“Roadhouse Blues” is a rock song written by Jim Morrison and recorded by the American rock band The Doors. The song, which appeared on the B-side of “You Make Me Real”, was first released as a single from the album Morrison Hotel in March 1970 and peaked at #50 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song quickly became a concert staple for the group.
It took two days to record the song (November 4–5, 1969) with producer Paul A. Rothchild striving for perfection. Several takes from these sessions were included on the new 2006 remastered album. Surprisingly, he does not comment on Morrison, who is apparently intoxicated, “going into full blues singer mode” in the words of engineer Bruce Botnick, improvising and simultaneously flubbing several lyrics and repeating the blues phrase “Money beats soul every time”. The phrase can be found on the When You’re Strange: Music from the Motion Picture soundtrack, with the next track being a live version of “Roadhouse Blues”.
The sessions only took off on the second day, when resident Elektra guitarist Lonnie Mack joined in on bass and ex-Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian contributing harmonica (appearing under the pseudonym G. Puglese either out of loyalty to his recording contract or to avoid affiliation with The Doors after the infamous Miami controversy) joined in on the sessions and Manzarek switched from his Wurlitzer electric piano to a tack piano (the same used on The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”). A studio version of the song with John Lee Hooker sharing vocals with Morrison can be found on the Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors album.
A recent misconception states that Mack contributed the guitar solo on the track in addition to bass guitar. Mack himself stated that he had “played bass”. In actuality, guitarist Robbie Krieger is responsible for all guitar parts on “Roadhouse Blues” and Mack’s contribution is limited to bass guitar, as always officially stated; Jim Morrison shouts “Do it, Robby, do it!” (especially audible on the official audio proof of DVD-Audio and SuperAudioCD where the single vocal track can be separated from other instruments) at the start of the guitar solo. The solo on record is representative of Krieger’s fingerstyle playing and is identical to all his Roadhouse Blues solos played in the previous sessions the day before on 5th November 1969. Subsequent interviews with members of The Doors and Rothchild confirm this.
The complete song was fully composed and rehearsed before Lonnie Mack was invited to play bass on “Roadhouse Blues” and “Maggie M’Gill” (Ray Neapolitan, regular bass player during Morrison Hotel sessions, couldn’t arrive on time that day due to a traffic jam). Drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger provided additional details about the Roadhouse Blues sessions which are quoted here:
Lonnie sat down in front of the paisley baffles that soak up the sound. A hefty guy with a pencil-thin beard, he had on a wide-brimmed hat that had become his trademark. Lonnie Mack epitomized the blues—not the rural blues, but the city blues; he was bad. “I’ll sing the lyrics for you”, Jim [Morrison] offered meekly. [Morrison] was unusually shy. We all were, because to us, the guitar player we had asked to sit in with us was a living legend.
— John Densmore, Riders On The Storm, Dell, 1990, p. 235
– Bob Cianci: Lonnie Mack played bass on that track, didn’t he? How did that come together?
– Robby Krieger: Lonnie had quit the music business and was actually working for Elektra Records doing something. I know he sold Bibles for a while too. He was around the studio when we were getting ready to record “Roadhouse Blues,” so we asked him to play bass. He did a great job, and got back into music after that.
– Bob Cianci: The Doors always used bass players in the studio, didn’t they?
– Robby Krieger: Yes. Ray and I used to write the bass parts. On the first album, we used Larry Knechtel, the session guy. He passed away recently. On the second and third albums, we used Doug Lubahn from the band Clear Light. On the fourth, Harvey Brooks played bass, and we used Ray Neapolitan (on Morrison Hotel) and Jerry Scheff (on L.A. Woman) on the fifth and sixth albums. Jerry is probably best known for having played in Elvis’s band for years.
— Robbie Krieger, The Doors’ Distinctive Fret Master, Interview by Bob Cianci, February 11, 2010, for Premiere Guitar magazine
Alice Cooper claimed he was the inspiration for the line “Woke up this morning and I got myself a beer”, as stated on his Planet Rock morning show.
A live version appearing later on the posthumous album An American Prayer and that same version again on In Concert and Greatest Hits. During this version, Jim Morrison talks for a short while to a female audience member about his Zodiac sign and, with a sudden, ironic twist that causes the audience to erupt in laughter, denounces his beliefs in it. The song was also featured twice in the movie The Doors; the studio version in the film, and the aforementioned live version over the end credits.
Artists who have recorded cover versions include Deep Purple, Mahogany Rush, Ministry, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Los Lonely Boys. Live covers have been released by Status Quo, Imperiet, Eric Burdon, Eppu Normaali and Creed.
Blue Öyster Cult performed the song on their Extraterrestrial Live album, with Robby Krieger joining the band. The Jeff Healey Band performs the song in the movie Road House.