did you learn from knowing Jim?
The thing I learned from Jim was an appreciation for appropriate limits. Jim would do everything to excess. I’m a fond lover of excess but not to be done constantly. Jim did it constantly. When you go over the edge you do cut yourself.
What did you learn by Jim’s death?
I learned a number of things from Jim’s death. From a personal standpoint, I was in my thirties, and it brought me face-to-face with my own mortality as I think it did for everybody. It was a difficult thing to deal with for everyone at the company since we all had great affection for him. A couple of us knew a few days before the news broke and we were able to handle it appropriately. We’d seen a circus around Jimi Hendrix and that was not going to happen with Jim. Another thing is, in retrospect, I learned something about Jim’s motives.
In the Greek classical sense, I think Jim was looking for a kind of immortality. If Jim were in his fifties today, he would not have the immortality he had by burning the candle at both ends and dying young. For Jim it was the right choice. And I think at some level the poetic death was his choice. I learned to accept that.
That’s one of the things I learned. Everybody gets to choose the way they go. And how you live determines, probably, how you may exit. It’s also the thing that everybody does perfectly.
What do you remember of Ray, Robby and John?
Of the group, John was probably the most “curmudgeon-est,” but he had a very firm sense of what he wanted to do. I think John was in love and out of love with the group. There were moments when he wished the whole thing would go away and moments when he was happy to be part of it.
Robby was a surfer dude. And he surfed whatever the wave of The Doors was.
The thinking one in terms of conceptualizing and taking it all some place was Ray. He had a sense from the very beginning of what it was that they had, of who Morrison was, of how to put it together, and I think he was a very special kind of glue that held it together. Every time Jim would go off on a tear it was Ray who made the band continue to happen.