The year was 1969 and The Doors were gearing up for the release of their fifth album, Morrison Hotel. Driving around Los Angeles in a VW van, as only Jim Morrison would, the band and their photographer were location scouting for the album’s cover shoot when they came upon the Morrison Hotel at 1246 South Hope Street in Downtown.
Legendary rock photographer, Henry Diltz recalls the moment:
“We parked the VW van and walked in. I told the guy at the desk we were going to take a few photos and it would take but a few minutes and he said we couldn’t without the owner’s permission and the owner wasn’t there. I thought, You’re kidding! It was a transient hotel and it was empty! I saw him leave the desk and get in the elevator. Right on the cover, you can see the lit elevator numbers right under the ‘son’ in ‘Morrison.’ I said ‘Quick you guys, run in there!’ They jumped right behind the windows and hit their places without shuffling and I shot. I shot one roll of film, starting close to the window, and then I backed across [Hope] street with a telephoto lens. So we finished the whole thing in about five minutes and the guy never saw us. We pulled it off though, like a guerrilla photo shoot.”
Today, the Morrison Hotel, although immortalised on the cover of the 1970 critically acclaimed album, is no longer in existence. Boarded up and abandoned, the iconic facade sadly doesn’t have much to say for itself, although even on Google Street view, you can still clearly identify the window and doorway that was used to make rock & roll history.
This vintage poster featuring a clean-shaven Jim Morrison standing in front of the hotel was also used for promoting the album in the early 1970s.
After they wrapped their (not entirely authorized) photo shoot at the Morrison Hotel, the gang jumped back in the VW van and began cruising the neighbourhood for bars. Jim had a hankering for a stiff drink and as they rolled past the bars of Skid Row, heads and elbows hanging out the window, they spotted a run-down dive bar and collectively swooned, “Oh, we gotta go in there!”
Little did they know what would come from their chance selection of that particular unassuming dive bar on 300 East 5th Street, known as the “Hard Rock Cafe”. After the band ended up naming the first side of their record after the little bar with its photograph on the back, and side two, Morrison Hotel, the name “Hard Rock Cafe” was about to become a lot more recognisable…
Our photographer Henry Diltz tells the story:
“I guess though sometime the next year after the album came out with that picture on the back, they [The Doors] got a call from England and this guy says, ‘Hello. Would you mind if we use that name on the back of your album? We’re starting a cafe over here in London and we would like to use that name.’ And they said, ‘No, go ahead,’ and that was the beginning of it. Now every time I go into a Hard Rock Cafe, whatever city I’m in, I always feel like I should get a free hamburger.”
Whether Jim Morrison is envisioning the future of a successful worldwide restaurant chain in the above photograph is unclear, but it makes for quite the interesting footnote in musical history.
Hanging out, drinking with the local patrons… (c) Henry Diltz/Corbis
Funnily enough, more than ten years later in 1983, Michael Jackson used the same bar to film several scenes for his music video, Beat It, including the pool hall scene and the sequence in a bar before the gangs fight. The Hard Rock Cafe eventually closed its doors when the nineties rolled in and it did a brief stint as a hair salon before it became the Green Apple Market grocery store.
So, who feels like listening to some records…?!
Henry Diltz prints are available to buy from the Morrison Gallery in NY or online. See the catalogue, sizes and prices starting at $250, available here.